“…war is a drug”
Most people look at those words, from the opening titles of The Hurt Locker and think addiction, By the end of the movie they may also think about the other effect most drugs have: derangement of the senses. The main character, bomb-squad specialist or “EOD tech” James (Jeremy Renner), has let war go to his head in more ways than one. His tragedy is not that he has lost his humanity in the exhilaration of battle, but that he still has enough humanity left to gnaw at him even after all he throws himself into.
Hurt Locker won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2009, and it shows. It is further evidence that a “war movie” is not just about people shooting at each other, but about a facet of an experience not duplicated anywhere else in life. It doesn’t argue for or against James and it doesn’t bog down in arguments about the validity of the war in Iraq. It simply says: here is a man who can do remarkable things in the middle of hell, and is it any wonder some people are bothered by that? This is a man who does indeed enjoy his work, who gets something out of it he gets nowhere else, and does not care if the thought of him enjoying his work horrifies us. Read more
Some movies give you everything and manage to say nothing. Some movies give you what seems like nothing and use that to say everything. The Rebirth is made up of the tiniest details of the daily lives of two people who have died emotionally, and uses the smallest changes in those details to show us how they are coming back to life again. It’s not a movie most people will find interesting, I suspect — it’s in the same vein as the infamously static Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, which also bode its time and struck like lightning. Very little happens in The Rebirth, but every frame of the movie commanded my attention completely, and when it was over I understood why it had been made in such a monomaniacal way.
Rebirth deals with two victims of the same disaster, the mother of a young girl who committed a murder and the father of the victim (director Masahiro Kobayashi). They are interviewed by an unseen third party; they squirm and can barely look the camera in the eye. (The woman wears dark glasses and lets her hair hang over her face to further obscure herself). The father doesn’t want anything to do with the outside world; the mother is half-dead of shame and guilt. Their lives are effectively over, and there is nothing left for them to do but disappear somewhere. Read more
A pedigree goes a long way with me. Black Kiss was written and directed by Macoto Tezka*, none other than the son of Osamu Tezuka himself, but it has as about as much to do with the work of Tezuka père as Tezuka’s work has to do with Masamune Shirow. Kiss seems to me more of the sort of thing Edogawa Rampo might have written, had he lived to the present day and fused his conceits of “erotic grotesque nonsense” with modern serial-killer stories. I admit to being horribly burned out on serial killers — I blame Thomas Harris for starting that whole mess — but Black Kiss brings enough twists to the core idea to remain just this side of interesting.
Black Kiss is set in modern Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, all gutter sleaze and love hotels and trashy dive bars. Life is cheap; sex is even cheaper. Through the neon and glitter strides wide-eyed Asuka Hoshino (Reika Hashimoto), a girl with ambitions of becoming a model. She’s pretty and photogenic, but gutless: the other models treat her like dirt, and she acts as though some part of her believes she deserves it. Without a place to stay, she manages to couch-crash at the apartment of Kasumi Kuroki (Kaori Kawamura) — the sullen, tattooed, half-American down-and-outer who works in a neighborhood junk shop, lives with her pet turtle in an apartment filled with clutter she probably filched from work, and doesn’t seem to think much of Asuka and her clean-scrubbed ways. (Give her time.) Read more
Here is a film where J-rocker Hyde plays a vampire, J-rocker Gackt plays his up-from-the-gutter sidekick, lots of people shoot guns and beat each other up, and Susumu Terashima has druggy conversations with a hallucinated fish. Would that it added up to more than moping and flailing, no thanks to a story that’s so aimless and draggy it could have lost 45 minutes of its two-hour running time and not leave us feeling like anything went missing.
Moon Child kicks off in the last few hours of the 20th century (which, incredibly, the movie gets right: it’s Dec. 31, 2000, not 1999), in a vaguely pan-Asian metropolis named Maleppa. There, street urchin Sho (Gackt) runs across Kei (Hyde) in a gutter somewhere. Kei’s a vampire who’s spent a long time torn between wanting to die and not wanting to do it himself. Sho recruits him into a life of crime, since it’s handy having a friend in the underworld who’s immune to bullets, and over the next twenty-odd years they make a whole bevy of enemies, waste tons of ammo, are betrayed by close comrades, fight, split, rejoin, marry, lose loved ones, and have about two hundred pseudo-lyrical moments apiece where slow music plays and the characters look at the same thing off in the distance somewhere and mumble about life. Read more
First there was Black House (Japan), an adaptation of Yusuke(Crimson Labyrinth) Kishi’s novel. And now we have Black House (Korea), which is … also an adaptation of Yusuke Kishi’s novel. The Japanese version was mannered and strange with many obvious directorial intrusions, and I wavered between liking it for that reason and finding it simply annoying. The Korean version is constructed more like a conventional “Western” thriller, with obvious shock cuts and musical stings, but it’s that much more approachable, and I suspect most people will think of it as the “better” film. You choose.
Curious how intra-Asian remakes work. The last time this happened was The Ring, which was filmed multiple times in both Japan and Korea, and jumped the ocean to the United States to kick off the cinematic J-horror boom there. Said boom has mostly fizzled at this point — The Grudge and Dark Water were only okay, and if there was anything after that I’m probably lucky I don’t remember it. I doubt Black House is getting the remake treatment Stateside, but from what I see it would face faces fewer cultural hurdles than, say, Akira. (And of course there was Oldboy, a Korean adaptation of a Japanese comic with no American remake forthcoming after all, thank goodness.) Read more