Sunday, February 21, 2010

Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "The Revenge" films (1997) or The Programers at Lincoln Center don't always know what they are writing up (Updated)

As part of the annual Film Comment Selects series at Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater they ran two pretty much unseen films from Kiyoshi Kurosawa who made Tokyo Sonata and Sweet Home (which I wrote about below). The films are pretty much the only part of Kurosawa's film work that aren't on DVD. I've tried to run down copies but I can't find them on either DVD or VCD. Having seen the films I can completely understand why they aren't available, they aren't good.

THE REVENGE: A VISIT FROM FATE The film concerns Anjo, a cop with a great deal of angst. It comes from he was a kid when two Yakuza killed his entire family. One had discovered him hiding in a closet and let him live on the condition he never told anyone. Anjo's whole career is essentially a quest to find the killers of his family. When a case of a crazed speed freak takes a deadly turn, the perp kills himself rather than allowing himself to be arrested, events are set in motion that allows Anjo to discover the people who killed his family so he can take revenge.

Actually what this sets in motion is a series of nonsensical sequences as Anjo tracks the killers, leans on a mob boss to give them up, and the killers take revenge on the cop by going after his wife. Gun fights happen, sometimes on screen, sometimes off screen. People either are shot and fall over dead or go through a long painful demise depending on whether information is needed to drive the story. Similarly people die and come back depending on whether Anjo needs to get information or some one to shoot at.

I won't go into my opinion of Lincoln Center for scheduling this, I'll save that for later, for now I'll just say that there were ripples of laughter all through the audience through much of the film. Frankly this is the sort of film that you can't be certain is serious or not. I mean they have to be joking right?

This is a throw back to the sort of nonsense that some Chinese filmmakers were making in Hong Kong ten years prior to when this film was made. I've seen dozens of tossed off HK action films from the late 80's and many of them seemed to be like this, made up as they went along. (The film also has avisual style similar to the hip Yakuza films from the 1960's)

What were they thinking? A hit man who doesn't like to kill and makes weird noises and bangs his head with his hand, another is smart or stupid at random moments, their sister who is crippled and a cold blooded killer with a machine gun. You have shoot outs where the two people stand at each other and just fire away not hitting anything. There are weird twists of character as Anjo turns from reasonably good cop who won't carry a gun to a cold blooded maniac who just won't die.

None of this makes a whole hell of a lot of sense. Its just WTF moment after WTF moment.

During the break between films several people left. Many of us try to decide what we just saw. Mostly we really wondered how they were going to have a sequel when all of the loose ends were tied up and shot through the head repeatedly.

I wondered whether to stay or go? I mean it couldn't get any worse could it?

Filmed at the same time as the first film but completely without a script (that's my sentiment), this is set five years on. Anjo is working outside of the law trying to track down all of those responsible for the death of his wife (Yes I know he killed everyone who had anything to do with that at the end of the last film) which was connected to the movement of "dark money". What any of this has to do with the events of the first film is beyond me, but the filmmakers say it does so it must be so. What actually happens in this film is nothing. Anjo hangs out with a Yakuza he saved and thinks his name is Yamamoto. He looks through old newspapers for information on the people responsible for his wives death (don't ask). Meanwhile a detective wants to know what Anjo knows for reason no one can fathom, and a neighbor makes Anjo a suit. People sit around, drive around, talk about nothing and then at the end some guns are fired.

This second film doesn't show up on IMDB and I know why, it doesn't really exist. Its a Zen mediation on the nature of nothingness. There is no real plot. its just people sitting and driving and talking. As an example of "life" its okay. as an entertainment its an endurance test.

Whats the point? I don't know. I'm guessing the filmmakers had contracted for two films and then realized they didn't have a sequel so they just filmed themselves hanging out.

When the film ended everyone looked stunned. That's it? Apparently. When I walked out the guy at the door was laughing. He couldn't believe that more people hadn't walked out. He couldn't believe that that we stayed. Neither could I. Frankly Lincoln Center is getting a really rude letter from me.

Okay, why am I going to send Lincoln Center a letter, because they clearly didn't watch either of these films. In the promotional material for the films the first film is called a homage to Dirty Harry. Maybe if you squint like Clint Eastwood, but Anjo isn't Harry Callahan by a long shot. More amazingly, and the dead give away that they didn't see the films, is the description the "...damaged cop goes after a Yakuza boss by infiltrating his gang. But moving up the underworld ranks takes time and leads to an identity crisis..." None of that is in the film. None of it. Yes, he hangs with the Yakuza but he's not after them. Hell, he likes the guys.

The problem here is that the Film Society of Lincoln Center occasionally doesn't know what they are showing. Almost every year that I've been following the New York Film Festival they tend to screen one or two films that are written up in such away that it clear that they never saw the film (The write up for Ghost Town from this past years festival seemed not to tell the whole tale as far as the people around me were concerned). Whomever wrote these up and scheduled them never saw them; because if they had they wouldn't have. What I think they did was they saw who the director was and they jumped at screening an unseen pair of films. They frequently do this, it's by whomever so it must be good, unaware that his or her film isn't good.

Its crazy.

When the films started the editor of Film Comment came out and thanked us for coming and said these were some early films of Kurosawa's and were unseen and then walked off. Perhaps he'd been warned, these are films should have remained unseen.

I did write a letter ro Lincoln Center and Film Comment in particular.

What I got back was a really nice letter from Gavin Smith, editor and chief of Film Comment. And I want to say that I made a mistake or two, and so did they.

He explained that Film Comment and Lincoln Center have been following Koyoshi Kurosawa's career for at least 10 years. He said that he programmed the films and that he did see them a while back in San Franisco, though he did add he thought they were better then. He said that he had spoken with Kurosawa about the films and he explained what he was trying to do with the films, some of which ended up in the films descriptions.

Mr Smith did admit that the description of the films was in error and explained why that sometimes happened. I completely understand why it happens (though I wish they could be a little closer to the reality of the films)

(I for my part, rightly or wrongly still argued against the films in a follow up letter becuase honestly, I really didn't like the films- or rather the second one which is where the breaking point came for me.)

As I've said elsewhere and to Mr Smith, He's one of the few people at Lincoln Center who's opinion I truly respect even if I don't always agree. How can you not like a guy who puts George Romero movies on his Best of the Decade List in Film Comment and then adds a secondary list of films he liked that no one else did. I have to admire that since it shows greater depth and understanding of film beyond the "art house " stuff most people at the Film Society seem to favor.

Forgive me if it sounds like I'm up to something, I'm not I just really appreciate his opinions.

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