Performance is much ado about too little. It engendered a massive scandal at the time it was made, due to a lot of onscreen decadence which is mostly tame today; Warner Brothers panicked when they saw it and more or less shelved it for a decade after it received an X rating. Now it’s been released on DVD in a relatively uncut version, but it’s again hard to tell if the resulting muddle is due to Comstockery or just that it’s not a very good movie, period. Allegedly half an hour or more of the film was scissored out to make it releasable, but sitting through that much more of a movie this unfocused and ultimately uninteresting isn’t my idea of a good time.
The movie purports to be a study of colliding underground lifestyles: a British mob enforcer, Chas (James Fox, very good), and Turner (Mick Jagger), a former rock star who hung it all up to go shack up with some girls and a whole bunch of drugs in a basement apartment in London. Chas feels vaguely unwelcome in his line of work, and strives a little too hard to impress his employers — so much so that he eventually incurs the wrath of a rival gang. When he kills one of their enforcers, he goes on the lam, and after some obscuring of his tracks he ends up bluffing his way into renting out a room in Turner’s place. Read more
The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai doesn’t seem to know when it has it good. It starts off promisingly, and then gets sidetracked in things that are so much less interesting than its original premise — and, worst of all, aren’t particularly funny. Quick, what’s more interesting, a story about a quirky and unpredictable character — or a dreary plot about a stolen piece of nuclear launch hardware and a bunch of easy cheap shots against the Bush administration? The only thing drearier than the movie’s sullen-supposed-to-be-stinging politics is the way people have lined up to bark about how great it is, but just because I don’t agree with our current administration doesn’t also mean I have to make nice on every movie that does. The vast majority of Sachiko Hanai is nowhere nearly as interesting as the press about it.
The Sachiko of the title works as a call-girl in one of those Tokyo role-playing clubs where various creepy perverts pay piles of money to have sex with school tutors and nurses. One night she goes to the wrong café for an assigned rendezvous and ends up getting shot in the face — but, amazingly, she doesn’t die. Instead, she wanders off into the night and continues to service customers with a bullet hole in her forehead. Then, after a mishap with a pencil while trying to pry it out (accompanied with a convenient animated diagram) she gives herself a quasi-lobotomy and acquires a super-genius I.Q. Read more
Dora-heita wastes two things, both hard to come by: a potentially great story and a truly great performance. The truly great performance is by Kōji Yakusho, one of Japan’s most dependable male actors, nominally called upon by director Kiyoshi Kurosawa to embody that country’s anonymous Everysalaryman. Here, he’s anything but anonymous: he’s a rakish, singing, dancing, swordfighting life-of-the-party samurai, quick with his wit and just as fast with his weapon when the moment demands it. He also happens to be a magistrate appointed with the very serious mission of cleaning up a deeply corrupt province, and is prepared to wade through who knows how much muck to do the job.
That’s the potentially great story, and what’s even more mind-boggling is the sheer level of pedigree behind it. Dora-heita was derived from a screenplay co-written by four of Japan’s greatest directors — Akira Kurosawa, Kon Ichikawa, Keisuke Kinoshita, and Masaki Kobayashi — and directed by Ichikawa himself decades after the script had been completed. I was primed to eat this movie up ever since I’d heard about it almost six years ago. Then I began watching it, and my heart started to sink and sink, and what should have been a resurrection of bracing, funny samurai-classic filmmaking like Yojimbo turned into a stunning bore. It’s the wrong story, told the wrong way, and to entirely the wrong effect. Read more
I’ve had this argument before, many times. I forgive a movie a great deal if it shows me something new, or shows me something rendered in such sharp and living detail that it’s impossible to look away. That’s what the movies are best at, and so perhaps trying to punch up Children of Men with tighter or more involved plotting would have been a mistake. At least one of my friends was not willing to give the film a pass for that alone, so I’m certain opinions will vary — but as a pure experience, there’s nothing like it. Read more
Here’s the kind of movie that’s meant to be goofy and charming, and would be more so if they hadn’t worked so hard to make it that way. It’s a movie adaptation of a novel, which was itself a “based on true events” story: nerdy Tokyoite steps in on a young woman’s behalf when a drunk salaryman harasses her on the train home, and when she thanks him profusely for his effort, he turns to his anonymous Internet friends for help on how to deal with women. Romance ensues — or, rather, ensued, and if the story is to be believed, “Train Man” and his girl “Hermès” are still happy together.
Did it really happen that way? Until proof of the contrary, I’d like to believe so, and the book is quite touching and funny, all the more so since it’s told in the style of the internet chatroom threads that allegedly spawned the whole thing. The movie version takes the basic events of the story and jazzes them up with two things: a funny, breezy visual style, which works; and a hammy, goofy performance by the lead (Takayuki Yamada, also of The Cat Returns), which does not. I’m by no means alien to the ways Japanese comedy deals in goofy exaggerations — I loved Geroppa!, for instance — but it’s hard to root for someone whom you constantly want to smack across the face and order to calm down.Read more