December 29, 2009

Kiru (Japan, 2008)

Hardcore fans of samurai and swordplay films are no doubt familiar with the feeling of wanting to view the epic final battle again as soon as it has ended. But what if a single movie could have not one, but four climaxes? In the episode film Kill, supervisor Mamoru Oshii teams up with directors Takanori Tsujimoto, Kenta Fukasaku and Minoru Tahara to attempt such miraculous multi-pleaser. Four episodes, all shot with low budget, limited running time, and a guarantee of high tension swordplay finale. And action fan’s dream is it not?

The opening episode pairs Hard Revenge Milly director Takanori Tsujimoto and his leading lady Miki Mizuno for another violent brawl with the yakuza. Kilina (Mizuno) is a female assassin in bad terms with her employer. The rescue mission, aiming at saving the dear little sister Kilico, comes to a tragic conclusion. Modern medical science, however, brings our vengeful heroine back into the game. Which brings us to the episode’s biggest problem. Rating action over screenwriting, Tsujimoto provides next to none characterization or back-story. The two primary action scenes are only separated by a small hospital vacation, during which nothing happens. Who are there people fighting, what for, and why should we care?

Suffering from less than stellar digital cinematography and boosted contrast, Kilico’s revenge tale lacks the cinematic magic that its role models – Kill Bill and its pop culture world, and maybe even Versus – possessed. It does, however, pack some very decent action choreography, including strong finale that invests more on powerful katana melee than ballet-like sword dance. As an action display, Tsujimoto’s work is quite decent and a good reminder that he’s a director worth keeping an eye on. Lets home next time he will write a screenplay that can’t be summarized in three sentences.

“Kodomo zamurai” is the beloved master filmmaker Kenta Fukasaku’s contribution. This time Mr. Fukasaku Jr. – a living proof that name does have power – has unleashed what is most likely his all time low. “Kodomo zamurai” (Child Samurai) is a pretentious and appalling homage to silent era samurai movies. The modern day set storyline follows a child samurai protecting his classmates from bullies. In his attempt to re-create the past, Fukasaku has decided to present the film in sepia colors, with huge black borders on all sides of the image, not to mention the now so popular digital scratches. Being a silent movie, all dialogue is read by a single, nerve wrecking narrator. Of course, starring 10 year old actors, it’s also a story preaching good values and self control. Do not kill until the final scene.

“Zan-Gun”, an incomprehensible piece of fantasy action, tells the story of a Meiji era soldier who discovers a magic dagger in stone. A century later he’s busy massacring soldiers in a military base. One man is strong enough to resists evil, mainly thanks to another magic dagger appearing that turns his rifle into a wonder weapon. The operating logic is these gun-kata weapons never becomes very clear, but director Minoru Tahara can nevertheless congratulate himself for coming up with a handful of positively silly ideas. Of course, if it wasn’t for his predecessor Fukasaku who set the level in the cellar, the audience might demand actual quality. Sometimes it’s good to be in bad company.

Mamoru Oshii’s “Assault Girl 2”, a follow up to the short movie Assault Girl seen in Shin onna tachiguishi retsuden (2007), is easily the highlight of Kill. Dedicating its first half to capturing beautiful nature photography, Assault Girl 2 depicts the symbolic battle between archangels Michael (Yoko Fujita) and Lucifer (Rinko Kikuchi). Presented in yellowish colors and supported by an atmospheric soundtrack by Kenji Kawai, Oshii’s episode also comes with more subtext that a viewer is likely to catch on initial viewing. Action is secondary in this mix (this did, however, change one year later when Oshii’s feature length action fest Assault Girls hit the theatres).

All episodes considered, Kill proves itself an undeniable disappointment. The concept is interesting, but the execution, Oshii’s episode excluded, does it no justice. On the positive side, the best –Assault Girl 2, and the great theme song ‘On My Own’ by MELL –has been saved for the last. These two make a good finale, even if the audience is left wondering what happened to the other tree.


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