a page of madness

film writing by nicholas vroman

Archive for June 2010

Outrage / アウトレイジ

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In Outrage, Takeshi Kitano’s 15th feature and much talked about return to yakuza movies, he seems beaten by the very genre that he vitalized with the likes of Sonatine and Hana-bi. One major thing missing in Outrage is a central character that the viewer can identify with, even if irredeemable and evil. Takeshi, at his best, forefronts himself – taciturn, controlled, teetering on the edge of madness, but always with a yakuza code of honor in his heart. In Outrage, he takes a side role and directs all the characters as conniving thugs, even if well dressed or surrounded by the trappings of money. This may be a truism of yakuza life, but for the purposes of narrative it makes for dull progress. Not to say that the screen isn’t filled with a fine cast, all with great faces. Jun Kimura (Hana no ato, King of the Jail Breakers), who makes beer ads look interesting, is a standout as the manipulative Ikemoto and Fumiyo Kohinata (Sideways) plays a perfectly slithery and despicable cop on the take. Takeshi’s direction in ensemble bits is top notch – where tell-tale facial tics and the unspoken counter and illuminate the tirade of macho posturing and yelling that make up much of the dialogue. A convoluted plot centers around the big Tokyo racket and crime-controlling Sanno-kai and three sub-clans, the Ikemoto, the Otomo (headed by Takeshi), and the Murase. Internecine war breaks out between them, with countless double-crossings and manipulations. A strange and fruitless subplot also breaks out concerning the blackmailing of an African diplomat. Whether it shows the reach of the yakuza or judgment on a black man who sleeps with a Japanese woman is left up to question. But its inclusion is surely questionable. As for Takeshi’s well-regarded take on cinema violence, his signature style of random and sudden cruelty seems tired. Haven’t we seen chopsticks thrust in ears before?  His scenes of slow-mo dancing corpses are tried and true Peckinpah-isms that seem to work best. However, he saves his most baroque killing for one character, Mizuno (Kippei Shiina), the only one in any clan that seems to live with a bit of an old fashioned code of honor.  No good, or bad deed goes unpunished in this world. Once the mayhem subsides – and nearly everyone gets their comeuppance – a new order of the last remaining survivors takes the reigns.  One can admire Takeshi for taking the romance out of a genre that traditionally celebrates outlaw myths and the cult of individuality. By showing a stupid and senseless world more akin to and aligned with corporate or political culture, Takeshi has grabbed on to the zeitgeist of the times. It doesn’t necessarily make for good movies.

Originally published in EL Magazine, June 2010

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Written by Nicholas Vroman

June 1, 2010 at 3:19 am

Acacia / アカシア-

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Antonio Inoki (Bad News Bears Go to Japan), a bit of a gentle giant, plays Daimanjin, a retired wrestler ending his days in a appropriately character-filled danshi in Acacia. Befriending Takuro (Ryoga Hiyashi), who ends up being dumped into his care by his absconding mother (disappearing mothers being mandatory in contemporary Japanese movies), he develops a clichéd and rather wooden relationship with his young charge. Inoki himself is a real life wrestling legend and the filmic elegy to him misses the boat by a long shot. Director Jinsei Tsuji slathers on the half-baked sentimentality even more egregiously than your general Japanese weepy. Inoki, whose larger than life persona may have worked in the big ring comes off embarrassingly flat on the big screen. The screenplay, also written by the director goes through some plot gyrations that are so bad they’re good. To note is the absent father who can only communicate his inner feelings through a ventriloquist dummy. Even on paper it sounds ridiculous. In the film it made this reviewer gape in wonder.

Originally published in EL Magazine, June 2010

Written by Nicholas Vroman

June 1, 2010 at 3:18 am

Le pere de mes enfants

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Inspired by the real-life suicide of film producer, Humbert Balsam, Mia Hansen – Løve’s  Le Pere de mes enfants is a touching elegy to not only about loss and its effects on a family, but about cinema itself. This is the sort of film that only French filmmakers can pull off. The loving, but distracted father/film producer Grégoire Canvel (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing) with mounting financial and other unexplained troubles, midway through the film pulls the trigger, ending his life. The remainder of the film chronicles his wife Sylvia (Chiara Caselli) and three daughters dealing with sudden and devastating personal loss and his little film empire’s collapse. Wisely eschewing any search for reasons behind Grégoire’s suicide, Hansen – Løve focuses instead on the details and emotions of the family left behind. The impossibly cute young daughters Valentine (Alice Gautier) and Billie (Manelle Driss) are sensitively handled, but the trajectory of the teenage gamine Clemence (Alice de Lencquesaing)gives an increasingly emotional heart to the story behind the father of these children – which might be cinema itself.

Originally published in EL Magazine, June 2010

Sin Nombre

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Gregory Nava’s 1983 film, El Norte, chronicled the story of Guatemalan refugees traveling across Mexico for a fabled better life in the North – the USA. Sin Nombre, the audacious debut film by Cary Fukunaga follows its footsteps, but 25 years later, the journey has become more hellish. Sin Nombre opens into a brutal world of low level gangster life. A tribalism of primal macho power, drugs and outlandishly tattooed faces are seared onto the screen with frightening realism bordering on the surreal . In this world we’re introduced to Willy/Casper (Edgar Flores) a rising star in this underground world, who has a well-justified change of heart toward his criminal life when he meets Sayra  (Paulina Gaitan) a young Guatemalan woman heading to el Norte.  The story is classic – lovers on the run – but Fukunaga’s sure hand brings a sensitive and detailed look at the plights of Latin America to an operatic story full of heightened emotions and Dantesque parables. It’s a harrowing and moving ride across a side of Mexico rarely seen on film.

Originally published in EL Magazine, June 2010

Written by Nicholas Vroman

June 1, 2010 at 3:12 am

Lost Crime – Senkou / ロストクライム -閃光

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Director Shunya Ito has had a long but sparse career beginning with 1970s pinku outings to his 1985 award-winning portrait of an Alzheimer’s victim, Gray Sunset. He turns to a new genre with Lost Crime. Building a fiction around a real heist, the unsolved 300 million yen robbery that captivated Japan in 1968, Lost Crime posits a possible trajectory and resolution.  Couched as a cop buddy movie, Lost Crime begins 34 years later with the finding of a dead body floating in the Sumida River. A web of connections lead a pair of detectives to a group of former student revolutionaries and a massive cover-up by the Tokyo police department. The plot has enough twists and turns, great flashback scenes evoking the youthful fervor of the 60s, a wonderful and seasoned set of character actors and an engaging storyline. Eiji Okuda is great as a sort of Japanese Columbo, hard-boiled and endearing at the same time. However, Dai Watanabe as his young and green sidekick derails the whole affair with his incessant mugging and unbearably overblown emotionalizing.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

June 1, 2010 at 1:07 am