Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Runin: Banished るにん (2004)

Runin: Banished - was a bit maudlin, but enjoyable. I like films about people at the bottom of the barrel. Eiji Okuda impressed me with Shojo, and I knew that he would create something great with time. I love when filmmakers build upon older works, and here he expands the legacy of Shohei Imamura. It’s about that lowest tier society. The characters in question are assorted criminals who have been banished from Japan and sent to a small island to fend for themselves. Like in an Imamura film, there is a lot of sex, and all emotions in general run wild. The performances are so impassioned, similar to the older films. One truly gets a sense of the strength of humanity, as these people who have nothing use all they have to survive, sometimes destroying, sometimes saving each other. It’s not flawless by any means, but this is a special moment in world cinema. There is a certain freedom of expression here that is so often stifled in the larger market. In time, it will be valued tremendously.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Noriko's Dinner Table 紀子の食卓 (2005)

Noriko's Dinner Table - I really don't remember what I thought of Suicide Club. Maybe that means it wasn't worth much. The ending was very bizarre, very crazy. Sort of satanic, in a way. SONO Sion impressed the hell out of me with Strange Circus. Like Blind Beast, it's one of those films that I have to love in secret, lest I lose even more friends. Yeah, it's not really safe for your normal types. He should have made an addition to that instead of that trite circus. I knew, going into it, that NDT would be somewhat better than Suicide Club. The big running time made me assume that he would build an intricate story, which he did, even if it feels a little bit bloated (not that the film is too long, I have patience, but the length doesn't really mean it's going to be better - this isn't A Brighter Summer Day). I kind of loved the eponymous protagonist, for looks and identification. She matches the strong, intelligent woman that can so easily be found in Japanese cinema, though she is incredibly naive in such youth. But lo and behold, she's ripped from my enjoyment, and Sono delves into the silly stories of the father and the friend and the sister. I thought this was just going to be about Noriko, the other characters aren't nearly as interesting. But what Sono did, and badly at that, was weave a domestic drama over bizarre events. Yet, it's not a profound domestic drama the way The Sting of Death is, or I'm hoping so dearly, the way Okaeri will be (if you read this and no where I can find it, then I'll be indebted to you for life). It's just more national ethos, you'll get it if you've learned the vocabulary. Nothing new here, mixed with the old female worship too. *6 out of 10

Love Talk 러브토크 (2005)

Love Talk - is the second film by Lee Yoon-ki, director of the so hallowed picture reviewed above. As you guessed, it's a romance. Not a romcom, more like a romdram. (Did I just write that?) It's very bland, but a better LA film than anything I've seen from an American director. The whole diversity of LA is found here, unlike the LA that Rob Altman saw in Short Cuts. There isn't much to say. It's very boring. The characters are affable while watching, but I may forget them after closing this review. I'll have to watch Ad Lib Night when I find the will. *5 out of 10

Moe no Suzaku 萌の朱雀 (1997)

Moe no Suzaku - is one of the ten most beautiful color films. All of Kawase's work (from what I've read) seems to be a great celebration of the family and of furusato. Watching this is like flipping through an old family album, remembering little details of relatives. Indeed, the patchwork-like compiling of the scenes creates this effect. It is realism that becomes poetic simply from the perfection of the natural settings, those pristine, quaint Japanese mountain villages. You'll want to lay forever in the warm colors and walk around the village for the sights. This is also very much a celebration of nature. Quite simply, it's the most artistic family film you could find.

Mes Petites Amoureuses

One of the saddest moments in the cinema was the early death of Jean Eustache. The Mother and the Whore is still the best film I've come across, and I believe that this was his second and last feature. Like that first masterpiece, this film presents the most real and wrenching emotions in a simple way. Eustache is somehow able to dig through and find those harsh feelings that we try to walk on top of in everyday life. Quite simply, it is story about a boy who is growing up. He lives in a smaller French city, the name escapes me, although I seem to remember looking it up when I watched it last week. The boy comes from a humble family. They are normal people, far unlike the overprivileged scoundrels that asphyxiate the cinema.

Watching this film, one can tell that it is heavily autobiographical. He's opening up his life for us, something that the French may do too often, but is welcome when the results are fair. Obviously, this is a must see for anyone in these circles. It has the simple poetry from the previous film, and is altogether more sincere than anything you'll find elsewhere.

Sleeping Man 眠る男 (1996)

Sleeping Man - Unfortunately, I didn't have subtitles, but the images contain the spirit of the picture, so I feel an understanding with the material. It seems to be another film supporting the national ethos. As one critic said, a shared history gives people a psychological foundation, and the presence of SE Asians, here welcomed and not castigated, displays humanist concerns. There were a few youngsters who became awkward at the presence of Christine Hakim's character, Tia, but YAKUSHO Koji's character, Hamamura, seemed to welcomed her, and occasionally correcting her Japanese: "Anata wa doushite?" Like KAWASE Naomi, OGURI Kohei praises simplistic, village life, or would rather not see it destroyed like most (hopefully). It's a serene and comfortable family film, and a HUGE influence on The Taste of Tea. I would recommend watching them together.

Yokubo 欲望 (2005)

Yokubo - After falling completely in love with ITAYA Yuka in Tokyo.Sora, I decided that it wouldn't be too bad to watch this before calling it a night. Of course, it had come to my attention that she bared all in this picture, so even as bourgeois and phony as this movie is, it wasn't a complete waste of time. Actually, it's a bit impressive, even if that goddamn choral introduction makes you lose control of your emotions. These chick flicks are like mind-control. They present us with a world that is so dreamy, so much more wonderful than the dreariness of real, industrial life. To begin with, Itaya is a woman whom it is very easy to fall in love with (due to her immense beauty), so watching it, you're beginning to love her as well. And being a woman's picture, she is centralized in the narrative, having autonomy and general dominance over the men. The men, mostly all of them, are quite pathetic. There is No-se who's married, but is sort of brutish and obviously can't commit to her, and then Itaya's character, Ruiko, falls into the arms of Masami, who is completely impotent. So, the world rests on her shoulders. But overall, it is very mature romance, but the Hallmark quality makes it worth skipping. (I wish my life was always in soft focus.)

Bright Future アカルイミライ (2003)

Bright Future - Just as a general rule, it's not that hard to tell when you'll be impressed by a film. Usually, a simple plot synopsis will reveal everything. If it sounds original and interesting, then most of the time it will be so. Also, the enthusiasm that others show directly relates to the possible goodness of the film in question. Looking at reviews of Noisy Requiem, everyone seemed so taken with it, but I have yet to see it. This film was the same, just the screenshots piqued my interest. It looked so strange, and then reading as little as possible, for fear of spoilers, learning that it was a film about alienation from a horror director prompted me immediately. And yes, it's all validated. This is an extremely well-written and well-executed film about the thing that we try to avoid: the supermasssive black hole within the soul of modern man. Not being too existential, it deals with it directly, without expounding too much, but such a topic is welcome because it hardly ever gets mentioned. Beginning in understandable territory, Kurosawa presents us with the utter pointlessness of daily labor and the near impossibility of self-fulfillment in such a bog, and through the characters of Yuji and Mamoru, ODAGIRI Joe and ASANO Tadanobu respectively, he shows us how people escape this purgatory. The two guys in question are basically adults who never really grew up. The silly distractions such as pets and video arcades, along with the multitude of time wasters present in an urban sprawl, are seen as deterrents from confronting reality. Tokyo's neon wasteland must produces hundreds of thousands like these two, alienated from any real goal, left with nothing to accomplish. It's the problem with the first-world. And Odagiri is the definition of star quality. He has it all: looks, talent, charisma. Joe is the Will Smith of Japan.

Tears 눈물 (2000)

Tears - IM Sang-soo strikes again. These teen rebellion pictures have a long legacy going. I think Rebel Without a Cause started it all. This particular bad teen film is far more visceral than what you would normally get. Shot on MiniDV, right in the Garibong-dong, it makes it feel nearly too real, but it doesn't elevate itself into documentary. You always know that you're watching a film, although it's very convincing. DV does have a certain immediateness that film does not retain. And while it's basically a good drama, above average definitely, in dealing with such a grim topic, personally, I am far more interested in the social forces that push these kids towards vagrancy than the physical workings of their daily lives. Maybe I'll have to make that film myself, but it may end up not being fictional. And if you want to see the apex of the teen rebellion genre, then watch a little Singaporean picture called 15: The Movie by Royston Tan.

This Charming Girl 여자, 정혜 (2004)

This Charming Girl - Very charming indeed. Where did they find her? This is another reason why that little country below China (no, the one even below the so-called oriental, totalitarian nightmare) is on top now as far as cinema goes. The reviews were glowing for this one, and seeing as how those reviewers were the competent ones, I believed them and was rewarded. This was very impressive, even more so because it was an original script. It has the depth that is usually found in literature, and as this quality so rare to find in film, I hope it continues, as the cinema so obviously has the potential to supersede any literary achievement. The charming girl we follow is a humble office worker, and in a format so compelling, reminding me of Soseki's novels, her character is slowly peeled away as we watch her go through the quotidian routine. This obsession with domesticity, hence the abundant feminine presence, is what is so fascinating about East Asian fiction. They aren't the Ancient Greeks. Their artists have always been concerned with the home. After all, that is the foundation of society. A more stable existence is possible if public life were more grounded around the home. But... Lee Yoon-ki somehow gave us one of those gems. A little masterwork (not piece) that seemed to come out of nowhere. The verisimilitude is leaps and bounds above what is found normally. I would even argue that maybe it's a little bit too real, but this is necessary. He's pointing future filmmakers in a new direction. *9 out of 10

Wife to Be Sacrificed 生贄夫人 (1974)

Wife to be Sacrificed - I watched this immediately after Flower and Snake. The previous film, in all honesty, does retain a campy quality, and one may feel cheapened afterwards, but I can say that this does something different. This is a more intelligent exploration of twisted desire (yeah, it is twisted if you have to do all that to a woman for satisfaction). Konuma's form is much more precise here, and he really made something of an erotic gem. I really do believe that if the sex were normal then everyone would be praising it as some classic, but only because it's perverse has it been excluded. Once they watch it, they'll understand. It'll be placed right up there with your Oshima, Bataille, Nin, Miller, de Sade, Masoch, and the like. Of course, the film's success greatly lies on the audience's feelings towards Naomi Tani. I could imagine nothing but an all-male audience viewing this, and more importantly a male audience in their 30s. Tani has a mature look that is usually unacceptable by film standards. She really does look like a woman and not an over-developed teen like some of the young actresses that are introduced into films to get press coverage. One critic said the secret behind her appeal is that she looks very much like a typical Japanese mother, and the audience would indulge in their repressed Oedipal fantasies while viewing her films. I couldn't go that far, but one will notice her fully grown-up look, pale skin, and fleshy exterior. It all adds to a very mature and intriguing film that I hope has been emulated again (and again) in her filmography. A subversive gem.

The Road to the Racetrack 경마장 가는 길 (1991)

The Road to the Racetrack - There is a general consensus now for the few who have seen this: it IS the Korean answer to The Mother and the Whore. But have I told you: The Mother and the Whore is MY favorite film. You can't just go copying it all willy-nilly unless you have something fantastic up your sleeve. Though while it isn't a carbon copy, the influence is obvious from the beginning. This is a film about talking about relationships. It's what the French do best, and now the Koreans have mastered it as well. The couple in question is on rocky territory: he's married with two brats and she's a bit younger and quite well-off, to his "I can barely can get by." It begins with him returning to Korea after obtaining a doctorate in France, where they cohabited for over three years. Of course, upon returning to the home country, he's very interested in continuing the relationship, but it seems that France (or Korea) has changed them both, and things cannot go so smoothly. What I like most about these films is that they are honest depictions of life. It's easy to find the more solid truths of life when analyzing relationships, which is why it is such a repeated subject. The bulk of the film is simply the discussions between the couple - R (him) and J (her). J picks up R in her car and they talk in bars, cafes, hotels. Although they seem to want to have a deep bond, his intellectual coldness and her hypocrisy stop this from growing. I don't mind imitation, as long as you imitate the best. *9 out of 10

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Tokyo.Sora (2002)

Tokyo.Sora - was released a year after Take Care of My Cat, and they are both very similar, but I'm far more impressed with the Japanese rendition of urban womanhood. Yet, just as in ISHIKAWA Hiroshi's next film Su-Ki-Da, this presents characters more unusual than anything else I've seen. I understand that it is a culture of politeness, but his characters display a reservedness far greater than in other films. I can definitely say, no characters from the older films of the 60s and 70s were ever like this. Ishikawa's urbanites can hardly get a word out. But it has such a light touch as to earn respect, though as pretty as the film is with its transparent 16mm color, the themes that we're dealing with here aren't that profound. If only the script were more detailed, delved deeper into certain issues, then maybe I would grant it higher praise.

Camel(s) 낙타(들) (2002)

Camel(s) - is the most faithful expression of realism I've seen. I thought it had the potential to be pretentious, but the verisimilitude goes to the degree of discomfort (because it's all too real). It becomes hard to watch as you realize that one half of amorous couple could very well be your own parent (pick one, and you can literally see them, a couple in an extramarital affair, drowning in guilt through their eyes). Without the use of artifice, Park is able to get to a few really hard truths about our suffocating, industrial society and the distance between men and women. And while this may all sound like exactly what HONG Sang-soo has been working on for over 10 years, this analysis of the subject is all the more subtle, and completely lacking the comedy that allows Hong's films to be palatable. I'm definitely taking another look at this one in the near future, and am going to get my hands on Motel Cactus.

Tree Without Leaves - SHINDO Kaneto (1986)

Tree Without Leaves - It may be impossible to render a more affectionate expression of love for one's mother. The only other works of art I've come across that approaches this are the initial pages of the "Combray" section in Swann's Way, and well.... Mother by Naruse. It is very convincing and makes me assume that Shindo added autobiographical elements. The starring family and their status as the village's patricians give it a more classic feel, as the old stories were always about the king and his kin. In addition to the expression of love for the mother, played by Shindo's wife OTOWA Nobuko (in one of the greatest roles ever), a large part of the drama deals with the families declining fortune (very old school, huh?). It may not be a film about people we can all identify with, but the technical perfection is unavoidable. Shot in such a crisp, clean black-and-white, I greatly wish that I can one day see this on 35. It's sort of strange that the movie won no awards because it's basically perfect. Maybe Shindo had lost friends that year.

The Sting of Death - OGURI Kohei (1990)

The Sting of Death - I first heard about the director of this film, OGURI Kohei, in my professor's book. In her critical study of Oshima, she compared one of Oguri's films, Muddy River to The Sun's Burial(both about the poor-as-shit residents that can still be found in Osaka). Locating a copy of Muddy River isn't feasible at the moment, but there are inexpensive Hong Kong DVDs of this film, The Sting of Death, which, in the brief criticism on Oguri that is actually available, has been touted as his masterpiece. It is difficult to tell whether or not this is a masterpiece, but like any work of art that makes people pay attention, it takes itself extremely seriously. Like Maboroshi no Hikari the camera is almost completely immobile and generates an uncomfortable intensity during the scenes of the couple's marital downfall. Here, we see the story of a writer's conflict with his wife over his infidelity. For nearly two hours, we have to put up with their psychological battle, and they (and the audience) are driven ever closer to insanity in the process. There just really aren't too many other Japanese films that delve into a subject so deeply. Interspersing the marital duels, there are scenes that are terrifyingly funny, and the framing is also very beautiful, almost providing an escape from the morbid drama. Once again, MATSUZAKA Keiko proves that she was the greatest Japanese actress of that time period. Some may criticize her for overacting, but the power she brings to her performances usually matches the circumstances. For me, she represents the older generation of actors, worldwide, who just put more feeling into their performances than the young people do. In that respect, acting has shifted.