Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Quick takes #3

Tae Kimura in Ryosuke Hashiguchi's All Around Us (2008).

All Around Us (Ryosuke Hashiguchi, 2008) - Ryosuke Hashiguchi returns to directing for the first time since 2001's Hush! with a drama about a married couple spanning over ten-something years, from the early 90's into the 00's. At first I was wondering where the film was going, what was the point of spending 140 minutes following this couple when the film didn't seem to go anywhere. There is no real story, no big conflict that needs to be resolved and I think that is one of the films strengths.

There are ups and downs, when their newborn child passes away, the wife goes into depression, but instead of some big eyeopening moment, it is worked out over time, years, through small things, things that makes it believable how their love grows stronger over the years despite their flaws. This along with the great acting from Lily Franky and Tae Kimura as the couple make the film and characters seem so much more real.

Once I got passed the lack of any real story and could just get into the film I noticed that I wanted to know what would happen next to this couple even if there was nothing happening at all.

Ong Bak 2 (Tony Jaa, 2008) - A simple story turned into a mess through an uninvolving, excrutiatingly boring first hour. I know, it's my own fault for expecting something as energy packed and cheap but entertaining as the first Ong Bak, but set in the 1400s instead of present day, but who didn't? Tony Jaa wanted more though, but maybe directing, writing, choreographing the fights and starring was too much for his directorial debut. Ong Bak 2 is basically a story about vengeance and what the right or wrong reasons behind violence can be and Jaa should be commended for his ambition, but in my opinion, he didn't pull it off.

The last half hour though is one great big fight scene with Jaa pulling together everything that his character learned earlier in the film and is the first time the film really comes to life, almost making the first 60 minutes worth sitting through, but then the ending is another let down. Due to all the troubles with the production, Jaa disappearing from the set for two months among others, they didn't have time to finish the film in time and the ending is used as a cliffhanger for part three which has been announced. I'm just not sure I want to see it if Jaa is still behind the camera.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

224466 (Tadanobu Asano, 2008)

Tadanobu Asano, Ayane Omori and Ryo Kase in 224466 (2008).

Short film written by Shinji Aoyama and directed by Tadanobu Asano as part of the R246 Story project. The dvd didn't have any subtitles and my understanding of Japanese is extremely limited but I think 224466 is more of a an audio/visual ride, and as far as I could tell Asano plays an alien who when he arrives on earth loses his source of power, a rainbow colored drum set. By chance he comes across a young girl who can knock people out with her awesome guitar playing and a ragged looking man who carries around her amp and they decide to try and find the drum set together.

I haven't seen Asano's directorial debut Tori (2004) but here it looks like he's ripping off earlier films he's starred in, most notably Electric Dragon 80.000V (2001), directed by Sogo Ishii. Scenes of Asano's alien walking the streets searching for his drum set and taking weird poses are reminiscent of Dragon Eye Morrison searching through the streets of Tokyo for runaway lizards and the look of the film is a bit Ishii/Tsukamotoish. It's still enough to make me want to see more from Asano the director though and most of the 25 minute running time is both interesting to look at and entertaining. I just wish the drum/guitar showdown at the end would have lasted longer.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn (Daisuke Goto, 2003)

Horyu Nakamura and Ryoko Asagi in Daisuke Goto's A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn (2003).

New distributor Pink Eiga just released another couple of films, one of which is A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn, a rural drama about an aging farmer living with his daughter in law. The problem is that the farmer, Shukichi, is suffering from dementia and is slowly getting worse and worse, he doesn't realise that his favorite cow Hanako died a long time ago and that now it's Noriko, his daughter in law, that's waiting for him in the barn every morning. Noriko's husband, Shukichi's son, died a few years earlier and while Noriko has stayed on the farm she and Shukichi has come to have an unspoken love for each other. Things doesn't get easier when Shukichi's daughter comes back to town after ten years and teams up with a local scoundrel who is trying to get his hands on the deed to Shukichi's farm.

The story might make it sound like A Lonely Cow... is just another Japanese film going for the weird and crazy but director Daisuke Goto avoids making things too absurd by keeping the film low key and more focused on quiet emotions and strong acting rather than the sex scenes that pink films are known for. They are still there though.

A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn is, a story about getting old and a story of acceptance, not only of accepting that you will age and become weaker and possibly ill, but accepting that people are different, no matter how cliché that may sound. The scenes where Shukichi tries to milk Noriko, thinking she's his cow, made me think of when people get their whole lives cross-examined in the media, where every little deviation from what's considered normal behaviour, no matter the context, and it makes the viewers/readers judge those people without really knowing anything of what was behind their actions. Take certain parts out of anyone's life and I'm sure you could make it into something very weird. Perhaps it is a bit far fetched to take it that far, but ultimately, what happens between Noriko and Shukichi only happens because they accept each other and in the end themselves for who they are even though they know their love won't be accepted by society.

I hope Pink Eiga will keep it up with releasing these more serious pink films, so far they haven't disappointed.