a page of madness

film writing by nicholas vroman

Archive for August 2009

Yamagata Scream / 山形スクリーム

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Funnyman Naoto Takenaka (Shall We Dance?) has patently phoned it in with his new comedy, Yamagata Scream. There are some delightfully broad characterizations of contemporary Japanese stereotypes – schoolgirls (the nerdy, the alienated, and the totally kawaii), unrequited sensei, buffoonish local boosters, aging punk rockers – but the film sags and falls as more and more gravy is added to the already thin plot. The lowbrow comedy pits a quartet of high school girls, reluctantly brought on a summer vacation to a provincial village in Yamagata, against a team of unrequited samurai warriors. Rapacious developers and boneheaded locals accidentally unleash these avengers, who proceed to zombify most of the village in a dark night of goofy gore-filled encounters, endless chase scenes and lots of screaming. Definitely in the Scary Movie summer dimwit fun movie category, Yamagata Scream typifies the genre without adding much in the way of innovation or smarts. The new convention of samurai-returned-from-the-dead is served much better in smaller films like Raise the Castle.

 

Originally published in EL Magazine, August 2009

Written by Nicholas Vroman

August 1, 2009 at 12:49 am

Futoko / / 不灯港 / The Dark Harbor

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Naito Takatsugu’s second feature, Foutouku, plays like a Wes Anderson social comedy set in a small Japanese fishing village. The story revolves around Manzo (Shinya Kote) a 40-something taciturn loser, both with his fishing business and at love. A wryly comic opening sets the plot in motion when Manzo and his lovelorn fishing buddies go to a mixer armed with identical suits sold to them by the only local clothier and home-made promotional videos. His video reveals to his own shock and the amusement of everyone else that a homeless woman and her son secretly take over his house when he’s out on fishing runs. The plot rattles through the establishment of a faux family; his life’s desires becoming manifest and his inner intransigence revealed. And finally another left turn leaves him taking on the role of a reluctant single father, ending a convenient melodramatic denouement. Takatsugu’s film sparkles with moments of clever observation and laugh out loud humor but, as a whole, takes on a few too many tropes to do each proper justice.

 

Originally published in EL Magazine, August 2009

Written by Nicholas Vroman

August 1, 2009 at 12:47 am

Dotei Horoki / 童貞放浪記

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Yuichi Konuma hit the scene in 2006 with his hilarious outing of otaku culture, Maid in Akiba. His second feature, Dotei Horoki, is another smartly directed low-budget foray into male sub-culture, this time the phenomena of the 30 year-old virgin. Hiroshi Yamamoto is certainly up for the task, riding the delicate line between pathos and just plain creepiness. Playing a terminally shy University of Tokyo professor, his quest takes him from bleak strip club to attempted romance and relationship with a former student. Love and dating in Japan have rarely been portrayed with such funny and uncomfortable intimacy.  Komuna’s casting coup though is with Megumi Kaguarazaka, the object of Yamamoto’s quest. Kagurazaka is a mega-star of the gravure idol scene. The busty beauty is better known for her scantily clad spreads in magazines and videos. Not only does she have otaku cache but she proves herself a sensitive and intuitive actress. Shot on video, Dotei Horoki, shows its seams a little, but the smart characterizations, script and direction make up for it.

 

Originally published in EL Magazine, August 2009

Written by Nicholas Vroman

August 1, 2009 at 12:45 am

Tsuma no Kao / 妻の顔

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Turning a camera on his wife, Kiyoko, for 33 years, amateur filmmaker Akito Kawamoto documented her struggles as a Hiroshima survivor to her later years taking care of her bedridden mother (who passes away during the filming) and her own battle with thyroid cancer. As a tribute to his brave and rarely complaining spouse, the film brings up many more questions about the obsessiveness of the filmmaker himself. Like an amateur Ross McElwee, Kawamoto seems to have a knack for having the camera running at just the right times and has a decent eye composing his low-tech video footage. Unlike McElwee, he tends to let the camera run a bit too long and instead of creating an emotional distance and objectivity, Tsuma no Kao builds an unyielding tension. However, this tension seems to be less of measured strategy than an uncomfortable by-product of Kawamoto’s lack of filmmaking smarts. Nonetheless, Kiyoko san makes for a compelling subject, an average woman with normal hopes and aspirations affected by a momentous moment in history.

 

Originally published in EL Magazine, August 2009

Written by Nicholas Vroman

August 1, 2009 at 12:44 am

Isamu Katayama – Artesanal Life / イサム・カタヤマ=アルチザナルライフ

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A documercial on clothing “designer” Isamu Katayama, Isamu Katayama – Artesanal Life, wears a certain hipster style that becomes dated even as the film unspools. Following Katayama san through his workshops, exhibitions, jittery talking head shots, and endless scenes of him and his posse walking through urban settings like a modern day Wild Bunch, the total effect is like watching MTV outtakes to a bad soundtrack. It’s one thing to have something like this as background noise on the TV, but plunking down 1,500 yen to watch wallpaper is only for diehard fashion victims.  One endless scene highlights Katayama cutting a deal with an Italian fashion retailer. Putting the same subjects in business suits would be just as interesting, – which is not very much. As to the garb that Katayama markets, it’s the usual distressed leather, branded t-shirts, baroque boots and low-slung jeans of “outlaw” culture. It had some meaning – about 40 years ago. Now it’s merely recycling the same old stuff for a piece of market share.

 

Originally published in EL Magazine, August 2009

Written by Nicholas Vroman

August 1, 2009 at 12:42 am