a page of madness

film writing by nicholas vroman

Archive for September 2009

Symbol / しんぼる

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Comedy recapitulates ontogeny in Hitoshi Matsumoto’s strange and wonderful new film, Symbol. Matsumoto, who made a huge name for himself with the Manzai comedy team, Downtown, knows comedy inside and out. He turned to film direction a few years ago and hit big in 2007 with Dainipponjin, a brilliant exploration of the Japanese psyche through giant monsters and superheroes. Symbol works like a sprawling comedic deconstruction marrying Frank Tashlin sense of the comic with Stanly Kubrick’s sense of the cosmic – and vice versa. Symbol not only reflects deeply on the world and the repercussions of individual choice, but also about comedy itself. Gags range from the obvious and juvenile to the most arcane and obscure. An entire subplot about a Mexican family that takes up nearly half of the screen time seems to be an elaborate setup for a joke that is meant to fall flat.  Like being in the Skinner box where the other half of the movie takes place, Symbol is like a rich experimental chamber where one can only expect the unexpected.

 

Originally published in EL Magazine, September 2009

Written by Nicholas Vroman

September 1, 2009 at 12:54 am

Hakujitsumu / 白日夢 / Daydream

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Hakujitsumu (Daydream) is the title of the infamous 1964 film by avant garde theatre director Tetsuji Takechi, opening up the world of big budget pinku films. This strange artifact is a hallucinatory collage of bondage, sex and violence that has left many people scratching their heads as to whether it’s a piece of great art or merely perverse exploitation. He remade the film in 1981 as a hard-core spectacle with Kyoko Aizome in the lead role and made a sequel to it in 1987. Flash forward 22 years and a new version has hit the screen, this time directed by Ms. Aizome herself, the star of the 80s versions. Her first feature homage to the master, though, falls particularly flat. The setup is a young policeman responding to a break-in call at a woman’s flat. Strange visions and meetings lead to murder and mystery and ultimately a revelation of the policeman’s madness. Clichéd soft-core sex and particularly leaden acting effectively sink this ill-thought production. Perhaps it should have been left alone at only 3 versions.

Originally published in EL Magazine, September 2009

Written by Nicholas Vroman

September 1, 2009 at 12:53 am

Nonchan Noriben / のんちゃんのり弁 / Noriben – The Recipe for Fortune

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Nonchan Noriben opens with Komaki Nagai (Manami Konishi) leaving her terminally unemployed writer of a husband (Yoshinori Okada) with daughter Non-chan (Rio Sasaki) in tow. Returning to her old neighborhood in Sumida-ku she tries to pull her life back together, trying a series of dead-end jobs, meeting a chef-sensei and going into business as a bento-maker. Directed by Akira Okata, it’s a feel-good movie with plenty of downbeat moments that take it out of the realms of cliché. Particularly satisfying are an amazing array of sensitive character actors who are at once archetypal – the world-weary sunaku owner, the fatherly master chef, the old high-school love interest still unrequited after so many years. Okata handles them all with a healthy dose of love and respect. Even the ostensible villain of the story, Komaki’s husband, is a likeable man who just can’t seem to grow up. If only for the scene where Non-chan wails at the coming divorce of her parents – and how they all react – Nonchan Noriben displays an immense humanity and truthfulness about irreconcilable situations.

Originally published in EL Magazine, September 2009

Written by Nicholas Vroman

September 1, 2009 at 12:52 am

Onnanoko monogatari / 女の子ものがたり / Girl’s Story / Your Story

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Director Toshiyuki Morioka spent the early part of his career cutting his teeth on writing yakuza thrillers.  His debut directorial effort was in 2000, with the Kurosawa inspired Requiem for Darkness. Since then his career has jumped out of any genre traps, so it’s no surprise he took on a woman’s coming of age story with Onnanoko monogatari. It’s particularly fitting, though, that he chose to adapt an autobiographical manga by Rieko Saibara, known for her sweet drawing style that belies the hard-edge stories of tough lives that she illustrates. In the depths of a writer’s block, Saibara’s alter ego Natsumi Takahara (Eri Fukatsu) revisits the place where she and a trio of childhood pals started on their roads of life. Using a flashback structure, the story unfolds as youthful innocence leads to mix-up and troubled adolescence and ultimately, adult compromises and tragedies. Onnanoko monogatari flows with assured, if uninspired direction. Like many coming of age parables, it has a few too many clichéd moments, but has enough sentimentality and decent acting chops to bring out the hankies.

 

Originally published in EL Magazine, September 2009

Written by Nicholas Vroman

September 1, 2009 at 12:50 am