a page of madness

film writing by nicholas vroman

Archive for October 2010

ANPO

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ANPO, the new documentary by Linda Hoaglund, is a solid old fashioned art history doc with a lefty heart and a necessarily revisionist head. That said, it tries to do too many things at once. And though it is confused, it shows a lot of thrilling footage and documents a loose art historical movement, hitherto, as far as I know, not tied together for screen representation.

Hoaglund wants to have her toast buttered on all sides and has somewhat disingenuously claimed that the film is about  this treasure trove of “lost” art, rather than to what the title of the movie baldly lays claim – ANPO. ANPO is the US-Japanese Mutual Security Treaty. Enacted in 1960, under very questionable circumstances, it coalesced leftist forces into huge mass anti government and anti US demonstrations. It is this history – and a whole lot more – that informs ANPO’s (the movie) cast of visual, theatrical and film artists’ reactions to and interpretations of the times and events.

Using documentary footage, feature film clips, contemporary talking heads (artists and pundits), an lots of static shots of truly amazing paintings, photographs and drawings, the film careens back and forth throughout post war Japanese history, attempting and often succeeding in making connections between its disparate sources. There are moments that work wonderfully. The whole remains heartfelt, but a without clear direction. Is this a history lesson? Is it really only about art? Is the legacy of ANPO only what we’re talking about here? What about the artists that are dealing with the legacy of WW II? What about the younger artists who carry on a tradition of political art? How do they really fit into this big picture?

Of course it is a big picture. Perhaps far to much to be contained in 88 minutes. One cannot blame Hoaglund for trying. But still the movie fails to contain a central thesis. Hoaglund herself maintains that its mainly about the art. But context is everything for this art and the necessary inclusion of historical background enriches it.

So, let’s talk about the art. Put simply, much of it is amazing, some derivative. Echos and forshadowings of Goya, Diego Rivera, Leon Golub, Philip Guston, Sue Coe and the long western tradition of socially engaged art abound. The rift of the war allowed subsequent generations to create a monumental and often grotesque reaction to the horror of abused power and how that power managed to maintain itself well after the US occupation. It’s a continuing legacy. Among a very strong selection of artists are Nakamura Hiroshi, Ishii Shigeo, Inoe Chozaburo, Abe Gosei and a host of others. The images, particularly on the big screen can be overwhelming. As a primer on artists well worth re-discovering ANPO works fine. As a primer on postwar Japanese politics ANPO is equally serviceable. As a tribute to a number of artists who worked diligently, passionately and without much reward for their  obsessive and important work ANPO works admirably. ANPO is a movie that works despite itself, largely because of the (many) great pieces of content and information.

http://www.anpomovie.com/

Ishii Shigeo

Inoue Chozaburo

Abe Gosei

Abe Gosei

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Written by Nicholas Vroman

October 4, 2010 at 1:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Heaven’s Story / ヘヴンズ ストーリー

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Takahisa Zeze, who made his name in contemporary pinku turned relatively mainstream in the 2000s with films such as Moon Child and Pandemic. With his Heaven’s Story, he’s attempting to craft a sort of Nashville / Babel / Wings of Desire for the second decade of 21st century film going. The first 2 hours are great. The film sputters, albeit with some great moments, and ultimately dies after the second 2 and a half hours. Heaven’s Story is a study in monumental intimacy, revolving around the intersecting lives of over a dozen characters over the course of 10 years. There’s an awful lot of death and tragedy in these stories. Zeze gives ample opportunity for a mess of Japan’s finest character actors to show their chops and pull heartstrings to near breaking tautness. There’s not a throwaway performance in the bunch. Introductory and interlude scenes highlighting Hyakki Dondoro’s puppet performance are truly haunting. The scope, the ambition and the very sure director’s hand are to be applauded. Somewhere in Heaven’s Story is a brilliant 3 hours feature dying to get out.

Originally published in EL Magazine, Oct. 2010

Written by Nicholas Vroman

October 1, 2010 at 12:38 am

Ranboumono no sekai / 乱暴者の世界 / Index Gun

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Cult actor, director, radio personality Kei Nakata’s Index Gun is an improbable fantasy pitting goofy cool – a quite likeable Keisuke (Takeshi Hayashino) – against hip cool – a dour and dark Kamio (Shintaro Akiyama). Keisuke is a tall, mop-headed man about town, spinning discs, cadging a yen here and there, living with Ayumi (Yurika Kurosawa). Enter, Kamio, sporting low budget Matrix duds, a lot of ‘tude and the power to mesmerize any and all in his somewhat undetermined desire to control, particularly, Keisuke’s gal, Ayumi. Mass delusion – people witnessing him shoot bullets with his index finger, misconstruing tissue paper as paper money, forgetfulness – is what he does. Keisuke seems to be the only person on Earth on to this trickster. Against improbable odds he ultimately gets the upper hand. Nakata’s patently juvenile take on 20 something relationships, hipster life and sci-fi storytelling make for a mighty slog. Redeeming the film a bit is a sequence highlighting Masako Togawa, writer, chanteuse and doyenne of Aoiheya, the Shibuya club where much of Index Gun is set.

Originally published in EL Magazine, Oct. 2010

Wakiyaku monogatari / 脇役物語 / Cast me if you can

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Atsushi Ogata’s gentle comedy, Cast Me If You Can, follows the story of good guy, Hiroshi (Toru Masuoka), an actor stuck in playing supporting parts. His self-esteem takes a beating as he also lives a secondary role under the shadow of his father (Masahiko Tsugawa), a famous novelist. When his big break comes along, he gets publicly mistaken as the love interest of a MP’s wife and his company cancels his contract. As things fall apart, he meets Aya (Hiromi Nagasaku), a bubbly young actress. But even the growing romance between the two takes a bit of a second place in Hiroshi’s life. Reconciling love, dad career and self is the motivation that sets Hiroshi on some misguided adventures that ultimately run headlong into a happy ending. Ogata directs some of the bits a bit broadly, but still keeps a sensitive hand over the trajectory of whole story. In an era where mean-spirited comedy rules, it’s a pleasure to watch inept, but likeable, human beings given a chance play their roles. Even the bit parts.

Ranbo to taiki / 乱暴と待機 / Vengeance Can Wait

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Popular playwright Yukiko Motoya has had developed a niche theatre career tweaking the mores of Japanese society with her topical trifles of daily life filled with oddball characters and quirky relationships. Her 2006 play, Ranbo to taiki, hits the big screen with Tadunobu Asano (Ichi the Killer) and Minami  (Battle Royale, Detroit Metal City) playing the lead roles, an odd couple – Hidenori and Nanase – living in together in cramped collusion. Their chaste relationship is stiflingly maintained by a guilty secret that he holds against her. He spends much of his time in the attic secretly watching her every action. . Enter yet another odd couple, Banjo (Tatakuki Yamada) and Azusa (Eiko Koike) and strange sparks begin to fly. In a largely set-bound piece, young hack director, Masanori Tominaga (Pandora no hako) let’s the scene chewing run amuck. Even Asano comes of rather unconvincingly as an otaku voyeur.  Despite some genuinely funny moments, between a meandering script and Tominaga’s serviceable though uninspired direction, Ranbo to taiki remains an exercise in shallow ideas and musings on contemporary life.

Originally published in EL Magazine, Oct. 2010

Nûdo no yoru: Ai wa oshiminaku ubau / ヌードの夜 愛は惜しみなく奪う / A Night in Nude: Salvation

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Ever clever and stylish, Takashi Ishii has created an ostensible sequel to his 1993 Nudo no yoru, casting the always game Naoto Takenaka (Shall We Dance) as the beaten and worldly everyman, Jiro Kurenai, caught once again in a web of existential intrigue, homicide and general mayhem. Nearly 20 years later, we find Jin-san looking a lot older, living alone in a perfectly minimal warehouse. Stumbling onto the particularly grisly murder that opens the film, he gets involved in convoluted plot revolving around a trio of women taking tricks and making shakedowns out of their sunaku. Their flimsy hold on life and business in this underworld ultimately spins out of control. It all ends up in a massive bloodletting in an appropriately creepy cavernous quarry. Ishii’s instincts for Grand Guignol and psychotronic hysteria make Nûdo no yoru: Ai wa oshiminaku ubau a wild, if somewhat head-scratching ride. Shinobu Otake, Harumi Inoe and Hiroko Sato are electric embodying the wronged and wrong-headed women. And Shishido Joe mumbles through a drunken, incestuous, bad guy role brilliantly.

Originally published in EL Magazine, Oct. 2010

nude

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It seems that Yuichi Onuma (Dotei Horoki, Akiba) is on a roll with nude, his third feature released in 2010. Based on the popular autobiography of recently retired (at the age of 27) porn star, Mihiro, nude follows a traditional trajectory. Girl from the sticks comes to the big city. Where else, but in Shibuya she meets an AV tout. From idoru magazine spreads to spreading her legs in hardcore porn movies is her treacherous ride to success. Hisayasu Satou recently did the same story in Nama no nai onatachi – poorly. Onuma gives the story poignancy in Mihoro’s loss of not so much innocence, as connection to friends and the world she left behind and her fragility and isolation in the banal world of porn. Sensitively and non-judgmentally portrayed by Naoko Watanabe, Mihiro is, of all things, a fairly normal woman making life choices. The real Mihiro shows up as screen Mihiro’s savvy guide to the ins and outs of the sex film industry and Ken Mitsuishi shines in the role of her manager/pimp.

Originally published in EL Magazine, Oct. 2010

Written by Nicholas Vroman

October 1, 2010 at 12:18 am