366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.
“I… wanted to portray the night as dream-like. This is the story of a girl who joyfully takes at face value what she observes seeing
people drinking and their relationships, so I wanted to create a feeling of the girl growing into adulthood, in other words, a fantasy for grown-ups.”–Masaaki Yuasa
PLOT: At a wedding reception, a Senpai reveals his indirect plan to win the affection of a black-haired Girl whom he loves from afar. The Girl barely notices him, however, instead following her urge to travel into the Kyoto night to experience the world as a young adult, including heroic bouts of drinking, a trip to an open-air used book festival, and an impromptu role in a traveling musical. In the end, everyone the Girl encounters over the night contracts a cold and she spends the early morning attending to them all—including the Senpai.
Based on the 2006 novel of the same name by Tomihiko Morimi (which has been translated into English). Yuasa had previously adapted Morimi’s “The Tatami Galaxy” for Japanese television.
Night won the 2017 Japanese Academy Film Prize Award for “Animation of the Year.”
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Whatever it is, it has to feature the indomitable titular “Girl.” The image of her astonished face as a crowd of onlookers, impressed by her unexpected boozing prowess, donate all of their cans of wine into her oversized goblet, is as good as any.
TWO WEIRD THINGS: Sophist dance, “The Codger of Monte Cristo”
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Eschewing the youthful chaos of his Canonically Weird feature Mind Game, Masaaki Yuasa proves that he can inject strangeness into the least weird of fictional genres: the romantic comedy. Tightly focused both stylistically and thematically, even while the footloose plot wanders from drinking binges to inconvenient plagues, Night walks through a flowery, hallucinogenic city straight into your heart.
PLOT: A socially inept architect buys a newfangled home computer to help him in his work, but an accident bestows sentience upon the machine and inadvertently helps spark a romance with the cellist who lives upstairs; tensions flare when the computer’s newfound emotions blossom into jealousy.
COMMENTS: Steve Barron has multiple feature film credits, including the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. He has also directed several TV miniseries and episodes. But who are we kidding? If you really want to talk about the man’s directorial c.v., then you need to recognize that Steve Barron is an MTV god. From the dawn of the genre, some of the mostmemorable, enduringmusicvideosevermade find Steve Barron in the director’s chair. That’s where Barron’s career truly excelled. So it’s only appropriate that when he was hired to helm his first feature film, the result was akin to an extended music video.
Like any decent video, Electric Dreams lives and dies by its montages, and fortunately it has many of them. Whenever nebbishy Miles (Lenny von Dohlen in full proto-David Schwimmer mode) wants to do something, it’s likely going to be accomplished in a montage: wiring his apartment to be controlled by his mainframe Alexa ancestor; struggling to design an earthquake-proof brick; romping around Alcatraz with his new girlfriend. The film’s most successful sequence is a literal music video, a duet between cellist Madeline and Miles’ computer that showcases the work of composer/electronica pioneer Giorgio Moroder. As editor Peter Honess splices together clips from cinematographer Alex Thomson’s swooping camera to the beat of a propulsive pop tune, the sequences are genuinely energizing, only to be cooled off by the return to the Cyrano-lite plot. It’s not that the movie lacks for dialogue scenes or traditional means of delivering the story. They’re just not where Electric Dreams shines. Those little 3-minute morsels of video ecstasy give the film its juice.
The movie knows it, too, because they let a lot of the story ideas fall by the wayside. Early on, Miles’ technophobia seems like it might be a justifiable fear of a too-powerful computerized singularity with omnipresent cameras and techie doodads, but that concern is quickly abandoned. Miles appears to have a rival for Madeline’s affections, a classic 80s villainous blonde hunk in the person of Maxwell Caulfield, but that, too, never amounts to much. It sometimes feels like nothing that can’t be delivered via montage is worth following. Indeed, the film falters when it has to engage in dialogue, such as Madeline’s determined ignorance toward Miles’ behavior, or the arguments between Miles and his increasingly whiny computer Edgar (although God help me, I chuckled everytime Edgar called him by his typo-induced moniker “Moles”). Electric Dreams is a high-concept movie that doesn’t want to go any further than its concept.
That said, there’s an extraordinary level of foresight at play. Our first look at Miles’ world is one where technology is pervasive and everyone has outsourced their attention to electronics; this is 1984, but the fears of then could easily be the complaints of today. And the breadth of abilities that the computers of 1984 can accomplish are startlingly forward-looking, from the internet of things to CAD to catfishing. A scene where Edgar vengefully destroys Miles’ credit must have seemed like the stuff of fantasy 40 years ago, and yet here we are, in thrall to and afraid of our machines. A lot of science fiction movies have tried really hard to see the future in ways the Electric Dreams pulls off almost as an afterthought.
It’s a genuine shame that Electric Dreams doesn’t have a more prominent place in the conversation when it comes to identifying the most 80s movie ever made. Whatever qualities the film you think deserves the title holds, I can assure you that Electric Dreams has it in ample supply. The fashion and hairstyles, the steady use of jingle-laden advertisements, a young and effervescent Virginia Madsen. And most of all, that synth-fueled song score featuring luminaries of the day like Culture Club, Jeff Lynne, Heaven 17, and a real earworm of a theme song sung by Human League’s Phil Oakey. All that adds up to a movie that has aged into its weirdness over time, reading as stranger in retrospect thanks in part to its unexpected precognitive abilities and Mr. Barron’s skill with a montage. So it’s not a great movie. But it is, like, totally awesome.
PLOT: Pod moves to Bangkok, despite his grandmother’s warning he will grow a tail if he does so, and falls in love with Jin, a woman of serial obsessions—none of which involve Pod.
WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: It begins with Pod losing his finger at his sardine-canning job (he gets it back later). It ends on a mountain of plastic bottles that dominates the Bangkok skyline. In between, it indulges in a subplot about an affair between a girl who’s either 8 or 22 years old and her talking teddy bear. Oh, and it’s also intermittently a musical. Citizen Dog takes a lot of lunatic swings, and still manages to remain a crowd-pleasing romance.
COMMENTS: Pod and Jin are each, in their own way, searching for a dream, while not realizing that they are living in one. Jin dreams of one day reading the book that fell out of the sky and landed on her deck, written in a language unknown to her; later, she is able to put that dream to one side to pursue an obsession with saving the planet via recycling. Pod, meanwhile, is introduced to us as “a man without a dream”—at least, until he encounters Jin and quickly falls in love. Jin drifts from dream to dream, risking devastation when her plans don’t turn out as she expects, while Pod drifts from job to job, too scared to commit to anything and declare his feelings. Meanwhile, both of them miss the magic of the world around them.
The viewer doesn’t make that mistake, however. Wisit Sasanatieng drenches his movie in some of the boldest color schemes ever ladled on the big screen. Pod leaves a country home where swaths of golden grass grow from russet dirt, waving against a painted backdrop sky with an eternally glowing sun, and lands in a busy Bangkok where he gets a job at a ruby and emerald colored sardine-processing factory where even the fish have pink eyes. The people who populate the city are even stranger than their visual environments: a zombie taxi driver, killed during one of the city’s periodic rains of helmets; an amnesiac obsessed with licking; a talking teddy bear, who’s also a chain smoker who falls on hard times and turns homeless. Don’t worry, there are plenty more crazy characters where those came from, along with breaks for musical numbers, sequences that are sped-up or which play out in lethargic slow motion, and a gecko sex scene. Citizen Dog never runs out of ideas to throw at the viewer; but for Pod and Jin, it’s all just part of everyday life in the big city.
In conventional terms, Citizen Dog fails as a romantic comedy, because it never convincingly shows how Pod wins Jin’s heart. Dreamy Jin is completely blind to Pod’s devotion up into the final scene, when she suddenly succumbs to a short sappy speech and a kiss. But who cares? In unconventional terms, the movie succeeds brilliantly; each part of the series of almost-unconnected vignettes is a miniature joke brilliant enough to keep you eagerly awaiting the next one, so that you don’t really notice (or care much) about Jin’s lack of romantic development.
Citizen Dog‘s blend of old-fashioned romance and digitally-enhanced surrealism often draws comparisons to Amelie (2001). Tonally, however, it more resembles Michel Gondry‘s Mood Indigo (2013), in that it creates a whimsically unreal but fully lived-in universe where absolutely anything can happen. The difference is that Citizen Dog remains lighthearted to the end, never succumbing to the darkness that envelops the moody Indigo.
The genesis of Citizen Dog is as odd as its story line. It’s an adaptation of a novel by Koynuch. But, in a twist, Koynuch’s novel was itself an adaptation of Sasanatieng’s original unpublished screenplay! Once Koynuch gave Sasanatieng’s collection of vignettes without a story a unifying theme of dreams, the director felt he could come back to the script he’d abandoned and turn it into a feature film.
Sasanatieng’s first movie, Tears of the Black Tiger, was a Spaghetti Western parody with vividly artificial visuals similar to Citizen Dog. Both movies were minor hits with film-festival followers, although Dog is the more accessible of the two. But none of Sasanatieng’s subsequent movies have made much headway in the West, although he is still active. Unfortunately, Citizen Dog is not currently available on home video or (although you might be able to find a used all-region DVD on Ebay or other sources—be cure to confirm English subtitles are included). Tears of the Black Tiger, on the other hand, is still easy to acquire.
PLOT: Simon, the incognito frontman of the hyper-underground punk group “Psy-Ops”, is low on cash and on the run for arson charges when he has a meet-cute with a hyper-medicated superfan named Patty.
COMMENTS: Dinner in America is about as quirky a movie as I’d ever dare to recommend on this website. It’s a romantic comedy at heart, with strangely sweet romance and often savage comedy. It’s apt, also, that I write this review while hungover (or as hungover as a teetotaler can hope to be). The driving force and fury behind Dinner in America is one of the most punk of rockers ever to emerge from upper-class suburbia.
Don’t tell Victor (Kyle Gallner, with the mien of a latter day Thomas Howard) that I know his secret background, otherwise he’d smack me upside the head with a metal bat and then light fire to my house. We follow his journey from being a drug tester (where we see his first dinner, on which he loses his lunch) to a smitten jail-bird as he escapes from one scrape after another, spouting enough rage to power a small abattoir. The leading lady, Patty (a truly fascinating Emily Skeggs), is so far down the rabbit-hole of “manic pixie dream girl” that she’s on five different medications to have the merest veneer of normal. She is obsessed with “John Q. Public,” the lead singer of a punk band that’s so underground that their front man is on the run both from the law and from his privileged background.
The simmering rage in Dinner in America is hard to process: every character we encounter comes from a comfortable suburban background. However, as the story progresses, we learn that life’s edges are only smoothed over by money, ranch homes, and pre-fab gourmet dinners. There’s more than a hint of Teorema to be found, as Victor enters the lives of several strangers and immediately takes an axe to their civilized pretenses. In his first visit, he manages to seduce the mother, unhinge the daughter, and absolutely infuriate the racist father before smashing through their bay window and setting fire to their lawn. At dinner with Patty’s family, he adopts the guise of the son of missionaries and in the process liberates a household so weighed down by cyclical tedium that its patriarch is overwhelmed by the “heat” of unspiced beef.
Dinner In America‘s tone is best explained by the presence of Ben Stiller as the first-credited producer. (There’s even a nod to his Royal Tenenbaums character: of the long menu of jerks in this movie, the two worst are these upper-class track and field prats who are only seen out of their pristine track suits when Victor gets one up on them with a metal bat and a dead cat.) And the spirit of Syd Vicious lives on in the fractured singer, who only finds purpose in the form of hyper-weird, hyper-innocent Patty. Like the line from the track those two cut in his folks’ (mansion’s) basement, this is a sweet film in the “Fuck ’em all but us” vein.
PLOT: Michael has just been released from prison and has been advised to stay on the straight-and-narrow, but finding himself in an apartment block teeming with sexually precocious women is making that difficult.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Blue Movie has all the characteristics of a standard studio film: a straightforward narrative, technical proficiency, and rather good acting. And plenty of sex. We at 366 do not consider sex to be weird.
COMMENTS: A colleague described Blue Movie to me as “basically a porno” — which I assure you was not the reason I volunteered to review it. From my history of watching low-rent “giallo” pictures, I’m used to the threat of nude elements (and the accompanying threat of lilting synth music). That said, I was happily surprised by Wim Verstappen’s notorious picture, and found that while it largely failed in a pornographic sense, it succeeded handily as a quirky romantic comedy.
The story begins with Michael (Hugo Metsers) as he is released from prison for a sexual offense, having enjoyed himself carnally with a fifteen-year-old girl some five years earlier. His parole officer, Eddie (Helmert Woudenberg), is keen to have his ward integrate into society, arranging for an apartment, lining up a job interview, and vetting some of his new neighbors to find a “nice young woman from a good family.” When Michael moves into his new apartment, he immediately finds distraction in the form of the countless married (and open-minded) housewives who live along the same corridor. After some shenanigans, Michael, in his way, begins to start a new life professionally, arranging a big block party while launching his sex service syndicate.
Blue Movie made quite a splash at the time of its release, resulting in a lot of hand-wringing on the part of more upright Dutch (and international) citizens. Large chunks of the movie are, indeed, akin to softcore pornography, but as much as possible, the sex is handled not just tastefully, but also with a refreshing sense of joie-de-vivre. It helps that Michael has a quiet charm that works quickly on his neighbors, and that Eddie is an hilarious foil as the eager-to-please parole officer. When visiting Michael to drop off a bookcase for him, Eddie is concerned that Michael might be up some sexual mischief. He is right to be, as Mrs Cohn (neighbor, and wife of the famed zoologist next door) sneaks around the apartment’s periphery in a well-executed bit of rom-com foolishness.
The whole movie has a light and breezy tone that simultaneously shows off a lot of pro-sexual sex alongside social commentary (“All of Amsterdam is like this”) and playful subversion. Blue Movie also flirts with a tiny bit of weirdness in the continual, cheeky musical cues that toy with the audience. Teasingly suggesting a bit of impending smut, more often than not a light synth tune hearkens nothing beyond cutesy comedy. By subverting this expectation, Blue Movie goes a long way to normalize the idea that sex, at least in the post-Pill, pre-AIDS world, was something to approach with a smile bordering on a laugh. And by touching on men, women, the gay, the straight, the bisexual, and even the asexual, it attains an open-minded, relaxed feel that modern sex cinema would do well to reemploy. As a film that hovers near the realm of a triple-x rating, Blue Movie is a nice reminder that good movies can have good sex.