Tag Archives: Tokyo

81. ENTER THE VOID (2009)

“Q: How would you define the film’s genre?
A: Psychedelic Melodrama.”–Gaspar Noé, Enter the Void Cannes pressbook

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DIRECTED BY: Gaspar Noé

FEATURING: Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta

PLOT: Oscar is a drug-dealer living in Tokyo with his stripper sister.  One day he is shot and killed during a deal inside a bar called “The Void.”  He spends the rest of the movie as a silent ghost, floating around Tokyo and observing his sister and friends, while simultaneously hallucinating and remembering the details of his life.

Still from Enter the Void

BACKGROUND:

  • Noé wrote preliminary scripts for Enter the Void as early as 1994; the screenplay was consider to expensive to produce until the director’s 2002 success with Irréversible made it appear commercially viable.
  • Star Nathaniel Brown, a non-actor, was chosen because of his physical resemblance to lead Paz de la Huerta and because he was interested in directing.  As someone with no acting ambitions, Noé presumed Brown would not be upset by the fact that his face is only seen once in the film, briefly in a mirror.
  • Visual perfectionist Marc Caro supervised the set designs.
  • The 100 page script indicated the action and described the visual effects, but very little dialogue was scripted; the actors improvised most of their lines.
  • The paintings Alex is shown working on in the film were actually painted by Luis Felipe Noé, the director’s father.
  • The original run time of the film at its Cannes debut was 163 minutes.  Post production and editing continued after this debut, and, as completed in 2010, the final run time of the film (which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, 2010) as screened in the U.S. is about 140 minutes.  There is a longer version of the film, however, including a 17 minute sequence where Oscar believes he has woken up in the morgue; this segment occupies reel 7 of 9 reels, and for American screenings the film was simply shown with reel 7 omitted.  The extended cut is available on French DVD releases.
  • Noe instructed theaters that the film should be run at 25 frames per second rather than the usual 24 frames (this fact accounts for some of the discrepancies in listed running times).
  • At the Cannes premier there were no opening or closing credits.  The film began on a closeup of the none sign reading “enter” and ended with the words “the void.”
  • Noé got the idea for the film form watching Robert Montgomery’s noir The Lady in the Lake while on a magic mushroom trip.  Like Enter the Void, Lady in the Lake is filmed entirely from a first-person point of view (actually, in Void the POV is usually from about a foot behind Oscar’s head, though at other times we see events through his eyes).
  • Tokyo was chosen as the location of the film partly because Japan’s strong ant-drug laws would make the actions of the police more believable, partly because Noé believed the city, with its abundance of neon, had a “druggy mood.”
  • Pioneering acid guru Timothy Leary used to read “The Tibetan Book of the Dead” to voyagers undergoing LSD trips in an attempt to steer the experience in a spiritual direction.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The opening DMT trip, with it’s multicolored mandalas, floating planetoids, and neon tentacles seems hard to top, but it merely sets the mood.  It’s the pornographic “Love Hotel” scene, with its parade of rutting couples with mystically glowing genitalia, that really impresses itself on the mind’s eye.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: As the most impressive and eye-splintering acid trip movie of the decade (by a wide margin), Enter the Void gets an automatic pass onto the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of All Time. The fact that the protagonist is dead throughout most of the movie doesn’t hurt its chances one bit.  But the clincher, the sure sign that the movie is weird, is the walkouts.  Less than halfway through the screening I saw, the sexagenarian couple who had stumbled into the film by accident (probably thanks to ad copy suggesting the movie was a sentimental ghost story about brotherly love that transcends death) walked out of the theater, leaving me alone with two same-sex couples with facial piercings and hair that glowed in the dark.


Original trailer for Enter the Void

COMMENTSEnter the Void is an exploitation piece masquerading as an art installation, Continue reading 81. ENTER THE VOID (2009)

LIST CANDIDATE: ENTER THE VOID (2009)

Enter the Void has been promoted to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made. This page is left up for archival purposes. Please view the full review for comments and expanded coverage!

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DIRECTED BY: Gaspar Noé

FEATURING: Paz de la Huerta, Nathaniel Brown

PLOT: A small-time drug dealer in Tokyo is shot, and spends the rest of the movie as a

Still from Enter the Void (2009)

hallucinating ghost, floating about the city watching over his drug buddies and his grieving stripper sister.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: As the most impressive and eye-splintering acid trip movie of the decade (by a wide margin), Enter the Void gets automatic consideration for the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies.  The fact that the protagonist is dead throughout most of the movie doesn’t hurt its chances one bit.  But the clincher, the sure sign that your movie might be weird, is the fact that less than halfway through the screening the sexagenarian couple walked out of the theater, leaving me alone with two same-sex couples with facial piercings and hair that glowed in the dark.  The Region 1 DVD drops January 25, 2011, at which time Enter the Void will become eligible for the List and get an immediate second look.

COMMENTS: Enter the Void is an exploitation piece masquerading as an art installation, eye-candy masquerading as mind-candy; it has all the reckless visionary enthusiasm and delightful pretension of a Ken Russell picture.  With the opening credits—a series of garish, frequently unreadable stills sprayed at the screen like pop bullets from a machine gun projector, set to a pounding techno score—Gaspar Noé warns us to prepare ourselves to see something different, though we have no idea what.  (The original festival screenings did not include any credits, beginning immediately with the closeup of the neon sign reading “Enter”).  After quickly introducing the main characters, drug-dealing Oscar (from whose POV the entire film is shot) and his stripper sister Linda, the movie segues into a wordless five minute DMT trip, an abstract rainbow odyssey of swirling, melting mandalas and gently waving tentacles.  Oscar emerges from his drug reverie, still fuzzy-eyed, and the film ever so briefly enters the realm of straightforward narrative as he strolls with a buddy through the neon streets of  Tokyo towards a fatal rendezvous.  Shot to death in a men’s room, the vast bulk of the movie involves Oscar’s passive postmortem adventures, as he floats around the city observing his former friends in the expatriate community, and especially spying on his beloved sister—including, creepily, watching her real time sexual encounters in the back Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: ENTER THE VOID (2009)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: TOKYO! (2008)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, Joon-ho Bong

FEATURING: Ayako Fujitani, , Jean-François Balmer, , Yû Aoi

PLOT: An anthology of three short films set in Tokyo: an experimental filmmaker’s girlfriend feels useless until she undergoes a strange transformation; a bizarre man-creature crawls out of the sewers and terrorizes the city; and an urban hermit falls in love with a pizza-delivery girl with buttons tattooed on her body.

Still from Tokyo! (2008)

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: It suffers from the curse of most anthology films: unevenness.  Leos Carax’s “Merde” is almost weird enough to carry it across the finish line, but the other two entries, while interesting, drag the film down to the borderline.

COMMENTS: If Paris’ tradition earns it an anthology film dedicated to love, then teeming, tragic Tokyo gets a triptych on the theme of weirdness.  But even though Tokyo is top-billed, this exercise is hardly about the city at all.  The Japanese metropolis is depicted as too practical, too generic, for a love letter; it instead becomes a metaphor for urban absurdity and anxiety.  Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) is up to bat first.  His “Interior Design,” about a couple sleeping on a friend’s floor while searching for an apartment, starts out so slow that mainstream viewers may be tricked into thinking it’s a conventional drama.  The character development and performances are good, although these particular people—a struggling experimental filmmaker and his passive, too-sacrificing girlfriend—don’t seem quite interesting enough to make a movie about, so we wonder what exactly he’s up to.  Along the way there’s a subtle and funny parody of a parody of the sort of pretentious art-school films that don’t really exist anywhere, but that people like to imagine anyway when dismissing the avant-garde (the beams from the headlight of a motorcycle driven by a skull faced man form a swastika, among other absurd jokes).  The third act brings a metamorphosis that lets Gondry indulge his talent for weird and striking visuals; it ends with a disturbing and humorous metaphor for depersonalization that makes the sly point that there may be greater things to aspire to in life than just being useful.

Joon-ho Bong’s “Tokyo Shaking” is the closer, and the weakest outing.  His story concerns a “hikikomori,” or urban hermit, living on takeout pizza in a self-imposed exile from human contact and sunlight.  It’s an interesting character and there are some bizarre incidents along the way, but in the end the story misses the universal pathos at which it was aiming.

The centerpiece, Carax’s “Merde,” is a change of pace in tone and an upping of the ante in weirdness.  The scenario involves a nasty man named Merde with a twisted red beard, milky eye and a shuffling gait who randomly arises from the sewers and makes an extreme nuisance of himself, embarrassing and assaulting the proper Japanese bystanders, before descending back under the city as quickly as he came.  Eventually his provocations go beyond the merely gauche and he’s hunted down and put on trial; his defense lawyer is a civilized Frenchman who shares the same physical characteristics and inexplicably speaks his language of grunts, whines, hops and slaps.  Merde himself is reminiscent of one of those socially obnoxious “Saturday Night Live” sketch characters that Will Ferrel used to specialize in, if Ferrel had been willing to play mute and push the character’s oddness to scary limits.  On the way to a mystical conclusion the script takes satirical jabs at Japanese xenophobia and the death penalty, and parodies the frenzies created by TV news broadcasts.  Fans have interpreted this strange story as everything from a spoof of Godzilla films to a twisted Christ allegory, and both theories fit the film; it’s that kind of parable.  Although Gondry and Bong’s offerings fit into the weird genre, it’s “Merde” that makes this omnibus of unease worth the watch for fans of the absurd.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a defiantly odd picture — its middle portion, in particular, directed by the always strange Carax, isn’t out to win any friends. But the refusal of ‘Tokyo!’ to proffer even the most perfunctory air kiss is what makes it so intriguing… Perhaps ‘Merde’ is just too aggressively bizarre, for no good reason. But sometimes a movie that makes you ask, ‘What the hell was that?’ can be its own reason for existing.”–Stephanie Zacharek, Salon.com