Saturday, 23 April 2011


Three short films set in Tokyo, linked by a current of surrealism, and also by the fact that none of the directors are Japanese; a sense of being on the outside, looking in.

First up is a typically whimsical piece from Michel Gondry about a woman who transforms into a chair. It starts off quite slowly, with rather a mundane, albeit nicely acted setup - then throws you the curve ball you were expecting (it's Gondry!), before ending on an upbeat note. Slight, but I enjoyed it.

Carax's segment, Merde, is less successful. For all of it's superficial oddness, it fails to engage - the court sequence is particularly tedious. Carax's shock tactics aren't justified by what's on offer - it's not very funny and too lightweight for social satire. Capital punishment and xenophobia in Japan are contentious subjects and potentially interesting material for a film, but their treatment here is heavy-handed - not helped any by the less than subtle imagery of religious martyrdom.

This is counterpointed by an understated, gently satirical film from Joon-ho Bong, further underlining his status as one of the up and coming directors from South East Asia. Bong takes a sideways look at the peculiarly Japanese phenomenon of hikikomori (acute social withdrawal; the act of voluntarily excluding oneself from the outside world). The absurdity of the 'condition' - and on a wider level, Japan's social fragmentation - is highlighted by one man's earth-moving experience with a pizza delivery girl, following 10 years of solitary confinement in his apartment. A little gem.

Dir. Michel Gondry / Leos Carax / Joon-ho Bong, 2008

Tuesday, 5 April 2011


This probably doesn't have any place being on here as it's largely a film in English, but it's got a Japanese director and that's good enough for me! I'm not sure, but I suspect Virus was Fukasaku's attempt to make the transition into Hollywood. This rather cheap-looking B movie was never likely to make his name with a mainstream Western audience though. It's true to say that the intervening thirty years have not been kind to the film, but on top of that, it feels like a throwback to the Sixties, both in terms of its style and its themes.

The eponymous virus is really just a pretext for making a cold war movie; a cold war movie whose plot is frankly beyond laughable. After a global pandemic has destroyed most of the world's population, a small band of survivors gather in a scientific base in the Antarctic (the virus is dormant in cold conditions). Yoshizumi, an unassuming Japanese seismologist - and hero of the piece, somewhat predictably - warns that off-shore oil drilling and the weight of the sea has triggered tectonic movement, which will result in a massive earthquake off the east coast of the US. The magnitude of the earthquake will cause it to be registered by the ARS (Automatic Response System) as a nuclear attack (possibly a slight design flaw) and it will retaliate in kind - against the Soviets. The Soviets have a similar system in place, which, ironically, as well as targeting the US, is targeting the base in the Antarctic the survivors are stationed. Apparently oblivious to the fact that an earthquake measuring 9 on the richter scale would probably see the building housing the ARS and everything in its vicinity washed away in a tsunami of biblical proportions, Yoshizumi sets off with Major Carter on a mission to Washington to shut down the ARS before it's too late. But it is too late! The warheads have been launched. So the ultimate irony is that the 863 people who survive a virus responsible for wiping out the world's population are themselves wiped out by good old M.A.D.

If he had left it there, and let the credits roll amidst the billowing mushroom clouds, Virus might have garnered 2/5 for ridiculously audacious plot contrivance and for having some balls. As it is, Fukasaku tacks on a gooily sentimental epilogue, set 4 years into the future, which sees Yoshizumi, hobbling along, Christ-like, somehow having made it from Washington DC to Outer Mongolia, then having the further good fortune (a billion to one shot maybe) to chance upon the last enclave of humanity and be reunited with his long lost love. What a load of ARS.

Dir. Kinji Fukasaku, 1980