Among all the countries in the world with a cinematic presence, Korea alone seems to be an outlet for the most simultaneously punishing and rewarding movies around. The most startling thing about movies like Oldboy, The Isle, Too Young to Die, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Say Yes is not that they are transgressive or disturbing (although many of them are), but that most of them were made for mainstream moviegoing audiences, or as close to such a thing as there is in Korea. No major movie production company in this country would dare greenlight a movie in which a man eats a real live squid (Oldboy), or where two septuagenarians have unsimulated on-camera sex (Young), or where a man swallows fishhooks in an aborted attempt to commit suicide (Isle).
By casting things in this light, though, I am probably obscuring the underlying issue: These are all excellent movies that deserve a broad, thoughtful audience. The subject matter or the various ingredients of each should not scare people off. The same goes for Oasis, which tackles several unpleasant subjects at once in such a gentle and sometimes disarmingly matter-of-fact way (at least for most of its running time) that the shock is blunted. Someone else has described it as “a beautiful movie about ugly things.” It’s a fitting description.Read more
In letters to his friends during the Fifties, Allan Ginsberg hinted that his buddy William Burroughs was working on a book called Word Hoard, “an endless novel which will drive everyone mad.” I imagine Lovecraft was not exactly a household name back then, so assuring insanity as a result of reading one’s opus probably didn’t have the same cachet of immediate hipness that it does now.
Today, I can’t count the number of albums, books, movies, and whole cultural experiences that use their endurance-test factor as a way to draw in a captive audience. Sometimes they even rather grotesquely cross-pollinate: Noise music pioneer Merzbow (Masami Akita) directed a series of simulated seppuku videos for the “specialty” studio Kinbiken. If the screeching soundtrack didn’t drive you from the room, the sight of two female samurai dumping their intestines on the ground probably would.
This may sound like a somewhat roundabout way to talk about Naked Lunch, which is comparatively tamer as a reading experience then watching fake snuff porn (it’s just a book, after all), but I’m having a hard time finding any other cultural artifact that gave as many people an excuse to be artistically perverse. This is not criticism, but simply description. Lunch was a wholly indiscriminate liberator of artistic pretensions, to the point that whether or not it was any good was almost irrelevant.Read more
The word kagemusha means “double” or “shadow warrior” in Japanese, the name for someone who impersonates a warlord or noble to draw away assassins — but it also refers to the wire-pullers in bunraku or Japanese puppet theater, the ones behind the scenes whom we are never supposed to see. Kagemusha is about both of these things: a) the double, and b) the men behind the throne who believe they can control him and change the fate of their world by doing so. More than that, though, it is about the illusory nature of human society — how a whole world or a way of life can be founded on nothing save a fervent belief.
The warlord is named Shingen (Tatsuya Nakadai), and his own brother, Nobukado, resembles him closely enough that he has doubled for him many times in the past. One day they discover a condemned thief (Nakadai again) who so closely resembles the warlord that even he is taken aback by the resemblance. The thief wants no part of this charade, but Shingen is at war and the more effectively they can distract the enemy the better. After all, it’s not as if he has to do anything other than dress as the man and be seen from a distance by spies. It seems easy enough, and the promise of a pardon for his crimes is hard to dismiss. Read more
I've known people in real life who are like Johnny, played unblinkingly and with frightening power by David Thewlis in Mike Leigh’s Naked. They don't have a fixed address, method of income, bank account, or even a consistent set of clothes. What they do have is a philosophy, an outlook — the one thing they can take with them to the grave, and they are convinced that is exactly where they and everyone else on the besotted planet are headed before too much longer. Johnny has been stepped on by life — stripped naked, as per the title — and what's left is not something anyone who can wrap themselves snugly in a cozy house and a good-paying job wants to look at. Most of us are a lot close to what Johnny lives through than we want to admit.
Johnny appears at the beginning of Naked with no preface, no history, and no justification. He looks like he’s in his forties, but he’s not even 28. He rapes a woman — although it might be rape or simply mercenary sex that gets out of hand — steals a car and makes his way to London, where he ingratiates himself with Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge), flatmate of an old girlfriend of his. From the way he talks to her — most of his speech consists of barked obscenities, barbed aphorisms and snide disparagements — we wonder how he could have ever entertained a relationship with anyone. There is another girl living in the flat as well, Louise (Lesley Sharp), a sad-sounding, doughy-faced woman who seems to have pulled out of something akin to whatever nosedive Johnny fell into, only to founder along aimlessly.Read more