Tag Archives: Ryo Kase

CAPSULE: LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE (2012)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Tadashi Okuno, Rin Takanashi,

PLOT: Akiko is a young female student moonlighting as a call girl; her pimp sends her on an assignment in the suburbs, where her client, Takashi, is an elderly professor who doesn’t seem terribly interested in her carnal services. When he deigns to drive her back to the city the next day, he begins to take on an unexpectedly intimate role in her life, becoming personally involved in her troubled relationship with Noriaki, her possessive boyfriend.

Still from Like Someone in Love (2012)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The weirdest thing about Like Someone in Love is that it eschews the most predictable filmmaking conventions: a traditional narrative arc, gratifying resolution, and explanatory coherence. This results in a powerful film, but not one that breaks dramatically with film language or narrative logic. It’s a moody, sensitive character study with the rhythms of an art film, not a groundbreaking work of cinematic weirdness.

COMMENTS: Like Someone in Love doesn’t have much of a traditional narrative arc, and it doesn’t play much with our expectations… as a result, there’s a pronounced lack of suspense and release, a tendency to eschew those kinds of narrative pleasures that normally attend these things we call “movies.” In a way, it feels more like a self-contained art object, a constellation of characters and relationships that’s designed to intrigue the active mind.

There’s nothing so radical about the film that it should de facto qualify for the Weird Movies list. Its organic rhythms and intentional ambiguity should be familiar to anyone who’s seen some art films. On its own merits, though, it’s a masterful work of cinema, an ideal case study in style, technical proficiency, and unified vision.

One of the great things about Like Someone in Love is how it demonstrates the strength of this kind of ambiguous, minimalist filmmaking: within its naturalistic treatment of its subjects, it creates huge fertile spaces for the proliferation of symbolic meanings and psychological resonance. It’s shot painstakingly, with the camera always intensely aware of its space. Doorways, reflections, confined interiors, obstructions, and the space outside the frame: all these become Kiarostami’s playthings. In his control of objects and the camera’s eye, he is reminiscent of , whose style was similarly deliberate, ostensibly naturalistic, but profoundly self-aware.

The result of this high level of control is that many objects take on cosmic symbolic (or psychological) significance. Windows and glass are especially important to this story, protecting various characters from outside forces, allowing them to maintain their distance and their illusions. Telephones are also rich in meaning, providing vectors and blind spots where each character’s defenses can be penetrated. Cars? Another symbol with apparently endless significance: Takashi’s car is one of his domains of safety and control, and Noriaki seems to have an unusual power over cars, being a mechanic himself.

As an “art object,” Like Someone in Love is not merely an assemblage of these kinds of thematic adornments. It also has weight and substance to it, especially in its complex characters and their occasional poignant moments. One of the earliest scenes is an extended car ride to the suburbs, as Akiko watches the city lights slide by and listens to a series of phone messages from her grandmother. The power in this lengthy scene is tremendous, and I can’t hope to describe its emotional effect. It has the touch of a genuinely brilliant filmmaker.

A great deal of the film concerns the difference between the young and the elderly, which Takashi evokes when he talks about “experience.” The young people in the film—Akiko and Noriaki—are swallowed up by ambitions and pretenses and delusions, and their attitudes contrast sharply with that of Takashi, who faces the world with a wealth of patience and composure. These characters are rendered richly in gestures and pauses and hesitations, and in this regard, Kiarostami recalls the work of Ozu, who often addressed this theme, and did it with many of the same tools.

These characters are drawn into mysterious constellations of authenticity and deception and mistaken identity. In this regard, Someone in Love feels like Certified Copy, Kiarostami’s last film. Both films dealt with the fluidity of identity and the shifting of roles, and even as both films hinged on a broad self-imposed deception, both seemed to find a deeper truth in the lie. Regarding Like Someone in Love, this prompted Richard Brody of The New Yorker to suggest the following thesis: “Love is a lie, but it’s one that’s best not to ask questions about.”

Brody’s attempted thesis statement is one excellent way of reading the film, but it’s certainly not the only one. One of the best things about this curious, multifaceted cinematic work is that it’s about many things at once, even as it seems to be a simple, if oblique, story fragment about love and mistaken identity. It may not be among the weirdest films, but I would certainly count it among the best.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s odd in a film when you can’t imagine what the next shot is going to be, where a character’s ‘arc’ is going to leave him or her, whether you’re watching a drama or a tragedy.”—David Edelstein, Vulture (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: RESTLESS (2011)

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Henry Hopper,

PLOT: A moody boy with the ghost of a kamikaze pilot for a best friend and a hobby of attending funerals falls in love with a girl who’s dying of cancer.

Still from Restless (2011)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Remaking Harold and Maude as a teen romance with a hot Maude and a ghost sidekick sounds like a bad idea, but Restless is even worse than you might imagine.

COMMENTS: An unquenchably perky dying woman convinces a boy with a morbid fascination for death that life is a precious gift not to be wasted. If you’re going to use a plot that’s so well-worn and sickly sweet, then by God you’d better find a pungent spice to add some flavor to the treacle. What if you made the love interest an octogenarian Holocaust survivor, and had the thanatophilic teen stage elaborate fake suicides? What, it’s been done before? Well, at least we could have them meet cute at a stranger’s funeral. You’re kidding, they already did that, too? Well, we’ll just do it anyway, and market it to teens who haven’t seen it before. Oh, and let’s throw in a ghost… make him a Japanese kamikaze pilot… they didn’t do that one yet, did they? Despite attempts to gussy up the doomed material with an infusion of quirk, if you’ve seen a dozen or so romantic movies, then Restless is one you’ve seen before. Henry (son of Dennis) Hopper puts on his best brood, but bad boy he ain’t; this pallid dreamboat is more Robert Pattison than James Dean. Despite being graced with a truly tragic backstory that gives him ample excuse for bitterness, Hopper still manages to come across as a whiny brat, and it doesn’t help matters that he’s scripted as kind of dumb, too. Ryo Kase (understandably) doesn’t appear to have a clue why his ghost character is in the story, so he hedges his acting bets and plays Hiroshi totally deadpan. (By far the film’s best—in fact, its only—joke is Hiroshi’s skill at the board game “Battleship.”) In 2011, Mia Wasikowska proved she had pro acting chops by taking the lead in Jane Eyre and an admirable supporting turn in Albert Nobbs; she comes off the best here, but there’s not much she can do to give grit or texture to such a perfect, unrealistic, idealized character. Annabel isn’t scared of dying, she’s always upbeat and positive, and she doesn’t get visibly upset even when her boyfriend dumps her on her deathbed. Chemo makes her hair look really darling, and even when she’s convulsing, she looks like a cutie-pie. Mia is pleasant and brings a life to the role, but her eternally sunny character makes no sense—shouldn’t the movie be about coming to grips with the reality of mortality, not glossing over the ugly facts of death? Mia never appears the least bit sickly, but the same can’t be said for Jason Lew’s anemic screenplay. This script is wired deep into teen paranoia. Why are all the adult authorities against the kids? Why does the funeral director care so much about Enoch respectfully attending memorial services of people he doesn’t know? Why do security guards tackle him when he’s leaving the hospital peacefully? Why does no one understand him? Despite, or rather because of, tailoring itself to teens’ distorted views of reality, this isn’t a good movie for teenagers. It’s pure pandering, and it’s either cynical, or incompetent. Restless isn’t reprehensible or badly made, but it’s worse than many movies that are, because it doesn’t really try: it merely spiffs up tired platitudes with a few quirks and fresh faces, and assumes its unsophisticated audience will eat up the result. The lack of effort or ambition is depressing. Why do so many movies that consciously set out to be life-affirming make smart people despair after watching them?

Gus van Sant is a director who’s hard to peg: he’s all over the map, making everything from gritty indies (Drugstore Cowboy and Elephant) to Oscar-bait (Good Will Hunting and Milk) to kinky would-be cult films (My Own Private Idaho and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues) to true WTF head-scratchers (a “shot-for-shot” remake of Psycho?) God knows what attracted him to this material, which seems tailored for a hack director. Directing Restless is like being the makeup guy at the funeral parlor—the best he can do is to make the lifeless script presentable.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…they may be a little too weird for the rest of the world; they are the perfect kind of weird for each other… a movie that is as heartwarming as it is strange.”–Matthew DeKinder, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (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)