Love & Pop, Princess Raccoon, Silver — in-brief movie reviews
Posted on March 14, 2007 by Chris Nelson
No, I haven’t been slacking on the film reviews. It’s just that we haven’t seen a lot worth talking about. This latest batch could be perceived as a nice drink after drought. Note that since Johnny To’s Exiled is playing at this year’s SFIAAFF I’ll try to have a review up this weekend. Read on for the reviews.
Love & Pop
Given the fact it features the directing talent of Hideaki Anno (of Neon Genesis fame), is based on a story by Ryu Murakami, and features both Tadanobu Asano and Yukie Nakama, it’s a wonder I didn’t see this film sooner than I did. Love & Pop concerns a group of listless high-school girls who turn to compensated dating in an effort to fuel their materialistic needs. As you would expect, given the subject matter and the Murakami moniker, Love & Pop is not the cheeriest tale, and features its fair share of uncomfortable situations and societal criticisms. However, in spite of it’s rather grim focus, the film maintains a sense of hope, both for the girls themselves and for the future of the youth of Japan. It’s worth noting, however, that those who are familiar with Murakami’s other work (see: Tokyo Decadence, In the Miso Soup) might accuse the film of being a tad too light and superficial.
In an interesting turn, Love & Pop was shot entirely on consumer grade, handheld DV cameras. Director Anno uses these to create a lot of nifty camera shots (cameras attached to arms spooning/sticking food, bicycles and trains in transit) as well as an uncomfortably high amount of lecherous upskirt shots. I’m sure this had something to do with the fac the girls are pawning themselves as sexual objects, but I think it instead served to undermine the message of the film. Asumi Miwa does a great job as the lead Harumi. Similarly Nakama and Asano (as a customer obsessed with Captain EO) evidence much of the talent that lead them to their current levels of stardom. Love & Pop is an absorbing, melancholic meditation on youthful indiscretion. It’s somewhat flawed, but certainly worth a look.
Princess Raccoon (aka: Operetta tanuki goten)
Playing off mythic, folkloric, and literary references both Eastern and Western, Princess Raccoon tells the tale of a “beautiful” young prince (Jo Odagiri) expelled from his kingdom by his jealous father, and forced to live in a mysterious range of mountains. There he meets a raccoon princess (Ziyi Zhang), and the two fall deeply in love. Being that he is a human, and she’s a raccoon, it goes without saying the two are in for a bit of a time. The premise alone is amusing, and given Suzuki’s decision to present the tale as a neo-classical self-referential hipster stage play (and of course, Suziki’s vast resume) one would expect a cinematic experience of the most entertaining and delightfully absurd kind… but Suziki’s own stubborn presentational preferences prevent the picture from ever rising past a strikingly beautiful curiosity.
The main problem is the pacing. Editing is done in trademark Suzuki style, with traditional motion cuts, subject placement, and shot juxtaposition rules tossed to the wind. Now in some of his films the approach works splendidly, but with Princess Raccoon it really mangles the flow. It was the first time I understood why the studios had historically been so frustrated with him. It is colorful though. In fact, I would say it is one of the most brightly colored, beautiful pictures I’ve seen in quite some time. Everyone looks great (even Ziyi Zhang, who I’m not the least bit partial to), the costumes are brilliant, the sets are innovative, and even the songs are catchy. It’s just the chemistry that’s missing. In the end, Suzuki’s Princess Raccoon comes across not as professional opera, but perhaps the most expensive community play ever produced.
So this is one I sat on for years, lost, and then repurchased. I feel like an ass for having done so. While I am a Miike fan, this is perhaps his worst film. Silver tells the tale of a young woman whose family was murdered during a gangland hit (by Leatherface, no less). The woman grows up, and becomes a secret agent. Her latest mission? Infiltrate the world of women’s professional wrestling in order to capture a dastardly dominatrix. What follows is roughly half an hour TV pilot supplemented by an hour of cheesecake shots and gross-outs. Never does the narrative bother to loop back around to focus on its original top of the murder of the main character’s parents. Nor does the film really focus on why the dominatrix is such a bad character in the first place, other than the fact that she performs disgusting acts with high ranking public officials (but isn’t that what qualifies them for public office in the first place?). In fact, the movie doesn’t even have a real ending. Not helping the matter is the fact the lead actress has a face that defaults to a perma-frown. Miike does know how to shoot the fights though. And the handful that are featured are more engaging than most of the high budget efforts seen today. Too bad he didn’t have a better film to supplement them with. Maybe I’m outgrowing Miike, but I’d say avoid Silver at all costs.
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