a page of madness

film writing by nicholas vroman

Archive for September 2012

A Road Stained Crimson / Akai Kisetsu / 赤い季節

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Professional killer Ken (Hirofumi Arai) works at a motorcycle shop, trying to make a break with his past life with fellow former assassin Yoko (Jun Fubuki). But another fellow baddy, who’s still loutishly bad, Akira (Jun Murakami) keeps bugging them to get back in the game. As one would expect with this setup things go from bad to worse. By the end everyone is dead and the audience breathes a sigh of relief that there won’t be a sequel. Here’s a case where a wonderful bunch of character actors have some fun in an over-the-top story and nothing works. The fault for Akai Kisetsu’s monumental fail can be firmly laid at the hands of first-time director and screenwriter Tetsuhiko Nono. First off he doesn’t seem to realize that his work is pure camp. He only allows two options for performance – blank slate and scene chewing. The blank-slaters aren’t allowed to be cool enough. The scene-chewers are taken to seriously. Nono seems to think that Harley’s are cool bikes. That’s how uncool and misguided he is.

Originally published in EL Magazine, September 2012

 

Here’s a song I wrote about the movie.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

September 30, 2012 at 9:02 am

Don’t Stop!

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Don’t Stop! follows the story of wheelchair-bound 46-year-old Cap, whose lifelong dream was to ride a Harley down Route 66. Cap’s the kind of otaku whose room is lined with Americana. In leather and jeans and black T’s he mimics an idea of a rock ‘n’ roll outlaw. To fulfill his dream, writer Ayuma Takahashi and pretty boy actor / first time director Kenji Kohashi pile a crew, Cap and his family into a couple of Winnebagoes and hit the great American road. The result is a disturbing cultural window and not a particularly good movie. Most distressing is how Cap is constantly exploited. The poor guy, who can hardly move on his own, gets taken up a mountainside with Herzogian effort, plopped into a sweat lodge, taken to lonely stretches of highway and posed on the seat of a hog – merely for the photo ops. The crew’s foibles and unnecessary histrionics often push Cap out of the frame. A hero’s journey as sad nightmare, someone should have put a stop to it.

Originally published in EL Magazine, Sept. 2012.

Here’s a song I wrote about this movie.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

September 4, 2012 at 8:35 pm

Dreams for Sale / 夢売るふたり / Yume Uru Futari

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Once again, Miwa Nishiwaka creates a black comedy that upends the table on moral certainty. Her filmic vision has been growing from the somewhat easy, though well-done, skewering of social mores in Hebi ichigo to the study of a man trying to do good, even though he misrepresents himself, in Dear Doctor, to a new variation in Dreams for Sale. Here we’re introduced to young couple, Kanya (Sadao Abe) and Satoko (Takako Matsu), trying to make a go of it in the restaurant business. On their opening day, the place is burnt to the ground. Kanya falls into depression, but by sheer happenstance during a drunken night out he falls into the arms of equally drunk woman who gives him a healthy wad of cash the next morning. Bingo! With the complicity of his wife a marriage fraud scheme develops. But his relationships with those other than his wife bring their house of cards down. Mishikawa and her mighty ensemble of actors bring a sly humor and delicate balance to a very touchy theme.

Originally published in EL Magazine, Sept. 2012.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

September 4, 2012 at 4:29 am

A Song I Remember / ひとつの歌 / Hitosu no uta

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Kyoshi Sugita’s A Song I Remember shows the sure hand of a young cinematic minimalist. The simple story feels like something Antonioni would make, but with a slightly sentimental streak. Takeshi (Takenori Kaneko), a gardener, in his off time tracks stranger with his SX70, trying to capture perfect moments. Following one woman he freezes her image shortly before her falling (or being pushed?) to her death on the train tracks. He follows the man who may have killed her. He later (by chance or design?) meets the woman’s daughter, Toko (Yuri Ishizaka) and a relationship develops. In the meantime his life as a gardener intersects with the widow who’s hired him. The film ends with Takeshi revealing the last photo he took of Toko’s mother in a moving denouement. Sugita pushes whatever drama there may be offscreen. What’s left is life. His use of space, sound and time are remarkable, suspending the moments, creating a world imbued with mystery. He’s a master of subtle, but strong and moving movie space – a talent to watch.

Originally published in EL Magazine, Sept. 2012.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

September 3, 2012 at 4:25 am

Key of Life / 鍵泥棒のメソッド / Kagi Dorobo no Mesotdo

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At the end of his rope, underemployed actor, Sakurai (Masato Sakai) goes to the sento after failing to hang himself. At the sento he spies Kondo (Teruyuki Kagawa), who has decided to bathe after just cold-bloodedly murdered a businessmen. Kondo slips on a bar of soap in an over-the-top pratfall, knocking himself out into a state of amnesia. Sakurai sees his opportunity. He takes Kondo’s belongings and proceeds to live his life. Meanwhile, officematon, Kanae (Ryoko Hirosue) decides to schedule her upcoming marriage. Problem is, no fiancé. For a woman who likes order in her life, she sees no problem in finding her man. The man she finds is Kondo; now thinking he’s Sakurai. The crazy twists and turns of the plot make for a wild ride. With the bravura timing and comedic control of the three leads – in addition to a sweet supporting cast – show off the best of all of them. Like a comedy version of The Passenger, Kenji Uchida’s Key of Life digs into the nature of identity, but sans pretention.

Originally published in EL Magazine, Sept. 2012

I’m Flash!

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Following up hard and fast on his disturbing masterpiece, Monsters Club, director Toshiaki Toyoda’s I’m Flash! doesn’t quite have the depth or resonance of his previous effort. In fact it’s pretty much a mess despite some moments of bravura filmmaking. Part gangster story, part send up of charismatic spiritual charlatans and part junket to take an all-star cast to vacation in Okinawa, it starts well enough with a beautifully choreographed car crash deus ex machina that obliquely sets the ball in motion for a pampered tele-spiritualist, Rui (Tatsuya Fujiwara) to hire a trio of bodyguards (Ryuhei Matsuda, Kento Nagayama, Shigetu Nakano) to protect him from further scandal. As the back-story unfolds and the simplistic pyschobably tale progresses under more and more baroque plot twists, the entire endeavor spins into a stasis of undeveloped ideas and pointless connections, albeit in a beautiful beach setting. Word up was that Toyoda had been working for years on what would be his genre film masterpiece with I’m Flash. He needed a little less flash and a little more substance.

Originally published in EL Magazine, Sept. 2012

Written by Nicholas Vroman

September 1, 2012 at 4:17 am