Thursday, December 23, 2010

Norwegian Wood - Noruwei no Mori - 2010




Director - Anh Hung Tran



Rating - 4/5


A beautiful dream-like interpretation of Murakami's novel.


Like the Japanese translation of the Beatles song itself (Norwegian Forest, rather than wood) this adaptation of Murakami's best-selling novel is just a little askew. It makes up for this by being a sumptuously shot, dream of a film.


The story is deceptively simple. Toru, Naoko and her boyfriend Kizuki are best friends in their high school days in the '70s. Everything seems perfect, except of course everything is not perfect. Without warning, Kizuki sits in his car in a garage with a pipe attached to the exhaust, and turns on the ignition killing himself. The story picks up again 3 years later with Toru now a university student in Tokyo. The student riots are going all around but they always feel peripheral to the story. He bumps into Naoko in a park and they reignite their friendship, which eventually becomes something more. This is too much for the fragile Naoko. She heads to a retreat for depression, isolated in the Kyoto mountains. Toru meets Midori, playful and lively, she is the the opposite of shy Naoko, and finds himself trapped between the past and the future. The deviation from the books narrative is minimal and anyone who has read it will feel immediately familiar.


The book was of a man reflecting from his 30s, scouring his memories. Whilst this flashback element is not really here, apart from Toru's occasional voice-over. The film does manage to recreate this through its airy style though, making the whole film feel like an extended memory. It struck me at times as sharing some parallels with Wong Kar Wai's 2046, visually and thematically, the scene from the back of the cab seems like a direct homage. Unfortunately, the actors don't strike you as Murakami creations at times. Kenichi Matsuyama is handsome and does a good job, but the Toru from the pages doesn't really leap out of him. This is perhaps unfair criticism, as a lot of Toru's characterization was achieved through the access to his inner thoughts as narrator of the book, but there is a notable paring down of all the characters. Rinko Kikuchi, here as Naoko and familiar from Babel, applies herself well to the role. She seems ethereal, adding to this otherly effect by spending half the movie in the clouds of the mountaintop retreat. The three main stars, with Kiko Mizuhara as Midori, are maybe a little too picture perfect for this film but overall they contribute solid performances.


Anh Hung Tran's direction is great and the film is really beautiful from start to finish. The shots of Toru and Naoko in the mountain are spell-binding. Those scenes are translated perfectly into film. He envelops Naoko and Toru in the nature surrounding them, losing them in it. The essence of the seasons, snowy mountains, autumnal hues, are distilled into the film serving as a timescale and a metaphor for the story.His focus on nature, the extreme close ups of the plants are stunning, make for some brilliant imagery.


Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood's score is pitch perfect. It briefly seems at odds, it's the last thing you expect, but very quickly makes a great deal of sense. As in There Will Be Blood it is never merely background music, but something that bears almost the same influence as the camera itself. He imbues a foreboding dread, lacing otherwise innocuous scenes with the feeling of something toxic. There are even sequences reminiscent of Anderson's masterpiece, as the mountainous ranges of Japan are captured just as the desolate wilderness of America's hunt for oil was. The occasional music tracks, apart from the titular Beatles one, comes from krautrock band Can. All well chosen and appropriately used they, along with the immaculate attention to the period detail on screen in the sets and costumes, let the '70s ooze out of the screen.


The film does have moments where it lapses. The acting is a little in patches. One scene where Toru is crying and drooling (literally) in anguish on the rocks is a bit too much. There should be more trust placed in the audience. His turmoil is apparent, he is sleeping in a rock cave, it doesn't need to be overplayed like this. The film is a bit slow in getting running, though it seems to grow with confidence as the story progresses. A couple of the big scenes, like where Reiko, Naoko's confidante, sings Norwegian Wood don't quite come off as perhaps intended, but are in the minority.


Flawed definitely, but an exceptional film. For any Murakami fans complaining about the legitimacy of this as an adaptation, I urge you to cast your memory back to the forgotten Tony Takitani. That was a film, largely ignored, that truly, in every essence, adhered to the Murakami style and atmosphere. Norwegian Wood is more of a compromise but an entirely valid one. At the end Midori asks Toru where he is. He can't answer, unsure like the feeling of waking up from a dream. Norwegian Wood is a film that is hard to hold onto, but lingers with you, a meandering dream-scape of sorrow.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Battle Royale 3D - Batoru Rowaiaru 3D - 2010



Director - Kinji Fukusaku



Rating - 4/5



I still vividly remember seeing this when it came out in 2000, in Camden. It was only on limited release in the UK due to the moral outcry that followed it around. There was a strange flyer that depicted London just like the map the students are given in the film, with the handful of cinemas that were screening. I remembered hearing that Japanese politicians were up in arms at the preposterously violent high-school story and that American distributors weren't touching it with a ten foot barge pole in light of the Columbine massacre. Aside from that though, I was largely in the dark.

As the first knife flew towards a uniformed school girl's head there was a collective intake of breath in the audience. As the blade lodged itself in her head and she slumped to the floor, everyone in that packed screening audibly gasped in a state of shock. There was this dawning realization that this was going to be something more than a little unusual. Celebrating its tenth anniversary last year, it is as fresh as ever, and I have still never had an experience quite like it in a cinema since.

The film remains a dark, lord of the flies-esque gore-fest. Before explaining the plot it is worth mentioning that if you haven't yet seen this, it might be worth going into it blind. Its one of those films that just works better without knowing the story in detail in advance. Battle Royale is set in turn of the millennium Japan which appears to be going downhill fast. Young people don't respect their elders and the system is going to pot. A counter-measure, the Battle Royale act, is proposed to restore some order. As such, the worst behaved class of students in Japan are taken to an island each year, given a selection of weapons, and left to kill each other until one survivor, the winner, is left. Some students can't believe what is happening, others take to it with incredible relish. The film's original tag-line coined it nicely, "Could you kill your best friend?"

It’s not the most obvious choice for the third dimensional treatment, but it does add a certain zing to it, with the knives flying and such. There is still that lingering curmudgeonly feeling that 3D is not the necessity film studios claims it is, and a film like this will hit its audience with the same intensity even if it sticks to plain old 2D. Having said that, it is a bit of fun and it is nice to see a film that doesn't fit the big blockbuster mold giving the medium a crack. Director Kinji Fukusaku passed away in 2003 and his son, who took over the reigns of Battle Royale 2, converted the film as is to 3D in honour of its first decade.

The contrast of the ultra-violence (a film truly deserving of that moniker) and the hokey relationships between the kids is as odd as it is fascinating; a girl lies bleeding to death in her classmates arms with them telling each other how cool they are. There are many moments like this which give you that sense of "only in Japan." The incredible instructional video shown to the bemused students at the start is masterful. The super-genki (high-energy) host explains the horrific rules, exploding necklaces, and varying weapons with a cheerful relish that is sinisterly hilarious. The best thing is still Kitano as the head-teacher, played with a dead-panned edge that only he can pull off. It is an interesting twist on the archetypal Kitano character in films Sonatine and Hana-bi. He comes of as a sort of twisted Bill Murray. It is a welcome reminder of his capabilities as recent offerings haven't quite hit the mark.

The film is viewed as a modern classic in Japan. Tarantino placed it in his top twenty films since becoming a director in 1992, though Anything Else was in there too so make what you will of it. The excellent Chiaki Kuriyama, who played the running team girl Chigusa, went on to star as Gogo Yubari in Kill Bill. She is the stand-out of the young cast. When she ends one of her classmates last ditch attempts at losing his virginity , male members of the audience will find it a particularly tough moment. Lead boy Tatsuya Fujiwara is good as Shuya. He holds the film together well with his earnest performance. He went on to star in the successful Death Note series.It is a little bit hard to picture the boyish looking Yukihiro Kotani, Shuya's best friend Kuninobu, as the supreme l'enfant terrible, but he is only around briefly. The rest of the large cast are all solid, with everyone chipping in. Japanese classes are given numbers from one to forty, and it is chilling when said numbers are read out in the loud-speaker death reports, and flash up on screen.

The music that accompanies the film is perfectly picked. Orderly classical music beamed out over the battle-ground, utterly discordant and utterly fantastic. It also allows for one of the most peculiar scenes in the film. Kitano's head teacher begins his traditional rajio-taiso, a series of stretches that Japanese companies and schools traditionally perform every morning. As the chaos unfolds, this moment of serenity and order seems to hark back to a by-gone era often regarded with slightly misty eyes by Japan's older generation. Is this the sign of a shepherd who has lost his flock, or with all the monstrosities going on around it, is Fukusaku trying to expose this nostalgia as just an empty facade?

There are some sizable plot-holes here and there, that can be a little distracting. The prologue shows TV reporters announcing from the scene of last years tournament. It makes it seem a little peculiar when all the students froth with disbelief. The film is definitely stronger in the set up, and as the second half gathers pace it loses some of its dramatic push. Yet, Fukusaku labelled this film a fable, and as such it feels a little unnecessary to be pulling on the lose threads of the film. Regardless of the few short-comings, the film as a whole works exceptionally well.

If you haven't seen Battle Royale it is definitely worth taking the opportunity to catch in the cinema. Regardless of the 3D or not it is a film that works best in the darkness of a cinema, as part of a captive audience. If you have seen it, then it certainly beats watching it on DVD again, no matter how many bonus discs they throw in with the re-release. Fukusaku's son said in an interview, "we never set out to make Harry Potter. The point is to make people think about big issues." Both of those statements are unequivocally true.

An interesting piece on the distribution problem encountered in America on its original release.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Autumn Adagio - Fuwaku no Adajio 2010



Director - Tsuki Inoue



Rating - 4/5


A Japanese nun approaching the menopause.




Set to the backdrop of a beautiful Japanese autumn, this is the story of Japanese Catholic nun, Sister Terasawa, played by Rei Shibakusa. It is a nuanced and delicate film, a transition. The story, perhaps a little unusual, is moving and well shot. Terasawa has, unsuprisingly, lived a quiet life. As she approaches the turning point of the menopause, three men enter her life. Each is completely different but they all begin to have a profound effect on her, making her ask questions about the choices and sacrifices she has made.


The film uses music and dance to extraordinary effect. The scenes with the ballet dancers, of which Terasawa, like us sits spell-bound watching are of the highest order. They express Inoue's message with a profound clarity. It is immediately evident why she chose to work with non-professional actors, Inoue wrote the film with Shibakusa, a musician by trade, in mind. The power of these moments coupled with the visual style, radiates from every scene and make a big impression. The films autumn is captured beautifully, visually depicting the change in Terasawa. It's an unusual and beautiful little film, that speaks clearly.

Akunin - The Villain 2010


Director - Sang Il-Lee



3/5


A peculiar love story that looks beautiful but has a coldness at its heart.




Set on the southern island of Japan, Kyushu, the story spans from Nagasaki on the western edge to the big city of Fukuoka on the northern tip. Akunin is the story of a man burned, who turns to the dark-side for a brief moment . It is compelling stuff, asking some big questions about the nature of judgement and how far you can push the desire to be loved.


Six peoples lives become entangled in a tragedy. A pretty, but vacuous young girlYoshino has been dating a young guy, Shimizu, from the countryside. They arrange to meet in Fukuoka but while he is waiting for her she finds a more suitable alternative, the handsome but morally vacant Masuo. They leave, and Shimizu slams on the accelerator. In the next scene the police are uncovering her body and this is where the story starts for real. The narrative is interspersed with flashbacks which fill out the event, timed to manipulate our interpretation of the events.


The villain of the title, Shimizu, is a fairly simple character. Undernourished in his family life, lost in the world. His crime, of course utterly deplorable, is passionate not premeditated, and in a way, retaliatory too. His relationship with Mitsuyo, the excellent Eri Fukatsu, seems to offer redemption. Clearly his first mutual relationship with a women, he attempts to give her money after they have sex, of which the manner conducted is itself worthy of a psychiatrist's couch. You would never go so far as to say he is likable, but his vulnerability is disarming. At lunch with her in a quaint tourist restaurant he blurts out his terrible secret, exposing the unreality of the situation: a picture perfect romantic moment is brought crumbling to the ground.


Mitsuyo is the intrigue of the story. Her motives though clear, are impenetrably difficult to understand. She is evidently lonely; at work in a suit store she mistakenly assumes a romantic edge to an interaction with a customer. Without him ever getting wind we see her hopes raised and dashed as his wife turns the corner, in a way that seems very familiar to her. It is this loneliness that pushes her to avoid the taints on the outside of Shimizu. On their first meeting he barely speaks to her at first, distrustful and disdainful. She remarks that he is not the kind of person she normally spends time with. She emits an aura of innocence and with his bleached hair and sporty clothes his roughness jars. You imagine in a hundred other lifetimes their paths would never have crossed, but the pressure and longing to be with someone draw them together. His treatment of her is misogynistic, aggressive but she makes a commitment to find the decency in him.


The film looks amazing, capturing the island of Kyushu perfectly. It comes across as a cold, barren place, Shimizu and Mitsuyo struggling through it. I found myself reminded of Takeshi Kitano's Dolls, the story of a couple condemned to wander Japan bonded by an unbreakable rope. Their hideout in a lighthouse, though perhaps a little cliched, is striking and cinematic. However, too much time is spent on the exposition, it is a good 40 minutes before the set up has been established. The peripheral stories of the father and grandmother, even with some decent acting, can't help but be superficial. Apart from fleshing out the two characters and developing some of the themes, they have little purpose. The excellent performances, interesting ideas and visual style make this a solid film. Finally, though asked to analyse our own judgement of the characters, at the end the film is ambiguous in its own.


Friday, November 5, 2010

Lola - 2009


Director - Brilliante Mendoza

3/5


Two elderly ladies lives are tragically entwined as they try to keep their families together in the aftermath of a tragedy.


Lola, means grandma in Philippine, and this story of two towering, old matriachs is a moving, documentary-like film. Set to the harsh, impoverished backdrop of Manila, the film begins with Lola Sepa desperately struggling to find her grandson on the mean streets. Her grandson has been murdered by Lola Carpin's grandson, who has been sucked into a criminal underworld. One lady desperately seeks the money needed to afford the funeral costs, the other is trying to pay for bail.

The film serves as social commentary. It's shot in that shaky, handheld digital, and as we follow the ladies around on their quest it all does feel vividly real. It attacks the circumstances that created this situation not the young man in jail. Sepa, soaked in rain, goes to her grandson's boss to ask for help, insurance. Her son, who has worked diligently, does not qualify. Her treatment is appalling, her son's death is clearly of no concern and she is briskly palmed off. Carpin seeks help from relatives living on a duck farm, she comes back penniless, but with a case of eggs. Beyond the direct references to these problems the film threads them into its milieu; gameshows, where the aim is to free yourself of debt, the background presence of those generic loan adverts

Interestingly, though a court case is central to the film, Mendoza focuses on behind the scenes dealings between Sepa and Carpin. Carpin breaks down initial resistance to attempt to sort the case privately, finding an acceptable sum for a settlement. Economic need has essentially castrated a legal system, and this bargaining bears far more relevance than the judge or jury. It is shocking in one instance, this is a murder case being settled by the accused paying for the funeral costs essentially, but the underlying need for Carpin to protect her boy, caught up in a storm of bad circumstance is immediately understandable.

At the core of this film are the two noble grandmothers, like ultra-magnets, pulling their families together. Slightly voyeuristic perhaps, but a clear picture of modern-day Manila is established, with its precarious fault-lines carefully highlighted.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

2010 Tokyo Film Festival Awards - Nir Bergman




Sakura Grand Prize - Intimate Grammar

Director - Nir Bergman

The Israeli director is something of a TIFF veteran. He won the Grand Prix prize in 2002 for his film Broken Wings, the story of a family in turmoil after a bereavement . This time round he wins the center piece, for Intimate Grammar.

Intimate Grammar is set in Israel in the '60s, a traumatized post-war society that is in a state of aggressive reaction. For adolescent Aharon, this is not something he can become a part of, and so he, literally, stops growing up. An allegorical tale on the division between childhood and adulthood.

Bergman, a product of the Sam Spiegel Film School, is a major figure in Israeli television, manager of the Israeli channel 10 drama department. In the west he is known for his position as a writer on HBO's In Treatment. His film Broken Wings, along with its Tokyo success was also recognized at the Berlin, Palm Springs and Jerusalem festivals. This year he also directed a segment of the documentary, Sharon Amrani: Remember his Name, a tribute to fellow Israeli and Sam Spiegel graduate Amrani who tragically drowned in 2000.

Social Network - 2010 Opening Film at the Tokyo Film Festival


Director - David Fincher


4/5


The inner machinations behind the origins of facebook, and the eventual, "lawyering up" make for an excellent film.


When most of us get dumped, we stare longingly out the window, try to sleep with someone else (anyone else), beg, desperately, for the dumper to realize what an enormous mistake they have made, or verbally attack them to anyone who will listen. Mark Zuckerberg, played by Jesse Eisenberg, chooses the latter, doing so on his online blog, but doesn't not stop there. He makes facematch.com, a comparison based attractiveness competition of his female fellows created by hacking into the university network. It crashes the Harvard server with its popularity he is summoned before the university admin board to be put in his place. Before proceedings have even begun, he argues that he should be thanked for illuminating potential security problems. It is clear from the off what kind of person Zuckerberg is.


The story is never about facebook itself, it is about the connections of the handful of people behind it, rather than five hundred million on it, and the deposition they wind up in. All flawed in their own ways, they interact fascinatingly. The story gravitates around the deposition, and we find out about the history that led them to this moment in flashback. This system, though nothing groundbreaking, Fincher even went so far as to say he had made his Rashomon, is dealt with marvellously. The flashbacks are poignantly linked to the revelations, developing and filling out our understanding, and indeed our judgement. Despite this device however, the control is resoundingly still with the audience, as we are implored to come up with our own deductions beyond the facts and figures we have of this mess. This is made all the more interesting that the events are all within historical throwing distance, and surely makes this something of a unique work, in that this bickering is still continuing.


Every character in the film fits perfectly. Eisenberg, as Zuckerberg, has a cupboard of similar characters in his back catalogue. He arrived with The Squid and the Whale 2005, the awkward, intellectual, misfit child under the strains of his parents divorce. He steadily added to that with films like Adventureland 2009, Zombieland 2010, in which he was far more at the helms. His persona, an edgy, fast-talking, nerdy Robert Downey Jr., is recognizable from the off, but the accusations of him trotting out the same old shtick are utterly misguided. He revels in this performance, a role that allows him to use all that nervous energy to perfection. He is brutally sharp and it works perfectly with Sorkin's snappy dialogue. In one scene a lawyer, attempting to emphasize a point, clarifies a sum, " so you put in twelve thousand dollars, and then an extra four thousand dollars, making sixteen thousand in all." Zuckerberg, intently stares at his calculator, looks up, " Yeah, I got the same." You sometimes sympathize with him, and sometimes loathe him, often in the same scene.


His hang ups and insecurities fundamentally effect all of the other characters, and are what draws them to this final conclusion. With Eduardo, co-founder (sort of), he holds a, sometimes barely concealed, jealousy at his greater social success that pushes their relationship towards breakdown. The two Winklevoss brothers, whose original idea is clearly the spark that ignites Zuckerberg's grand plan, are moneyed and successful and part of a world that he so desperately wants to be a part of. At the disposition Zuckerberg struggles to hide his contempt for them, incapable of creating something like this on their own, "If you guys were the inventors of facebook, you'd have invented facebook." He treats them like imbecilic parasites, despite the fact they might just have a point. They themselves are a strong presence in the film, the so-called inner circle, and it is enjoyable watching Zuckerberg infuriate them. At a regatta, after it has dawned on them that facebook has blown up big time, a well-to do Brit is introduced to them, who says his daughter at the LSE has her own facebook account. You can almost see the vanes popping in their skulls.


Most interestingly though, is Justin Timberlake's turn as Sean Parker, Napster creator. Broke and needing something to get him back in the game. He is smooth, egotistical and powerfully manipulative. It is a remarkable, convincing performance from Timberlake, which is something I wouldn't have predicted myself saying ten years ago. He is distrusted by Eduardo, but childishly entrancing to Zuckerberg. Eduardo is lost to why Zuckerberg listens to him so intently and it is a catalyst in the following turmoil. Eduardo claimed that all Parker ever brought to Facebook was removing the the from the title. This may be the only quantifiable evidence, but what Parker brings with his C-list celebrity and accompanying charm, is ambition. It is clear that as well intentioned as Eduardo is, he is essentially the weakest link. Eduardo frets over the initial, respectively small scale investment. He wants an immediate return, requiring facebook to become profitable immediately. Zuckerberg believes, and Parker agrees, that what facebook has now is more important than profitability, it is cool. When Eduardo's money isn't relevant anymore neither is he. Parker, unlikable and slippery, is looking at a picture far bigger than anything Eduardo can begin to conceive.


Sorkin argued that even for those who have never updated a status, or had a drunken photo splashed over the internet, the film is just as accessible and it is true. In no detrimental way, the comparisons to Citizen Kane are perhaps slightly off-base. It's scope was never meant to be that vast. The final moment jars a bit, but it is a small blot on an otherwise superb character study on a man who has had, and is having, a huge effect on the world. It exposes the crippling insecurities at the heart of his prodigious, epoch changing idea. The site changed the way people interact socially in a short few years, yet it was built by someone with a complete lack of social skills. Though, to paraphrase, Zuckerberg isn't an asshole but he is good at trying to be one.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

My Darling is a Foreigner - Darin wa Gaikokujin 2010


Director - Kazuaki Ue


1/5


A puddle shallow, glutinous look at the relationship between a Japanese woman and her American boyfriend.



A series of moderately amusing Japanese manga has been turned into a whopping great turkey of a romantic comedy. The comics featured in bite-size form on Train TV in Tokyo, a welcome distraction from the commute at a length just short enough to maintain attention. They were fairly charming, contrasting the rather tame subject matter with the hugely exaggerated style of Japanese comics. Their focus was on the cute little misunderstandings in a relationship between a young Japanese woman and her darling foreigner.

Saori is a manga artist, Mao Inoue of Japanese soap fame, who definitely is just a pretty face, and Tony is her American boyfriend, Jonathan Sherr, who acts throughout as if he is on industrial strength horse tranquilizers. The story charts the troubles that face them. Ranging from the lack of acceptance of her father, to Tony's inability to rinse cups after doing the washing up, and hang out laundry. Ironically, there does not seem to be too great a difference in importance attributed to these two. Neither of the characters are as interesting in non-animated form and the story lurches slowly, predictably onwards, with them drifting behind in tow.

There is a section of clips where real couples are interviewed (fast becoming a staple of rom-coms with too few ideas and 90 minutes to fill) on the idiosyncratic things their foreigner boyfriends do. It is pretty tedious stuff, the grinning guys are paraded like entrants at a dog show. Tragically there are only Japanese women and foreign guys, surely they could have sniffed out one Japanese guy to participate? "He puts broccoli in his soba noodles!?!" one girl squeaks in disbelief. Enlightening, it isn't.

There probably is a story to be told on this subject, there has been before see Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, but not here. Dealing solely in superficial stereotypes and cliches, it is dull, boring and utterly lacking in any form of insight. The chemistry between the two is non-existent and the film is littered with emotional signposting; the slow-mo flower toss at a wedding is particularly unimaginative. Maybe the concession needs to be made that perhaps I am not the demographic being targeted here; i.e not a Japanese girl. If you have a sneaking suspicion that you might not be either, avoid.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Interview with Tsuki Inoue - Director of Autumn Adagio


Tsuki Inoue is a Japanese director, originally from Kyoto. Her film, Autumn Adagio, is about a Japanese catholic nun approaching the menopause and how it affects her. It is beautifully shot and a fascinating film.


FIJ -As a Japanese film-maker, what drew you to this unusual story?

FIJ -日本人の映画製作者として、この独特な内容(物語)にあなたを引きつけたものは何ですか?


TI -:日本人である前に、ひとりの女性としてこのテーマの映画を描いて

   おきたかったという想いがありました。

   そして、このテーマは誰しもが通る通過点なので、日本限らず、

   あらゆる国の方々にもきっと感じて頂けるテーマであると考えました。

TI - I wanted to make this film on this theme as a woman myself before as a Japanese film maker. This theme is something everyone passes at some point in their lives, and therefore I thought people in every country could understand.

FIJ -In making a film on a delicate subject, the sexuality of a catholic nun, did you feel any pressure?

FIJ -カトリックの尼さんの性(セクシュアリティ)というようなデリケートな題材で、製作するにあたってプレッシャーなど感じましたか?


TI - もちろん、カトリック教徒の方や修道女の方々に失礼はあっては

   いけないと、プレッシャーは感じました。

   ですが、観終わったお客様に最終的にひとりの女性の話であるという

   着地点に導いていくのが、創る側の人間の力であり、

   また、そこまで見極めるお客様の目も信じ、制作しています。

TI - Of course I felt a pressure that the film should not be disrespectful to Catholics or Catholic nuns.

However, I think that as a filmmaker I should have an ability to guide the audience to the point where they understand ultimately this is a story of one woman. I also believed in the viewers ability to ascertain the true intention when I made the film.


FIJ -What is the significance of the beautiful autumn setting?

FIJ -秋の美しさを際立たせた演出になっていますが、その意味するところ?なぜ秋にしたのでしょうか?

TI - 人生を四季と例えると、主人公の年齢の時に重なること。

   また、落葉の赤という色が物語の重要な色であること。

TI - One reason is that if you compare a life with four seasons, the protagonist’s age period would be autumn. The other reason is that red of fallen leaves is a significant color for this story.


FIJ -The ballet scenes are enchanting. What approach did you take to capture the artistry of these moments and why did you choose ballet?

FIJ -うっとりするようなバレエの場面でした。監督 は、バレエの一瞬々の芸術性を描くためにどんな事に注意しましたか?そして、なぜバレエを選んだのでしょう?


TI - まずは、個人的にクラシックバレエが私自身に非常に馴染みが

   あることです。私は幼い頃から15年程バレエを学んでいました。

   映画的には、禁欲で生きてきた彼女が心を奪われるとしたら、

   自らの生き方と重なる共通点が彼女の心の中に風穴を作ると考えました。

   バレエの世界も、美しくストイックであると共に、

   日本人が西洋文化を体現して生きている。

   また、修道女がピアノを弾き、バレエダンサーが踊っている絵は

 違和感を感じながらもロマンティックなシーンになるいう確信がありました。

TI - First of all, classic ballet is something very familiar for me personally. I have learned ballet dancing for 15 years since I was little. As far as the film is concerned, the protagonist has been living her life in abstinence. If she is ever mesmerized by something, I thought the similarity between her life and ballet will be a springboard for her. Ballet is something also beautiful and stoic. And like the protagonist, ballet dancers are the Japanese living their lives embodying Western culture.

At the same time, I had the conviction that the picture of Catholic nun playing the piano and ballet dancers dance to her music, would make a romantic scene thought it might provoke a feeling of strangeness.

FIJ - Many of the actors in the films were musicians and dancers. Apart from the obvious benefits of musical ability, what other benefits are there to working with non-professional actors?

FIJ -音楽家やダンサーでらっしゃるような出演者が多くみられました。それらの方々は音楽的なセンスをもってらっしゃるのは当たり前ですが、それとは別に、専業の俳優では無い方を役に使うにあたって、プラスになるような事がありますか?またはそれはどのような部分がプラスになってますか?


TI - まず、この映画に関しては、主人公の柴草玲さんを映像化したいという

   ことが始まりの一つでした。映画を創る行程は作品の質によって

   変わりますが、映画という嘘を創るにあたって一番大事にしたいのは、

   登場人物が生きているというリアリティです。

   音楽を演奏し生きてる人、踊りを生業とし生きる人、この映画に

   一番必要な説得力でした。

   なぜなら、彼らの動きそのものが台詞であり、声であり、

   俳優ではこれは表現できません。

TI - One of the motives I made this film is that I wanted to shoot a visual image of Ms. Rei Shibakusa who played the main role.

The process of making a film differs depending on the quality of film. However, when creating a film which is a “lie” in a sense, what is important for me is the reality that every character is actually living. Musicians who live by playing music. Ballet dancers who dance to make a living. The reality of those people is the most necessary power of conviction for this film. Their every movement itself works as lines and voices. It is not the style of expression regular actors can do.


FIJ - It was interesting to see a mix of western and Japanese culture. For international viewers can you explain some of the examples of Japanese culture and tradition? For example, the sekihan?

FIJ -西洋と日本文化のミックしているのを見るのは、興味深かったです。 国際的な視聴者のために、日本文化と伝統のいくつかについて説明していただけますか? 例えば、赤飯について?


TI - 食や景観にあえて、古風な日本らしさを取り入れたのは、

   海外へ映画を持って行くことを意識したからです。

   同時に、未だ西洋に憧れ、多様な文化と共に生きてる日常

   こそ、今の日本です。

   赤飯は、日本ではおめでたい時に食す伝統的な食べ物です。

   逆に、現代の日本、また都会では、このような風習が忘れ去られている為、

   あえて私は日本人に向け取り入れました。

 

TI - The reason why I bring in a traditional Japanese touch with the food or scenery in this film is because I was conscious to bring the film overseas.

Sekihan is a traditional dish served at auspicious occasions in Japan. In this film, sekihan was used intentionally for Japanese viewers since this kind of customs are now forgotten in modern Japanese society and in urban lifestyles.

The young girl who had their’s first menstrual period is congratulated with the sekihan in Japan.

Sekihan is made by steaming glutinous rice (an especially sticky variety) together with red beans which turn the rice red.

FIJ -Forgiveness is a central theme of the film for many of the characters. The film seems to take the catholic sentiment that even very bad things can be forgiven, do you agree with this?

FIJ -"許し"は、この作品のたくさんの登場人物達に通ずる主要なテーマです。作品の中で、 非常に悪い事でも許されるとが出来るという、キリスト教的な感覚を表しているように思えましたが、あなたは私のこの意見に同意されますか?


TI - 私は研究者でも無いですし、明確なことは何も言えませんが、

   キリスト教について調べ学んだ結果、許す、受け入れるということが

   私の解釈の大きい部分を占めました。

   許すことが、全てにおいて正しいとは思いませんが、

   人間として、許す、受け入れるということが一番難しいのは確かです。

   また、それは人生を進む上では必要なことでもあります。

   そういう意味では、この物語で描きたいことと、キリスト教の考えは

   合致していたように思います。

  

TI - I am not a researcher nor can’t I give clear answer to this question. But after learning about Christianity, the large part of my understanding towards Christianity was forgiveness and acceptance.

Forgiving might not the right answer at all times. But as a human, to forgive or to accept is surely most difficult things to do, as well as the necessary things when you move ahead with your life. In this regard, I think Christianity and what I wanted to depict in this film have something consistent.

FIJ -There is a lot of symbolism in the film, the very bright light from outside, the lilies at the start of the film, and so on? Could you elaborate on these?

FIJ -作品中にいくつか象徴的な部分がありました。とっても眩しい外光や最初の場面に出てくる百合の花など々。 これらについて詳しく説明して頂けますか?


TI - 百合はマリア様を象徴する花です。

   花びらの中に男女が共存する一つの植物を用いて、彼女の在り方、

   生物の在り方を表現しています。

TI - Lilies are the flowers that symbolize the Virgin Mary. By using a plant where male and female co-exist in its petals, I expressed how she should be and how living creatures should be.

FIJ -Has the film been received differently by Japanese audiences and international audiences?

FIJ -日本人の観客と、外国の観客とで、その反応など違ってますか?


TI - 反応は全く一緒です。

   ひとつだけ違うのは、赤飯が出てくるシーンです。

   ソウルフードはその土地で馴染んだ人でないと理解しがたいものがあります。

   年配の日本人女性は過去の記憶を辿り、主人公と共に涙を流している姿を

   見受けられました。ですが、海外の女性達も同じように想像し

   涙を流されてる方も見受けられました。

   私が考えるに、そこを通った彼女達は当時封印した想いをもう一度扉を開け、

   受け止め直しているのだと思います。

   私もこの映画を創る上でそれが一番大事にしたい想いでした。

   誰も描かない扉を開け、きちんと悲しみ、感謝し、受け止める。

   私は女性としても制作者としても、

   その通過点を大事に拾いあげたかったのです。

TI - I think the film was received quite the same.

The only scene differently taken was the scene with sekihan. It is difficult to understand the background and meaning of traditional food if you are not familiar with the local place.

I saw old Japanese ladies shed tears along with the protagonist recalling their own memories. At the same time, I saw some non-Japanese female audience in abroad with tears imaging the same feeling. I believe that they were re-accepting the feelings they had sealed when they had followed the same path back then. Those emotions are the most important aspect when I made this film.

I wanted to open the door that nobody opens, to feel the sadness properly, to appreciate it and to accept it. As a woman and a filmmaker, it was my wish to carefully scoop up this path women go through.

FIJ -What films and genres interest you? Do you have any ideas for your next project?

FIJ -どんな映画やジャンルに興味をお持ちですか? 次回作について、何か構想やプロジェクトはお持ちですか?


TI - 全般です。見えるもの全てに興味はあります。

   次回作は、考え中です。

   できればオリジナルの脚本で、より人間を深く描きたいです。

TI - Everything. All things I see interest me. As for the next film, I am still thinking. I am hoping to make a film with original script if possible, and depict humanity more deeply.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Whispers and Moans - 2009

Director: Herman Yau-Lai Too


3/5

This ensemble piece about the Hong Kong sex industry is remarkable at least, for avoiding the standard cliches in almost any film ever to have featured a prostitute.



Most big East Asian cities have an immediately recognizable, neon-lit, reddish light district; girls in ridiculous ball gowns, caked in make up, fake nails and incredibly long eyelashes, stand outside their hostess bars fishing for groups of businessmen to pop in for a drink, and a sing-song. The area in Hong Kong where this is set, has a particularly notorious one, apparently. Girls wander the streets soliciting clients, and the bars, it would appear from this film, are essentially glitzy, eighties decor sex markets. The film, whilst being a little soapy here and there, doesn't shy away from things, and doesn't make excuses for the unusual opinion at its heart.


Whispers and Moans takes one of these bars and, ignoring the customers largely, looks closely at the lives of the workers. Apart from the actual work, the dilemmas are all very familiar. The industry is under threat due to a weakening economy and an influx of cheaper workers, disparagingly referred to as, "main-landers". Two women at the top, separate and suited, who worked long enough at the bottom, are in charge. They are the managers, organizing the liaisons, dealing with customer relations. Like a mirror on a normal office, the girls struggle for recognition and promotion, to work long enough to become a manager or retire. Once their time is served they can head back to their hometowns with honour, eventually finding positions like head teachers. Some hate their jobs, but know there isn't much else, others put on a brave face.


Adapted from a book that was based on interviews with sex-workers, the film rings resoundingly true. One girl, keeping her life a secret from her innocent boyfriend, upon his proposal realizes that at the wedding his guests will be her clients. She cuts him off, throwing her phone into a bin. Tony, a young man also working as a host, frequents the girls bar to take out his pent-up aggression on the girls working there. The girls in turn head to his, getting drunk and screaming at him. It is a vicious cycle and the only time they can unleash. These stories have such a believable feeling that they must be derived from the books revelations.


Instead of looking at all the reasons these girls get into prostitution and showing they could have been something else, something better, Whispers and Moans respects them for their choices. It is utterly remarkable when towards the end, expecting them to decry the horrors of the job, one character has an extended speech about, quote, what a great whore she was, and how much fun being a whore is. This is not to say it makes it seem like a perfect working environment. One character, so happy she is named Happy, is the model professional. She deals with upwards of four customers a day, is revered for her positive attitude and sunny disposition, but when she finds out she might have caught an STD drops the facade and uncovers layers of pain hidden from the offset.One girl succumbs to a drug addiction and is fired from the club. We see her gradual decline, as she slumps further and further down-market, until she is patrolling the street, a bottom-feeder to the nearby glamour.


There are some balancing points to this; the charity worker who tries earnestly to persuade the girls to switch professions, and care for their health. She is largely ignored, but is a constant presence in the film. Though perhaps, as a character, is a bit two dimensional, her inclusion is understandable. Despite her standpoint, however, she doesn't stray from the message of the film, that regardless of the stigma the women are proud workers. The films ask us to share the respect, rather than pity. They do a horrendous job, clearly, but their motivations are never belittled and neither are they. Rather than decrying prostitution we are told to accept it and withhold our judgement. Portrayed without the the standard biases, and narratives of most films on this subject it feels really genuine. It has some moments of melodrama, but on the whole is far more interesting than dozens of other movies on a similar subject.

Focus on Asia Audience Award - True Noon





2010 Audience Award Winner

Nosir Saidov for True Noon







This year's audience award went to Nosir Saidov for his film True Noon. The film, from Tajikistan, is the story of a village divided. As wedding plans are being made for a young couple, Tajikistani soldiers arrive at the village to instigate the new national border. A barbed wire fence is erected and splits the village down the middle. Despite the soldiers threats the families decide to go ahead with the wedding.


The audience award acts as the centre-piece of the festival. It is as festival chairman, Shindo Tsuneo, described an award where the citizens of Fukuoka are the jury. After screenings the audience are given a slip of paper which they fold according to their grading of the film. As audience numbers vary, the highest average score goes on to take the prize.



Nosir Saidov was born in 1966 in Tajikistan. True Noon was his first feature film. It has won awards at film festivals in India, Iran and Russia. Saidov was assistant director on Luna Papa 1999 and The Suit 2003.






There will be another, final, screening of True Noon in the Elgala Hall on Saturday the 25th at 4.00pm for anyone who would like a chance to catch it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tokyo International Film Festival 2010


The 23rd Tokyo International Film Festival runs from - October 10th to October 23rd. The festival will be held in the Roppongi district in central Tokyo. Over a hundred films will be screened over the ten day duration. With the festivals main attraction, the Tokyo Sakura grand prize, star guest appearances, open-air screenings and voice-over screenings, there is plenty to look forward to.


The festival opens with Social Network, about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and amongst other noteable highlights are: Potiche, the new Francois Ozon film, Moss, based on the online Korean comic sensation, The Town, the Boston bank robber film by Ben Affleck, Tron: Legacy, remake of the '80s classic, and Countdown to Zero, an investigation into nuclear arms by the makers of An Inconvenient Truth.Tickets are at the low price of 1000yen in advance and 1200yen on the day. They can be purchased from any Lawson ticket machine. Find out the code to the screening you want, then head to any Lawson conveni, enter the code into the machine, print out a receipt, take it to the till to pay and receive your tickets. Advance booking is recommended.



The Tokyo Sakura grand prize
The Tokyo Sakura grand prize is for 50,000$ and will be decided on the final day、Sunday the 31st of October.

Here are some of the stand-out entries this year.




And Peace on Earth - Matteo Brotugno and Daniele Coluccini


The distant outskirts of Rome witness the birth of three parallel stories destined to be tied together. Marco, ex-prisoner, goes back to dealing cocaine for his old friends Glauco and Mauro. Faustino, Massimo and Federico spend their days doing drugs and irresponsible things. Sonia is a university student but also works in a gambling club. A trivial incident will force the main characters to leave a trail of fire, blood and violence behind them.




Brighton Rock - Rowan Joffe


Brighton, 1964. Organized crime has moved into this sleepy English seaside town. Ambitious young gangster Pinkie Brown is determined to stop other gangs taking over his patch, but when he kills a rival, vital evidence falls into the innocent hands of a young waitress, Rose. Pinkie seduces Rose to stop her talking, but her employer, Ida, takes an infuriatingly close interest in the case. A year before the abolition of the death penalty, can Pinkie trust Rose not to betray him and can Rose trust Pinkie not to make her his next victim?




Beautiful Boy - Shawn Ku


Beautiful Boy centers around a couple in a faltering marriage who discover that their 18-year-old son has committed a mass shooting at his university before taking his own life. Following this unimaginable tragedy, they have only themselves to turn to as they deal with their grief, avoid the relentless media scrutiny and struggle with their own culpability, while holding onto the hope that someday they may experience happiness again.




Primary! / Primaria! - Ivan Noel

In this celebration of children's creativity, Primary! follows the lives of students and their teachers in a peculiar yet somewhat recognizable primary school. When Jose Maria―more apt to give a lecture on Fine Arts at university than a primary classroom―fills a post as art teacher, chaos seems to be on the verge of unleashing itself. However, the path that his infinitely imaginative little students take him through proves there is more than a little he can learn from them, and a new life to discover…


Tickets

Tickets are at the low price of 1000yen in advance and 1200yen on the day. They can be purchased from any Lawson ticket machine. Find out the code to the screening you want, then head to any Lawson conveni, enter the code into the machine, print out a receipt, take it to the till to pay and receive your tickets. Advance booking is recommended.