Three☆Points — movie review — Japan Cuts 2011

Three☆Points -- movie review -- Japan Cuts 2011 -- dreamlogic.netOur first review from Japan Society’s 2011 Japan Cuts film festival, is Masashi Yamamoto’s Three☆Points (aka: Three-Point). Something of a loose anthology film, Three☆Points presents three very different glimpses into lives in contemporary Japan. Notice that I don’t quite say stories. Rather, Three☆Points presents a mix of fact, fiction, and hybrids of the two. Juggling genres and narrative techniques, the film bounds from cinéma vérité improvisation, to full on documentary, to deliberate surrealist fiction, and back again, all within the span of two hours.

Yamamoto’s film has three primary “chapters” (though two of the three interleave with each other at random intervals), with each taking place on a different locale in Japan. The first, Kyoto, presents the attempts of young, aspiring rappers to live for their passions and leave their troubled pasts behind. These segments comprise the majority of the vérité elements (complete with improvised rapping). Similar to the verbal creations of their protagonists, these visual poems are just long enough to present an idea or provoke an emotional response, before moving onward to other things. And despite their brevity (I won’t spoil them with specifics), they prove surprisingly effective in their explorations of love, loss, atonement, and even revenge.

The second, Okinawa, presents a sort of meandering, documentary look at the lives of the locale’s residents, with particular focus on their efforts to sustain themselves in a bad economy, as well as the tenuous relationship they share with the American soldiers stationed there. To give you an idea of the variety of things witnessed here, the Okinawan segments start out with Masashi interviewing a former homeless man turned entrepreneur (and documenting his bare-handed crabbing skills), moves on to document the living situations of a group of city-to-country transplants, and eventually arrives in town to document the aforementioned resident civilian/foreign military dynamic.

What’s of particular interest here is how Masashi inter-cuts interviews with village old-timers and the young American GI’s. The locals express a overall distrust of the foreigners (largely due to the misbehavior of their forebears), but admit that their businesses rely on American war-making to sustain themselves. The GI’s, in turn, express an interest in the uniqueness of Japan, but admit that their enlistment in the army was a side affect of poor economic situations back home. It may not be all that profound, but serves to illustrate the notion that people on opposite sides of the fence are sometimes more similar than they’d think (or like to admit).

Japan Society's Japan Cuts Film Festival 2011 -- dreamlogic.net

The last, Tokyo, is the tale of a young woman (Sora Aoi), who is rescued from an attempted assault by a wandering homeless man (Jun Murakami). Feeling sorry for her injured hero (he suffers a stabbing during his act of heroism), she takes him back to her apartment to nurse his wounds — only to find he won’t leave the apartment once he’s mended. Thus begins a complex battle of wills, and even a twisted romance, as the two roommates attempt to exert their philosophy on the other, while reopening wounds from the past.

This last portion is arguably the most interesting of the three. It’s emotionally and psychologically complex, and worth watching more than once in order to pick out the various nuances of the protagonists’ antagonism. And no, I’m not trying to intellectualize Sora Aoi’s nude scenes here. Three☆Points is actually Aoi’s second collaboration with Yamamoto (the first being Man, Woman & the Wall), and she does an amazing job (yes, with her clothes on) realizing her character, delivering a surprisingly strong, competent, and completely believable performance from start to finish. I was definitely impressed. Likewise, Jun Murakami gives an equally impressive performance as the slightly mad vagrant. Intriguing, quirky, and dangerous, his portrayal both disturbs and tickles the viewer with its blend of anarchic mischievousness.

Three☆Points is a film that’s likely to confound and confuse many, but for those willing to take a chance on a challenging, non-traditional narrative, it should prove rewarding (I’ve only previously seen Yamamoto’s Junk Food, but after this one, I’ll be sure to check out the rest of his work). I really want to say more about my interpretation of the picture (even the true meaning of the title is ambiguous!), but I feel it’s best to let you view it uninfluenced (those of you who do attend Japan Society’s email, feel free to drop me an email to discuss). This is a piece of unadulterated independent cinema, raw in its consumer-video aesthetic, but pure in its philosophy. If you’re feeling adventurous, by all means, check it out.

Three☆Points will be screening at Japan Society’s Japan Cuts film festival July 15th, at 8:30pm. Note that director Masashi Yamamoto and star, Sora Aoi will be in attendance. Check out the festival’s page for more information, as well as to purchase tickets.

About the Author

dreamlogic.net -- CHRIS NELSON
Chris Nelson has been a film fanatic since well before he can remember. A former film and English major, he is now a Software Engineer and contract Technical Writer living in the Silicon Valley.

Categories: Japan, Movies, Reviews

Vengeance Can Wait (Ranbou to Taiki / 乱暴と待機) — movie review — Japan Cuts 2011

Vengeance Can Wait (Ranbou to Taiki / 乱暴と待機) -- movie review -- Japan Cuts 2011 -- dreamlogic.netOur fourth flick for the Japan Cuts Film Festival is Masanoro Tominaga’s oddball comedy, Vengeance Can Wait (Ranbou to Taiki / 乱暴と待機). Based on the novel by Yukiko Motoya, Vengeance tells a tale of tangled grudges.

Recently married couple Takao (Takayuki Yamada, Train Man) and Azusa (Eiko Koike, 2LDK) move to a small country cottage to have their first child. There they discover Hidenori (Tadanobu Asano, Screwed) and Nanase (Minami, Battle Royale), two former acquaintances of Azusa, are actually their closest neighbors. In most cases this would be a stroke of luck for a young couple just starting out, but these two are a bit strange, and mysteriously living as brother and sister. Further, these two folks severely crossed Azusa in the past (a transgression so severe, she’s carried a grudge for years). Being a bit of a hothead, Azusa is profoundly irked by their close proximity, and vows to make their lives a living hell.

But that’s not all. In parallel to that grudge, the fictional siblings also have a gripe of their own. Hidenori hates Nanase for some perceived crime (he states she’s ‘probably’ responsible), and meditates daily on how to exact his revenge — sometimes whilst spying on her from the ceiling. He demands she stay with him until he determines the ultimate, sweetest one (It’s been five years so far, but one of these days, it’ll hit him). Nanase, on the other hand, is trying her best to atone, sporting rimmed glasses and unattractive sweatpants, and putting others’ happiness before her own (even bathroom breaks), in an effort to divert further anger and attention to herself. But when Takao becomes drawn to Nanase’s bizarre disposition, things grow even more complicated, and the powder keg of compounded vendettas gets ready to blow.

Vengeance Can Wait is a bit more straighforward than the other Japan Cuts entries we’ve seen so far, but it’s also one of the most fun. The film has a pleasantly oddball quality, similar to Napoleon Dynamite (Kris actually pointed this out), but without the caustic shadenfreude of that picture (which I would like to add). Most of the comedy lies in the off-kilter interactions between the two couples, as well as the strange dichotomy of societal expectation and actual behavior. Take, for instance, Eiko Koike’s Azusa. A pregnant mother-to-be, she works at a bar, power-lifts heavy items to throw through Hidenori and Nanase’s windows, and in general, acts like an all around sukeban. In one painfully hilarious sequence, she even intimidates Nanase with her belly, pinning Nanase’s face against a bunk bed ladder while demanding Nanase ensure Takao remains faithful. I’ve never seen anything like it before.

Vengeance Can Wait (Ranbou to Taiki / 乱暴と待機) -- movie review -- Japan Cuts 2011 -- dreamlogic.net

As odd as some of the above sounds, the majority of the comedy is presented in a matter-of-fact manner. There are no Farrelly Brothers’ style gross-outs, or Katsuhito Ishii style gonzo bits. Nothing ever feels forced. Rather, things just happen. They may be odd, but completely normal and believable with respect to the world the film inhabits. You probably have to see it to understand, but for every moment you lose yourself to hysterical laughter, you also stop and think, “yes, I do believe these characters would do just that”.

That all said, much of the comedy probably wouldn’t work without the competent cast Tominaga assembled. It goes without saying Tadanobu Asano is brilliant here. His slightly-sukebe and endlessly plotting Hidenori is a joy to watch. I don’t want to spoil anything, but he had both Kris and I in stitches. Likewise, Eiko Koike did an amazing job as Azusa. Seemingly channeling the sukeban heroines of the seventies, she brings just the right mix of charm and outright hostility to the role. Aside from Train Man, I don’t think I’ve seen Takayuki Yamada play a truly upstanding citizen, and his Takao is no different. Opportunistic, unemployed, and insufferably horny, he plays the husband no wife should be saddled with. Lastly, Minami effortlessly discards her glamorous persona for her unsettlingly geeky Nanase. Watching her here, you’re left to wonder if she wasn’t something of the wallflower in real life — it’s freakishly authentic.

Vengeance Can Wait is definitely worth watching. Like my 2009 favorite, Fine, Totally Fine, it presents an exaggerated, comedic world in completely believable fashion. It’s one film I plan on watching again.

Vengeance Can Wait plays at Japan Society’s Japan Cuts Film Festival Thursday, July 21 at 7:00pm EST. For more information, and to buy tickets, check out Japan Society’s page for the film.

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About the Author

dreamlogic.net -- CHRIS NELSON
Chris Nelson has been a film fanatic since well before he can remember. A former film and English major, he is now a Software Engineer and contract Technical Writer living in the Silicon Valley.

Categories: Japan, Movies, Reviews

The Seaside Motel — movie review — Japan Cuts 2011

Seaside Motel -- movie review -- Japan Cuts 2011 -- dreamlogic.netOur second film from the 2011 Japan Cuts film festival is Kentaro Moriya’s sophomore effort, The Seaside Motel. Both written and directed by Moriya, the film is seemingly inspired by the works of Katsuhito Ishii and Quentin Tarantino (particularly their hotel pictures, Sharkskin Man, Party 7 and Four Rooms), with a dash of Gen Sekiguchi gonzo craziness (Survive Style 5+) for good measure. As an exercise in meta-homage, it’s respectably solid. Like the aforementioned films, it’s a hyperactive comedy populated with characters of questionable morality, inhabiting a quirky locale, and being subjected appropriately oddball situations. All the necessary tropes are there (gangster interrogators, crafty con-men, etc.), and instantly recognizable. But for all its comfortable familiarity, it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table.

I guess I should back up a bit here, and explain a few things more in-depth. The Seaside Motel takes place at run-down mountain motel sharing the film’s name (note the discrepancy there). In its various rooms a number of small-scale dramas play out, including that of a young con-man (Toma Ikuta) who becomes romantically entangled with a call girl (Kumiko Aso) who mistakenly shows up at his room; a gambler (Takayuki Yamada) and his girlfriend (Riko Narumi) on the run from yakuza (Tetsuji Tamyana), who suffer quite a bit of physical discomfort once they are found; a cheapskate romeo (Tetsuhiro Ikeda) who tries to lure his hostess girlfriend (Mami Yamasaki, Karate-Robo Zaborgar) to the hotel for a weekend of sweaty gymnastics; and an older man (Arata Furuta) trying to get earn his wife (Hijiri Kijima)’s affection by re-invigorating his manhood through kink and infidelity.

Seaside Motel -- movie review -- Japan Cuts 2011 -- dreamlogic.net

It’s a pretty decent setup, but none of these threads relate to each other with any recognizable intention. Sure, there are a few brief coincidences that play out, but nothing I would call a strong causality. For the most part, these are isolated tales with brief cameos from other players. And sure, that’s probably okay for what we’re presented, but I would have liked a bit more balance in trade. Take, for instance, the Call-Girl/Con-Man storyline. Kumiko Aso and Takayuki Yamada are both fairly decent actors, but they share very little chemistry in this portion. While I definitely am a fan of Aso, she feels completely mismatched with Yamada. Their whole relationship just rings false, and as such, the scenes they share feel far longer than they actually are. Others stand out as a bit better paced, such as Ikeda’s rather amusing attempts to entice his girlfriend into sex, but even those get to feeling a bit overdone.

Still, I’m not sure they could do all that much to improve these shortcomings without rejiggering some of the plot. In all of these segments, none of the characters are anyone you’d want to spend any legitimate amount of time with. In fact, the only character with any perceivable redeeming qualities is that of the gambler’s girlfriend (tomboy cutie Riko Narumi, of Trick: The Movie and The Great Yokai War). She just wants to eat her pineapple pizza, get out of the hotel, and go see a cat parade. Yep, her interest in pineapple and cats puts her on higher moral ground than the rest of them.

Seaside Motel -- movie review -- Japan Cuts 2011 -- dreamlogic.net

In terms of its visual aesthetic, the whole film has a sort of used, retro, time-warp feel to it, from the film’s sub-economy motel with it’s peeling, water-stained wallpaper and tasteless 90′s decor, to the greasy hair and dingy, faded, thrift-store clothing the characters all sport. This is all lovingly shot with tastefully distasteful framing, and augmented with a number of 90′s smash cut juxtapositions. There’s even a slow-motion-knockout straight out of Snatch! It’s definitely a cohesive look and feel — stylishly disheveled and retro to the max — but a bit sweaty and in need of a bath.

But alas, I make this all sound worse than it is. The Seaside Motel is not a bad film. It’s just middle of the ground. There are a number of decently funny moments, and some rather inspired setups, but they’re nestled amongst an equal number of blander experiences. Comparing to Ishii’s films, it’s far better than Party 7, but a bit less interesting than Sharkskin Man & Peach Hip Girl. Depending on how you liked those films (and how you like the cast), you might very much enjoy Seaside Motel. And if you haven’t seen those films, the film will probably seem a whole lot fresher. At the very least, it’s worth attending just to support the Japan Society.

The Seaside Motel plays at the Japan Society’s Japan Cuts Film Festival on July 16, 2011 at 4:30pm EST. Director Kentaro Moriya will be in attendance for a QA following the film. Check out the festival page for more information, and to purchase tickets.

Seaside Motel -- movie review -- Japan Cuts 2011 -- dreamlogic.net

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About the Author

dreamlogic.net -- CHRIS NELSON
Chris Nelson has been a film fanatic since well before he can remember. A former film and English major, he is now a Software Engineer and contract Technical Writer living in the Silicon Valley.

Categories: Japan, Movies, Reviews

The Pavillion Salamandre

We’ve been watching The Pavillion Salamandre on Amazon Streaming. Really quite the fun flick. I love its energy and pacing.

Here’s a quick plot from AsianWiki

Akino (Aso Yumi from Survive Style 5+), Mihari (Kiki from Vital), Hibiko (singer Kitaki Mayu) and Azuki (Linda Linda Linda’s Kashii Yu), the four beautiful Ninomiya sisters, have been entrusted with the management of the “Salamander Kinjiro Foundation”. Their organisation receives several billion yen in grants from the government for the care of Kinjiro, a giant salamander and national treasure exhibited at the 1867 Paris World Expo by the 15th Shogun of Japan, Tokugawa Yoshinobu.

One day, a self-proclaimed “genius X-ray technician from the 21st century” by the name of Asuka Yoshikazu (Odagiri) is asked by Daini Nokyo chairman Kagawa Morihiro to take an X-ray of the salamander, as “Rumours are spreading that Kinjiro is an impostor. If it’s the real thing, there should be marks on its backbone from when it was treated for a fracture at the Paris Expo”.

Meanwhile the four daughters’ father (Takada Junji), who was ousted from the foundation, tells Azuki to “Move Kinjiro to a safe place so the bad guys can’t get him, then let’s go and meet your mother for the first time”. It appears that Azuki, Mihari and Hibiko are actually half-sisters.

On the night of Kinjiro’s lavish 150th birthday party, held at the Ninomiya’s luxurious residence, Yoshikazu and Azuki are drawn together by fate.

It’s interesting to note that stars Joe Odagiri (オダギリジョー) and Yu Kashii (香椎由宇, Death Note) married shortly after this film, so the chemistry evidenced in their scenes together is quite real.

Also, the film is written and directed by Masanori Tominaga, who did one of my personal favorites from the last few years, Vengeance Can Wait

Awesome!

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Categories: Japan, Movies, Reviews

The Knot (結び目 / Musubime) — movie review — Japan Cuts 2011

The Knot (結び目 / Musubime) -- movie review -- Japan Cuts 2011 -- dreamlogic.netI’m just going to say it up front. The Knot (結び目 / Musubime) is the best film I’ve seen from the Japan Cuts festival so far, and also one of the best pictures I’ve seen all year. If you’re going to see one film at the festival, you’d do well to see this one. In fact, The Knot is one film where attempting to summarize it up front might actually lessen the experience. The narrative, concerning a woman’s attempt to escape her shameful past, and the conflicting emotions that arise when that past comes back to haunt her, unfolds like an elegant and nuanced mystery. If you want to experience this film uninfluenced, just head off to the Japan Society’s website now, and purchase your tickets. I won’t blame you for skipping the rest of the review.

For those of you that are still here, I’ll continue onward.

If you’ve read the Japan Society synopsis of The Knot, you might be expecting a tale of a couple’s romantic affair, rekindling an old and enviable love after years apart. Far from it. Rather, The Knot is a tale of sexual shame, remorse, and guilty longing. It’s about damaged people trying to come to terms with deep psychological flaws, and their attempts to navigate the future without causing harm to those around them.

The Knot (結び目 / Musubime) -- movie review -- Japan Cuts 2011 -- dreamlogic.net

The narrative centers about Ayako (Mukku [Muck] Akazawa), an unhappily married woman whose past comes back to haunt her, when a visit to the local dry-cleaners reunites her with the teacher (Junichi Kawamoto) who took advantage of her as a youth. At first she feels rage at the years she lost (15 years later, the townspeople still gossip about her in hushed tones), but stays silent. When the former teacher, now married himself, returns her cleaning with a proposition (a ribbon from a school uniform, nestled inside her newly pristine garment), she throws it back in his face, confronts his wife, and threatens to expose him to the rest of the town. But soon other emotions take hold, including a return of the adolescent lustings she fought so hard to suppress. Was it love she felt back then? Or was she the victim of a crime? As the two come to resurrect their former roles, the repercussions radiate into the families they fought so hard to protect. It’s complex, twisted, and heady stuff. And completely fascinating.

The Knot (結び目 / Musubime) -- movie review -- Japan Cuts 2011 -- dreamlogic.net

Director Yuichi Onuma (Nude), working from a script by Takehiko Minato, establishes a sense of quiet suffering and restrained tumult throughout the picture. Rather than hand-holding the audience with blatant exposition, Onuma opts for beautifully composed, silent expanses, establishing backstory and audience empathy through his actors’ expertly emotive performances.

And wow, what a great job they do. I’d never heard of Muck Akazawa (Go Find a Psychic!) before this picture, but I’m dying to see her in more pictures. A stage actor and playwright, her turn as Ayako is impressively nuanced. The smouldering hatred directed at co-star Kawamoto is nothing short of authentic, and the erotic tension she brings to their relationship nothing short of emotional truth.

The Knot (結び目 / Musubime) -- movie review -- Japan Cuts 2011 -- dreamlogic.net

Similarly, Junichi Kawamoto (Isola, Erotic Ghost: Siren) brings just the right mix of tragic Romeo and creepy paedo to his turn as the teacher, Keisuke. With both actors you never stop and think that they are actually acting. Lastly, So Hirosawa also does an impressive job as the teacher’s young wife. Her pain in struggling to make sense of her spouse’s more alarming flaws, all the while trying to be the dutiful wife is heart-wrenching. Brilliant, brilliant stuff.

The Knot is easily one of my favorite films of the year. Stunningly acted, beautifully directed, it’s foreign art-house cinema at its finest. Go see it.

The Knot plays at Japan Society’s Japan Cuts film festival tomorrow, July 17, at 2:00pm EST. To find out more about the film, as well as purchase tickets, check out the festival’s page on the film.

Trailer

About the Author

dreamlogic.net -- CHRIS NELSON
Chris Nelson has been a film fanatic since well before he can remember. A former film and English major, he is now a Software Engineer and contract Technical Writer living in the Silicon Valley.

Categories: Japan, Movies, Reviews