©2015 GEEK PICTURE

©2015 GEEK PICTURE

Her Father, My Lover

Working for commercials, playwritings and filmmaking, Kenji Yamauchi must be at the highest of his versatile career now. Followed by a big winner of 59th Kishida Drama Award for his play, Troisgros, produced from own theater company, Shiroyagi no Kai, Yamauchi introduces own sophomore feature film, Her Father, My Lover (2015), to TIFF, after his debut feature, Being Mitsuko (2011). As the previous film, Her Father, My Lover is equipped with powerful individuals who are struggling with relationship with opposite sex. Yamauchi’s hilarious love comedy avoids to be ensnared by the genre convention, sincerely facing with relentless pain of female characters and avoiding easy answers to an enigmatic question of love.

Due to love affairs of Kyosuke (Mitsuru Fukikoshi), Midori (Kei Ishibashi) decides to finish a marital relationship with her husband. By the time they explain the situation to a daughter, Taeko (Yukino Kishii), her best friend, Maya (Wako Ando) was deeply fallen in love with Kyosuke. Although neither Taeko nor Midori took Maya's romance seriously, Maya abandons her current lover, Mutsuo (Takenori Kaneko), a high school teacher. Things get more complicated when it is found out that Hazuki (Kami Hiraiwa), a Kyosuke's lover, is expecting a child.

Without depending on slick cinematic tricks, Yamauchi conveys the narrative in a naturalistic way.  But it should never imply that the director does not understand the language of film. A small frame in cinema is often cleverly used as if it is a theatrical setting, where characters are forced to stay in a limited space. Sometimes shooting one scene with one cut, dramatic tension and comical interactions are adeptly combined for the first half of the storyline. Expertly written by the director himself, Her Father, My Lover controls gaps of information for the sake of smooth storytelling, saddled with captivating performances by always funny Mitsuru Fukikoshi and Yamauchi’s muse, Kei Ishibashi.

Focusing on conventional themes of family and human desire, Her Father, My Lover holds a progressive feminist take in misogynistic society. Maya, who had grown up without a father, is a fine contrast to enhance understated drama of Taeko, who is going to leave the divorced family. Physical and psychological pain of Midori out of breast cancer is especially poignant, suffering from the symptom around the time of 3.11, whereas Kyosuke only considers the earthquake as a reason to justify own adultery. As he did in Being Mitsuko, Yamauchi laments destruction of conventional family value, sincerely depicting female sufferings out of male stupidity. There are pertinent social commentaries which make this film much more than a fine independent comedy.

Another interesting aspect of the film is that Yamauchi shrewdly manipulates a boundary of sicko. Straightforwardly considering the narrative, Maya is a palpable perverted character, who was suspected to have father complex. However, irresistible sexual urge can easily apply to most of individuals in the film, especially male characters who maniacally keep gnawing female characters with cheating, pedophilia, sexual harassment and stalking. Actually, Maya would be the one that represents the purest form of love. The film says that a man that she was fallen in love with happened to be a father of the best friend, and as long as love is true, how can we say the relationship is a sicko. Maya must have created own images of father which she could not have in her childhood. In that sense, she is a cynical product of patriarchal society; a cordial need to mend a lack of ideal fatherhood destroys real father figures. Although obsessive male characters are too silly to discuss fatherhood in society, Yamauchi blames men for undermining family values.

So, is Maya actually a sicko? Maybe yes in this society. Realistic but gauzily struggling with a notion of love, for contemporary Japan, Taeko is the best bet to garner happier relationship than others. However, there might be still a hope for Maya. As Pygmalion effect, which is mentioned in the film, kindly says, if we treat male rats in a positive way, things might work out. Her Father, My Lover is a woman’s show which briskly cogitates upon how to deal with animalistic men. Does it sound too harsh toward men? Well, they deserve it!


©2015 "Sayonara" Production Committee

©2015 "Sayonara" Production Committee

Sayonara

After successes of Hospitalité (2010), anthropological study of a populace, and Au revoir l'été (2013), a coming-of-age tale with Eric Rohmer style, Koji Fukada comes back to his usual TIFF with the latest work, Sayonara (2015). Based on Oriza Hirata’s fifteen-minute short play, Fukada restages Hirata’s Android theater on screen with briefly but consciously indicating contemporary problems in Japan. This indelible piece of work should be recognized not only because of Geminoid F, the first Android actor in the history of cinema.

Sometime in the future, due to the contamination of radiation in Japan, residents started evacuating to other countries. Because of her status, Tania (Bryerly Long), a South African refugee, only had a vain hope to be called for an evacuation. Living with her android, Leona (Geminoid F), Tania spends disquieting time with her friend, Akie (Makiko Murata), and boyfriend (Hirofumi Arai). As most of people had disappeared from a town, Leona is the only companion for Tania to wait for their final moment.

Even with Android, Fukada follows realistic approach as usual and gently takes us to a lamentable psychological road trip to death. However, it would be safe to say that Sayonara is the most formalistic film by a loyal storyteller of naturalistic dramas. Fukada deftly manipulates canted images and invigorating montage to illustrate sensitive psychology under the apocalyptic condition. Detailed lighting is especially captivating to express flows of time with powerful visual narratives, bestowing aesthetic tranquility on otherwise cloying sequences.

Without giving preachy standpoint, Fukada is not afraid of including contemporary issues that Japan feigns to realize, questioning social values which are taken for granted. Not to mention the setting that consider nuclear plants as the urgent matter to deal with, Sayonara never blindly accept the establishment by introducing a character who is arrested for screaming that orders of evacuation is controlled by the government. Satoshi’s status as second generation of Japanese Korean insists exclusiveness of Japanese society which emphasizes uniformity under the crisis. Fukada also blurs the boundary of victim and victimizer by creating original background of Tania, that might arise controversies of historical accuracy.

How is it possible to find humanity in such a morbid world? Seeking for an answer, Fukada combines two extremes: a robot with no identity and a multicultural protagonist, which is a very appropriate role for Bryerly Long. Through interactions with Leona, Sayonara revisits a rather rudimentary but forgotten question of how to communicate with each another. Even though an android is supposed to be a substance without identity essentially, Leona is capable of bandying emotional nuances that her master has been suffering, since she had been learning from Tania’s experiences throughout her life. In that sense, Leona can be a reflection of Tania. A journey to search for humanity always hints something within yourself.

Akiko Ashizawa’s astonishing cinematography of natural beauty, which is tainted with radiation, might represent this film; a wonderful world that turned into a mayhem because of mankind. Sayonara is a celebration of life that small relationships and naked nature are enough reasons to live, in the world that is full of melancholic atmospheres of inevitable death. Fukada expresses a positive view on an artificial intelligence, which will not turn into a stereotypical image of killing machine to save the planet. By the end of the film, Leona is neither a poor copy of humans nor a mere reflection of ourselves, but an extension of mankind, immortal that can inherit our will. As Leona in the film, deft works and strong narrative of Sayonara would not be easily forgotten after its end credit, not to cheer us up, but to reflect ourselves, allowing us to think how to create a better world.


Foujita

After the release of The Buried Forest (2005), there have been ten years of blank for reticent Japanese auteur, Kohei Oguri, a director of Oscar-nominated Muddy River (1981) and The Sting of Death (1990), a winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival. Finally, as a new subject, Oguri selected a rather peculiar subject for him, a biopic of Tsuguharu Foujita, a Japanese painter who had garnered critical acclaims in Paris in the 1920s but was accused of drawing war paintings after the wartime. Avoiding typical Hollywood biographical films with a liner narrative, FOUJITA (2015) never neither beautify nor dramatize the life of a painter who had quite turbulent moments. Oguri’s challenge to depict Foujita as a somewhat everyday man merely ends up being a missed opportunity and plain film with top-heavy dialogue. By doing so, however, the film questions what a biopic can do and suggests danger to fall into blindness to subjective biopics that tend to be historically inaccurate due to dramatization.

Life of a legendary Japanese painter, Tsuguharu Foujita (Jo Odagiri) with iconic bobbed hair, round glasses and earrings, is distinctively divided into two parts: Paris in the 1920s and Japan during the Second World War. FOUJITA compares an animating life in France where Foujita was at the highest of his career with nude paintings of "milky-white skin," with a simple life in Japan during the war with fifth wife, Kimiyo (Miki Nakatani) when he was cooperating with the government, painting scenes of battles for the sake of propaganda.

In spite of his silence in the career, Oguri’s tranquil style is not likely to have changed. Without any close-ups, the fixed camera keeps observing its subjects from a distance, avoiding kinetic movements. However, what is most idiosyncratic in Oguri’s latest is its use of color and light and shadow. The Paris part is constructed with white background and colorful items, whereas a strong contrast of light and shadow is emphasized in murky Japanese household. As Mike Leigh recreated Turner’s works in Mr. Turner (2014), Oguri represents Foujita’s psychological transition, adroitly structuring tones of images as if the film itself is Foujita’s paintings.

FOUJITA refuses to follow a straight narrative convention of biopics. Instead, Oguri extracts two parts of Foujita’s life just to observe who he was. Its challenge is respectable, but the film is taken over by metaphorical conversations and could not really draw a lot out of Foujita's eventful life. A mutiny against representing Foujita as a spectacular genius or with an extremely dramatic narrative only leads to superficial parties at midnight in Paris and dreary life in his homeland, just briefly skimming Foujita’s actually more interesting maniacal nightlife during École de Paris and state of mind that made Foujita draw war paintings. With bobbed hair and earrings, Jo Odagiri’s surprising resemblance to Foujita weaves into a mere caricature. Especially, his French only sounds as a stylized fluency without any emotion, failing to be neither a native nor an amateur French leaner.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the most interesting part of the film arrives at the end of it. Through a surrealistic journey to nature with breathtaking cinematography, FOUJITA questions meaning of biographical films. When an individual is so famous enough to become a subject of biopics, there tends to be skeptical rumors that are not armed with any credibility. Especially, someone like Foujita has always been surrounded by vulgar stories which might be created out of jealousy or exaggerations. Then, what is the truth to believe? Oguri concludes the film, claiming biopics can only provide subjective views of what people want to believe. The abandonment of a liner narrative in FOUJITA must be Oguri’s skepticism on an unconvincing film based on a true story, a deceiving fox that only bestows unbalanced images of a complex individual. Thanks to production design by Fumio Ogawa and Carlos Conti, and cinematography by Hiroshi Machida, FOUJITA is a visually striking piece of work, but after all, the film is top-heavy; Oguri's view on biopics is surely fascinating, but at the same time his hesitation to recreate Foujita's life just made the film cloying.


© Tokyo Sunrise Partnership

© Tokyo Sunrise Partnership

Tokyo Sunrise

This year, consciously or unconsciously TIFF seems to have chosen quite a number of films about beautified cliché male bonds, such as Hiroshi Shoji’s Ken and Kazu (2015) and Isao Yukisada’s Pink and Gray (2015). Comfortingly, Ryutaro Nakagawa’s Tokyo Sunrise (2015) successfully avoids following the same path of its siblings, convincingly depicting poignant pain of loss and fragile feelings of youth. Still, this road movie for answers of a reason for the best friend’s death, does not represent a coming-of-age tale cogent enough, weaving into an indulgent leniency toward the protagonist.

Ren Murakami (Taiga) still could not accept the death of his best friend, Kaoru Kasai (Ryuju Kobayashi). Found out that Kaoru had painted his first lover before killing himself, Ren decided to start a journey to find her, with Kaoru's ex-girlfriend, Risako Iino (Mei Kurokawa). During the journey, Ren and Risako start sharing own struggles and reexamining themselves.

From the beginning, Tokyo Sunrise possesses an auspicious narrative that would draw attention of spectators with enigmas: convincing reasons of what drove Kaoru to finish his life, and why he painted a picture of his first lover before committing a suicide. With such a simple but captivating screenwriting, Nakagawa viscerally invites us to the road trip to seek for answers. However, comfortability of traveling always depends on who you go with. Delicately self-centered and irritatingly moody, a steady dose of Ren’s actions are plaguy as if he is the only person who is lamenting in the whole universe. Having said that, Taiga’s performance is so captivating to make his agony profoundly and sympathetic, especially in the massive long take scene where the protagonist keeps eating in an old man’s house, crying in silence.

Along with the road trip, several flashbacks are inserted in the film. One of them is beautiful sequences of memories that Ren and Kaoru spent their times together, moderately rebelling against society to hide their apparent scare and despair to be part of dreary society of grown-ups. Youth and its inevitable loss are also poignant themes of Tokyo Sunrise. After the flashback, however, what the film depicts is not a harsh reality of society, but indulgence. The protagonist surely has a puny relationship with his boss, but what can be perceived in his face is zero motivation, not cruelty of society.

Death and youth, these two essential themes of the film seem to be coalesced at the ending with beautiful but tenuous montage sequences. In the end, Tokyo Sunrise is a jubilation of youth and small munity against social system, but at the same time claims the importance of conventional communication. Decorated with overuse of schmaltzy music, the montage summarizes those points of a story of Japanese Icarus in the claustrophobic society, but the arbitrary combination of amiable shots lacks an emotional core. The understated climax drama, if there is any, and emotional blackmail only lead to empty catharsis.

Tokyo Sunrise is a fine celebration of youth and strongly suggests not losing that spirit to survive in this world. But the film refuses to show what they are fighting for, and Ren‘s subtle realization at the end misses an opportunity to mobilize the whole elements of the film to conclude a grandiose emotional arc. Kaoru and original title of the film say that we need to run faster than despair can catch us up. But where is the despair? Tokyo Sunrise flees so fast without even knowing what is actually perusing them.


©Foolish Piggies Film

©Foolish Piggies Film

7 Days

Shot with black-and-white, a thoroughly naturalistic film with a number of long takes and no dialogue might sound like the most attractive title for covetous cinephile all over the world, but sadly that is not the case for 7Days (2015), a Watanabe Brothers’ latest film. Their second feature turns into quite a disappointment, becoming a poor Japanese cousin of Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse (2011), and failing to meet auspicious expectations after a controversial but positively reviewed previous film, And the Mud Ship Sails Away... (2013), which was premiered at 26th TIFF. Still, it is possible to see audacious spirit of filmmakers who gave birth to this project with lesser money than the previous work, cultivating possibility of independent filmmaking.

7Days does not seem to construct a narrative that an audience would normally expect from a film. Almost like a documentary, a camera keeps following a simple life of Man (Hirobumi Watanabe), a farmer played by the director, with his Grandma (Misao Hirayama). Beginning of the film is Monday. Screen shows the protagonist washing his face, throwing away trashes, eating breakfast, reading a paper, hanging laundries and working. No information of the characters is cogently revealed except some facts that we can predict from their actions. At least, Man seems to be a serious person, and maybe cultural; always watches news programs in the mornings, not variety shows; reads a book, not a comic; and listens to opera songs from TV during dinner, not J-Pop idol music. And when the protagonist washes his face again on Tuesday morning, an audience would assume that the same things might happen for seven days.

Béla Tarr’s masterpiece, The Turin Horse, shares the structural similarity with 7Days: repetitions of the same actions for one week. However, the structure is not the only resemblance, but their style and mise-en-scène: windy environments, long takes of walking characters and frequent uses of murky soundtrack. The biggest difference is that 7Days fails to be as visceral as The Turin Horse. Simply repeating the same everyday deeds over and over, Tarr represented a combat of mankind against nature in a tattered world. What does 7Days represent? Beautiful but reticent cinematography by Woohyun Bang and acting which seems to be refusing to express, leave too many possibilities of interpretation. It can be a celebration of frugal living, lost hope in the post-apocalyptic world, criticism against urbanization, and so on. But what we need to keep in mind is that these arguments cannot be based on anything, because the film is signifying nothing. Of course, there is nothing to prevent a spectator from thinking that expressionlessness is the whole point of the film. Okay. Fine.

Having said that, none of them should indirectly imply that there is nothing original in the film. It is possible to conceive Asian religious views in everyday life of the farmer. Surrounded by nature, 7Days depicts the animistic environment that should be full of wild spirits. With or without a narrative, however, the depiction of spiritual nature does not really take the film anywhere. It gives an impression that Watanabe refuses to challenge something. Or he is challenging not to challenge.

During Q&A after the screening, one of gentlemen in the audience asked the director if he was inspired by The Turin Horse. Watanabe said that he respects Béla Tarr, but there was “no direct influence,” even though he expected this question. Intentionally or unintentionally, 7Days winds up being a degraded version of The Turin Horse with a little bit of Asian taste. In the end, what was the point of the film? Has the director actually depicted something? Only thing that can be possibly said is that these are not valid questions for such an experimental film. Watanabe Brothers is surely questioning, with such an independent spirit, typical notions of what film should be and how film should express. And most of all, does film have to express something at all?