Archive for the ‘Slacker’ Category

h1

Moratorium Tamako

January 17, 2014

The unlikely pairing of a slacker director and idol makes tranquil, charming cinema

Moratorium Tamako (2013)

Nobuhiro Yamashita started his career with minimalist, pitch perfect slacker films such as Ramblers (2003). He later entered mainstream cinema, but never quite lost his indie qualities. Moratorium Tamako is a nice example of Yamashita helming a somewhat mainstream project in his own, recognizable style.

Yamashita’s latest is a very simple film. With a running time of only 78 minutes (lovely!), and most of which is dedicated to the leading girl Atsuko Maeda lying on the floor, playing Playstation, or sleeping, there truly isn’t much melodrama going on. But small details and quiet humour have always been Yamashita’s strength. Moratorium Tamako is no exception.

Yamashita’s love and sympathy for his unlucky protagonists is once again evident in Moratorium Tamako. This is what sets Yamashita apart from some of his rivals, such as the more mean spirited Yuya Ishii, or even Aki Kaurismäki. Yamashita smiles at his characters, but never makes cruel fun of them. He can identify and sympathise with, say, a girl who failed finding a job and now spends her days reading manga and lying on the floor, as in Moratorium Tamako.

With his last two films, Yamashita has found his new heroine in Atsuko Maeda. The unlikely pairing of a slacker director and former AKB 48 idol is actually quite functional. Maeda is surprisingly natural as a lazy, not-into-anything Yamashita heroine, yet retaining her cute looks and easy-going mainstream appeal that just might be what Yamashita needs to get his films financed.

It is, in fact, quite unusual for a Yamashita film to center so strongly around one character (instead of a duo or trio of ill-lucked protagonists). It is perhaps because of this that Moratorium Tamako is an even quieter film than Yamashita’s films in general. That being said, there are two important supporting characters; Tamako’s single father, and a quiet elementary school boy who is an especially Yamashitan character.

Of course, Moratorium Tamako is by no means a match to Yamashita’s unparalleled Osaka era films (Hazy Life, No One’s Ark, Ramblers), but it’s a pleasurable small film. Like all of Yamashita’s films (and unlike most small scale Japanese films these days) the film also looks solid. It was shot on digital, but it has a pleasing, roughly film-like look to it.

h1

Quick Takes #3

January 12, 2013

The End of Puberty (Koi ni itaru yamai, 2011)

Perky high school girl (Miwako Wagatsuma) and a shy teacher (Yôichirô Saitô) change genitals in Shoko Kimura’s dull fantasy/comedy/drama.

The PIA Film Festival financed indie film is visually pleasing enough, but lacks any memorable moments. Character development is non-existent, wacky ideas underutilized, and energy lacking. Audiences mislead by the catchy theatrical trailer are in for a disappointment.

Kimura seems to have something to say of a world where men have lost their balls and women are unable to take the lead – indeed, interviews have confirmed her conservative views – but the topic eventually leads nowhere.
Perhaps most interesting is the film’s soundtrack that plays like an old Nintendo game, but like the rest of the film, it remains a curiosity that never really catches fire. The film is a far cry from Nobuhiko Obayashi’s similarly themed 1982 classic Transfer Student.

The Samurai That Night (Sono yoru no samurai, 2012)

Actor and stage director Masaaki Akahori’s directorial debut is a long revenge drama lacking in revenge. The star studded but low key arthouse drama follows a widowed, obsessed man stalking the hit-and-run crook that killed his wife after the release from prison.

Opting for strong realism, rather than fantastic revenge fantasy, the film has its moments but doesn’t eventually find very much depth. Little happens within its two hour running time, and some scenes come out “made-art” rather than natural storytelling. Characters feel distant, though Masato Sakai is not bad in the lead, and heart knob Takayuki Yamada makes a surprisingly believable killer. Mitsuki Tanimura, Tomorowo Taguchi, Hirofumi Arai, Go Ayano, Sakura Ando and Denden co-star.

The Drudgery Train (Kueki ressha, 2012)

Fan favorite Nobuhiro Yamashita’s welcome return to slow paced, rather non-commercial cinema. With a 19 year old protagonist who burns his money on booze and strippers, and whose father is a sex criminal, it’s certainly a film of old school Yamashita ingredients.

The minimal and slightly overlong film is, however, neither quite like nor as good as Yamashita’s early slacker masterpieces. Perhaps because of the source material – an autobiographical novel by Kenta Nishimura, adapted into screenplay by pink maestro Shinji Imaoka – Yamashita opts for slightly darker tones than expected. The recognizable Yamashita moments of quiet comedy are still to be found, though.

The start studded cast fare reasonably well, especially Mirai Moriyama who takes a minor gamble with his career. AKB48’s only acting capable member Atsuko Maeda is passable as well, though the whole cast suffers in comparison to Yamashita’s early works and their stars.

Flawed but pleasing, Kueki ressha may have a bit of difficulties finding its audience despite the puzzling Toei multiplex distribution that feels almost like a twisted joke by itself.

h1

Rubbers ou onna

December 24, 2011

A small romantic gem unlikely to be discovered by wider audiences.

Rubbers ou onna (Japan, 2010)

A few years ago adult video girl Aino Kishi gave a wholly underwhelming performance in the lackluster splatter fest Samurai Princess (2009). No career prospects even in racy genre films, I went on record to say.

Now Kishi stars in a new semi-pink film Rubbers ou onna – and her performance is easily one of last year’s most delighting ones!

An unexpected turn, but so is the film. Full body rubber suits are a sight usually associated with cyberpunk films, such as the works of Shozin Fukui. Up and coming director Takafumi Watanabe, however, took the garment and put it into a lovely romantic drama.

Romance takes two – enter Nobuhiro Yamashita’s favorite testicle-face actor and born-to-be-cult-favorite Hiroshi Yamamoto. He plays a nerdy new section chief at a lunch box factory, meeting a lovely, tokusatsu-loving girlfriend candidate (Kishi) at his work. What a lucky guy!

It’s all fine until he discover’s that the girl’s ultimate bliss: rubber. If the suit doesn’t scare him off, the obsession with rubber underwear probably will.

Kishi is fantastic in her role. She plays cute, she plays shy, and she comes out adorable. Yes, it’s not a Meryl Streep performance, and yes, it may be a calculated moe-hit but she’s lovely. Perhaps for being an AV star in real life, she also does everything in her power to avoid any excessive sexiness in Rubbers.

Well, at least marketing campaign aside she does. The film’s poster art is intentionally misleading, and the trailer downright terrible. Sex is actually sparse in the film, and the nudity there is actually serves common sense more than anything else (no need to hide the camera behind flower vase every time she changes clothes).

The storyline itself is nothing special. Sometimes the screenplay ties a rope around its foot – life with a rubber fetish woman is difficult, indeed. In addition, a few minutes could have been snapped from the end, with the same amount inserted earlier on for extra characterization. And for a romantic film, Yamamoto’s character could be a bit nicer guy, too.

Yet, at 77 minutes the Rubbers is a true feel-good-affair. With enough humoristic touches, almost accidentally innocent eroticism, great performances, and an ending that puts a wide smile to anyone’s face, small flaws can easily be forgiven. For such a nice film it’s sad that audiences, save for a few crazy J-explorers, will probably never discover it.