Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Bright Future

Bright Future is the kind of film that bugs me. It's the kind of film that gets credited with distilling vague notions like 'the alienation of modern society' or 'the dangerous ennui of youth' but in reality, it's a bit of a mess. It lacks coherent narrative and structure, and tries too hard to be different.

The plot, such as it is, centres around two young men, Mamoru, an intense, reflective individual, and Nomura, a kind of wordless idiot savant. The two work at a local factory producing warm moist towels for restaurants. Apparently inspired by his pet venom jellyfish, Mamoru hatches a plan to kill his boss's family, carries it out, and is sentenced to death. Meanwhile, Nomura releases the jellyfish into Tokyo's water system to threaten the city's population (the hows and whys are absent). Cue a semiotic free for all. Read into it what you will.

Visually, it's a cut above - Kurosawa clearly knows how to film beautiful imagery. Beyond that, it's pretentious, meandering and about as exciting as a warm moist towel.


Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2003

Wednesday, 7 October 2009


It's hard to overstate the impact this film had on modern horror and Japanese cinema in general. I think it would be fair to say Ring reinvigorated horror at a time when the increasingly tedious poststructural agenda of self-awareness had it gripped by the throat. Ring was a bolt out the blue, a back to basics horror that re-affirmed the original principles that make it such an enduring genre. It's almost unbearably tense, creepy and downright terrifying.

Ring spawned an industry within Japan but also brought J-Horror (dim lighting, grubby kids, face-obscuring hair, bloody-minded weirdness) to the attention of Hollywood, becoming the first in a string of films to inspire American remakes.

But what the remakes lack is what Ring has in spades - otherness; a kind of indefinable and intrinsically unsettling Japanese-ness that is the DNA of the film and makes it what it is, certainly for Western audiences. Ring is really a modern take on ancient fears - contagion, in the form of video, and the fundamentally terrifying prospect of the supernatural becoming flesh and blood, dissolving the comfortable boundary between the real world and the imagined, through the medium of the television screen. Literally.

The best human-shaped screens since Videodrome - it'll leave you scared of your TV for weeks.


Dir. Hideo Nakata, 1998

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade

Quite simply one of the best anime I've seen outside of Studio Ghibli. Maybe not so surprising when you consider it's written by Ghost In the Shell creator Mamoru Oshii, at a point when he was still on fine form, before the pompous excesses of Avalon and Ghost In the Shell 2.

Jin-Roh is a poignant, poetic anime set in a future Japan where militarized state control is a day-to-day reality. The film centres around a terrorist cell, suicide bombers, known as Red Riding Hoods, and their attempts to destabilize the military regime. Gritty action melds with dream sequences, drawing on imagery from the Grimm fairy tale (the proper, savage version of the tale), and follows the life and doomed romance of "Fuse" to its bitter conclusion. As with Ghost In the Shell, Oshii's writing is full of subtlety and sub-plots making this quite a complex, involving watch.

The animation is excellent and the soundtrack understated yet evocative, in sync with the downbeat tone of the film. This is a grim and at times depressing piece of work, punctuated with moments of beauty - If you're a fan of anime it's one you don't want to miss.

Dir. Hiroyuki Okiura, 1998