Saturday, July 3, 2010

Capsule Reviews NYAFF 2010 part three - JAPAN CUTS

A few reviews of films I saw on DVD which are part of the Japan Society's Japan Cuts which runs along side the New York Asian Film Festival. In all honesty Japan Cuts only is part of NYAFF for 4 days but to me they are essentially one festival since most film could easily just play the NYAFF. In a weird way I think the Japan Cuts tends to program the best films consistently. The films here are all playing in the next two weeks and worth making an effort to see (though all only have a single showing so you will have to jump if yu want to see them.)

The Foreign Duck, The Native Duck and God in a Coin Locker (2007)
This year Japan Cuts is programing a large number of films that don't have US releases from the last 10 years. I'm guessing this 2007 film is one of them. In all honesty this is the sort of film that Unseen Films was set up to highlight, its a small gem of a film that isn't flashy, hasn't won a boatload of awards and is doomed never to be seen. If you want to see a really good small gem that almost no one has seen outside of Japan either get the import DVD or get tickets to the one screening at the Japan Society. The plot of the film has a young man moving into an apartment as he starts college. In trying to make the acquaintance of his neighbors he meets Kawasaaki, an odd man with a variety of reputations. I can't tell you more than that since this is the sort of film where we only know what our hero knows and as he learns things we watch as events replay out based upon it. To tell you too much will reveal things way too early and that's not fair. Its a wonderful mediation on self image, religion, music, how we see others and what they tell us, and a few other things. While not the best film ever made, its certainly not deserving of being doomed to obscurity. As I said, this is one worth hunting down. (and if you need more of a push this is from Yoshihiro Nakamura who directed Fish Story which played last years NYAFF and was reviewed here back in April)

Memories of Matusuko (2006)
Profoundly sad and deeply moving (upbeat) musical about the life of a woman. The story unfolds as Sho, a twenty year old unemployed musician, is given the task of cleaning out his aunt's apartment by his father. Until the request came Sho never knew he had an aunt, she having been long ago disowned. It seems that the father had only come to Tokyo to have his sister cremated after she was beaten to death by someone unknown. As Sho cleans the apartment he begins to piece together his aunts life thanks to what he find there and to the stories of the people she came in contact with. This is an award winning film that is unlikely ever to get a US release since how do you market a tragic musical? I would think by calling it one of the best films of the year, but that's just me. Its not only an emotional kick in the pants but also a technical tour de force that puts most Hollywood films to shame. This film is a must see. This is one is one to track down on import DVD or to see on one of its occasional festival screenings (thankfully film festivals know to program a winner even if studios don't). This film deserves a longer review, and will get it if I can find the words.

Nightmare Detective 2 (2008)
Dark visceral sequel to Shinya Tsukamoto's to his earlier Nightmare Detective about a man who can enter the dreams of others. This time out the moody young man wants no part of the troubles of a teenage girl until the case appears to be centered on a figure who seems to be a twin in demeanor to his dead mother. Dark dream logic story makes no real sense, however taken on its own dreamlike terms the film is a kick in the pants. I saw this film on DVD in a dark bedroom with all the lights out and it really worked me over. I was planning on going to bed when it was done, but instead I got up and went on line in the hope of clearing my head. It didn't work. Despite not being a rationally plotted film and having story holes, I like the film simply because it messed me up and made be feel afraid and very uneasy. Several points out of ten over the first movie (a good but not great film) this is a must see for anyone who like the first Nightmare Detective or anyone who likes to have their sense of reality messed with.

An FYI about director Tsukamoto. He's best known for his three Tetsuo the Ironman films, but his other lesser known films like Gemini or Snake of June are unheralded masterpieces. Those two films are on the list of future reviews as are some of his other films.

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