a page of madness

film writing by nicholas vroman

Archive for July 2009

Miyoko Asagaya Kibun / 美代子阿佐ヶ谷気分 / Miyoko

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Based on the life of pioneering manga artist Shinichi Abe, Miyoko Asagaya Kibun brilliantly illustrates and illuminates the madness and excess of its subject and his times. In the 1970s Abe (played with crazy passion by Kenji Mizuhashi) published expressionistic and outré comics based on his own life in the groundbreaking Garo magazine. His work was stylistically and conceptually ahead of its time. It was also driven by his own problems with mental illness and alcoholism. Miyoko Asagaya Kibun seamlessly crossfades between the drawn image and the re-enactment, between obsession and monstrousness, showing a devastated and devastating life, all the while keeping an unsentimental eye on a what brings an artist to greatness and finally off the edge. Yoshifumi Tsubota’s film debut highlights a new talent with a great grasp of quirky storytelling and visual style. The cast, rounded out by Marie Machida and Shoichi Honda are inspired. A particularly touching denouement, after the madness and decline of Abe, is a brief shot of the real Abe, smiling at the camera – as the credits roll.

Originally published in EL Magazine, July 2009

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Written by Nicholas Vroman

July 1, 2009 at 12:25 am

Kanikosen / 蟹工船 / The Crab Cannery Ship

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Takiji Kobayashi’s 1929 novel, Kanikosen (The Crab Cannery Ship) became a surprise bestseller when it was republished a few years ago. The taught social realist story of exploited workers on a factory trawler caught the public imagination not only for its great writing, but also for still being relevant to the zeitgeist of the oncoming hard economic times.  Even more surprising is having SABU, director of stylish and fairly insubstantial thrillers bring this miserablist tale to the screen. Despite having a great set of wonderful character types – including star Ryuhei Matsuda (the love/desire interest in Gohatto) – he overwhelms the basic themes of exploitation and rebellion with over-the-top production and costume design, absurdly overwrought situations and a less than passionate relationship to the source material.  SABU is up against some formidable classics. Kainkosen draws heavily in theme from Battleship Potemkin and in look from Metropolis, but unlike the makers of those seminal films, SABU tends toward the ironic and flashy rather than digging deep into the heart of what Kobayashi’s novel revealed.

 

Originally published in EL Magazine, July 2009

Written by Nicholas Vroman

July 1, 2009 at 12:24 am

Raise the Castle! / 築城せよ! / Chikujo seyo!

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Yo Kohatsu produced a short version of Raise the Castle in 2005, presenting it at small film festivals and actually releasing it on DVD. He’s returned with a longer, more fleshed out version of the original, making the light and delightful film even better. The thoroughly absurd plot revolves around a trio of long-passed samurai led by the Mifune-esque Ondaiji, returning to the present to galvanize a community to build an unfinished castle on the remains of an old foundation. Short of proper materials a homeless man living in cast off boxes inspires them to build the castle out of cardboard and the quixotic endeavor begins.  Plots and subplots involving bureaucratic shenanigans, a grand love story, a little father/daughter frisson and a whole host of wonderful character types make Raise the Castle not necessarily one of the more substantial movies to grace the screen, but a thoroughly fun summer diversion. Makoto Imazato leads a wonderful cast of unknowns and locals as a nerd inhabited by a samurai soul of Ondaiji.

 

Originally published in EL Magazine, July 2009

Written by Nicholas Vroman

July 1, 2009 at 12:23 am