If No Longer Human somehow managed to take Osamu Dazai's furious little novel and make a bloated bore of a movie out of it, Picaresque ends up doing the same thing with Dazai himself. It's a biopic that touches on all the usual beats in the man's life — his literary successes, his turbulent relationships with women, his suicide attempts, his drug habits, etc. — and doesn't manage to do much more with them than subject us to them.
There's some milking of the controversy involving his death (did he jump or was he pushed?), but there's no sense of what would have made him worth hanging out with, or even reading. Get the books instead, especially Self Portraits, where Dazai's cynicism and wit lances out at you from most every page (and where he tells his own story, in "Seascape with Figures in Gold", far more convincingly than you're likely to get it here).Read more
Not long ago I wrote an essay on why some bad-to-mediocre books make good movies, and also why some good-to-excellent books get made into terrible movies. It is, I fear, far easier to do the latter than the former, because what makes a book great on the page almost never translates directly into action on the screen. This goes double for any novel where the majority of the action is in the narrator’s head (The Killer Inside Me), or where perspective and point of view matter to the telling (The Handmaid’s Tale). There are some things you simply can’t show, and any good movie (along with any good book) will know what’s worth telling and what’s worth showing.
No Longer Human is not so much unfaithful to its source material (the Osamu Dazai novel) as it is unjust to it. No adaptation should be this poor at communicating what it was about the original story that compelled several consecutive generations of Japanese to take it to heart. It does not make sense to take a work this inwardly-directed and turn it into a glossy period piece — all glittering Ginza back alleys and chintzy nightclubs — when the original could have cared less about such set dressing. It does not make sense to omit completely the narrator’s voice and inner monologue, which is what allows us to understand him, and where most of the story lie in the first place. It does not make sense to take one of Japan’s most significant postwar literary works, about a man’s alienation and psychological disintegration, and turn it into a story about a confused, aimless rich kid slumming it.Read more
Answers the question: What would happen if Yoshihiro Nishimura (of Tokyo Gore Police and Machine Girl infamy) remade Neil Marshall's Doomsday on a tenth of the budget but with two hundred times the gore, about as many political allegories, and with art direction that's somewhere between a vintage Dario Argento picture and a jumble sale?Read more
Painfully long-winded (three hours and change), this docudrama about one of Japan's most notorious and violent political factions wouldn't be worth the attention if it wasn't for the fact that longtime director / agent provocateur Kōji Wakamatsu was at the helm. The movie itself, though, could have been directed by anybody. The first hour's a jumble of stock footage, uninvolving re-enactments and title cards, as the turbulent political world of student groups in 1960s Japan is laid out for us in numbing detail, and it leaves us with little sense that the film will matter for anyone who wasn't actually there.
The second hour is slightly more absorbing, as the United Red Army of the title starts as an earnest splinter group from another faction but gradually degenerates into paranoia and self-persecution with many of its own members murdered for being not ideologically pure enough. The only people we get to know well enough are the instigators of the purge; everyone else is just a name and a date of death.
The home stretch re-constructs the infamous "Asamasanso Siege" (as documented in Shocking Crimes of Postwar Japan). Here there are hints of the movie this could have been as the revolutionists barricade themselves in a mountain lodge, stand off against police for days on end, and face both physical and psychological warfare. But by that point the film has long since worn out its welcome. It's all good intentions for so little real payoff, one-and-a-half hours of movie in a three-hour bag. Then again, maybe Wakamatsu's point is that this revolutionary political stuff is supposed to be boring, but I'm dubious. Bonus points for Jim O'Rourke's mournful soundtrack, though.