Monday, October 15, 2012

Shoaib Mansoor Interview

The Fukuoka Film Festival Audience Award Winner – BOL [speak up] Audience Award for the 23rd Focus on Asia Film Festival was announced last night and the recipient was BOL [speak Up]. Shoaib Mansoor’s 159 minute epic is based on the last testament of a woman awaiting the death penalty. It tackles some weighty social issues and the director was on hand for (an all-to-brief) post-award ceremony press conference to talk a little about the how’s and why’s.

Fukuoka Film Festival Audience Award Winner – BOL [speak up]

How do you feel after winning the Audience Award?

Well I’m very excited. You can well imagine the excitement of somebody who has only made two films in his life. And both films came here to Fukuoka and won awards. It’s a very rare achievement so I’m very happy. I’m very thankful to the people of Fukuoka who like my work. Hopefully I’ll be coming here again.

What was the message that you wanted to express through this film?

As I said I wasn’t very excited about this film because I don’t make films to win awards or to win critical praise. My main purpose is to improve my society through my films. I want to educate my people. There are so many things that they are doing wrong and as a result they are suffering. So my main purpose in making films is to educate people. That is why sometimes in my films there are a lot of explanations, answers to questions and to problems. I don’t just raise questions. I think it is the duty of the filmmaker who is making such films to offer answers to people. Just raising questions is not enough. It could be enough in countries where people are very aware and educated. But in countries like mine where people are not very educated it’s essential to educate them. Not raise questions but to show them a way. They may not agree right now but in times to come, maybe the next generation may find these answers appropriate.

How was your experience of working in television? Did you take on similar projects to your films?

When I was working in television I was mainly aiming at entertainment. I did music, I did shows, I did comedy, plays and drama also. My main goal was to entertain people. It was after leaving television that I realized that life was going away and that the lives of my people weren’t changing really. I had to play a role really. Unfortunately the Pakistani film industry had gone down a lot. So another purpose of my going into films was to revive the film industry in Pakistan. The second most important thing to consider is that I feel television is a very consumable commodity. It just vanishes very quickly. Film has a larger impact and a longer life. So I selected films to extend my message to people.

You ask that your face not be shown in any media if possible. Could you explain your decision for this?

Actually the reason is not for any fear of being recognized. I have a much bigger message for the youth of my country. I want them to realize the importance of work over fame. I want to tell them that despite avoiding fame and being behind the scenes you can contribute through your work and to the betterment of society. So the message to younger people is to concentrate on your work rather than showing their faces and getting famous.

What part of your film would you like audiences to pay attention to most?

All of it.  Actually as I said this film is not for an international audience. I made it for Pakistanis. It is my people who are doing those wrongs [expressed in the film] that I want them to correct. So it’s good also that outside Pakistan, in Japan and in the countries that BOL was released people have appreciated it, understood it and tried to feel the pain that Pakistani women are going through. Mainly the film concentrates on the conflict that is taking place between two classes. One class in Pakistan has already undergone change and the other class is resisting that change and is trying to keep their society backward. This conflict is really the subject of the film. The father, who is the main figure in the film, represents the fundamentalist class, the class that is regressive, that wants to keep the society backward. While the elder daughter is representing the class who wants to go ahead, to progress, to get education, to be able to work and not to be restricted to their homes. This is the subject of the film.

 Interview by Kenjo McCurtain

Mr. Tree – Han Jie – 2011

The 18:15 showing of Mr.Tree in the largest screen of Hakata City’s T-joy cinema was decidedly empty in comparison to the previous day’s screening of the spellbindingly brilliant About Elly (Asghar Farhadi). Punters came in their droves leaving nary an unoccupied seat in sight while the Chinese contender for this year’s Audience Award was attended by barely a quarter of the numbers. Could this have been just a case of bad timing? Perhaps it was a damning insight in to the quality that was to come? Or was it a reflection of public sentiment in the wake of sticky political tensions between host nation and that of the product?  Awards for best film and best director at Shanghai’s Film Festival and a producing credit for Jia  Zhangke belie the amateurish assembly of ideas that director Han Jie crams into his sophomore effort.

Mr . Tree is an offbeat, absurdist drama with just a touch of Kaurismaki about it. Set in a snowy, decaying town in rural China we follow Shu, a clownish, chain-smoking mechanic - and also a bit of a drunkard - whose ineptitude leads him to losing his job in an accident that nearly blinds him. Once his Mr . Tree is an offbeat, absurdist drama with just a touch of Kaurismaki about it. Set in a snowy, decaying town in rural China we follow Shu, a clownish, chain-smoking mechanic - and also a bit of a drunkard - whose ineptitude leads him to losing his job in an accident that nearly blinds him. Once his sight returns, he visits the capital of the province of Jilin with his friends and encounters the pretty, deaf-mute Xiao Mei whom he plans to marry. From this point, Shu suffers a series of letdowns. At first, he leaves his town for the city to work for his friend as a cleaner, but after seeing his friend’s marriage deteriorate he decides to return home. On the day of his wedding, he experiences vivid hallucinations of his deceased brother that shake him so much that the ceremony turns into a disaster. And just as a mining project in his village starts to uproot the homes of his friends and family, Shu’s mind drifts from reality to fantasy and his bright personality begins to fade.

Playing Shu is Wang Baoqiang, a well-known character actor in mainland China. He is the best thing in the film – largely thanks to being the only well-written character in the picture - and he takes on his role with convincing virtuosity. He is at once lovable and repugnant, and always unpredictable. His moments with Xioa Mei are sweet and innocent, vaguely recalling Chaplin in their forced silences. Xiao Mei has to write to communicate and their exchanges are directed with a deft touch, albeit without much humor. The bit-part players do not profit from the same pen, with some ending up becoming jarring obstacles. An ill-judged scene in which a friend and his wife have it out over a girl’s text message feels like a needless and empty foray into domestic politics but is given as foreground action nonetheless. 

More could have been made of the more charming elements of the plot – the awkward budding romance between the two leads, the would-be fish-out-of-water situation that occurs when Shu turns from bum to impromptu seer. But Jie plays it out all too seriously belying his protagonist’s playful, childlike quality and making the all-important sociological concerns of the film a harder sell. The film shows signs of wanting to be several things at once: a romantic comedy, a surrealist character study, a socialist drama, but succeeds in none, while failing to engage on a narrative level. Moreover, the final act ends up flitting in between reality and delusion so often you end up wondering if anything was real at all.

The deterioration of the village and the sense of impending takeover are played out well. And Jie’s intentions in exploring the extraordinarily rapid urbanization of China are clearly well-meaning. But in its puzzling plotting and what one can only assume as a deliberately uneven tone, Mr. Tree is rather hard to analyze, and even harder to love. A film that is so irreverent and uninterested in the cause of its viewer it becomes immune to criticism. In this sense, it finds itself in the same kind of oblique self-containment as a David Lynch movie.  But unlike the latter, Mr Tree holds no real aesthetic merit nor succeeds as an “experience” (perhaps with the exception of the experience of sheer befuddlement). By the end, it’s clear that Jie isn’t interested in encouraging our response, emotional or otherwise, instead he takes the liberty of short-cutting through the story and leaves us somewhat cold. 

Written by Kenjo McCurtain

Monday, September 17, 2012

Kahaani - Sujoy Ghosh - 2011

The second showing of the pre-festival screenings was the Japanese premier of a film from the sub-continent: Kahaani. If part of the purpose of the Focus on Asia festival is to encourage cultural exchange then Kahaani has proven to be an excellent choice. Films are a valuable means of gaining an insight into distant or remote cultures. What we get in Sujoy Ghosh’s fourth feature is an uncompromising street level view of the city of Kolkata, culminating in the famous Durja Purj festival – which is incidentally, not dissimilar to Fukuoka’s own Yamakasa festival. Naturally, with the Indian cast and subject matter, it is sure to be somewhat of a novelty to Japanese viewers.

Before we delve into the heart of the matter there two main points of interest: the female lead (unusual for a Hindi film) and the location shooting (again rather rare for a mainstream Indian feature). The rest is unfortunately, not all that novel. The film opens with a curious and at first, unconnected prologue in which a deadly chemical weapon is accidently released on a busy subway carriage. We then jump two years, to Kolkata’s airport, where a heavily pregnant Vidya Bagchi (Vidya Balan) has just landed from London. She is on the search for her husband and heads straight to the police station.

In the weeks prior, her husband Arnab arrived in India for a job assignment. They talked daily on the phone, until without warning, his calls stopped. Everywhere Vidya turns, no one can remember Arnab. There are no signs that his assignment ever took place. There is no trace of him at the guest house where he supposedly stayed. She is confronted with increasing skepticism as all she has as proof of his existence is a wedding day photograph and her protruding bulge. Undeterred however, Vidya continues her search and at times goes to great measures to get her answer.

Balan does perfectly well in a strong, commanding performance as the tenacious Vidya. But her acting chops aren’t exactly stretched to breaking point. There’s something about her character that is a little too relaxed. It’s fair to think that one might be a little more unhinged given the odds that are stacked against her.

Alongside Vidya is Parambrata Chattopadhyay’s endearingly sincere policeman who is taken by her resolve and helps her in her cause, driving her from place to place and tagging along as rearguard. It is an interesting reversal of gender roles. Their close contact throughout the first hour hints at a possible romance to come, winning the film an added depth. Also good is Nawazuddin Sidiqqui as the steely government official who comes in at the half-way point barking orders at everyone in his way. He spends a lot of the time barging down corridors past his inferiors and his (truly) intense presence is put to good use. His terse, heated exchanges with Balan serve as the highlights of a script relatively lacking in hard, raw emotion. But arguably the real winner here is the city itself shot lovingly on celluloid. The bustle and vitality that is the simple nature of Kolkata is captured lovingly on celluloid with some great DP work. Coming out of the film you will feel like you’ve lived there.   

Where the pic doesn’t really succeed is in its storytelling. While the first hour set up the characters and the story in a simple, understated fashion, even building some tension along the way, the following acts really drop in pace where they should pick up. Overestimating the charm of it all, Ghosh lets his film run to a hefty two hours. Instead of a racy final act we plod along lifelessly as the characters bounce from one non-descript location to the other, each scene introducing another unnecessary twist and becoming more convoluted. Viewers may find themselves switching off in the final 20 minutes, pinching themselves only in the hope of catching the answer to Arnab’s disappearance.

Crucially Kahaani is lacking in the golden ingredient of thrillers: suspense. Aside from an all-to brief scene that sees Balan and Chattopadhyay break in to a government building at the same time as a hitman, there is never any sense of real danger or nail-biting tension. It’s a little lightweight and could have been far darker.

It all comes to an end with a set-piece shot amongst the vivid colors of the Durja Purj festival. The big twist that comes is smart and unexpected but does little to add to the story or Vidya’s character. Nevertheless it does serve to reinforce the film’s ideological subtext on womanhood. Balan’s solo performance is convincing and powerful enough to serve a spoonful of resounding proof to the Hindi film industry and to viewers that a woman can carry such a film on her shoulders. However, take out the gender politics, the female lead, and Kahaani is a thriller we’ve all seen before. 

Contributor: Kenjo McCurtain

Focus on Asia Fukuoka International Film Festival 2012 Preview

The 22nd Focus on Asia Film Festival gets underway on the 14th of September. Once the red carpet has been rolled out, the festival will showcase a veritable smorgasbord of Asian cinema to sink your teeth into. From the Philippines to Turkey, 36 films from 15 countries will be involved in this year’s festivities, with all having been hand-picked by festival director Yasuhiro Hariki [梁木 靖弘]. Of the several features of the festival will be an agricultural theme (アグリ・シネマ) featuring three homegrown films to address the global issue of food. There is set to be a broader selection of works from the western reaches of the continent with Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India all being represented. Finally, there will be a complete retrospective of the cinema of the Academy-Award winning director of A Separation, Asghar Farhadi – a first for Japan.

Film In Japan will be in the midst of the action, bringing reports, reviews and interviews. Starting with the opening ceremony and the Korean-made opener Dancing Queen on September 14th.

Below are some of our choice picks:

Kahaani – 2012 – India  Director: Sujoy Ghosh

A Hitchcockian thriller shot in true Guerilla style in the heart of Kolkata on a shoestring budget and personally recommended by festival director himself Yasuhiro Hariki. Kahaani is somewhat of an original in Bollywoodland. Its divisive depiction of motherhood and feminism notwithstanding, the film was also filmed on the sly in the Guerilla mold of films like Battle of Algiers. The story sees the efforts of a pregnant woman, portrayed by Vidya Balan, on the search for her missing husband during the Durja Puja festival. Already released to wide critical acclaim, and a box-office success in its motherland, we’re excited to catch this one on its Japanese debut.   

The Sound of Light [ひかりのおと] – 2011 - Japan    Director: Juichiro Yamazaki

Part of the Agriculture and Cinema section, The Sound of Light is one of only a small handful of Japanese films to be shown this year. The picture charts the inner struggle of Yusuke Kariya, who returns to rural life after a hard time as a musician in Tokyo. It looks as if this film might have a touch of Ozu about it in its depiction of ordinary lives and everyday struggles. This film also marks Juichiro Yamazaki’s directorial debut whose experience on a farm as a youngster lends an added authenticity.

September – 2011 – Turkey          Director: Cemil Agacikoglu

Winner of Best Director and Best Actress at the 18th International Adana Golden Boll Film Festival, September follows a shy couple who come across an ill-treated young woman and their efforts to restore her to health. Working somewhere in the shadow of the aesthetic mastery of Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan, the picture makes up one of the two Turkish entries for this year.

You Are the Apple of My Eye – 2011 – Taiwan     Director: Giddens Ko

Another semi-autobiographical directorial debut on our list is this picture from Taiwan. A high school set, quirky coming-of-age romance that follows a rebellious boy and an attractive and popular female honor student.  You Are the Apple of My Eye had its world premiere at the 13th Taipei Film Festival and has already featured widely on the festival circuit. A storm at its domestic box-office, Giddens Ko has recently revealed plans for a sequel. Where he will take this story next remains to be seen, but there’s no doubting its strong populist appeal.

Asghar Farhadi Retrospective

What a great opportunity to experience this modern master’s work on the big screen. All five of Farhadi’s films will be screened, including last year’s Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Film, A Separation. But perhaps the highlight of the director’s oeuvre can be found in the gripping storytelling and tension of 2009’s About Elly, daubed by David Bordwell as a “masterpiece” and another multi-award winner. Cinephile or not there is something for everyone in Farhadi’s honest and unpretentious cinema. A sort of piece de resistance for the festival, this is not to be missed.

The Audience Award ceremony will take place at the JR Kyushu Hall on September 19th for which advanced admission is required. 

Contributor: Kenjo McCurtain

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Hong Kong Asian Film Festival 2011

Festival Homepage

October 18th to November 18th.

The 8th Hong Kong Asian Film Festival is another superb participant in the city’s vibrant film festival calendar. There are a whopping 65 films in the line-up from all over Asia screened over the course of a month. The schedule is jam-packed with quality featuring some of the most exciting new stuff in Asian cinema. This is all nicely complimented by director’s retrospectives, cult classics, and a very interesting Taiwanese section, amongst others. Screenings will take place in three cinemas, the Broadway Cinematheque in Kowloon, the Palace ICF near Hong Kong Station, and the One in Tim Sha Tsui.

The festival opens with local royalty Johnny To’s latest film, Life Without Principle, that sets a slow-burning heist movie to the backdrop of the global recession. More than just a plot device, his film looks extensively at investment banking in an interesting spin on the genre. The films multi-strand narrative dumps a police inspector (Richie Jen, a To regular), his wife (Myolie Wu), and a banker (pop star Denise Ho) into the mixer. It looks perhaps a little slower than what fans of To have come to expect, but is definitely a film which is seeking to place itself right in the now. For the closing film fellow Hong Konger Wong Ching-Po’s live action adaptation of a Japanese anime series Let’s Go takes centre stage. The film is loosely inspired by the cult Space Emperor God Sigma about enormous robots in 2050, not, confusingly from the Japanese manga Lets and Go, . Nevertheless, it seems to be an entertaining opera of sci-fi violence. If the style and verve of Wong Ching-Po’s most recent film, Revenge: A Love Story, have made their way into this effort, fans of this kind of thing should be very excited. The gala presentation of the escapist Starry Starry Night, which premiered at the Busan International Film Festival, is another notable landmark on the calendar. It is based on the illustrated book by Jimmy Liao about two teenage outsiders who are immediately drawn to each other.

Making up part of the Cineaste section, Naomi Kawase’s Hanezu is a fantastic little film, which was in competition in Cannes this year. Set in Japan’s Asuka region, close to the city of Nara, it taps into the serenity of the countryside to tell the story of a complicated romance that forces those involved to reassess their lives. Like her previous film, the grand prix winning Mogari no Mori, it looks beautiful. Another intriguing Japanese film being screened is Himizu, an adaptation of a hugely popular teen manga. The intrigue is in the circumstances surrounding it. The film was written and about to go into production in Northern Japan when the earthquake hit. Director Sono Sion decided that he would use these characters to tell the story of the earthquake, re-writing the film around the tragedy. The shoot went ahead in the devastated region and has some incredible scenes of the sheer destruction. It must be said, though, that this is still an adaptation of the manga, violence, absurdity, and all. Nevertheless, the movie’s use of the earthquake is not gratuitous and it actually does have something to say on the crisis.

A retrospective of two Chinese directors whose careers have intertwined also stands out. Wang Xioashuai and Lou Ye marked a movement away from the conservative cinema of the fifth generation to make films that were more in touch with modern China. They have both been heavily censored, and even exiled. Xiaoshuai’s Frozen on the life of a struggling performance artist who undergoes the ultimate sacrifice for his art looks fascinating. His take on the life of migrants in So Close to Paradise illustrates the dark side of Wuhan. His latest film 11 Flowers is the centre-piece. It is the story of an eleven year old boy who by chance finds a murderer on the run in the woods, promising to keep his whereabouts secret. Lou Ye’s break-through 2000 film, Suzhou River, a noirish underworld vision of Shanghai that was banned in China is great to revisit, along with his recent Spring Fever. Despite being himself banned from entering the country, he shot it in Nanking using a cast of five actors and working with hand-held cameras [? Not characters] to avoid detection. As with Wang Xioashui, Ye’s latest work is on as well. It is the adaptation of Jie Liu-Falin’s auto-biography and was shot on location in Paris.

The up and comers of the New Talent Award section of any festival is always worth checking out and HKAFF will not disappoint with a varied collection of great new directors. The stunningly animated King of Pigs from Korea which looks back at the child-hood memories of two angry misfits could be brilliant. Its unique style and adult content mark it out as one to see. Representing Hong Kong, Tsui Shan Jessey Tsang’s Big Blue Lake about an actress returning to her hometown has been impressing audiences. The period piece, The Sword Identity, about a Chinese warrior who is mistrusted due to the foreign style of his sword did well on the festival circuit this year and looks like a solid contender for the award being handed out in the New Talent category.

The special sections are what really mark out HKAFF. The Taiwanese collection represents an industry in the midst of a boom. It consists of 15 films from this year or last with some quality pictures. The main attraction is epic Warriors of the Rainbow, the dramatization of aboriginal Taiwanese standing up to Japanese rule at the 1930 Wushe incident. It was the most expensive film in Taiwanese history at 25 million US dollars. Squished into one film when screened in the Venice film festival, it arrives here in all its two part glory. The Killer Who Never Kills is another one to look out for.. The quirky narrative centres on an assassin who never kills anyone. He befriends his targets and sets them up with alternative identities before claiming the money. However, love gets in the way in this romantic, indie comedy. Two documentaries, Cherish, on a scavenger who creates art from recycled objects, and Children From the Distant Planet, a touching piece on raising autistic children, both look like gems.

The classic Nikkatsu retrospective also looks brilliant. The great Japanese film director Seijun Suzuki worked extensively for the studio between 1956 and 1967, producing a prolific 40 films in eleven years. He became famous for surreal, peculiar yakuza films like Tokyo Drifter. The studio were constantly on his back, demanding he rein in some of his creativity. One of his films being shown, Kanto Wanderer, was a sequel that he had been drafted in to direct. Instead of toeing the line, he went the other way and made it unrecognisable from the original. The other, Branded to Kill, which is being shown at HKAFF, is the film that pushed the studio to the edge and he was swiftly fired after getting it into the can. Regardless of this, it is an absolute peach of a movie that is a must-see in the cinema. Another excellent selection is Lovers are Wet, part of Nikkatsu’s Pinky Violence Series. Pink films in Japan are soft-core pornography and were mainly made [I don’t get this original prose – was this what you meant?]by film school students. Whereas the mainstream studio output had strict limitations on the extent that creativity was accepted, if the titillation quota was met directors could be as inventive as they pleased. It led to a peculiar collection of some the best films to be made in Japan. Lovers Are Wet is a great example of this fascinating episode in Japanese cinema.

Sci-fi fans and geeks of Hong Kong will be satiated by the amusingly titled Asian Superheroes collection. It features a modern masterpiece made on a budget that you could barely buy a small car for. Invasion of the Alien Bikini from Korea has wowed festival audiences all over the world and is as exciting, stylish and quirky as sci-fi gets. For fans of weird Japanese stuff, screwball director Noburo Iguchi, who I last saw wearing nothing but sumo garb in 3 metre deep snow, has brought his Karate-Robo Zaborgar to town. It is one of those camp Japanese oddities that depite going over your head (or under it) still remains an entertaining watch. Thailand’s Red Eagle is going for the full-on Hollywood superhero thing, and from the trailer seems to pull it off a lot better than most of the stuff coming out of America.

The lengthy running time of the event from October 18th to November 18th gives festival-goers ample opportunity to take advantage of the great movies being shown. Tickets range from 60-75 dollars and are generally screened twice during the festival. The beauty of this festival is its variety. There’s an awful lot to get interested in this year, so go forth and watch.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Interview with Paul D. Miller AKA DJ Spooky

Paul D. Miller AKA DJ Spooky's film Rebirth of a Nation reinterprets D.W.Griffith's controversial, racist, revisionist, landmark 1915 film Birth of a Nation. The movie puts DJ culture in the director's chair seeking to show how history has a habit of recycling itself. In remixing Birth of a Nation it makes its own context. DJ Spooky created the score for the film , which is performed by the fabulous Kronos Quartet. Rebirth of a Nation has been screened at London's Tate Modern, New York's MoMa, and the Acropolis amongst others. It arrives in Hong Kong for its Asian premiere. There will be two performances on October 15th at the Hong Kong Arts Centre. Additionally, DJ Spooky will be doing a Master Class and DJ demonstration on the 14th. Tickets and information are available on the Hong Kong Arts Centre website. Get involved.

What is it that made you want to reinterpret, or remix Birth of a Nation?

Okay well the first thing you've got remember with race in the United States is that it adds layers and layers of complexity to an already paradoxical society. I mean with film Birth of a Nation is the DNA of American cinema, if you look back. So when I was thinking of the last election with Bush dividing the US into red state, blue state. In a way that you really could that the former states of the confederacy had all voted for Bush in this strange way. It was making me think more and more about that, so I just took it from there.

What is the significance of the title Rebirth of a Nation?

Well it's about remixing, recycling, repurposing and what ends up happening with political landscapes, especially in the Obama era. You've got the Tea Party, and the Republicans and they are going crazy and my film was made during the centre of when Bush was starting all these wars so I wanted to try and get people thinking about the way that the past shapes the present, and in a way tell that story. The Re in the title was just a way of saying reason, recycle, repurpose.

America remains fairly divided to this day. Political and legal equality was eventually established, but on a social and economical level there is still a huge disparity. How much real progress has been made with racial equality?

Well, lets see, we just saw a huge situation where a guy got executed by the state of Georgia. There's a lot of problems between race and our place in the legal system. There's a lot of inequality based on economics, based strange statistical use of politics. A white yuppie who does cocaine, will serve a lot less time than an Asian, a Latino, or a black person who smokes weed. Something simple like that, you'd be surprised. When you start looking at the big picture and the numbers, it is eerie to see how statistically speaking we are more unequal than a lot of previous periods in United States' history.

What do you make of Griffith's image of Lincoln. The Great Heart/ Hero of the South, or do you see him as the Great Emancipator, or something else entirely?

Well regardless of how you feel about him one, Lincoln was a Republican, and two, he was a very progressive visionary on a lot of issues. So I respect his memory and I think he is an important figure. the funny thing you have to remember, he was hated in the South that's why he got assassinated. Amazingly enough there isn't anyway that you could all of a sudden make that the composite. It's very easy to remember he was killed because the Southerners hated him, I don't see why he becomes this figure, but it helps with the story for African-Americans. He's very respected, and he is very renowned as a hero for keeping the country together.

In the film you argue that Griffith's depiction of the Lincoln assassination is equivalent to the way the media portrayed events like Katrina and Iraq. What specific links would you make?

I would say that Lincoln and the way that that narrative set-up in the film, where his assassination all of a sudden leads to a worse treatment of the South. There's a lot to be argued for the way Katrina played out in the midst of the South as a kind of new forum for debate. You know, it's funny. Lincoln really was hated by the South and the Republicans because of the Civil War amazingly enough they were hated in the South for almost a century. It took the civil rights movement to get the South to move away from the Democrats. I always view that as a very strange paradox, especially from our current moment, because Republicans called it under Nixon the Southern strategy, which was to co-opt white anger in the South about the civil rights movement and to use that for political gain. Whereas Lincoln was just trying to make things work and be functional. There all these strange situations.

You have that great clip at the beginning where Griffiths is being asked about the truth of Birth of a Nation and he replies, "Truth...What is the truth?" How would you describe the media of today's relationship with the truth?

As we see all over the world, wars, revolutions, the fall of nation states and governments because of Facebook or Twitter. People want to hear what they view as something that relates to their life, their experiences. If their experience in life is misery, and people are on the TV saying everything is great, well, they are going to see that there is the old media and the new media. New media is far more responsive to actual conditions, more local perspectives, which a lot of the time is far more truthful than the national media or Fox News or whatever. If you compare that to what happened in North Africa with all these countries Libya and so on. People were able to compare and say look we are tired of this.

As you've mentioned there are numerous parallels between now and when Birth of a Nation was released, the red/blue divide, external threats, and so on. When you were making this film Bush was in power, since Obama has come in and looking at the reaction to him in certain parts of American society, do you see the fear of the Lynch character as slightly prophetic?

Yeah, he is mixed race, it's about someone who represents the fear of the blurring of the lines of ethnicity. Whites in the US and the Tea Party won't believe that Obama is American because he has a birth certificate from Hawaii. He is mixed at every level, so he represents complexity. But also what's eerie about it is he's not going to push pack as hard as he could. I think he's been letting the Republicans frame the debate on a lot of issues. So it's eerie because you want to see more of a push back, and actually amazingly enough, I think Hilary Clinton at this point probably would be able to push back because she is from a viewpoint within the norms of what they see as political discourse. Obama vs. Lynch it is eerie how resonant it is. He is not evil like Lynch, in fact Obama is a nice person and I think he is too nice.

In light of the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of the Civil War, with Obama in office, beyond symbolic importance has he substantively achieved much for African American rights?

Well, it is a very paradoxical situation because he doesn't want to push the idea of blackness too much because he feels like it would piss of whites. But the problem is just his existence has pissed off whites laughs. You know they will accept Bush, they will accept all sorts of stuff. But I think the fact that he is very smart, he went to Harvard for real, whereas Bush was a D- student who benefited from a lot of hook-ups is a very big issue for them. I think the Tea Party and the rank and file of Fox News Republicans find it difficult. You know, he hasn't really appointed that many black people to office, as a symbol it is very powerful but he is more of a centrist like Bill Clinton.

There are similarities between Obama and Lincoln, in some respect if Obama was to miss his 2nd term would this be in any way comparable to the Lincoln assassination for you?

Well, assassination is a whole different thing. Assassination implies that you were in power and they really couldn't get you any other way. Whereas what's happening now is there has been a relentless, I'm talking unflinching war against Obama since he even first got in office. The Republicans have been hitting him on every level to weaken the idea of a multicultural person in office, and they would probably have done the same thing to a woman. Anybody who is outside of this idea of a very stratified norm of what they view as American, which usually is white male. If it was an Asian, a Latino whatever I'm sure they would have done anything, as long as it's not one of them laughs.

Talking about a North South divide, most presidents of American have come from the South. Do you think there is any significance in that?

Yeah, I mean the South because they lost the war. There is actually a really funny book called A History of White People written by a Harvard professor, a very serious book on the construction of whiteness. In Europe, and I DJ in Europe all the time now, the Germans and the Swedish, the French have issues with the English, the Spanish have issues with the Basque, and so on, it's complex. But they are not all running around saying, "Hey, I'm White." The construction of whiteness is very much a part of the American project, so when you're saying presidents are from the South, that's because there you can easily play off race versus actual facts. So a lot of times the Republicans can get poor whites to vote against their interests, "You know what I don't need health care!" You'd be surprised. Or they'll say "the Earth was made in seven days" but they don't need science.

The Birth of a Nation in many respects marks the dawn of modern cinema. Do you think that with its DJ perspective Rebirth of a Nation is somewhat a pioneer in its own right?

With remix and DJ culture,with sampling, you can pull anything out of context and re-edit it, and make the edit itself become an art form. So sampling, the idea of literary play with words, games theory, mixed memories, all of that is part of the way the globe functions now. Once something is digital you can edit it and change it any direction. There is even software now which allows you to change someones face in a photograph. This is just the beginning.

The DJ as director and the cut and paste philosophy, what does it add to our understanding of cinema?

For me right now sampling is about pan-humanity. It's saying Asian, African, European, Latino, and so on, that we can exchange culture. That means that there is respect for the human subject, and it's not about region or one style. And sampling breaks open so much creativity. It's really important for me to celebrate that and it's also important for me to that as a literary and arts foundation for the twenty-first century.

In the past you've talked of Warhol's concept of the fund object. What does that mean to you?

Think of anytime you play a record, I'm talking like vinyl. You are dealing with a couple things, one, the record cover sleeve, two, the actual piece of vinyl. And the record cover sleeve, in my last book, I found the person who invented the record cover sleeve. He was still alive, his name is Alex Steimler. Alex created a revolution in graphic design on a lot levels, because you had to start thinking about visual and sound. When you say found objects, usually its a kind of collage. They pull the collage from bits of pieces of newspaper or books or posters and cut them up. But to do the same thing with sound you are doing the same thing with geography and memory. The found object becomes the world and I think sampling is like a mirror you hold up to the world.

A while back I saw Das Kabinet des Dr. Caligari screened while a new wave German punk band played. What other films do you think would be fit for musically influenced remixes?

I think music for re-score/remix, the perfect film is Metropolis and that's been done a couple times. Another film that could be really beautiful is 2001: A Space Odyssey. I'm really interested in a lot of Chinese cinema, you know Wong Kar Wai's 2046 and also some of the stuff coming out of Japan Akira Kurosawa Seven Samurai. I would love to see re-score's of those in the future.

Do you plan to do any of those yourself?

Yeah, I plan on doing a lot more. Right now my main project is The Book of Ice it just came out. Basically, I took a studio to Antarctica and went to all the main ice fields. The whole idea was to do what I call acoustic portraits of ice. I wanted as much as possible to show that you could have a kind of sampling applied to landscapes. Sampling is usually for records, but I wanted to show that you could sample geography and time. It was a really beautiful project. We went to Antarctica for 6 weeks and was staying in all these different glacier fields. It was super intense. It was so much fun and crazily remote. It was so cold if you fall in the water you would die in two minutes. I like doing weird projects it keeps life interesting.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Paradise Kiss - 2011

Director: Takehiko Shinjo


Unimpressive film of the popular girls comic series.

Part of the shoujo (young girls) manga scene, Paradise Kiss is a live-action adaptation of Ai Yazawa's five volume tale. If the concept of young girls manga isn't enough to put you off in the first place there are a plethora of other reasons to persuade you. The characters are, by and large, paper-thin caricatures of stereotypes that will fill you with a desire to inflict severe physical pain on them from the off. This is in no way helped by a painfully over-long story. No matter how much you've had enough of the three-act rom-com structure, you will never think of it more fondly then when this film launches into its annexed fourth act of unbelievable nonsense. As one for the kids Paradise Kiss, naturally, has some sensible little life morals at its heart, but when they are delivered by such incredibly, self-obsessed, preening buffoons it feels akin to taking anger management lessons from a psychopath.

The story tells the trials and tribulations of Yukari Hayasaka's (Keiko Kitagawa) fledgling steps into the world of fashion and modelling. She is a struggling high-school student, buckling under the pressure of all the entrance exams and a demanding mother, pushing her since she was a toddler. By chance one day she is accosted in the street by the permanently agitated fashion student Arashi who, along with transvestite Isabella, persuade her to come to their design studio, the titular Paradise Kiss. There, Yukari is introduced to the other members of the gang, ditsy girl Miwako, and leader, the self-titled 'genius', and all round immense prat Georgy Koizumi (Osamu Mukai). They introduce the 'frumpy' (read stunningly beautiful) Yukari into the world of fashion college. Before she knows it she has left her high-school, high-school sweetheart, and family behind to move in with Georgy and agreed to be their model for the end of year fashion show. These initially unusual people will surely have some nuggets of wisdom to impart on our heroine. Perhaps it could have something to do with everyone telling her, and then repeating it over and over again in voice-over flashbacks, "You don't even know who you are yet." Unsurprisingly it does.

One of the only members of the cast to emerge without their reputation lying entirely shattered in pieces on the floor, though there are some sizable cracks, is Keiko Kitagawa, as Yukari. She gives her performance some gusto, and is at least likable. She is strikingly beautiful and the transition from clutsy high-school girl to attractive model is perhaps not quite as pronounced as was intended due to this. Nonetheless, she holds her own and at least has some screen presence. Mukai plays the arrogant, egotistical, and condescending student designer Georgy. Hat permanently at a 45 degree angle and a constant smug grin, he is easily one of the most irritating characters to wander around a cinema screen in a long time. The single most frustrating part of this performance is that it is obviously intended to come across as ice cool, whereas anyone with a mental age of over 17, and you'd hope even those a little younger, will surely see him for the swaggering arse he is. He assumes the role of mentor for Yukari trying to get her to come out of her shell. Alarmingly, one of the ways he does this is by taking her to a love-hotel and forcing himself on her. If, like me, you don't buy into the absurd idea of him as a plausible love interest, then it negates anything he has to say and makes the final 40 minutes an unbearable slog.

The rest of the cast rarely rise above filler. They clearly had much larger roles in the comics, but here they must make do with the odd thirty seconds of screen time allowed. Arashi (Kento Kaku) bizarrely is inexplicably angry whenever he is involved. Like a drug addict going cold turkey he shouts at everyone. Except he isn't a drug addict, and their is no real reason for these constant outbursts. Isabella played by Shunji Igarashi is fairly decent and is a believable transvestite, he just has very, very little to do. Their inclusion was obviously essential, as dictated by the source material, but if they have nothing to contribute it doesn't stop it from being pointless. In terms of performance quality, it is hard to give a solid opinion. I wondered whether the actors were attempting to imbue this with a feel of the manga, or simply just not very good at acting. There were lots of unnatural and exaggerated shots of surprise, shock, and so on. It was decidedly cringe worthy in parts but I suppose the benefit of the doubt is required here as there are plenty of other things to moan about.

Though not quite Lord of the Rings, Paradise Kiss just refuses to end. One of the saving graces of romantic comedies is they almost never over-stay their welcome. They reassure us with their predictability, fluttering nicely around the ninety minute mark before floating into the end credits. In a way they are not unlike a dream, you have a rough idea of what happened but little tangible memory of it. Things seem to be going nicely along with the program here, and just when you think you sense the fade to black around the corner, another thirty minutes are mercilessly tacked on. I appreciate the requirements of adaptation, and that clearly a lot of sacrifices were made to accommodate the running time (the TV serialisation took twelve episodes), but when a film this formulaic in every other respect steps out of sync for even a moment it jars, sticking out like a sore thumb.

The production values are quite high for a film of this nature. Things do generally look quite nice, and there isn't so much of that TV movie feel that sometimes plagues low budget Japanese movies. However, the fashion isn't going to fool anyone. Believe me when I say I am no fashionista, not remotely. But, if even the jeans and T-shirt brigade can sense that something is a tad amiss in the haute couture stakes, then you have a problem. The dresses look like a flower threw up on them, as though they were designed by a particularly giddy seven year old. Everyone taking everything so incredibly seriously and raving about how inspired it all is, just adds to the silliness. I know that the age-group this is aimed at are not known for being the most grounded members of society, but there is something borderline offensive to all these 17-20 year olds acting like they are the center of the universe and all humanity. If anyone has had the misfortune to watch Gossip Girl where pre-teens stalk New York as if they ruled the world, it will be a familiar sense of over-whelming nausea.

Paradise Kiss clearly has a target audience, and I'm sure that its members will be able to appreciate this for what it is. For non-fans there is nothing here worth turning your heads for. Even viewed as a simple rom-com it comes up wanting. Having been translated into over eleven languages and recuperating over half of its budget in its opening weekend in Japan alone, it is easy to understand why Fox International were interested in getting this made. This, however, is definitely not a flattering example of Japanese manga up on the big screen.