Real Fiction is an amateurish and pretentious waste of eighty minutes from a director who has since gone on to produce much better things. The director in question is Ki-duk Kim, he of The Isle, 3-Iron and Samaria, three films I admired and enjoyed — although sometimes I admired them far more than I could say I enjoyed them. I neither admired nor enjoyed Real Fiction, mostly because I could see right through it every step of the way. It’s the kind of movie every director is probably obliged to make once when they’re in film school, just to get it out of the way and get it over with, but there’s no reason we have to watch, too.
Real Fiction opens in a public park, where a hapless sketch artist is suffering one indignity after another at the hands of an uncaring public. Local thugs hassle him for money. His customers belittle his work. No one seems to give a damn. For fun he listens in on other people’s phone conversations through a police scanner (shades of the equally dreadful Focus). I could probably stick my neck out and make some connection, however tentative, between the artist character and the director, because the movie is too shallow to invite any other interpretation.Read more
Samurai Assassin is in many ways a brother film to Sword of Doom — it was directed by the same man (Kihachi Okamoto), shares one of the same stars (Toshiro Mifune), and even the same screenwriter (Kurosawa collaborator Shinobu Hashimoto). It doesn’t exist on the same level as Doom — few movies do — but Assassin is good enough in its own right that comparing the two directly is probably unfair. Also, like Doom, it’s not as widely recognized as many of the “staple” samurai movies (Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, etc.), but don’t let that stop you if you’re curious.
Assassin (or simply Samurai, as it was named in Japan) was based on a fictionalization of an event that did in fact take place in Japanese history. It opens in 1860, barely a decade before the collapse of the Shogunate and the opening of Japan to the West. A group of assassins from the House of Mito lie in wait just outside the capitol to murder the head of the House of Ii, the current Shogun of Japan. But the assassination plan is aborted when the killers suspect one among them may be a traitor, preparing to leak word of the plot to the Shogun himself. Read more
I’ve had such a hard time figuring out how to describe Love Song for Rapper that I’m tempted to say, see the movie and we’ll talk about it after. It’s a crude, scruffy, handmade movie with no name recognition that came totally out of nowhere and ambushed me with its charms. It’s also darned near impossible to review, because it doesn’t anchor itself in any of the typical reference points a movie would use. I would tentatively call it a black comedy, but that would be at the expense of the movie’s genuinely sweet and heartfelt feeling; and if I called it a family drama that would ignore the major detours it takes into surrealism and David Lynch-ian left-hand paths. The only other film I have seen that compares even remotely to it is Christopher Doyle’s Away with Words, which also mixed surrealism and comedy.
Love Song for Rapper gives us a family living in modern Tokyo, a mother and two sons. One of the boys is an aspiring comic artist, and spends most of his days holed up in his room drawing and painting page after page of his masterwork. The other’s a minor-league baseball player, and like his brother, nothing exists for him outside of his little ambition. He plays, he comes home, he stuffs his face with cola and chips, and only deals with his brother as a nuisance and an obstacle. These scenes are hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time, like the one where the ballplaying brother angrily denounces Mom for spoiling his sibling — only then in the same breath to demand a new pair of running shoes.Read more
Rock & Rule is another in a small batch of experimental animated productions from North America in the Seventies and Eighties, almost all of which met with commercial failure but gathered a thriving cult following. What’s most disappointing about Rock & Rule is that the movie just isn’t very good. It looks terrific — it was made with cutting-edge technique at its time — but the story’s an arbitrary muddle, and the most likeable things about it are the throwaway touches.
Rock & Rule takes place long after some kind of holocaust has devastated the planet, and a new race of humans descended from animals have taken over. This is less interesting than it sounds, as it’s basically an excuse for the character designers to create a loosely Disney-fied cast. A legendary rock star named Mok (think Mick Jagger crossbred with Iggy Pop, the latter of whom contributed songs to the movie) has been working on a secret project that involves using a singer’s voice to unlock a doorway to another dimension. Mok’s own voice won’t do the trick, so he sets off in search of a better one. (Interesting side note: Rock & Rule takes place after an apocalypse; so did Wizards and Fire & Ice, two other experimental animated productions of the period. Was there something in the water?)Read more
The young man’s job is ostensibly to leave takeout menus on people’s front doors. If the menus are still there when he returns later in the day, he breaks in — he’s quite handy with his tools — settles down for a little while, and makes himself at home while everyone else is out. Sometimes he does the owners’ laundry, or fixes things that are broken. For the most part, he slips in and out of other people’s lives like a ghost.
One day he ends up at the door of a large mansion. He soaks in the tub, practices his golf swing, waters the plants, repairs an inaccurate bathroom scale. He also discovers a woman, as silent as he is, sporting a split lip and a bruised eye courtesy of her husband. The husband himself is alternately cruel and comforting, trying to command love from her when it must be earned instead. The young man and the husband come to blows, in a manner of speaking, and she leaves with this curious stranger to experience something like freedom with him. Read more
The answer is, fortunately, a good one. The film borrows loosely from the first two books (and discards the third completely) to create a story that is as curiously touching and human as it is fanciful and bizarre. It also does something few SF movies do at all: it assumes its audience is intelligent and curious, and more than a little accultured. This is in itself risky and laudable, especially when every SF movie that comes down the pike these days seems to be doomed to become either a Will Smith or Tom Cruise vehicle.Read more
A key concept in Buddhist thought is the impermanence of all things: today’s meal was yesterday’s cow, and will become tomorrow’s waste product. If everything changes form and passes away, then maybe the whole idea of things having form in the first place is delusion. Maybe this is not the right way to start talking about Cat Soup, an animated film where cats grow on trees and a hog eats part of his own butchered carcass, but I think it’s in the right spirit.
You’ve probably guessed by now that Cat Soup is not about plot and character, but imagery and experiences. That’s perfectly fine: some of the best movies are not about a story at all, just an experience. Koyaanisqatsi, The Phantom of Liberty, and most of 2001 come to mind. I’m also reminded of the Hubley animation productions like The Cosmic Eye, or even Stan Brakhage’s visionary filmmaking, which were about form and motion and color more than narrative. Despite being an animated production with a cast of cute animals, Cat Soup is definitely not a “kid’s movie” — it’s more in line with European productions like Allegro non troppo. Read more