Friday, October 23, 2009

Spotlight on Japan

A very healthy haul of 5, listed once again in order of preference:

Ain't No Tomorrows (2008, directed by Yuki Tanada)
Original title: Oretachi ni asu wa naissu

This is an excellent film that depicts the coming of age tale of a few teenagers with unflinching honesty. Considering that plenty of films mishandle the changing complex behaviour associated with a teen's sexual awakening, it is refreshing to see a film that does not shy away from handling the issues head on. The honesty of the film (along with the sexual conquests) feels a bit like Larry Clark's Kids but this film stands on its own.

Vacation (2008, directed by Hajime Kadoi)
Original title: Kyûka

Even though it deals with the grim topic of a prisoner's execution by hanging, the film maintains a poetic balance by depicting the story from the point of view of the prison guard who volunteers to work during the execution. As per Japanese law, a guard who works during the execution shift gets a one week vacation but there are clearly emotional repercussions associated with such a vacation. There are plenty of dialog-less shots in the movie where the actors expressions beautifully convey the sense of agony and pain their characters are facing. Also, the film is clearly meticulously researched regarding the Japanese prison system and the process involved with an execution.

Still Walking (2008, directed by Hirokazu Koreeda)
Original title: Aruitemo aruitemo

The style, shots and set design of Still Walking immediately bring the works of Yasujiro Ozu to mind. But that similarity ends as soon as the characters in Still Walking open their mouths. In most of Ozu's films, even though there was disagreement and resentment between the characters (be it children vs parents or vice-versa), the hatred was not out in the open. But in Hirokazu Koreeda's film, the knives are fully out as the family addresses each other with heavy doses of sarcasm and harshness. Given the tragic circumstances of the family gathering, the hatred is understandable because it is another form of failed expectations the family has of each other. Overall, a fascinating film that depicts the characters with a sense of beauty that Ozu would have been proud of.

Achilles and the Tortoise (2008, director Takeshi Kitano)
Original title: Akiresu to kame

Takeshi Kitano presents a light hearted spin on the Achilles and Tortoise tale by adapting it to the subjective world of art. The fact that Kitano has used his real life paintings in the film certainly suggest an autobiographical angle to the film. The only negative aspect is that the second half of the film repeatedly hammers home the same point over and over again by showing the (expected) rejection of the young artist's works.

Note: The art school segments echo the sentiments of Terry Zwigoff's Art School Confidential.

All Around Us (2008, directed by Ryosuke Hashiguchi)
Original title: Gururi no koto

A good film that manages to integrate the two strands of the main couple's relationship problems and the court room stories nicely. Just like Vacation, All Around Us balances a grim topic with a touch of beauty. The husband is a courtroom artist covering the cases of brutal killings but since the camera focusses on him and his art work, the impact of the crimes is lessened and the confessions of the criminals turn into background noise. This tactic allows us to see the husband's work just as a routine job and something that comes in the way of his marriage. The one negative about the film is there are plenty of repetitive situations, especially the court room parade of killers. Still, there is plenty to admire in this film.

David Bordwell discusses Still Walking and All Around Us near the bottom of this VIFF 2008 post.

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