a page of madness

film writing by nicholas vroman

Tokyo Filmex 2007 – boxoffice.com blog #5

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On the way to the National Film Center, I come across a funky street corner display for a celebrity gossip magazine, The Big Issue. The current and past issues were dutifully wrapped in plastic and binder clipped with an appealingly naive creativity on a small rolling suitcase. On the covers of the three most prominently displayed were contemporary superstars, Angelina Jolie, Milla Jovavich, and Johnny Deep. One of the many lovable things of Japan is the mangling and misspelling of things English.

But there’s no time to dawdle. I’m rushing off to Film Center where I’m going to catch a film featuring a true and enduring superstar, Shintaro Katsu. Better known by his most famous film role, Zatoichi, Shintaro created the character of the blind swordsman/gambler that kept him busy for 25 films over a little more than a decade. The film is Zatoichi Breaks Jail (aka Zatoichi the Outlaw). It’s playing as part of the Yamamoto Satsuo retrospective. This delicious 1967 romp has it all – lots of swordplay, decapitations, a great stock of evil character actors, Shintaro outdoing himself as the genial, yet conflicted swordsman. And to top it off, in Yamamoto’s hands all the chanbara action works toward a social message of organizing and rising against those that oppress you. The audience of young film enthusiasts and a large number of retirees give it a healthy applause as the houselights come up.

Next up, is rushing back to the Asahi Hall to catch Kenneth Bi’s The Drummer. The Drummer stars another rising and most likely to be superstar, Jaycee Chan. Jaycee’s Jackie Chan’s son. He’s a chip off the old block. Bi’s well-produced and acted action drama is a solid piece of hackery, finely engaging, but ultimately dissatisfying. It’s a mix of Hong Kong gangster action epic with a new age Zen twist. Irresponsible gangster’s son, Chan, gets involved with rival boss’s girlfriend. Chan gets sent away to Taiwan to chill out and lay low. He comes across a commune of Zen drummers. He finds new meaning and reason for his life as a drummer. Dad gets murdered. Son comes back to attend to business and revenge, but at the very last moment spares the murder’s life. It’s a hackneyed story made with some panache, a fine team of character actors, and some great sequences of taiko-style Zen drumming.

On the way home I duck under the Yurakucho line tracks to grab a beer at an old izakaya. On the retaining wall across the sidewalk from the bar are old movie posters – Charlie Chaplin in the Great Dictator, obscure Japanese films from the past, superstars that come and go.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

November 22, 2007 at 2:58 am

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