Tag Archives: lighting

donju / dumbeast

If The Rise and Fall… was promising but poorly-produced, Mr. Hide’s Donju (Dumbeast) was a promise made good, and then made great.  A true visual tour-de-force with eye-popping cinematography and a playful engagement of the macabre that is reminiscent of Miike’s The Happiness of the Katakuris, it begins its story of the search for a prize-winning author gone missing with a literal bang: an epically animated train-crash.  A crazed monster charges us down, charges down the train on which an editor is rushing towards the Sumo town where Deko (the lost author) originated.  As the train comes to a halt, the beautiful editor is thrown forward, in high definition and slow motion, only to be cushioned by the shockingly ample stomach of the ice-cream-eating passenger across from her, her glasses flying apart as she is knocked back into her seat and two tasteful and highly-saturated rivulets of blood exit her nostrils to give her something that strongly resembles a mustache.  Once this standard is set, we are never disappointed — Mr. Hide continues to deliver visually-stunning irreverence for the remaining 106 minutes of the cinematic experience.

From right to left, Junko, Eda, Okamoto, and Nora face down the elevator in Mr. Hide's most recent filmic offering.

The basic plot of Donju consists of the repeated attempts of Deko’s childhood friends Okamoto, a policeman, and Eda, the owner of a hostclub gone somewhat to seed, to kill the author in order to prevent him producing more chapters of his serialized novel, the titular Donju, which is a recounting of his two friends’ younger exploits and misdoings.  Despite the many ingenious ways they attempt to ポロス(porosu, a play on the verb for to kill, 殺す, korosu) Deko, he is himself so strangely stupid that he seems to never realize what’s going on.  Chronologically, the film interlaces the inquiries of the editor with live-action and animated flashbacks, until the two trajectories of the present and past finally coincide (I won’t reveal how — this film comes highly recommended, so I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum).

Visually, the use of lighting is exquisite — beyond the pleasingly-crammed frames that fill the film, there are also clear shifts in light quality and style of shooting that guide the viewer to the mood or time period that Mr. Hide is trying to evoke as the film jumps about temporally.  And attention to detail in props and characterization gives the humor and pathos of the piece a puzzle-like interplay of layers of things to be discovered — Deko’s fanny packs and bowties, Eda’s quirkily consistent consumption of milk instead of beer, Okamoto’s cellphone with its Imperial flag design and foxtail charm twice as long as the phone itself, Junko’s exquisitely patterned wafukukimono.  In the post-screening talkback, Mr. Hide described his intention that the different characters represent different facets of Japanese society today — together, this crazy bunch of Sumo town residents makes up a sort of microcosm of Tokyo, and it is precisely through his attention to detail that this is carried out.  The Americanization of Eda comes out in his milk-drinking, the traditionally Japanese characteristics of Okamoto are apparent when we see his cellphone, if only for a moment.  Through these subtle (although I hesitate to call much about this film ‘subtle’…) cues, Mr. Hide deftly creates that visually-alluring heterogeneous microcosm of Japan, opening up that heterogeneity to social commentary and larger thematic considerations.

Mr. Hide, in his signature shades, at right, and his German-Japanese translator, left, field questions after the screening.

Mr. Hide himself is intriguing, a wildcard of sorts.  A mysterious comedian who never removed his sunglasses during the screening, and who every time he was asked to speak, read “Guten abend, ich comme auf Japan” haltingly from where he had written it on his hand.  He himself characterizes a globalization of Japan that we can see reflected in the heterogeneous microcosm of the film — born in Dusseldorf, educated in Japan and America, simultaneously a Japanese and a global citizen.

Like The Rise and Fall…, the gender roles in Donju are quite fascinating, particularly in how they are revealed in more subtle ways: how the sumo scenes are shot, or the institution of the host club itself and the attitudes of characters towards, or even the 3 second nod to the notoriously promiscuous photographer, Araki.  In anticipation of many more films to come this weekend that treat on this subject, I can feel a nice (BIG) analytic post brewing…

Tadanobu Asano, who has gained fame in Ichi the Killer and as Mamoru Arita in Kurosawa Kiyoshi’s haunting Bright Future, also does a fantastic turn as Deko.  But beyond its great cinematography and engaging script and performances, Donju raises some deeper questions about human relationships and the afterlife through the ever-useful mode of humor — what kind of world do we live in when two men will go to any means to kill their friend, but when the killers are lovable and laughable?  Perhaps Donju is a ghost story, and Deko’s hilarious persistence to live speaks more deeply to a persistence of man — to stay alive in the truest sense of the word, through his connections with his fellow men.

My Personal Ratings for the film…

Acting/Direction: 9/10
Script: 8/10
Lighting/Cinematography: 10/10
Editing: 10/10
Overall: 9/10

If you were in attendance, weigh in below!

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the rise and fall of the unparalleled band

The first film I decided to see on Wednesday evening was a new offering from young director Hiranami Wataru, whose previous work Scherzo (2008) was screened at Pia and whose upcoming filming Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (2011) will be released this year.  This was the international premiere of the film, so Hiranami-san and lead actor Tsuchiya Takeshi were in attendance to introduce the film and field questions after the screening, through a Japanese-German translator.  (Thank god I speak Japanese; as they say, mein Deutsch ist nicht sehr gut.)

From right to left: actor Tsuchiya Takeshi, German-Japanese translator, and director NHiranami Wataru.

I was of course immediately struck by the utter Japaneseness of Hiranami-san and Tsuchiya-san, who seemed mildly embarrassed before the room full of anticipation and sounds of Japanese beer bottles clinking, and who bowed incessantly throughout their introductions and answering sessions.  This kind of “Oh look, Japanese people being Japanese” observation will undoubtedly lose its novelty as I grow re-accustomed to the demeanor and body language that tends to accompany the Japanese culture, and it’s probably just a factor of my recent deprival of most things 日本的 (nihonteki, or ‘Japan-like’), and the odd but fascinating experience of re-encountering that foreign yet familiar culture in a country that is halfway around the world from East Asia, yet is equally foreign to me.  In fact, I feel more comfortable being at Nippon Connection than being in Germany at large.  This is an interesting example of how concepts of uchi/soto become subjective in the face of shifting contexts — just as how during the Q&As I laugh during the original Japanese answers, and am lost and quiet during the German translations, when the locals around me and chuckling appreciatively.  In reality though, since my understanding is nowhere near the level of native, I exit more in a liminal space of being Western but not German, Japanese-speaking but not Japanese — in this encounter between Germany and Japan, I am in some ways uchi to both groups, and in some ways soto to both groups, which affords me an interesting position as critic, observer, academic, and lover of Japanese film.  I’ll be working through feelings of both alienation and inclusion over the next several days, but it’ll be interesting and mildly post-modern, so bear with me.

Nippon Connection seems to be characterized by an intensely pink attention to detail this year.

But now to the intended topic of this blog post: The Rise and Fall of the Unparalleled Band, or 青すぎたギルティ (Aosugita giruti), which tells the story of a mediocre (fictional) rock band in Tokyo, from their first successful concert to their slow break-up, structured along the 12 tracks of their only record and narrated in oddly broken English by a Nepalese gaikokujin (‘foreigner’).  Think mockumentary meets J-Rock meets student film.  Think This Is Spinal Tap meets Japan.

The members of The Guiltys charge at the camera.

The original title directly translates to “The Guiltys that were too blue/young/fresh”.  My first reaction was to wonder whether perhaps it was not the only the film’s fictional band, but it’s executors who were ‘too young’.  From the opening shots, I felt a mild resistance to the aesthetic of the film — it felt very much like a student production, giving the sense that it had funding to match (a fact that Hiranami-san did acknowledge in his introductory comments).  But about a third of the way into the film, there is a fantastically shot sequence which revealed, I think, some of the deliberateness with which the amateur aesthetic of the film was crafted.  At this point in the film, the bassist Sato has been cast in an independent film, and the entire band is on set.  Turning his camera on his own genre of jishu eiga, Hiranami-san creates a hilariously self-reflexive vignette within the larger narrative that shows a brutally violent, disaffected, self-absorbed director and quirky actors, a rather bumbling crew of over-earnest PAs and technicians, creating a brilliant satire-within-satire that made me see the whole film in a new light.  This light, however brilliant, though, did not make up for the inconsistency of the actual lighting in the film (and the foley, for that matter…) — I’ll forgive them their low budget, but a couple of C-stands and china balls wouldn’t have broken the bank for some of those woefully underexposed shots.  The reality of filmmaking is a balance of the economic, the expressive, and the technical, and in this case the neglect of the technical does, I think, detract from the emotional impact of what the program notes describe as a film that “confronts us with a truly energetic and impressively dynamic, yet thoughtful impression of today’s youth and pop-culture in Japan”.

That being said, the film succeeds on several thematic levels – it treats on issues of stalking, suicide, and the sad slipping away of success with a mix of slapstick humor and surprising poignancy.  The primary actress in the film, whose name I think is Kotori, also deserves a nod for her portrayal of heavy-drinking, hardcore replacement bassist Midori, of all the exaggerated performances in the film, hers had the most realism and emotional depth.  (I will hopefully return to her character for more extensive analysis as soon as I can – I think she presents, along with lead-singer Yamada’s girlfriend and an occasional trio of fangirls, interesting visions of the modern Japanese woman.)  So, while not without its faults, The Rise and Fall… stands, I think, at the vanguard of the new generation of jishu eiga filmmaking.  Here’s hoping Hiranami-san can parlay this international exposure into a little extra cash for C-stands and full-time foley artists in his next feature.

My Ratings for the film

Acting/Direction: 5/10
Script: 6/10
Lighting/Cinematography: 3/10
Editing: 8/10
Overall: 4/10

For those of you who were in attendance, weigh in below — how did the film measure up to your expectations?