Three☆Points — movie review — Japan Cuts 2011
Posted on July 14, 2011 by Chris Nelson
Our 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).
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.