With the exception of pretentious Yasujiro Ozu fans and samurai aficionados, most people in this country tend to either discredit most Japanese cinema or ignore it completely. “It’s too kitschy,” or “it’s too stodgy” they will say. Well, at times, yes. But, as proven by this weekend’s Japanese Currents film festival at the Northwest Film Center, the modern Japanese film industry needs to be acknowledged as not only relevant, but at times, extremely exciting and inventive.
With the exception of pretentious Yasujiro Ozu fans and samurai aficionados, most people in this country tend to either discredit most Japanese cinema or ignore it completely.
“It’s too kitschy,” or “it’s too stodgy” they will say. Well, at times, yes. But, as proven by this weekend’s Japanese Currents film festival at the Northwest Film Center, the modern Japanese film industry needs to be acknowledged as not only relevant, but at times, extremely exciting and inventive.
The fest, which begins today and ends Sunday at the Art Museum’s Whitsell Auditorium, brings to town six of the most acclaimed (yet largely ignored in this country) movies to be released in Japan in the last few years. The films range from a deliberately paced character study (Strawberry Shortcakes) to a throwback “wrong-man” thriller (I Just Didn’t Do It) to a film about a building-sized superhero (Big Man Japan).
You will do yourself some good by checking out at least a few of these films. Someone has to teach us that there is more to Japanese film than Seven Samurai and Battle Royale.
Here are three that you should make sure to catch:
Strawberry ShortcakesThis 2006 film examines the lives of four young women in the giant, and often unforgiving, metropolis of Tokyo. Their professions and daily routines vary, one is a prostitute, one is a secretary and another is an artist, but their feelings do not. They just want to find an authentic life and love.
The movie was based on a Japanese manga (aka comic book), but has none of the brevity inherent with that form of story telling. Director Hitoshi Yazaki keeps the pace casual and stretches scenes of silence to about as far as we can take it. The characters are engaging enough to keep the film moving through the straightforward story and too long running time.
This is a film that isn’t scared to bring us into the heads of the sometimes-disturbed characters and in turn forces us to look at ourselves.
Big Man JapanAll it took to make me want to see this movie was a picture of the hero–with his hair like the Bride of Frankenstein and purple underwear adorning his six-story-tall body.
Sometimes it’s the simple things that impress me.
The hero is Daisato, a run-of-the-mill, lazy slob. Well, he was that way until he was transformed into a crime-fighting freak of nature by a lightning bolt.
Still not sold? How about these villains:-An oddly shaped giant eye beast that flings its head around by its neck to attack.-A fat monster that uses its stink to its advantage.-A wobbly, stretchy man with a comb-over.
All of this is shot with hyper kinetic energy by comedian Hitoshi Matsumoto and told at times as a documentary. Usually, when films try hard to become “cult classics” you should tune out, but in this case you may want to jump on the bandwagon.
I Just Didn’t Do ItMasayuki Suo, the talented director who has seemed to disappear since his massively popular Shall We Dance brought him international fame in 1996, has returned and completely shifted gears.
While Shall We Dance was a sweet tale of a man learning to be comfortable with himself by taking on ballroom dancing, I Just Didn’t Do It, which was released last year, examines notions of innocence and guilt through the story of a man who can’t seem to convince anyone that he did not grope a young girl on a train.
How can justice prevail if guilt is guaranteed before the truth is known? The film should excite fans of mystery and suspense films, like some of Hitchcock’s later-era films, as well as lovers of courtroom dramas.