a page of madness

film writing by nicholas vroman

Archive for June 2015

An / Sweet Red Bean Paste / あん

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An-_Sweet_Red_Bean_Paste-p1Naomi Kawase has moved out of her tired and trite new-ageism into a more nuanced and substantial phase of her career with last year’s moving coming-of-age story, Still the Water, and now with An. The story’s pretty simple. Sentarou (Masatoshi Nagase – finally given a decent role in a worthwhile film to show his talent) is a beaten-down middle-aged ex-con, going through the motions of maintaining a tiny dorayaki shop. The place is frequented by a small coterie of high school girls, including Wakana (Kyara Uchida), in search of a father figure. Dingy old lady Tokue (the inimitable Kirin Kiki) arrives to save the day. She makes the best sweet red bean paste in Nihon. The initially reluctant Sentarou hires her and the business takes off. There are ups… and downs – and eventually Tokue ends up in nursing home. Kawase’s gentle take on this intergenerational trio travels a bit in a clichéd fetishism of Japanese food and exhibits some heavy-handed symbolism, but the great acting and smart direction give the story tons of emotional heft.

Originally published in EL Magazine, June 2015.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

June 3, 2015 at 2:31 am

Umimachi Diary / Our Little Sister / 海街diary

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Umimachi_Diary-p2Hirokazu Koreeda has always claimed that Naruse has been a larger influence on him than Ozu. Umimachi Diary belies that. Granted, the story’s about a set of sisters (the focus on women being more Naruse-like), but being set largely in Kamakura (Ozu’s town) and the gentle low-dramatic flow puts the film in Ozu-land. And the inspired casting of Lily Franky, in a small but important role, as a Chishu Ryu analogue, is an obvious homage to the master. The story follows a trio of sisters, 29-year-old Sachi (Haruka Ayase), 22-year-old Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) and 19-year-old Chika (Kaho), who upon the death of their estranged father, finally connect with their young teen-aged half-sister Suzu (Suzu Hirose). They invite Suzu to come live with them and the film unfolds, showing their changing dynamics and relationships. The characters are a bit cliché – Sachi being a nurse/caregiver and the “strong” one, Yoshino being the mixed-up one and Chika being the happy-go-lucky Bohemian. But all the actors give their best, showing the subtle, yet rich, details of a family’s journey.

Originally published in EL Magazine, June 2015.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

June 3, 2015 at 2:26 am

Shinjuku Swan / 新宿スワン

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Shinjuku_Swan_(Japanese_Movie)-tpShion Sono’s filmmaking career has gone from the audience-abusing nihilism of the two final films of his “Hate Trilogy” to the soul-searching of his post 3.11 films and the more recent fuck-it-all fun of his last two efforts. He’s now hit a new nadir with a completely phoned-in sellout, Shinjuku Swan. The story follows the adventures of Tatsuhiko Shiratori (Gou Ayano), a young hustler, new to the dirty ol’ city, who finds his inner pimp and becomes a Kabukicho tout, accosting girls on the street in order to lure them into the slavery of Tokyo’s sex biz. As he rises in the underworld (he really doesn’t get too far) he gets beat up A LOT. And always comes back bouncing for more – glutton for punishment that he is. There’s the usual gang intrigue that leads to internecine warfare, the unbelievable love interest, endlessly clichéd underworld characters and plenny o’ violence. Shinjuku Swan is an ugly duck that celebrates the usual vapidity, misogyny and lack of original ideas the plague contemporary Japanese film.

Originally published in EL Magazine, June 2015

Written by Nicholas Vroman

June 3, 2015 at 2:20 am