Saturday, 19 December 2009

Red Lion

Samurai satire, set in 19th century Japan, during the period of transition from Shogunate rule to the inception of the Meiji Restoration.

Legendary actor Toshiro Mifune plays the well-meaning but dim-witted hero, a farmer's son who returns to his home village to prepare the way for the forces of the Imperial Restoration. He wears the red lion headdress in an attempt to deceive the villagers into thinking he is a commander with the Imperial army.

Mifune is impressive in the lead role, not playing Gonzo purely for laughs, but also hinting at the dignity of the man in the face of his tragic fate. But the film as a whole doesn't quite work either as a comedy or a drama: as a comedy it sits awkwardly with Okamoto's socialist agenda (the injustice of the peasant's lot under any regime) and it's difficult to take seriously as a drama when it's so clearly a satire of past films' treatment of the Meiji Restoration.

Dir. Kihachi Okamoto, 1969

Sunday, 6 December 2009

9 Souls

Could be called 9 Lost Souls as this is really what this film is about. The basic plot involves nine convicts escaping from jail, hitting the road, and leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. The 'escape' is dealt with in the first 5 minutes; the rest of the film is about lost dreams and the inescapability of the past, a kind of darkly comic road movie.

To base a film around nine lead characters is a hard trick to pull off, and unsurpisingly Toyoda doesn't really manage it. Despite being generally well-acted, and having some imaginative, artfully shot set pieces, the film as a whole just doesn't hang together. The narrative is disjointed and the pacing choppy.

9 Souls seems to be making the point that the convicts can escape from jail but ultimately can't escape from themselves; from their past and their paranoia. At the same time, it suggests that peoples' fates are in their own hands, as symbolized by Yamamoto's key. There is an awkward juxtaposition of symbolism and realism throughout the film, typified by the final scene: having literally painted himself into a corner with his brother's blood, Machiro figuratively unlocks his future in a flash of light.

There's a good film in there somewhere, but you'll need a map to find it.

ナイン ソウルズ

Dir. Toshiaki Toyoda, 2003

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Visitor Q

Well... where do you start? Not just with this film, but Takashi Miike generally. This is our starting point on the blog for Miike and it's a hell of a weird one to kick off with. But in a way, it's perfectly representative of the work of one of Japan's most prolific and imaginative directors.

"How am I supposed to feel?!" yells the father of the household, wild-eyed, filming fireworks crashing through the windows of his house on a handheld. It's the question you're asking yourself while watching Visitor Q and the question Miike refuses to answer - you watch the film by turns revulsved, amused, shocked, touched. There are no easy answers with Miike films - he wants to make you think
. On one level, that's what Visitor Q is: a reaction to the disingenuous and emotionally manipulative doctrine of so-called "reality" TV. From the first scene, which you later learn is incest between father and daughter, the artifice of the film is laid bare: a film crew filming actors filming each other. Somewhere, the reality of what's being filmed gets lost. And if reality and fantasy can be so easily blurred, what's the point of morality? Where do you draw the line?

On another level it's the simple heartwarming story of how a benificent stranger helps a dysfunctional family to bond through murder, necrophilia and lactation. You get the feeling that Miike, like Lynch or Bunuel, or any true artist, revels in breaking taboos and challenging expectations. I'm not going to say any more, just watch it. More than once.

ビジタ Q
Dir. Takashi Miike, 2001