I only need my imagination for the things I want to do and the places I want to go. — Asano
The same could be said of Christopher Doyle, the Australian-born, HK-based cinematographer who directed Away With Words. It's the kind of movie I savor and rhapsodize over, because it hasn't been die-cut from some existing convention. It's not so much a story as it is a reverie or a daydream, where various things swim in and out of our view and gain connotations of their own. It is wonderful, in the most literal meaning of the word — full of wonder.
I should say upfront that Away with Words has no plot to speak of, no concessions to conventional movie genres. This will no doubt scare off a fair number of people, and I don't blame them — there was a time when I didn't want to see any movie that did more than just walk me through a story and leave me at a clearly-defined ending. Now I'm at a point where I'm more interested in movies that freely break the rules, when so many others are all too willing to follow them slavishly. Sometimes such movies fail; sometimes they work. This one works. Read more
Here’s a metaphor for you: Takashi Miike has become the David Bowie of Japanese filmmaking. Just when you think you’ve got him pinned down, he metamorphoses on you into something entirely different. There’s the Miike that gave us the reprehensible Ichi the Killer, the transcendent Bird People in China, the wild and heedless Dead or Alive trilogy, the hallucinatory Gozu, the doubly hallucinatory Izo, the touching Sabu, and so on. He tries a little of everything, in every way imaginable, but that doesn’t mean he always pulls it off.
Mark Schilling has pointed out that Miike’s view of his work is that it’s all part of the same ongoing continuum. To him, there’s no division between the “silly” and the “serious” stuff; it all comes from the same place (that is, from inside him). I’ve been watching his movies for long enough to see how the earlier, kookier material connects to his more recent, ambitious work — yes, even the allegedly kiddy-grade stuff like Yatterman and Great Yokai War. But just because he sees the connections on his side doesn’t mean we do, and sometimes the results are just muddled. Read more
From the outside, Tokyo Decadence looks and smells like the 1990s version of In the Realm of the Senses. It oozes with sex and social criticism alike, employing sleaze as a delivery mechanism for its deeper message. But while Senses was bold for reasons apart from how graphic it was, Decadence is stuck somewhere between indicting its audience and catering to it. Some elements of the film have great impact, but others are just too fundamentally silly to be anything but funny — and worse, the director isn’t able to choose one over the other. The end result is equal parts hokum and brimstone.
The film was originally a novel (not yet in English) by Ryū Murakami, he of Coin Locker Babies and Almost Transparent Blue. The author himself brought it to the screen, which is not always the best thing. Authors often have far too much attachment to their own material to make the sometimes ruthless decisions required to adapt it for other media. I could not tell you what tone and atmosphere the book was meant to conjure up, but the resulting movie is schizoid — like a sloppy drunk lecturing you on getting your life in order. Read more
The Japanese word otaku has been backported into English, where it has the relatively innocuous meaning “Japanese pop culture fan”. In Japanese, however, the word carries far nastier baggage — it’s nerd multiplied by geek and then raised to the power of loser. It’s used to describe people with fixations so narrow and exclusive, what they keep out is far more important than what they let in.
Onizuka, the hero (if that’s the right word) of Maiko haaaan!!!, is a geisha otaku. He loves geisha — loves their outfits, their dainty mannerisms, their hair, their elevated shoes, and their sheer inaccessibility. The latter mostly because he’s a low-level salary-schlub in a corporation nowhere near Kyoto, so he has to be content with taking pictures, keeping a fan website and dreaming his mad little dreams about someday playing strip baseball with a whole coterie of coiffed cuties. He loves geisha, it would seem, as a way to have something in his life that he can point to and say, “I love this, you hear me? LOVE IT!” Read more
Kaidan’s an experiment in contrasting forms, shilling for conflicting. Take one of the samurai-horror flicks of the Fifties and Sixties, bring it up to date with modulated acting styles, psychological realism and understated visual style, and then force the conceits of the first to co-exist in the same story with the manner of the second. It’s probably not a huge surprise that the scientist responsible for this experiment is Hideo Nakata, he who gave us the sum total of modern Japanese cinematic horror in Ring and all of its derivatives.
As with many such experiments, I enjoyed it in the abstract more than I did in the particular. As a filmmaking exercise, it’s impressive; as a story, it suffers from having the conceits of two totally dissimilar approaches forced to share the same film. This doesn’t mean the old-school approach worked better than a more modern one; they’re both of a piece. It’s just that when shoehorned together, the end result is a kind of cinematic cognitive dissonance. Individual moments may work, but the whole thing doesn’t quite hang together. Read more