Tag Archives: Katsuhito Ishii

343. THE TASTE OF TEA (2004)

Cha no aji

UNCLE: It’s a pretty good story, right?

HAJIME: Yeah, weird… but cool.

The Taste of Tea

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Takahiro Satô, Satomi Tezuka, , Maya Banno, Tatsuya Gashûin, Tomokazu Miura, Ikki Todoroki, Anna Tsuchiya

PLOT: A Taste of Tea follows the Haruno family living in rural Japan. The young son has his first crush; the young daughter has a giant doppelganger only she can see; the mother is attempting a comeback in her career as an anime artist; the father is a hypnotist who sends his subjects on psychedelic trips; and a visiting uncle is still melancholy from a romance that ended years ago. A grandfather with a thick gray unibrow and a permanent cowlick watches over the clan while practicing strange poses and singing nonsense songs.

Still from A Taste of Tea (2004)

BACKGROUND:

  • The title may come from a quote by the ancient Chinese poet Lu Tong, who said, “I care not a jot for immortal life, but only for the taste of tea.”
  • (of “Neon Genesis” series fame) appears in a cameo as the anime director.
  • This was Katsuhito Ishii‘s third feature film, but the first to attract much attention outside Japan. It played at Cannes and won awards at smaller festivals. Ishii had just come off directing the animated sequences for ‘s Kill Bill. His next project, 2004’s Funky Forest, was even weirder and more random than Tea.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Little Sachicko’s giant double, who silently and mysteriously watches her as she goes about her daily routine.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Forehead train; giant doppelganger; egg-head yakuza

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Katsuhito Ishii revamps the least weird genre of cinema, the familial drama, with gently surreal CGI and a narrative that wanders off into mildly scatological yakuza ghost stories, psychedelic hypnotism, and in-progress anime rushes, all watched over by a giant mute schoolgirl.


Clip from The Taste of Tea (2004)

COMMENTS: The family in The Taste of Tea do drink tea, occasionally, but they never comment on its taste. The film itself, however, Continue reading 343. THE TASTE OF TEA (2004)

CAPSULE: REDLINE (2009)

This review first appeared in a slightly different form at Film Forager.

DIRECTED BY: Takeshi Koike

FEATURING: Takuya Kamura, Yû Aoi,

PLOT: Set in a distant future and moving between multiple planets, this is a fairly simple tale of a major road race taking place on a militaristic planet that doesn’t want it there.  Racers “Sweet” JP, the big-haired underdog, and Sonoshee, a single-minded gearhead, are the main focus of the story.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Armed with an eclectic cast of alien characters and a host of over-the-top shenanigans, Redline might come off as “weird” to someone unfamiliar with anime, but I’d say the stranger humor and visuals fit in pretty squarely with other properties of the genre.  It’s an imaginative and enormously entertaining film, just not especially Weird.

COMMENTS:  The future laid out in Redline is certainly an intriguing one, if completely ludicrous.  Hot shot reckless racer JP makes it to the titular big interstellar race, held on a militaristic planet that hasn’t consented to be the host.  He cozies up to Sonoshee, a cute green-haired lady who is one of the most serious and intimidating drivers there, and together the two attempt to navigate a strange obstacle course against alien competitors (some with inexplicable magic powers) and large-scale weaponry.  Squeezing in ESPN-like profiles of various racers—from an experienced cyborg who’s fused himself with his machine to a pair of scantily clad pop stars hailing from a magical princess planet—there’s some room for satire, too.

This movie is essentially all spectacle and adrenaline, with very little comprehensible or meaningful plot holding it together, but it’s not like the filmmakers are operating under any pretense of depth.  They’ve created a gorgeously animated, pumped-up sci-fi thriller, and that’s all that’s needed!  The characters are slick, and the vehicle designs slicker, with plenty of exaggerated personalities and colorful attachments for an engaging race line-up.  Sure, there’s a silly romantic/secret-past subplot thrown in there, but it’s never taken very seriously.  Various secondary stories are introduced, such as the military planet’s worker resistance and JP’s involvement in race-fixing, but the race itself remains the focus and it’s easy to forget that anything else is going on (the script certainly seems to by the end).  The set-up can be confusing at times due to an influx of minor characters and limited explanation of the obviously complex political and environmental structures.

The strengths of Redline lie almost completely in its visuals and fast pacing.  The dark shading and bright color schemes, the over-the-top hair styles and imaginative alien creatures, the quick-cut-editing and crazy landscapes: it’s all fantastically sweet eye-candy, set to an ecstatic musical score.  It’s violent but fun, and there’s probably political commentary thrown in there somewhere.  The script is cheesy at points, but vaguely self-aware.  It’s just a very cool movie all around, rarely letting up for a moment in its quest to assault the senses with psychedelic imagery and revving engines.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“One of the most visually spectacular toons in recent years, pic is a thumping ride for fanboys, but the script’s underdeveloped central romance and the fizzling out of intriguing plot threads will impede wider acceptance… [Plays] like a twisted combo of “Death Race 2000,” “Speed Racer” and a ’50s hot-rod movie on steroids…”–Variety (contemporaneous)

31. FUNKY FOREST: THE FIRST CONTACT [NAISU NO MORI: THE FIRST CONTACT] (2005)

“Only appearing in your dream.  Distorting every sound to create a world like to other.  This is what they live for; jumping from one person’s dream to another.  Once you have been chosen, you will lose all control of your dreams.”–from the script of Funky Forest: the First Contact

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY: Katsuhito Ishii, Hajime Isimin (AKA Aniki), Shunichiro Miki

FEATURING:  Tadanobu Asa, , Susumu Terashima, and a large ensemble cast

PLOTFunky Forest is a series of absurdist skits—including both computer generated and hand drawn animation segments and musical interludes—sharing some common characters and situations, thrown together in a blender. The movie features the interwoven antics of two squabbling TV comedians, a trio of brothers who are unpopular with women, an English teacher in love with a recently graduated student who sees him as a friend only, and a school where strange bloodsucking creatures are growing, among many other threads. The comic nonsense sketches and dreams are loosely tied together by references to visitations from “alien Piko-Rico.”

Still from Funky Forest: The First Contact (2005)

BACKGROUND:

  • There is little hard information on this production that is available  in English.  Of the three credited co-directors, Katsuhito Ishii, who directed the majority of the sequences, is usually given most of the credit for assembling the collaborative project.
  • Ishii composed the animated sequences for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (2003) and had a minor arthouse hit with The Taste of Tea (2004).
  • Funky Forest is the first movie directing credit for Shunichiro Miki, whose only previous movie credit was a small acting role in The Taste of Tea.  Miki directs commercials in Japan.  He is responsible for the “monster” segments of the film.
  • Prior to Funky Forest, Hajime Isimin (who is also known as Aniki) had released one direct-to-video comedy in Japan and worked as the musical director on The Taste of Tea.  He is responsible for the “Notti & Takefumi” sequences that contain the film’s major musical and dance numbers.
  • Funky Forest won the “Most Innovative Film Feature” award at the 2006 Toronto After Dark film festival.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  The still of the Japanese schoolgirl with a tube jammed into her navel hooked up to a strange machine encasing a large orifice while two strangely costumed men look on, from the segment titled “Wanna go for a drink?”, has already become an iconic image on the Internet.  It’s the picture people post or email when they want to illustrate either 1. how weird the movie Funky Forest is, or 2. assuming the picture is from a mainstream Japanese soap opera, how weird they think the Japanese people in general are.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: As the trailer indicates, Funky Forest‘s weird credentials are unimpeachable; if anything, this is a movie that’s almost too weird to be comprehensible, which is why it’s nice that it’s divided into small bites that can be digested independently. It works like a surrealist version of Altman’s Short Cuts.


Trailer for Funky Forest

COMMENTS: The opening paragraph of every review of Funky Forest is where critics get Continue reading 31. FUNKY FOREST: THE FIRST CONTACT [NAISU NO MORI: THE FIRST CONTACT] (2005)