a page of madness

film writing by nicholas vroman

Archive for August 2012

Kirishima is quitting the club

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Daihachi Yoshida’s Kirishima is quitting the club attempts to bring a bit of seriousness to the old Japanese war horse, the high school drama/comedy/whatever. Perhaps the genre is laden with far to many associations and such a deep and awful history that any attempts to make it meaningful are doomed to failure. And fail Yoshida does. The plot starts intriguingly enough with number one jock, Kirishima quitting his expected after-school activities – quite a shocking thing in Japan. The usual power structures and cliques are thrown into disarray. This becomes the opening for the super nerds – the film club – to show their stuff. Leader of the club Ryoya (Ryonusuke Maeda) takes his charges through the making of a zombie movie that becomes the MacGuffin that allows Yoshida to explore high school relationships – romantic, class-wise and otherwise. With reach and far too many characters beyond his grasp, Yoshida skims over what he should be looking at deeper, leaving a mess of clichés stranded across the screen. Japanese high school mores remain woefully unexamined, yet again.

Originally published in EL Magazine, August 2012.

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Written by Nicholas Vroman

August 1, 2012 at 4:57 am

Koppidoi Neko

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Rikiya Imaizumi’s delicious social comedy, Koppidoi Neko, follows the ups and downs of a set of relationships, all revealing unexpected twists and turns and laugh out loud moments. The different couples all ultimately revolve around Takada-san. Veteran TV character actor Fuyuki Moto gets to show his chops as the bewildered Takada, lonely heart soon-to-be-60-year old who manages to misinterpret the attentions of lovely sunaku hostess (Kazuha Komiya). As the plot leads to his sad 60th, a panoply of character actors get to chew into their roles with abandon through various subplots. The director himself even shows up in a hilarious bit as a fellow with terminal cancer. He pulls it off brilliantly. The denouement falls a little flat in its formal and plot tying up conceits, but beyond that the journey is a well-conceived trip through the hinterlands of the human soul. Dark and funny places are explored without fear. Though low budget, details of these middle class lives are carefully limned. The result is a brilliant first feature by a talent to watch.

Originally published in EL Magazine, August 2012.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

August 1, 2012 at 4:53 am

Nippon no uso

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Saburo Hasegawa’s new documentary, Nippon no uso, follows the life of photographer Kikujiro Fukushima. The film breaks no new ground in documentary filmmaking. It’s a straightforward hagiography of an important and committed photojournalist. And what a photographer he is! At 91 years old, he’s still out there, taking pics, inspiring youngsters and keeping his political commitments going. Fukushima started shortly after the bombing of Hiroshima, documenting radiation cancer victims. He was at the demonstrations against the expansion of Narita airport, creating some of the most iconic images from those years of protest. The 70s appear to be his heyday, where his Bresson-like images found their meeting of formal concerns, the privileged moment and political commitment. His very personal documentation of early feminism is reason alone to see the film. But testimonies from old friends and comrades to his own amazing commentary and (somewhat set-up) scenes of him at protests and documenting Fukushima (the place) show that the old guy still has his mojo. Nippon no uso is a loving testimony to a great photographer.

Originally published in EL Magazine, August 2012.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

August 1, 2012 at 4:49 am

Just Pretended to Hear / Kikoeteru, furi wo shita dake

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Kaori Imaizumi’s first film, Just Pretended to Hear, shows the sure signs of a burgeoning talent. An expanded version of a shorter film she made as her graduation final for the Tokyo Film School, she learned her lessons well. The story revolves around 13 year old Sachi (Hana Nonaka), shell-shocked after the death of her mother. Nozomi (Meru Goda) walks into her life – a demanding, but endearing, mentally impaired new school chum, who ends up splintering her loyalties and cliquishness with her long standing girlfriends while helping her in her get through her great loss. In the meantime, her bereaved father (Takayuki Suguki) loses it completely. The setup is simple – a young girl coming to terms with loss. In the hands of director, Imaizumi, the resonances, honesty and the unexpected left turns of the plot, push Sachi’s emotional journey into intriguing and ultimately moving territory. She pulls out stunning performances from a set of first-time actors. The young Hana walks a tight wire of emotions brilliantly. She nails the vulnerability, confusion and darkness inherent in mourning.

Originally published in EL Magazine, August 2012.

Women on the Edge / Girigiri no Onnatachi

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Mashiro Kobayashi is the most frustratingly great director working in Japan right now. He can make an austere masterpiece like The Rebirth and follow it up with an incomprehensible and ugly mess like White Nights. On the heels of Haru’s Journey, his brilliant and heartfelt collaboration with Tatsuya Nakadai, his hermetic reflection on the aftermath of 3.11, Women on the Edge, is a supreme failure. The story, revolves around a reunion of three sisters, Takako (Watanabe Makiko), Nobuko (Nakamura Yuko) and Satomi (Fujima Miho) at their family home in Tohoku. The abandoned house, spared from the flood, is the backdrop for untold family secrets to be told and psychodramas to unfold from a set of siblings with a mess o’ issues. Despite the talents of the usually splendid Watanabe and the other actresses involved, the whole thing devolves into a rather numbing shriekfest. Counterpointing the problems of a national disaster – rather mildly mentioned – with a family drama can be an intriguing rationale for a movie. That Kobayashi missed his mark so badly saddens me.

Originally published in EL Magazine, August 2012.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

August 1, 2012 at 4:36 am

Kazoku no kuni / Our Homeland

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Director Yong-hi Yang, who has explored issues of her own Korean/Japanese family in documentaries, brings a fresh focus with her first feature fiction, Kazoku no kuni. The film follows the tale of  Sonho (Iura Arata), a man who emigrated to North Korea from Japan in the 1970s, following an invitation to a better life there. In reality many Korean expats and Korean/Japanese did this from the 1950s through the 70s. In Kazoku no kuni he returns to Japan to get an operation, reuniting with his old family and particularly his sister, Rie (Sakura Ando). A powerful drama unfolds as Sonho tries to convince his sister to go to North Korea with him. The family dynamics are carefully etched with Yong-hi Yang’s sure direction. The leads, Ando and Arata, take on difficult and complex issues of nationalism, identity and family ties, giving them life through generous and deep portrayals. The supporting cast fills out the edges and details of this superbly crafted and heartfelt exploration of a little seen part of contemporary history.

Originally published in EL Magazine, August 2012.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

August 1, 2012 at 4:33 am