a page of madness

film writing by nicholas vroman

Smuggler / スマグラー

with 3 comments

In the contemporary flirtation with busting down genre walls there are some directors, like Jonathan Demme, who are so good that they take the viewer to some wild places. There are lesser filmmakers who throw shit against the wall just to see if it sticks. Katsuhito Ishii (Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl), director of Smuggler throws shit, blood, spit and whatever against the walls and ends up with a rather unpleasant mess of a film. Beginning in a triad-y gangster story, going into Matrix-y affected chop-socky and ending up in gratuitous torture porn, Smuggler not only has no idea where it’s going, it gets there with abusively bad taste, clichéd effects and buckets of blood. Ishii taken an otherwise solid cast and lets them run with their worst and easiest crutches. For example, Satoshi Tsumabuki, usually working his natural bewildered face to reveal the souls of his mixed up characters just looks confused as he goes through increasing degradation. Ishii’s early critically lauded films are due for serious reassessment in light of Smuggler.

Originally published in EL Magazine, October 2011.

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Written by Nicholas Vroman

November 1, 2011 at 5:33 am

3 Responses

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  1. I saw this film at the Hawaii International Film Festival and agree with your review. It was advertised as “comedy” and there were but a few chuckles in the first few scenes; after that just numbed silence from the audience. Most seemed there to see the all-star cast and I think that Ishii who is credited with directing, screenwriting, editing,storyboarding let us all down. It was hard to even sense the story line “failed actor with serious debt.” I understand that there is a mobile ad campaign in Japan showing some prequels that show Kinuta failing, in an apparently humorous fashion, a series of casting calls. In the film’s flashback the “failed actor” setting looks like a singer’s venue and not an actor’s venue. We don’t get to see how/why Kinuta is a failed actor when the real life situation is just the opposite. So we need a strong reinforcement of the manga’s story line. We don’t get to see how Kinuta falls into serious debt. The ramen meal breaks and the night truck driving scenes could all have rounded out the film. Instead Ishii gives the scenes about as much air time as in the film trailer, likely so he can get to the ultra-violence that apparently is his intent for the film. The degradation scene, bemoaned by some reviewers, would not be so bad if the closing scenes had a totally different ending and geographical location. Seems like the Japanese movie audience agrees as the box office is showing disastrous financial results. It’s not good to see a film and think that the viewer could have made a much better one than the director.

    Dan

    November 6, 2011 at 1:27 am

    • Dan, thanks for your note. This film has a couple of apologists within the critical community, but I still think it’s a particularly nasty mess of a movie. Most folks who saw the film share a similar opinion.

      Nicholas Vroman

      November 14, 2011 at 6:22 am

      • I was searching for the new Higashino Keigo 11-part mystery series now showing on Fuji TV and its very low ratings. The reviewer has mostly negative comments, especially about episode 6 and asking how someone can “royally mess up” a drama episode with so much literary source and acting potential? Well, I went on IMDB and it turns out that Katsuhito Ishii was the director of that particular episode. Maybe this answers the question.

        dan

        August 22, 2012 at 11:51 pm


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