This past week I attended the Japanese Film Festival here in Sydney. As much as I love Japanese cinema I haven’t seen enough of their films as I’d like (my habits mean I lean much more towards Korean cinema), so I went and picked five films of their awesome line up. I attended most with friends, and each night we tried a different Japanese dish at a local restaurant. Y’know, to ease into the experience.
I’ve already covered “After the Storm” in a previous blog post, so here are the other four.
If there was ever a film that takes itself too seriously, it’s this one.
It’s a sharp sci-thriller slash murder mystery slash family drama that utilizes some interesting concepts about rifling through the minds of the murdered for memories to point the police force in the direction of the murderers. The process of doing so is not neat (and involves saws, cutting and scooping brain matter out), and there’s inconsistencies and tripwires along the way. The film tries to sell itself as a gritty crime drama, but when the lead detective is essentially emo-punk ripped straight from an anime and half the cast is dressed in cosplay, it’s difficult to take it seriously. Admittedly this isn’t atypical of Japanese films, but the lack of self-awareness hurt this film’s chances from achieveing greatness. And it also finished on an incredibly weird and somewhat arbitrary final shot that made…zero sense?
But bonus points for a creepy, evil schoolgirl with a soul-destroying gaze.
This is the highlight of the festival, no doubt about it.
It’s not just the captivating characters, wild performances or even the razor sharp plot that makes this film superb: it’s the relentless tone. The lingering dread that pools in your stomach with every wide shot, every darkened hallway and every encounter with a certain character. It’s a pure exercise in showing without telling, saying so much without actually saying much at all. There were several moments where the entire audience just gasped at a quiet, subtle reveal. It’s about as restrained as horror and thriller flicks go, something that’s incredibly lacking in both international and Hollywood cinema. This isn’t director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s first thriller film like this and it shows. The entire film teeters on the precipice as the most innocent of shots or facial expressions tells you that something very, very wrong is going on. But you don’t know what, and you don’t know when you’ll find out.
It’s a pure masterclass in storytelling and maintaining tension, and has one of the best climaxes in recent memory. This might just be the best thriller since Gone Girl. The lingering, bittersweet final shot will be haunting me for a long, long time.
Every screening has it’s weak point. This is it.
What starts off as a light-heearted romantic comedy with a dash of super awkward turns into a visceral hurricane of murder, ultra-violence and a serial killer with a thirst for brutal aggression. It’s an interesting experiment, but doesn’t completely work out. What could have been a slow-burner of a film becomes a showcase of senseless violence (including sexual violence), strained relationships and a desperate attempt to make the audience simultaneously sympathize and despise the antagonist. Only you can’t just drop elements of characterization 97% of the way through the film, and follow it up with a flashback and expect the audience to care. It’s far from a complete failure, but without an actual motivation other than the obvious childhood bully victim, there’s nothing here to latch onto, and the gratuitousness of the violence doesn’t help either. There’s a shot in here (pun intended) that made me as a male cringe as a pure reflex, but otherwise it’s brutality for the sake of it. Skip this one.
Now this is how you do a post-apocalyptic bio-terror dystopia.
The world-building seen between the higher class Nokusu and the not-quite oppressed Kyurio sets it apart from most dystopians, where a certain minority of people oppress the majority for the hell of it. Here there’s an actual, physical motivation between the separation, one that the higher class attempt to breach and build a bridge between the two groups. Wonderfully filmed with flawless framing and soft colours and lights used in contrast between the two societies, The Sun is filled with heart-wrenching drama, mixed in with pure absurdist slapstick humour that East Asian cinema is known for. You know what you’re seeing is terrible and depressing, but the way the characters scream and jump around and knock into object and go sprawling on the ground made me (and the audience) crackle with laughter when it really shouldn’t be funny. Whiplash tone isn’t atypical of Japanese cinema, and they do it brilliantly here, jumping between slow, creeping sombre shots and frantic drama. And it’s brilliant.And funny.
Please do see this one. It’s better than any YA dystopia Hollywood has mashed out in the last few years, and it’s deeper and richer, too. It’s a perfect finisher for the Japanese Film Fest, and a fantastic experience in its own right.