a page of madness

film writing by nicholas vroman

Tokyo Filmex 2007 – boxoffice.com blog #2

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Christmas decorations are up all over in Ginza. As I ascend from the subway I hear the blast of a high school brass ensemble from a nearby plaza. Filmex’s main venue has moved from its opening days festivities at the International Forum a few blocks away to the Yurakucho Asahi Hall.

In the crush of shoppers surging beneath the festively lit and decorated atrium between the Hankyu and Seibu department stores, I see fellow film-going types lined up dutifully at the few elevator banks that will whisk us up to the 11th floor cinema. Just as one enters a crowded train in Japan, I join the crush and at the entrance to the elevator, quickly turn my back to all inside and push gently backward. Personal space is different in Japan. There is none.

The elevator stops at the 11th floor and we spill out into a huge foyer which leads to an equally huge state-of-the-art theater. One of the pleasures of Tokyo is the discovery of great spaces, places, and venues hidden above or below the busy streets. In a place where urban space is at a premium, there always seems to be a place where the grandiose, the public, the space-wasting exists. It’s one of the many beautiful and wonderful contradictions of Tokyo.

Israeli auteur, Amos Gitai’s new opus, Disengagement, is up for the afternoon. Gitai, who can’t make it to the festival, weighs in with a video introduction recorded at the Sao Paolo Film Festival. Filling the screen, Gitai’s giant head generously thanks the audience and the Filmex crew and speaks of cinema – his cinema – and how it can build bridges of understanding and communication. His new film is about a big issue, the resettlement of Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip. I admire Gitai’s chutzpa and his genuine desire to make films that speak about issues, but damn! I wish he were a better filmmaker. Ponderous, didactic, and never quite hitting the mark, he manages to get the likes of Juliette Binoche to cry (a lot), prance around naked, chew the scenery, and still come off as cardboard character. That said, he brings up a lot of interesting ideas, but I’m left unsatisfied. His screenwriter, Marie-Jose Sanselme does a Q & A after the screening, which confirmed their good intentions, but not too good movie-making. Perhaps, the stuff they’re trying to tackle is just too big, even for the big screen.

The evening, however, brings Guy Maddin’s delirious Brand Upon the Brain. Brand Upon the Brain has been playing festivals and US venues with a big theatrical production – live orchestra, guest narrators, onstage Foley artists. It’s a totally nutty and wonderful psycho-sexual, silent-movie, low-budget, big concept, wonderful piece of cinema. It played Filmex without all the extra live stuff. Program Director, Ichiyama Shozo told me they had every intention of mounting the big show, but budgetary constraints allowed only the pre-recorded soundtrack version – which is still quite amazing, with a thrilling score by Jason Staczek and narration by Isabella Rosselini. I leave the big hall exhilarated.

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Written by Nicholas Vroman

November 19, 2007 at 2:53 am

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