Howdy once again fellow bloggers. After an up/down first day, of a slightly disappointing movie crossed with one of the best movies I've seen in recent years, it was onto the second day to see if it performed to the high standard set by Synecdoche, New York the night before. Currently 7pm on yet another cold windy Saturday night in Belfast with the natives restless only minutes away at Windsor Park I sat myself down for the evening at Belfast's favourite (and possibly only...) genuine arthouse/indie cinema, the Queen's Film Theatre, for two foreign films, the first emanating from Japan (with a predominately French production crew) and the second from a slightly more obscure location in the film world, Sweden.
Released last year, and hitting Northern Irish shores for the first time is the triple directed tale of Tokyo! featuring the talented work of Michel Gondry (of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind fame) as well as two directors I am only being exposed to for the first time French director Leos Carex and South Korean director Bong Joon-ho (director of the South Korean monster film The Host), consisting of 3 extremely surreal tales (about 40 minutes each respectively) that you could only envisage in a city like Tokyo. After a slight delay in kicking off the movie at the festival (as is the norm at these things) the film opened with a bright vivid animation of a plane landing into a cartoon sketch of the city you could already see Gondry's influence on the movie literally seconds in.
The first tale was actually Gondry's contribution to the movie, the short film titled Interior Design, which is a story about a young couple who go off to live in Tokyo, the boyfriend a young aspiring director who seemingly can't get his insanely pretentious picture out of porno theatres, and on the other side of the coin you have the girlfriend who, with a kind heart, feels as though she has no real direction in life, unable to find her place in the world. All quite conventional even by Gondry's standards until through unexplainable circumstances she finds herself transforming into a wooden chair, yet able to transform right back again. Headf**k you say? Very much so. However it was as, always with Mr Gondry, beautifully shot, demonstrating areas of the city which are unique, with an opening sequence which thoroughly threw off the audience's initial perception of the tale, mimicking past Japanese films of international horror and destruction so commonly present in much of Japanese cinema from their live action right through to their animation. Overall though so far so good from this directorial ensemble piece.
The second story was from the only director of the team I was completely ignorant to, Leos Carex whose tale entitled Merde (anyone who took French at school will know what that means...) which turns out to be the most exciting and delightful short of the three, about an unkempt, gibberish-spewing subterranean creature of the Tokyo sewers, played by Denis Lavant, who rises from the underground lair where he dwells to attack unsuspecting locals in increasingly brazen and terrifying ways: he steals cash and cigarettes from passers-by, frightens old women and salaciously licks schoolgirls, resulting in a televised media frenzy that creates mounting hysteria among the Tokyo populace. Obviously meant to mimic one of the best Japanese exports ever given to the film world, the behemoth known as Godzilla, Merde is a fascinating tale of a somewhat misunderstood man and frankly Carex could create an entire film franchise out of this colourful dangerous cartoon-like character who took me completely by surprise at every turn, full of life and energy any time he featured, with only one man able to communicate with him, a French lawyer who could pass for Big Phil Scolari's ugly twin brother. Merde had everything you wanted and expected from a film about Tokyo! revelling in the city's love for a disaster and a monster to demonise or sympathise with.
The third film was probably the weakest of the piece but at the same time probably the most intimate, not really using the city itself as a centre piece for the action as the previous story did. Entitled Shaking Tokyo directed by South Korean director Bong Joon-ho features a man who is a hikikimori ("Tokyo shut in") who has not left his apartment in over a decade. His only link to the outside world is through his telephone, which he uses to command every necessity from a series of random and anonymous delivery people, including the pizza that he lives on and the hundreds of discarded pizza cartons he meticulously stacks in and around his cramped apartment. But one day is different — his pizza arrives thanks to a lovely young woman who succeeds in catching the shut-in’s eye. Suddenly an earthquake strikes Tokyo, prompting the beautiful young delivery woman to faint in her client’s apartment. And then the the hikikimori falls hopelessly in love. Time passes and the shut-in discovers through another pizza delivery person that the improbable object of his affections has become a hikikimori in her own right. Taking a bold leap into the unknown, our hero crosses the threshold of his apartment and takes to the streets in search of his mystery girl, at last discovering his kindred spirit at the very moment another earthquake strikes. It wasn't necessarily bad I thought but not nearly as inventive or visually awe inspiring as Gondry's or Carex' stories before it marking a slightly anti-climatic end to the movie I thought.
Overall though the movie was an absolutely mesmerising and enjoyable 100 mins of foreign cinema mixing the best of Japan with French sensibilities. Now if Michel Gondry would get back to doing a full feature length tale then we're in business.....
See this if you liked...
I am a Cyborg, but that's OK, The Science Of Sleep, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind.
After the wonderful Tokyo! the night took a much darker bleaker turn, within a packed Film Theatre, was the Northern Irish première of the highly anticipated ...
Let The Right One In
Just want to get one thing out of the way, I normally detest horror films, not because I scare easily (unless its giant insects...) but because I find this genre to be extremely out dated and that frankly peaked during the late 70s/early 1980s in its extremity and shock value. I am however a fan of the sub genre in the realms of horror fiction of the creatures known as vampires, be it Bram Stoker's iconic Dracula to Anne Rice's novels all the way to the Buffy The Vampire Slayer TV series or the comic book adaptation Blade, I've always had a healthy love for these kind of films. The latest entry to this category obscurely comes from the land of Sweden, based off the book of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist, entitled Let The Right One In. An absolutely unique entry into the genre, forfeiting the Gothic identity that has been associated with these types of stories for decades replacing it with the bleak surroundings of a council estate in a snow covered Stockholm, LTROI is a tale about 12-year-old-boy Oskar who is being bullied at school. He befriends a mysterious child, Eli, who moves in next door with an older man, Håkan. Eli is revealed (as you can probably guess) to be a vampire, but the two children develop a close relationship and Eli helps Oskar fight back against his tormentors.
The story itself as many critics have already commented upon plays out like a modern fairytale by the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson which is bleak, beautiful and at its core a story about love and loss (common theme running through the films at this festival thus far). In a horror film!? What!? Madness I say, where's the blood!? The gore!? The pure unadulterated violence?! Well actually its here and then some, used sparingly throughout the film for a much deeper and fuller impact, scenes like Eli's adult servant cutting open late teenagers so she can drink their blood, or the man himself knowing full well his days are numbered precedes to offer himself to Eli as a sacrifice after pouring a jar of corrosive acid over his face. Grim? Very much so. This brings me to the character of Eli who is one of the most fascinating endearing creatures brought to life in a film in recent years played beautifully by young actress Lena Leandersson who is very much the star of the film out shining her male lead played Kare Hedebert. Never before have I walked out of a film classed as a "horror" with a smile on my face. This was truly something special.
The man introducing this film before it began (who in turn was the projectionist of the QFT for a great number of years before retiring) said he thought the ending was either a beautifully happy one or an extremely depressing one in whatever manner you looked at it. And it would be fair to say it could be true on both accounts. Breath taking is my word of the day and its the only way I could possibly describe a practically faultless film from beginning to end, which brings me to my complete and utter shock of why it was snub at the foreign category at this year's Oscars. Injustice? Downright disgrace. Let The Right One In is a landmark in horror film making, proving it isn't all about scares and shock tactics, and like the Spanish made 2006 film Pan's Labyrinth before it, shows a genre with the booming potential for substance and elegance that only the truly talented film makers can achieve. Miss out at your peril. Highlight of the festival thus far. Roll on the DVD!
See this if you liked...
Genuinely well made films regardless of genre.