The facts of the case are shocking enough. In 1964 a man named Iwao Enokizu was arrested after having been on the lam across Japan for several months, swindling, cheating, and murdering whoever crossed his path. He was snidely unremorseful, and on the way to the precinct house he complained that all his arresting officers would outlive him and deny him any chance to further enjoy his life. He sounded like a man who had been cheated out of something, and in his mind, he had been. Society for him, as for all sociopaths, was a big fat obstacle in the way of his pleasures.
But soon he began to talk, and talk, and talk, and before long the police were in possession of his whole sordid story. What they did not have, however, were motives. What possessed a man — undeniably bad to begin with, but hardly irredeemable — to murder his coworkers, rob them, do a runner, and then kill everyone else who got in his way?
Vengeance Is Mine, directed by Shohei Imamura, opens with Iwao's arrest and capture, and flashes back over the course of his confession to his crimes. No attempt at suspense is generated here; the only mystery Imamura wants on screen is the mystery of his main character's motives. Unlike the police who interrogate Iwao, however, Imamura doesn't claim to have any answers. This is not a vest-pocket psychoanalysis movie where everything is wrapped up in neat, Freudian terms, even though we see a great deal of material that could fuel such a theory. The movie doesn't put its credence one way or another. It simply shows a charming and utterly hateful sociopath at work, and presumes that we will be intelligent or observant enough to draw our own conclusions.Read more
The exact translation of Kwaidan is "ghost story," and Kwaidan is nothing more — and nothing less — than four elegantly chilling ghost stories. What it lacks in ultimate significance it more than makes up for in style and sensibility, and maybe that is part of the point of the movie. The ghost story we were told when we were young, the one that seemed so paralyzingly frightening then — it runs the risk of becoming simply silly when placed on a big screen, unless the dramatization contains its own bite and brilliance. Here, it does.
Kwaidan features four classic stories from Japanese mythology via Lafcadio Hearn, a Westerner who lived and taught in Japan for most of his life and became a sort of cultural ambassador for that country to the West. Hearn's retellings have not only become staples towards understanding Japanese myth in this country, but in Japan as well: there are few anthologies of such work that do not feature at least one of his stories. Masaki Kobayashi, director of the lurid but powerful Harakiri and the outstanding thee-part epic The Human Condition, collected three of the most popular and commonly retold of Hearn's stories (as well as a fourth fragmentary story) and filmed them with great care and wild visual imagination. The result is moody, lovely, and broad, if not always deep, but no less fascinating to watch. It calls to mind Kurosawa's Dreams, but without that movie's didactic self-importance. It's literally like watching a painting come to life, and that in itself is reason enough to see it. Kobayashi shot it almost entirely on sound stages built in a giant aircraft hangar, and it took four years to complete.Read more
The Matrix is fast turning into the Star Wars of the new century, not just in terms of its popularity or its coolness factor, but its creative breadth. Aside from the trilogy of films spawned from it, a videogame, Enter the Matrix, was also rolled out as part of the canon (apparently some of it explains plot points left mostly undescribed in the films). But the most interesting spinoff so far has proved to be The Animatrix, a series of canon short films produced by some of the most audacious and respected animators working today.
Most of the time, anthology products don't work for me. The Twilight Zone movie, for instance, consisted of four reworked episodes from the TV show — one bad, one mediocre, and two very good — which added up to a movie that wasn't worth repeating. The made-for-TV-but-shunted-to-theaters Nightmares was equally patchy: one segment was a Tron ripoff; another a rather slummy reworking of Of Unknown Origin; and so on. (Anyone here remember Asylum?) The main problem is that the long form lends itself to a total story bound together by more than just a vague concept.
The Animatrix steps around this problem by having a universe ready-made for it with a cohesive set of ideas. Anyone who has seen the first film is familiar with the basics: the machine-and-human war, the subsequent enslavement of mankind, the plastic nature of the Matrix, the various nuances and subtleties of the Matrix philosophy and mythology, and so on. Because we already know the basics, but we are also sure there is so much more territory that can be covered, the set avoids the problems inherent in most anthology productions and charts some amazing new territory. This set expands on everything we know, and introduces a great many things we never would have suspected. Read more
The writer / director / editor team of the Pang Brothers, Danny and Oxide Pang, work in both Hong Kong and Thailand and have produced some of the most visually arresting movies to come out of either country. Visually arresting, but not always emotionally affecting. Their last effort, Bangkok Dangerous, was amazing to look at even if its story was essentially nothing we hadn't seen before. Their new movie, The Eye, has been released into theaters in America as I write this, where it is drawing critical acclaim. With this movie, the Pangs have used their style in a slightly more focused way: the style actually supports the movie's intentions instead of just being a way to jazz up a pedestrian story. The bad news is that the story in The Eye is not all that great, either.
The Eye is essentially a fusion of the underrated Madeleine Stowe thriller Blink and The Sixth Sense. Blink had Stowe as a woman blind since childhood receiving a cornea transplant that caused her to see things that may not be there, and being drawn into a murder mystery and a romance. The Sixth Sense's "I see dead people" premise has gone from being intriguing to parodic fodder in such short order that it's almost hard to remember the impact the movie had when it first came out. The Eye, however, takes some intriguing further steps, and I'd recommend reading no further if you want to simply be surprised by the film. It does pack a wallop, just not a very deep one. Read more