One of the Montreal festival’s favourite directors talks about manga adaptations, teen films and not making a science fiction movie.
It was with a standing ovation that Takashi Miike was greeted by a very enthusiastic Montreal crowd as he introduced As the Gods Will, one of the two films he had playing at this year’s Fantasia festival, the second being science-fiction action epic Terraformars. A violent death-game fantasy, As the Gods Will sees high school children confronted with a series of traditional toys with lethal powers; if the children lose the game, their heads explode into thousands of little red balls. The survivors are then taken to a mysterious white cube that floats above the city, where another set of challenges awaits them, the aim of that cruel testing unclear. Adapted from a manga, it is another hyper-kinetic, over-active, playfully delirious film from the prolific Miike, quirkier than Battle Royale and deadlier than Alice in Wonderland.
Virginie Sélavy talked to Takashi Miike at Fantasia about manga adaptations, teen films and not making a science fiction movie.
Virginie Sélavy: Both Terraformars and As the Gods Will are adapted from manga, which is also the case with a number of your previous films. What do you particularly like about turning manga into live action films?
Takashi Miike: If I told my producer, ‘imagine that on Mars there are a lot of cockroaches and I want to make a film where people fight with cockroaches on Mars’, the producer would ask me if I’m alright in the head. Or if I said I wanted to make a film with a daruma doll playing games with children and making their heads explode, people would be asking if I’m insane. Now producers avoid all risks in film, but in the world of manga they can take more liberties with those things. There are a lot of young people competing and the editors take more risks. That’s what people making films want to do, but they can’t right now. So adapting a manga is good because we can prove that we can have a hit with it, and afterwards I can make other kinds of films, so there’s a natural continuity.
A few of your recent films are also violent stories set in high school, Crows Zero, Lesson of Evil, For Love’s Sake. Do you particularly like school settings and teenage stories?
When you make a teenage film you have to have a whole class, so you need a lot of actors aged from 15 to 20, and actually there are a lot of different kinds of actors who fit the bill. There are actors who have played since they were children, and there are also models, but we cannot have a class made up just of beautiful-looking people. So there are a lot of different types of actors that we can use and it gives us a lot of possibilities because there are many imperfections. Even if they don’t play like professional actors there’s something that can be created. Those imperfections are very interesting because it’s like making a documentary film about being young. That’s my interest in those types of films and I enjoy doing this.
The contrast between the cuteness of the toys and their deadliness is startling and very effective. Was that an aspect that attracted you to this particular story?
As a writer or a producer it is a world that you cannot make with adults. It’s not adults fighting, it’s basically children. If they were at university they would not fight like this. There is something that is very childish, that is not balanced yet, about the way they fight, and those children fight with very old traditional Japanese games that are actually quite cruel. So this is something that can be connected, and that’s why I was attracted by this.
You’ve worked in many different genres, in fact you’ve even created your own hybrids (yakuza vampire film in Yakuza Apocalypse for instance) but science fiction is not really a genre that you’ve done much work in, especially on this grand scale. What interested you in the Terraformars story?
For me, Terraformars is not a science fiction movie. For me, in a science fiction movie there is something that is logical and scientific, and the science is the key to the problem, it is what you use to solve the problem. But Terraformars is more like fantasy. And also we can imagine that it is a fight between two schools, and it’s about which school is more powerful than the other. It’s like being inside the imagination of children, and while they’re creating this fantasy we try to find out how people can survive, and what will come after. So it’s a world that is strange and mysterious, but it’s not science fiction.
For one week in May, the sixth annual edition of the Terracotta Festival saw a selection of films from the Far East brought to audiences in central London. The main strand was devoted to 13 of the latest ‘must-see’ releases from across Asia, while there was also a spotlight on cinema in the Philippines, and of course the infamous Terror-Cotta Horror All-Nighter, which took place at the equally notorious Prince Charles Cinema. Below, we take a look at some of the highlights from the festival.
The Snow White Murder Case (Yoshihiro Nakamura, 2014)
Following the success of Tetsuya Nakashima’s Confessions (2010) and Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s superb Penance (2012) comes The Snow White Murder Case, the latest adaptation of a Kanae Minato bestseller. When a beautiful, popular employee at the Snow White soap company is found stabbed to death, with her corpse set on fire, local TV station worker Akahoshi (Gô Ayano) begins using social media to carry out his own investigation into the crime. As he homes in on one of the victim’s co-workers, Miki Shirono (Mao Inoue), a shy woman who has since disappeared, the amateur sleuth uncovers a series of suggestive events from her past, while TV news begins picking up the bait he’s left on his blog. Like Confessions, The Snow White Murder Case explores the circumstances surrounding the crime and its aftermath, as the combination of lies, half-truths, malicious gossip and outright hatred – fuelled by Akahoshi’s ambition – convicts the missing woman before she’s even been located by the police. Less cynical and grim than Confessions, The Snow White Murder Case is a dryly humorous film that works well as both a complex and compelling murder mystery, and as an indictment of the damage that gossip and malice can cause when combined with increasingly intrusive media networks and social media. It might not be as effective as Confessions or Penance, but it’s another respectable Kanae Minato adaptation.
Watch the trailer for The Snow White Murder Case:
Lesson of Evil (Takashi Miike, 2012)
Takashi Miike’s Lesson of Evil (a.k.a. Lesson of the Evil) has attracted comparisons with Confessions, mainly because it deals with violence in a school setting. Unlike Nakashima’s film, Lesson of Evil is a black comedy, and an extremely violent one too.
Lesson of Evil is released in the UK on DVD + Blu-ray on 29 September 2014 by Third Window Films. Special features include a two-hour-long making of and a new UK trailer.
Instead of exploring the causes or effects of violence, Miike lets us watch as teacher Seiji Hasumi – a handsome, manipulative sociopath – sees his plans and schemes go increasingly awry, forcing him to resort to ever more violent and excessive ways of dealing with the problem. Hideaki Itô makes for a convincing, even likeable monster, and the skilled Miike throws in a few bizarre touches (including some distinctly Cronenberg-esque elements) that recall his earlier films. Unfortunately, at 130 minutes, Lesson of Evil is also far too long, taking more than 90 minutes to get to its blood-drenched conclusion, losing much of the impetus built up in the first hour. The film’s final acts are certainly memorable, but would have worked better in a drastically reduced running time. Although it’s already played at a few festivals, the extreme levels of violence inflicted upon children (by a teacher, no less) will probably make Lesson of Evil a hard sell in some territories.
Watch the trailer for Lesson of Evil:
The Face Reader (Jae-rim Han, 2013)
The latest in a steady stream of sumptuous, well-mounted South Korean period dramas, The Face Reader stars Kang-ho Song (Memories of Murder) as Nae-kyung, a dissolute wretch from a disgraced family, who possesses one valuable skill: as a ‘face reader’, he can assess a person’s character from their facial features. He’s extremely good at it, which attracts the attention of a local brothel keeper who holds ‘face reading’ consultations alongside her more traditional services. After Nae-kyung correctly identifies a murderer, his fame grows even further, and before long local politicians and bureaucrats are using his abilities to weed out lazy or corrupt officials from their departments. Soon, Nae-kyung becomes a well-known figure at court, but hasn’t completely understood just how dangerous his new status could be. As always, Kang-ho Song gives an easy, believable performance as the well-meaning but foolish character stumbling further out of his depth with every step. Production values are incredible and the whole film is a meticulous, attractive recreation of 15th-century Korea, boosted by another excellent score from Lee Byung-woo (A Tale of Two Sisters, Untold Scandal).
Watch the trailer for The Face Reader:
TikTik: The Aswang Chronicles (Erik Matti, 2012)
Playing out like a Pinoy version of Dog Soldiers, this energetic Philippine horror film stars Dingdong Dantes as cocky young man Makoy. When his heavily pregnant girlfriend Sonia (Lovi Poe) returns to her distant home village after a fight, Makoy follows to try and patch things up. An impromptu banquet goes awry when the inhabitants of the next village turn up, only they’re actually aswang, a kind of shape-changing demon very similar to werewolves. Trapped in their cluttered house, Makoy and the family try and fight off the aswang, while taking care of Sonia, who goes into labour at a most inconvenient time. Shot on limited sets and augmented by extensive green-screen work, TikTik is a surprisingly good-looking film, given a budget considerably smaller than similar Hollywood movies. Director Erik Matti keeps things moving consistently and makes good use of split-screen effects, but relies mainly on an engaging cast and decent dialogue. While it’s not particularly original, TikTik is well made and memorable enough to please horror fans worldwide.
Mark Stafford, Sarah Cronin and Virginie Sélavy review the most notable Japanese and Korean films that screened at this year’s London Film Festival.
Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time
Opening in Busan in 1982, Yoon Jong-bin’s Nameless Gangster is a vastly enjoyable sprawling mob saga that clearly references Coppola and Scorsese in its story of the rise and fall of a would-be godfather, but adds a caustic sense of humour and ironic distance. Introducing the story with the definition of ‘daebu’, it plays on the various meanings of the term, including ‘elder relative’ and ‘crime boss’. Choi Min-sik (Oldboy) gives another fantastic performance as corrupt customs official Choi Ik-hyun, who comes into contact with local gangster Choi Hyung-bae when he is sacked from his job. Hyung-bae turns out to be related to him and Ik-hyun takes advantage of his status as his elder relative to get involved at the top of his gang.
Ik-hyun is a fascinating multi-faceted character: a comical figure who is often ridiculed, a ‘half-gangster’ – as he is called by the brilliantly ruthless prosecutor Jo – who can never really cut it as a crime boss, he is also impressively cunning and resourceful, and despite his shameless lack of scruples and despicable conduct, he has a sympathetic and very human side in his love for his family. One of the big joys of the film is his relationship to the younger, more attractive, scarier, real gangster Hyung-bae (played by rising star Ha Jung-woo), who exudes the sort of power and authority that will always elude Ik-hyun. And yet, despite his menacing aura, Hyung-bae is a man of principle who, unlike Ik-hyun, abides by gangster codes and even traditional social rules (in his respect for Ik-hyun as his elder relative for instance), which puts him at a disadvantage when dealing with his less honourable enemies. This reversal of the usual dynamic between young and old is another of the pleasures of this exhilarating, humorous, smart gangster saga. VS
The second outstanding Korean offering of this year’s festival was adapted from a novel by Miyabe Miyuki and directed by female filmmaker Byun Young-joo. Helpless is a captivating, intelligent thriller on the nature of love and identity that takes a hard look at what happens when a victimised character is forced to devise extreme strategies to survive. It starts like The Vanishing: young veterinarian Mun-ho is taking his bride-to-be Seon-yeong to meet his parents when she disappears at a service station. When he finds her apartment has been emptied in a hurry and the police are useless, he asks a relative who is a disgraced former cop to help him find her. As they investigate, her identity becomes more and more mysterious, and they must make sense of her possible connections to large debts, loan sharks and even suspected murder. The many revelations thrown up by their investigation repeatedly throw into question our assumptions about Seon-yeong and build a finely nuanced and affecting portrait of a complex woman. A convincing, tense, insightful thriller in which there is more than one victim, with a deep sympathy and understanding for the kind of dynamic that leads seemingly helpless characters to commit terrible acts in order to defend themselves when no one else will. VS
An apocalyptic triptych from Korea, written and directed by Kim Jee-woon and Yim Pil-Sung, the creators of The Good, the Bad and the Weird, and Hansel and Gretel. Part one is an eco-horror of waste and consumption where dodgy food production causes a kind of zombie outbreak. Part three is the tale of a family attempting to survive an impending meteor strike. Both share a wild, freewheeling sense of humour and are dizzy, bizarre satirical fun, especially the pot shots aimed at idiotic TV news coverage.
The side is let down a little by the middle section, where problems arise for a corporation when one of their robots assigned to a Buddhist temple achieves enlightenment. The tale is over-familiar from decades of SF, the robot is a poor cousin to Chris Cunningham’s Björk-bot in the ‘All Is Full Of Love’ promo and a ponderous tone takes over. It’s not bad, just a bit dull, and overall, considering the talents involved, Doomsday Book comes as a bit of a disappointment. Definitely has its moments though. MS
For Love’s Sake
Takashi Miike returns with the adaptation of a manga by Ikki Kajiwara and Takumi Nagayasu – filmed many times before – about a rich young girl’s impossible love for a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. The original title Ai to makoto means ‘Love and Sincerity’, which is also the name of the two main characters. Ai is a sweet young girl from a well-to-do family, who was rescued by Makoto while skiing as a child. When Makoto returns to Tokyo for revenge and immediately gets into a fight, Ai does all she can to save him from his delinquent life. An insanely colourful, at times kitsch teen melodrama, it mixes the badass attitude and energy of Crows Zero with the demented chirpiness of The Happiness of the Katakuris. It may not be Miike at his most ground-breaking or daring, but it is wildly entertaining. The director once more demonstrates his boundless inventiveness and impressive visual sense with a variety of animated sequences and (cheesy) musical numbers, as well as great decors, gorgeous colours and brilliantly choreographed fights, all pulsating with his customary high-voltage energy. VS
I was a big fan of Mika Ninagawa’s 2008 Sakuran, a fun, gorgeous-looking film with a fantastic female lead. Unfortunately, her second film, Helter Skelter, is a major disappointment. Ninigawa began her career as a fashion photographer, and returns to that world with a story, based on Kyoko Okazaki’s manga, about the unravelling of a top model’s career. While there are some likeable elements in this satire of the fashion industry, the film is let down by its total lack of narrative structure and an irritating subplot, while the riot of colour that made Sakuran so refreshing seems like nothing more than eye candy in Helter Skelter, helping to gloss over the film’s weaknesses.
Erika Sawajiri stars as Lilico, Japan’s hottest model and teen idol. She’s bitchy, tyrannical and stunning – but also a fake. Her looks have been created at an expensive clinic, paid for by her agent, who is still extracting a heavy price for turning her into a commodity. When Lilico is pushed aside by a younger model, her anger and frustrations are taken out on her unfortunate assistant, who’s forced to endure endless humiliations. In the meantime, a team of police, led by an obnoxious, irritating character who spouts trite philosophical soundbites, is investigating the clinic for illegally using human tissue in its patients (a sorely underdeveloped idea – although strange bruises do begin to appear underneath Lilico’s skin.) But rather than use this investigation to add an element of noir to the film, the scenes with the police are mostly shot in a very bland office, with them doing very little. They add nothing to the already fractured narrative, while the dialogue is simply excruciating.
Despite some good moments – Ninigawa does an excellent job capturing the absurdity of the industry, and the public’s obsession with beauty at all costs – the director’s inimitable style can’t make up for the unlikeable characters, needlessly frenetic pacing, and worst of all, the weak script. SC
The Samurai That Night
Adapted by Masaaki Akahori from his own play, The Samurai That Night is the story of a meek factory owner, Nakamura, who is still grieving after the death of his wife and is looking for revenge against the thug who killed her in a road accident five years earlier. The title ironically refers to Nakamura’s vengeance fantasy, which is comically and pitifully deflated in the realistically depicted modern world of the film. The film is indeed anything but an action film: it takes the classical opposition between the wronged good man looking for payback and the unredeemable evil brute but films it as a slow-paced, introspective character study. When – in another nod to the samurai film – the final big showdown in the rain comes, there is no resolution, or even progression, and both characters remain the same.
This could have been interesting, were it not for the excessively simplistic characterisation, the unbearably ponderous tone and the affected, sometimes sentimental quirkiness (the main character obsessively eats custard desserts; while on a date he takes his late wife’s bra out of the pocket of his trousers; when he plays ball with his overly sweet date, just as he used to with his wife, she delivers an exasperating ode to simple things – I could go on). This is a film that is not as deep as it thinks it is and its self-important slowness just makes it tiresomely dull. VS
At a recent seminar on sound design held at the ÉCU (European Independent Film Festival) in Paris, mixer and recordist Nikola Chapelle talked about the tendency of American films to emphasise and exaggerate natural sounds to such an extent that ‘we are always disappointed with reality’. In response to this Hollywoodian hyperacusis, Takashi Miike’s Ichi the Killer proffers a sound design so amped up as to suggest the experience of some kind of severe neurological disorder. Blood does not merely flow in this immensely bloody film: it gushes, ripples, roars from wounded bodies like waterfalls close-miked and amplified to the point of distortion.
Amid all this, there are many sounds that are on the borders of music and sound effects, or ‘noise’. At which point in the mobile-phone-ringtone-computer-game-soundtrack-muzak continuum do we enter the realm of music per se? The score by Karera Musication inhabits an equally liminal space on the edge of music – albeit coming from the other direction, as it were. There is no functional harmony, no progressions, no build-up and release of melodic tension. Rather, there are rhythms and textures – and not always at the same time; there are gurgling, whirling, sweeping electronic sounds; white noise, high-pitched test tones, processed voices and nature sounds; all sliced up in the editing suite with the same psychotic surgical precision as Ichi’s victims.
Karera Musication is in fact Japanese band The Boredoms, here without their usual ringleader and founder member Yamantaka Eye, with guitarist Seiichi Yamamoto taking over conducting duties, aided and abetted by drummer Yoshimi P-We. The Boredoms were formed by Eye in 1986 out of the ashes of the performance art/noise group Hanatarash, who had been banned from performing due to the tremendous amount of property damage and physical danger that had become a hallmark of their concerts (which would involve circular saws, Molotov cocktails and bulldozers).
Taking their name from a song by The Buzzcocks, The Boredoms started off playing a kind of highly abrasive, yelling, screaming free-form punk noise. But by the end of the 1990s this sound had evolved into a percussion-heavy psychedelic space rock, heavily influenced by krautrock and p-funk. The soundtrack to Ichi the Killer proved to be the last thing the band recorded together before the departure of Yamamoto and other members led to an extensive regrouping around the original core of Yamantaka Eye and Yoshimi P-We.
The music exhibits a great deal of the kind of intense polyrhythmic drumming and wild free electronics that one would expect from The Boredoms, with added moments of Sun Ra-esque jazz trumpet, sludgy wah-wah guitar, and a playful, almost childlike, use of samples and traditional Japanese instruments. The soundtrack as a whole is as delirious and exploratory as the film it accompanies, the frenetic editing style and plethora of post-production visual effects matched punch for punch by The Boredoms’ music. A surreal mix of visceral intensity and wistful lost innocence that might be less an attempt to ‘score’ the film’s images to specific targeted cues, and more a kind of aural animal magnetism, striving to leap directly into the febrile imaginative life of Ichi himself.
Last part of our coverage of the 2011 London Film Festival by Mark Stafford, Sarah Cronin, Lisa Williams, Frances Morgan and Virginie Sélavy.
On April 22, 1988, three gendarmes were killed and 30 others taken hostage in a botched operation by independence fighters on the French colony of New Caledonia. In this fictionalised account, Mathieu Kassovitz plays Captain Philippe Legorjus, the leader of a special operations unit who is sent to the island to negotiate a peaceful settlement, only to find himself outmanoeuvred and sidelined by his own colleagues. The latest from the actor-director mixes docu-drama and action thriller elements to create a wrenching, powerful and intelligent film that exposes the arrogance and brutality of the French elite during the 10-day hostage crisis. Kassovitz opens the film with a tableau depicting the final moments of the stand-off, before piecing together a day-by-day reconstruction of how events went tragically wrong; tension builds quickly, immediately immersing the audience in the politically charged story. It’s impossible not to sympathise with the islanders’ struggle to take back their country from the French; the scenes of the Kanak people performing their endangered rituals are extremely moving, while the unfolding actions of the French army are increasingly sickening (the film ends on a particularly grim note). The hostage crisis took place against the backdrop of the closely fought presidential election between Mitterrand and Chirac, with political allegiances and ambition outweighing any real desire for a negotiated end to the conflict. The politicians back in Paris wanted it over before the elections, and the French army, invading a colony for the first time since Algeria, had enough incentives to ensure the rebels – horribly dehumanised in the French media – were violently suppressed. In Rebellion, Kassovitz has created an impressive and gripping piece of genre filmmaking that is also an indictment of France’s colonial legacy. SC
Dreams of a Life
Joyce Carol Vincent’s body was discovered in her Wood Green flat three years after she had died. Documentary maker Carol Morley has attempted to piece the life of this mystery woman together and has built a portrait, not of the ageing shut-in that most people might have imagined from the tabloid reports, but a pretty would-be singer and bubbly social girl who seemed to hang around in other people’s lives and never quite become herself. Fascinating stuff, with brilliantly assembled material that makes you ponder what effect you have on those around you and what impression you will leave behind. It’s a pity that the long, stagey reconstructions just don’t work and seem to strain for an effect that they don’t achieve, because the talking heads quietly reduced me to tears. MS
Dreams of a Life is released in the UK on 16 December 2011 by Dogwoof.
We Need To Talk about Kevin
We Need To Talk about Kevin is a chillingly apt title as Lynne Ramsay’s latest film contains precious little dialogue. Quite a feat given that it is based on the much-lauded novel by Lionel Shriver in which Eva, the narrator, describes the events leading up to her son committing a dreadful crime and reflects upon its consequences. This format would easily lend itself to a verbatim expositional voice-over in a film adaptation but, as was obvious from her 2002 film Morvern Callar, Ramsay knows the power of silence.
That’s not to say the film is noiseless. In fact, it is charged with sounds which, to Eva, evoke that fateful night when she discovered the full extent of Kevin’s crimes. But, rather than rely on dialogue to tell the story, Ramsay brings out Tilda Swinton’s extraordinary abilities as an actress to communicate Eva’s living hell. We see her close her eyes in almost orgasmic relief when a roadside drill drowns the wails of her crying baby, for example, and – when a doctor tells her that toddler Kevin’s reluctance to talk is not down to autism – what you see register on Eva’s face looks suspiciously like a faint flicker of disappointment.
Combined with arresting cinematography by Seamus McGarvey, and disturbing performances from the three actors who play Kevin from infant to teenager, Ramsay’s restraint elevates into poetry what could have, in the wrong hands, been turned into a gruesome misery memoir. LW
We Need To Talk about Kevin was released in UK cinemas on 21 October 2011 by Artificial Eye.
The Kid with a Bike
Another fine film from the Dardenne brothers, who seem to have a way of making low-budget films about people from the wrong side of the tracks that just don’t run along the same rails as others. Nothing here harangues us about ‘issues’ in society. It’s just the story of Cyril, the hell-on-wheels 11-year-old of the title. Living in a children’s home, but escaping to pursue the dad who put him there at every given opportunity, Cyril’s single-minded, resourceful zeal blinds him to the fact, evident to all others, that his father is a bit of a shitbag. Still, somebody up there must like him, because one of his misadventures throws him into the arms of Samantha (Cécile de France), who agrees to take on the little terror on weekends. Is it possible that she can help Cyril to save himself from the world of pain he’s so energetically chasing? There are no ostentatious camera set-ups or performances here, just lean, intelligent filmmaking that finds the best way to get to the heart of scene after scene. For my money, it’s not up there with L’enfant (which just seemed to have more going on), and I kind of wonder how long the Dardennes can repeat a winning formula. But hell, this is great stuff. MS
Matthew Lewis’s sulphurous Gothic novel adapted by Dominik Moll, director of the wickedly brilliant Harry, He’s Here to Help, with Vincent Cassel in the role of evil monk Ambrosio: it sounded terrific on paper, but the film did not quite live up to expectations. To be fair to Moll, it is a very difficult novel to adapt: narratively labyrinthine, it relies on the intricate echoes and contrasts between its different strands to create depth and resonance; forced to concentrate on one story, the film feels strangely bare. In keeping with the nightmarish quality of Gothic novels, Moll has gone for a dreamlike, artificial world, which sometimes works (the addition of the mask for the character of Valerio is eerie and chilling; Ambrosio’s recurring dream, which is not in the novel but perfectly fits with its spirit, is strikingly evocative), but too often descends into cartoony Gothic clichés (night outings to the cemetery, gargoyles, thunderstorms, etc.). Vincent Cassel is great as the conflicted monk battling repressed desires, and both he and Moll clearly give their all, but the result of their efforts is oddly paced, narratively meagre and stylistically overwrought. VS
Amiably filthy road trip, as a childless Christian wife (Rachael Harris) tracks down the junkie fugitive fruit (Matt O’Leary) of her husband’s sperm bank habit, after hubby has a stroke while, well, having a stroke. It’s pretty familiar American indie comedy stuff as the odd couple learn from each other, and you can kinda predict where it’s going most of the time, but the central performances are fine, it makes you care, and the dialogue is foul-mouthed and funny. (‘Maybe we can go see a unicorn take a shit made of lullabies.’) I liked it a lot. MS
Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai
Last year, Takashi Miike remade a little-seen 1963 samurai film by Eiichi Kudo, 13 Assassins, which was undeniably a lot of fun, but uncharacteristically conventional for the director, both in its filmmaking style and its attitude to the traditional values of the samurai. Puzzlingly, this year Miike has directed a 3D version of Masaki Kobayashi’s acclaimed 1962 Harakiri (Seppuku), a virulent, powerful indictment of the hypocrisy of Japan’s feudal system and the samurai’s code of honour. Miike is clearly going through a chanbara phase, although he seems a bit unsure of where he stands in relation to the samurai tradition. This may explain why Kobayashi’s searing condemnation of the samurai’s rules of conduct as empty, rigid and inhuman is blunted in the dialogue and weakened by lethargic direction and melodramatic excesses in Miike’s version.
When Miike doesn’t water down the original film, he simply reiterates it. The story of a poor ronin, whose request to commit ritual suicide in the courtyard of a prestigious family’s house conceals a desperate act of revenge, is told through exactly the same series of flashbacks as in Kobayashi’s film. The striking image of the ronin kneeling down in the courtyard surrounded by the almost geometrically positioned samurai simply repeats the exquisite compositions of the earlier film.
Visually, Miike adds 3D, which has the effect of making the colours dull and dark while being completely superfluous, given that there is little action. The most striking 3D scenes are those that show beautiful autumn leaves in the foreground against stony walls in the background, snow falling in the feudal house’s courtyard, and the credits rolling in front of the house’s symbolic samurai statue. Nice, but hardly indispensable. Which is a fairly accurate description of this pointless remake. VS
Shock Head Soul
It’s beautifully shot, and I love the typewriter jellyfish manifestations, but Shock Head Soul renders what seems to be a fascinating psychological case study into an achingly serious, ponderous trudge. It offers no compelling characters or observations of note and I found myself, after half an hour, wanting the whole thing to just shut up, which is possibly not the compassionate reaction to mental illness that the filmmakers were aiming for. Maybe I’m too stupid, too stupid to understand. MS
Intimate Visions: Films by Chick Strand
While the LFF closing gala screenings took place on the other side of the river, there was a tiny audience for the NFT’s programme of six films made between the 1960s and 1980s by Chick Strand, the Californian experimental and ethnographic filmmaker who died in 2009. It was a rare chance to see Strand’s work, and we got to sample a few different facets of it, from found-footage pieces that make use of archival material to her poetic, intimate approach to ethnographic filmmaking. The witty and, in the case of Loose Ends(1979), sometimes disturbing montages of old film and audio – in which sound and vision are juxtaposed in a way that recalls the darkly funny audio-visual collages of People Like Us – have dated less well than Mosori Monika (1970), a dreamlike, compelling portrait of a missionary settlement in Venezuela with conflicting voice-overs from a Catholic nun and an indigenous woman. Meanwhile, Artificial Paradise (1986), shot in Mexico, is both a gorgeously tactile, hypnotic piece about human and animal bodies in motion and in close-up – dancing, running, riding – and a comment on the exoticisation of those bodies: an example of having one’s cake and eating it, perhaps, but it’s spellbinding stuff. Strand’s feel for physicality and use of found footage are combined in Angel Blue Sweet Wings (1966), in which a male dancer whirls in the sunshine to the sound of Aretha Franklin’s ‘Doctor Feelgood’, while lights and sequins pulse in joyful sympathy, articulating a feminist vision that’s as sensual and playful as it is critical. FM
It’s always nice when the bad guys in an ensemble film neatly take themselves out of the picture, isn’t it? Saves you having to, ooh, I don’t know, write something that might actually happen in the real world. Fernando Meirelles’s latest features a host of fine acting talent (Hopkins! Weisz! Debbouze! That bloke out of The Baader-Meinhof Complex! ummm… Jude Law!) and puts them to work in a series of interlocking scenarios based around travellers from Vienna, London, Paris, Denver and Phoenix. I’d be lying if I said it had nothing going on, with this many characters and stories something was bound to click, and the dissolves and transitions are inventive, but really, this is tossycock of the first order. Tossycock, I tell you! MS
Mentions of the Strugatsky brothers and Tarkovsky in the LFF write-up on this futuristic Russian tale were enticing, but Target turned out to be a pompous sci-fi soufflé, philosophically fluffy, insipid and indigestible. The story follows members of the Russian media and political elite as they seek to obtain eternal youth by travelling to a remote, abandoned astrophysics base and exposing themselves to the cosmic rays channelled into its central well. But the experience is so intense that its consequences are extreme, in a manner both positive and destructive. Unlike its illustrious predecessors, the self-important and portentous Target offers strictly no insights into the human condition, and no ideas of any interest about the future or the universe over its sprawling two-and-a-half-hour running time. The wide screen attempts to convey an epic feel, the sun’s rays over the ‘target’ in the barren landscape are meant to be humbling, the urban settings are as slick and modern as in Hollywood science fiction, and the whole is entirely empty and soulless. And then there’s the sex. Laughably bad sex, made worse by startling outbursts of bombastic music, in case the audience did not quite get how passionate it all is. And in a couple of instances, even dodgy sex, in which the women are barely consenting. This is one Target that is way off the mark. VS
With its punkety rockety /sex ‘n’ drugs/ monochrome on the scuzzy streets milieu, Gandu/Asshole kind of put me in mind of the Cinema of Transgression flicks of the 80s and 90s. Most of those films, however, ran for 20 minutes tops. Gandu runs for 89, which is a long time to spend in the company of an unbearable, un-pretty solipsistic douchebag, who smokes smack, nicks money from his hooker mom’s clients, and bemoans his fate as a would-be hip hop star in an Indian backwater that has no need of one. It all looks like photo spreads from Vice magazine, or Dazed and Confused, there’s some of yer actual unsimulated sex, and a datura trip and all kinds of Daily Mail baiting whatnot, but it was only while reading the notes in the programme that I realised that the mother character was supposed to be his mother, which pretty much sums it up. Has its moments, visually and musically, and it has energy to burn, but at the end of the day, it’s bollocks. MS
A Deviant View of Cinema – Features, Essays & Interviews