a page of madness

film writing by nicholas vroman

Posts Tagged ‘Nicholas Vroman

Journey to the Shore / Kishibe no Tabi / 岸辺の旅

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Journey_to_the_Shore-p1Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Journey to the Shore starts off with an interesting premise. Mizuki (Eri Fukatsu), three-years widowed and still grieving, gets an unexpected visit from her dead husband, Yusuke (Tadanobu Asano). He promises to take her on a journey to the “beautiful places” he’s been on the long road back from where he died to her. The idea of not only the living reconciling with loss, but the dead themselves as active participants in reconciling with the afterlife is rife with possibility. Too bad Kurosawa sinks the whole thing in maudlin sentimentality, Ozu-esque two-shots that evoke parody, a maudlin and overbearing soundtrack and a general lack of urgency and direction in this overlong exercise in pop mysticism. Fukatsu, a genuinely fine actress, gets little to work with here and Asano’s perpetual blank slate helps him drift through, but Kurosawa’s muddled direction of a meandering and pandering script make this slog a challenge to get through. And these “beautiful places” that Yusuke takes his wife to may only be beautiful in the eyes of the director.

Originally published in EL Magazine, October 2015.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

December 8, 2015 at 6:56 am

Present for You

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Present_for_You-p1Yoshihoko Dai’s debut feature, Present for You, is a curious confection, flipping randomly from live action to doll animation. And it’s in 3D. The largely incomprehensible plot revolves around Shigeru Kajiwara (Joe Odagiri), sporting a retro 70s look selling out to the owner (Isao Natsuyagi) of the Give Me Money company by being the guy who kills the boss’s enemies. They’re delivered to Shigeru’s decrepit office above a ramen shop in a mythical natsukashi Shimbashi. This Shimbashi is full of ostensibly colorful characters – prostitutes, waitresses, café owners, a salaryman who’s always seen at the edge of rooftop contemplating suicide. Shigeru gets his first victim, the “present” of the title, delivered – one Muneoka-san (Akira Emoto) – and then the plot veers into a whole lot of, well, plot – of some sort. The whole mess that makes up the mercifully short film seems mainly to be a calling card so Dai can show off his animation chops, though has no idea about how to structure a story, let alone how to direct real actors – or even puppets.

Originally published in EL Magazine, March 2015.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

March 3, 2015 at 5:33 am

Otoko no Isshou / A Man’s Life / 娚の一生

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Otoko_no_Isshou-p1Ryuichi Horoki’s pumping out films fast and furiously. There’s Kabukicho Love Hotel, an enjoyable, though slight, sitcom. And then there’s Otoko no Isshou, an adaptation from popular manga-maker Keiko Nishi’s comic of the same name. In this story, Tsugumi (Nana Eikura), decides to live in her late grandmother’s countryside place. The place is a perfect set piece, perfectly appointed washitsu, a natural dye workshop, natsukashi to perfection. She finds a taciturn oyaji philosophy professor with a ridiculous moustache, Jun (Etsushi Toyokawa), living there. He made a deal with ol’ grandma to have a poetry shack available to him. He’s a chain-smoking asshole, ostensibly with a heart of gold, just waiting for Tsugumi to unearth it. Problem is, after endless passive aggressive thrusts and parries, a sentimental and absurd sequence with an abandoned child… and some toe-sucking – plus a falsely heroic ending, the film follows a clichéd (and macho-minded) trajectory that only confirms what we always thought of Horoki. He’s never transcended his pinku porno past, was lucky with Vibrator and his films aren’t worth watching.

Originally published in EL Magazine, February 2015.

Written by Nicholas Vroman

February 3, 2015 at 5:28 am

The Punk Syndrome / Kovasikajuttu

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The_Official_Movie_Poster_of_The_Punk_SyndromeIf there was ever a band that represents the epitome of punk, it must be Pertti Kurikka’s Name Day. The quartet consists of developmentally challenged musicians headed by their namesake Pertti, a garrulous and sensitive shouter who writes terse and brutally uncensored songs about his condition, obsessions and problems. An example goes, “I don’t want to live in a group home / I don’t want to live in an institution / I want to live in Kallio / In the privacy of a bomb shelter.” Directors Jukka Karkkainen and J-P Passi document the band with sensitivity, humor and no whitewashing in The Punk Syndrome, one of the best music docs of the year. Documenting the travails of Pertti and his collaborators, Kari Aalto, Sami Helle, Toni Valitalo and Kalle Pajamaa walks the fine edge of being exploitive of this unlikely punk phenomena, but ultimately comes across as a finely-honed and honest look a group of very creative individuals, connecting with their problems and difficulties in life and ultimately, celebrating their brave and wonderful response – a healthy “fuck you!”

Originally published in EL Magazine, January 2015

Kabukicho Love Hotel / Sayonara Kabukicho / さよなら歌舞伎町

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KabukichoDirector Ryuichi Hiroki (Vibrator) builds a pleasant, if somewhat mawkish, La Ronde-ish edifice around a series of tales of the workers and clients of a love hotel in Kabukicho, the last bit of demi-monde in Tokyo. Most of the stories are mediated through the eyes of the hotel’s manager, Toru (Shota Sometani), whose fallen dream of working at a classy establishment haunts him – along with his foundering relationship with Saya (Atsuko Maeda), an aspiring musician. She brings a music producer to the hotel in hopes of fucking her way to a record deal, only have her indiscretion discovered by boyfriend Toru. Several other plots busy the script – one involving a Korean call girl (Lee Eun-Woo) doing her last day of business before going back home. Another with a cleaning woman (Yutaka Matsushige), trying to keep her husband hidden until the statute of limitations runs out on his murder rap. Plot developments are a little heavy handed, flitting lightly on contemporary issues. The performances are solid and sometimes funny in a sitcom-ish sort of way.

Originally published in EL Magazine, January 2015

100en no koi / 100 Yen Love

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100_Yen's_Love_(Hyaku_yen_no_Koi)-p1Even with a sharp script by Shin Adachi, director Masaharu Take doesn’t quite pull of the complex balance of something between an homage and a send-up of Million Dollar Baby – not quite getting the effective tragedy out of tragic-comedy. And bringing a questionable sensibility to what should be funny. The story of Kazuko (Sakura Ando), a loser taking her one shot in the boxing ring sends up the usual hero dynamic. Ando, who is being dangerously typecast for her ennui, spends half of the film as a misdirected cliché of a downbeat slacker, stuck working in a convenience store after escaping from her family and her largely unexplained dysfunctionality. Kazuko meets Kano (Hirofumi Arai), a washed up boxer and strangely unattractive individual, who needy person that she is, ends up with. This pushes her into her attempt at Rocky-ness and finding self worth. 100 Yen Love has several moments – the boxing ring scenes are great – and a lot of filler that keeps the viewer wondering what Take is up to.

Originally published in EL Magazine, December 2014

Written by Nicholas Vroman

December 3, 2014 at 2:44 am

Fuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats / Fukubuku no Bukuchan / 福福荘の福ちゃん

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FukuchanOne of the pleasures of Fuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats is watching some of Japan’s best comic actors. Miyuki Oshima (doing a fine genderfuck as the titular character), Asato Iida, Tateto Serizawa, Toshiyuki Kitami and the great Kanji Furitachi work hard, bringing out the best from the slim material they have to work with and the flat gag fillers that give them a chance to stretch a bit, but add little to the plot. This romantic comedy seems to come to roadblock after roadblock on its way to its flabby and unfulfilling ending. The story of the fat, unrequited kid, now grown up having a second chance with the love of his life is at the heart of Fuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats. There’s a bit of cheap clichéd flashback psychology to describe his current state, but despite that, Oshima inhabits Fuku-chan wholly, giving him heft and heart. She’s one of a great cast of characters that give the film a bit of well-earned sentimentality and feeling – despite the obstacles from writer and director Yosuke Fujita.

Originally published in EL Magazine, November 2014.