The reviews for Natural City describe it variously as an homage to, a rip-off of, and a sequel of sorts to Blade Runner. Of the three, I’d select somewhere between homage and rip-off. Natural City’s debt to one of the greatest SF films ever made is plain, but it at least attempts to find territory of its own to explore, using the original film as a point of departure. The attempt is not a success, unfortunately; I spent more time wowing at the movie’s lush production design than I did feeling anything for the characters.
Natural City is one of the latest in a series of high-budget, high-concept Korean movies that meld a high-tech look and feel with deeply sentimental themes. 2009 Lost Memories was like this, where the only thing that upstaged the special effects and amazing sets was the operatic levels of emotion in the cast. Natural City tries to shoot for the same heights, but is riddled with so much crippling illogic in terms of the behavior of its characters that it doesn’t seem so much operatic as histrionic.Read more
Throw Away Your Books, Let’s Go Out Into the Streets is unquestionably a product of the late Sixties and early Seventies, when rebellion ruled the artistic roost and everything from “anti-theater” to “un-universities” were in vogue. In the same way, Books is something like “anti-cinema”: it’s unburdened by anything like a linear plot or conventional storytelling, has no real beginning or end (or even a middle, really), and floats freely from one loony scene to the next. Despite all this, it’s not the unwatchable disaster it could very easily have been; it’s actually quite charming in its ragged insistence on being its own self.
Books was written and directed by Shuji Terayama, known widely in Japan as a filmmaker, poet and screenwriter. Among his scripts were My Face Red in the Sunset and Tears on the Lion’s Mane, two of Masahiro Shinoda’s better movies. He was also one of the co-founders of the avant-garde Art Theatre Guild, which was responsible for some of Japan’s most interesting and confrontational movies through the Seventies and Eighties. Books was produced as an ATG project, along with Terayama’s outlandish and controversial first film Emperor Tomato Ketchup. While it isn’t as flat-out unreal (and frankly indigestible) as Ketchup, it’s no less bizarre — but endearingly so. Read more
When a number of Hollywood studios tried to license Battle Royale for distribution in the States, they were all rejected. Maybe it was for their own good: This is easily the most violent and disturbing “mainstream” movie made in any country. I doubt any American studio would ever consider financing this film — no, not even the Hollywood that created films as challenging as Fight Club and Requiem for a Dream. Battle Royale, directed by veteran Japanese director Kinji Fukasaku, goes much further than either of those movies. But somehow it never does so without wholly alienating its audience — in fact, the film's smash-hit status in Japan blind-sided both audiences and critics.
The film’s premise, drawn from an equally controversial best-selling novel (and, later, manga) of the same name, is fairly simple. Sometime in the future, Japan teeters on the brink of collapse. Kids boycott school with appalling regularity; teachers are stabbed in classrooms; adult resentment of teenagers is skyrocketing. To counter this, the government passes the Battle Royale Act. Under the Act, a class of 42 kids is chosen at random once a year, abducted, and placed on a deserted island. Each student is given rations, a map, and a variety of weapon (also randomly selected). The goal: Kill everyone else.
The fun doesn’t end there. Everyone’s also been outfitted with an electronic collar, which can be detonated by remote-control (blowing off the victim’s head a la Deadlock). At the end of three days, if more than one person is left alive, everyone dies — giving the students that much more of an incentive to destroy each other.Read more
Here we have one of the most uncompelling movies in recent memory, wrapped up in a visual style that's needlessly confusing and weighted down with performances that have all the flavor of a loaf of unbaked bread. Yesterday is not the worst of many recent Korean SF flop-busters — the all-time loser in that regard is the lamentable Resurrection of the Little Match Girl — but it's quite a tiresome mess unto itself. It’s so excruciatingly uninvolving that it took three separate sittings for me to watch the whole thing, making a two-hour movie feel like four.
Yesterday is like one of those Movie-By-Numbers jobs, where the ingredients are all there but the flair of the chef is missing. It contains a great many things — serial killers, genetic experiments, futuristic police work — but they all just sort of sit there. They never gel into a reason to keep watching. Plus, there's a fight or chase every ten minutes just to keep the audience awake — the sort of thing that in a better movie would work as punctuation but here is more like stammering.Read more
Tokyo. Christmastime. Dozens of homeless line up for a pageant, a sermon, and a free meal. Hearing the priest gabble on about the plight of the homeless, they groan and roll their eyes. Words don’t fill an empty stomach; they want to eat. The two at the head of the line are Gin, a grizzled forty-something, and Hana, a homosexual cross-dresser, who have spent who knows how many Christmases and holidays in soup lines like this.
They trudge back to their tent in the park with more food for a third, Miyuki, a teenaged girl who ran away from home after a fight with her parents. Together they form a kind of a family, even if they are perpetually at each other’s throats. Then they hear screaming from another part of the dump they’re scavenging through, and discover an infant abandoned in the trash.
This is the setup for Tokyo Godfathers, an animated production by Satoshi Kon, one of Japan’s brightest new directors of animated productions. He’s been responsible for two other feature-length movies before — the bizarre Perfect Blue and the dreamy Millennium Actress — and this is a step in a completely different direction from the two. Tokyo Godfathers is a combination of whimsy and social realism — not always the best mixture, but in this movie it manages to work by dint of coming from new directions.Read more
If someone like me, a fairly seasoned veteran of moviegoing and -reviewing, can’t make head or tail of Dogura Magura, what does that bode for everyone else? I ask this question not because I’m hostile to difficult movies; in fact, I actively seek them out. But Dogura Magura has a narrator that can’t be trusted telling a story that may have no substance in a plot that may never have existed to begin with. It’s a pretentious version of one of those thrillers where every piece of evidence can be read one of two ways, and the identity of the killer can be changed in the very last shot to appease the test marketers.
The movie is an adaptation of a widely-revered surrealist novel from 1935 Japan, repeatedly described as unfilmable, so maybe you need to be a fan of the book to feel any connection with the material. From what I understand, the movie actually follows the book fairly closely, but a movie version of any story needs to stand on its own and not require support from the readers. The director was Toshio Matsumoto, the avant-garde filmmaker who gave us Funeral Procession of Roses, so he was no stranger to outlandish material or non-linear storytelling. I’m not sure it helped.Read more