Japan Cuts: 

Festival of New Japanese Film

From July 5-15, the Japan Society surveys the wild mood swings of contemporary Japanese cinema. See page 51. for complete listings; here, a sampling:

Big Bang Love, Juvenile A (Takashi Miike) Double-knotting the space-time continuum, with pre-Columbian ruins, 50s sci-fi, general relativity, Jean Genet, Japanese ghost stories, yakuza movies, installation videos, butoh dance, and black box avant-garde theater encircling each other, Miike’s inquiry into a prison inmate’s alleged murder of his primal protector (and perhaps lover) is a hell of an obscure object of desire. As taut as Miike’s free-verse time-hopping is, it’s also a remarkably focused head trip.

Freesia: Bullets Over Tears (Kazuyoshi Kumakiri) Sporting a title as arbitrary and burdensome as its backstory — in the Future, a “Vengeance Law” requires the government-approved assassination of criminals, in timed Running Man-style street shootouts between professional assassins and hired bodyguards; there’s also something about an experimental “Freeze Bomb” tested on a gaggle of orphans on a nature outing — Freesia aims for a benumbed autocritique of the hollow contrivance of action-movie thrills, and indeed, Tetsuji Tamayama, as a stone-cold killer with anime hair and Buddy Holly glasses, does move like a video game character. But Kumakiri’s ambiance (despite fine composition of the widescreen frame, both horizontally and in depth) is less clinical than bureaucratic, bloated by excess layers of supporting characters, and a pace that slogs along like a DMV line.

Matsugane Potshot Affair (Nobuhiro Yamashita) Yamashita opens on an apparently dead body lying in the snow in a small town, and employs the same a god’s-eye-view of everyday people making progressively worse decisions as a Fargo or A Simple Plan (an introductory title card even makes a questionable claim on the movie’s basis in real incident). But his deadpanning, which struck gold in the high school (pop-punk) musical Linda Linda Linda, here makes for a distance that’s a little too ironic, and his insistent implication of his characters in rural venalities (the casual degradation of women is a popular one) is less sangfroid than sadism.

Memories of Matsuko
(Tetsuya Nakashima) A two-hour-plus music video for “He Hit Me (It Felt Like a Kiss)” as made by a director who’d just stayed up all night drinking Jolt Cola with Baz Luhrmann and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. A feel-bad melodrama about a woman with her face rubbed in the dirt by fathers, bosses, pimps, and lovers, as narrated in flashback to the slacker nephew cleaning out her bag-lady apartment after her murder, Matsuko’s musical numbers are period snapshots filtered by the sensibilities of vintage Disney features, pink films, hip-hop videos, and Saturday morning commercials. The nested chronology is as deceptively sound as origami, but it does less to stitch the Pop Art crazy-quilt together than the strip of day-glo flowers running along the bottom fifth of the screen in more scenes than they have any business showing up in.

Nightmare Detective
(Shinya Tsukamoto) Grimy, gory genre workout is one of Tsukamoto’s less head-scratching movies: any of a dozen J-horror directors could have gotten the right balance of rinsed-out post-industrial palette and slimy viscera for the story of a rookie policebabe (played by a one-named pop star, natch) investigating a series of squishy stabfest suicides, prefigured by phone calls to a gnomish recluse (played by the director, natch), and finally enlisting a psychic with the ability to enter into people’s dreams (played by a bedheaded, bedroom-eyed art-house pin-up, natch). Nobody else, though, would have gone out of his way to carry on a running conversation about memory and the afterlife, informed by an uncertainty over the mind-body problem. Tsukamoto’s maybe the best filmmaker in the world on the subject of the fear of death, but here he’s marginalized by his chosen milieu.

Sway (Miwa Nishikawa) Scruffy, sleepy, sexy Joe Odagiri (he embodies hipster diffidence à la Joseph Gordon-Levitt) wears a leather jacket to his mother’s funeral, and stays long enough to be the catalyst and only witness to an incident leading to his older brother — who never left for the city, and now works at the family gas station — being put on trial for murder. Family dynamics are flayed raw in the courtroom scenes, but the exposure doesn’t get down to the bone — that is, Nishikawa’s patient unraveling of a family’s foundation of omission, of lapses in perception and memory unintentional and otherwise.

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