Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Nate Hood's 400 words on Night Cruising (2019) Japan Cuts 2019

If you’ve never seen Hideyuki Kato's Ghost Vision, rest assured that it’s one of the strangest sci-fi shorts ever made. Only 12 minutes long, it features a bizarro plot starring a blind martial artist, an interplanetary telekinetic soldier, spectral hackers, and a Dadaist ending where the action comes screeching to a halt for a final shot of a two-dimensional cat flipping on its side and scurrying under a cabinet. It careens from live-action to CGI on a whim, almost as if every scene were made by different filmmakers, and has a soundtrack that veers from chip-tune techno to free-form jazz drumming. It’s a truly bizarre, almost unwatchable experience.

It might come as little surprise, then, that Kato never did actually see it since he’s been totally blind since birth. Makoto Sasaki’s brain-bending documentary Night Cruising charts the creation of Ghost Vision from its inception through its screenwriting, casting, production design, shooting, and post-production all while meditating on the struggles of blind creatives navigating a world so dependent on sight. Kato, a professional musician, was inspired to make a sci-fi short partly due to his love of movies, particularly the Star Wars franchise which he would watch growing up with his family who’d narrate the action onscreen as it happened.

The bulk of the documentary feels like an unwritten Oliver Sacks book come to life as he travels to various museums, laboratories, and tech offices to learn the fundamentals of visual storytelling as a blind man. A museum of natural history gives him skulls and forensic reconstructions of their faces to learn what “beautiful” and “plain” people look like through touch. Elsewhere he visits a color scientist who explains what colors are and how they should be used, eventually giving him a touch-palette with colors arranged on a circle so he can use them to create a consistent color palette. Costumed actors are scanned into miniature 3D models so he can get a feel for their look with his hands, programmers record his movements using special sensors so he can choreograph his fight scenes, and he builds custom set dioramas with Legos and clay with his cinematographer so they can plan shots. By the end we’re so enamored with Katz’s tenacity and ingenuity that when we finally see Ghost Vision we can’t help but regard it as a masterpiece, warts and all.

Rating: 8/10

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