Devout priests Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver convince Ciaran Hinds to send them to Japan, where Christianity has been outlawed, to covertly spread the good word and to locate their teacher Liam Neeson. I’ve seen this story told before, in Masahiro Shinoda’s film, so I knew the general outline and some of the characters. I liked Scorsese’s three-hour remake (with a new epilogue) a hell of a lot better – even if I still can’t comprehend some of the characters’ actions, it’s an intense, awe-inspiring film. Would’ve been cool if it had hung around in theaters, since I would’ve liked to watch again after a few weeks or a month, but I guess America wasn’t interested in sacrifice and devotion this holiday season because it only lasted a week.

I couldn’t resist stealing a couple of screenshots from Film Comment:

In Japan, our white saviors meet interpreter Tadanobu Asano (lead ghost in Journey to the Shore), Shinya Tsukamoto himself (tortured to death by being tied to a cross and pounded by the surf for days), drunken traitor Kichijiro (Yôsuke Kubozuka of Tokyo Tribe), and eventually, toothy torturer Issei Ogata (extremely different from his gentle software developer in Yi Yi and twitchy emperor in The Sun).

J. Cabrita:

There is an essential balance to Silence, subverting a colonizer’s prejudices while also considering the prospect that Rodrigues’ missionary work is disseminating objective truth; one does not reduce the other, but enlivens it, makes it meaningful, potent and mysterious. Adapted from a novel by Shusaku Endo, a Japanese Catholic persecuted for his religious values at home and discriminated against for his race abroad, Scorsese’s film also occupies the novel’s ambiguous middle ground.

N. Bahadur, who also makes good connections with The Age of Innocence:

In terms of the film’s critical distance from Rodrigues, what is important is that it is not Christianity which is being critiqued but rather perspective. The moral fundamentals of both religions in the film do not include concepts of pride and glory which both Rodrigues & the Inquisitor demonstrate. Both men are completely invested in their way of viewing the world – fully formed yet opposing views which make sense – and by watching their debates we can already see Scorsese’s perspective: does moral righteousness negate a moral perspective? A colleague mentioned: “they talk about faith needing to take root, but it only becomes faith after becoming rootless.” Perhaps on a moral and ideological level, Rodrigues and the Christians are right: advocation for a Universal truth, yet they fail on a political level because of the failure to see the colonial implications of their actions. While the Japanese in the film prove to be far more selfless and with rather more reason or martyrdom, yet on a moral level the Inquisitor is despicable and inhumane.

G. Kenny:

The opening title, with its sounds of nature followed by absence of sound, constitutes an arguably almost literal-minded demonstration of the movie’s theme, but that plainness is purposeful … And of course the most virtuoso filmmaking of the piece, the scene where Rodrigues comes to his most crucial decision. It’s just crushing, not least for the way it’s set up. Liam Neeson’s Ferreira, speaking to his former student of “a suffering only you can end,” tells Rodrigues his sacrifice will be “the greatest act of love ever performed,” and Rodrigues’ Japanese interpreter (Tadanobu Asano, great) tells the priest, “It’s just a formality.” Which is it, for God’s sake? And then the soundtrack drops out for the second time.

Bilge, from his great Voice article about Scorsese’s holy trilogy:

There’s a vanity behind Rodrigues’s sense of responsibility, too, and Silence slowly interrogates this earnest man of the cloth. Once he gets separated from fellow priest Garrpe (Adam Driver), Rodrigues is accompanied through the film by … the unchanging, ever-present face of Jesus, about whom he dreams at night. The priest even sees Christ’s visage replacing his own reflection in a pool of water, and he giggles maniacally at the thought that he might be headed for a fate similar to his messiah’s; he exults in the glory of a martyr’s death … Rodrigues will not die a martyr. He will not become a saint. His sacrifice will not be written about in the annals of his faith; if anything, he will be a shameful footnote. But he will, finally, achieve true compassion for another man [Kichijiro], the two of them united in their weakness. And in this, who’s to say that he has not found the divine?

This fits in nicely with Tsukamoto’s Haze and Nightmare Detective, which featured lead characters more convincingly distraught and psychologically unbalanced, more grimly depicted than you’re used to seeing in horror movies (always with crazed handheld camera). Now we’ve got a young mother (Cocco, who also wrote the story and songs and did art direction) living alone with her toddler. Just that simple character setup (young mother + child) is enough to make you cringe if you’ve seen any Tsukamoto movies.

Sure enough, she is extremely tormented, overprotecting the child at some times and plotting to murder him at others. Actually she does murder him onscreen, but since the movie reflects her baffled view on reality, he turns up alive a minute later. Fortunately (as rarely happens in horror movies) people notice that she’s clearly an unfit mother, take the son away and leave him with relatives, and Kotoko passes the time between her allowed visits sitting home, cutting her arms and watching them bleed.

But where’s Tsukamoto, who likes to star in his own films? He plays an award-winning novelist (his first book is entitled Bullet Dance) who begins stalking Kotoko after hearing her sing on a bus. He’s concerned for her safely, encourages her to cut him instead of herself. That relationship is going alright until he turns out to possibly not exist… and she’s excited that she’s getting her son back until that also turns out not to be true. Epilogue, she’s in the loony bin being visited by her now-teenage son and doing crazy crying dances in the rain.

The first few minutes are insane – Kotoko sees people as twins, has to quickly determine which of the two is the evil one trying to destroy her so she can fight back. “I don’t see double when I am singing.” The movie’s a bit long (have I mentioned that I love Haze‘s 50-minute length?), padded by Cocco’s songs.

The Venice Film Festival posted 70-ish short films online to commemorate their 70th anniversary. I watched them gradually over the past year. These are the ones I especially liked. Least favorites are here and the rest here.

Shinya TsukamotoAbandoned Monster

A giant robot vs giant monster film that handily beats Pacific Rim, co-directed by a kid (his son?)

Athina Rachel Tsangari24 Frames Per Century

Two film projectors on an island aim picture over the ocean, running only a frame per few seconds, and as the reel runs out a woman appears to insert the new one and switch over.

Paul Schrader

Paul wears a harness of cameras pointing at himself, walks the city giving a monologue about cinema which is worth transcribing in full.

Paul Schrader on the High Line, May 29th, 2013. When I first came into the film business it was a time of crisis. Society was in upheaval. There was a drug revolution, sex revolution, gay rights, women’s rights, civil rights, anti-establishment, and the times required new heroes, new themes for movies, and we had about fifteen years of interesting film. Motion pictures are again in a time of crisis – only today it is a crisis of form, not a crisis of content. We don’t know quite what movies are. We don’t know how long they are. We don’t know how you see them, where you see them, how you pay for them. Feels more like 1913 than 2013. Everything is being made up on the fly. The idea of filmed entertainment is undergoing a systematic change. Every week brings another change. No one knows for sure what it’ll be like. It won’t be a projected image in a dark room in front of an audience – that’s 20th century. I also know that content is character, story, theme. Form is delivery systems. Content is the wine and form is the bottle. There is no content without form. There is no wine without the bottle. When the form is changing, content can’t stabilize. You can’t make a revolutionary film in the middle of a revolution. My concern is that this period of transition we’re going through may not in fact be a transition at all, but a new status of permanent technological change, which never stabilizes, will never resolve itself to the point where content can again reign supreme.

Yorgos Lanthimos

A proper drama with full credits. Two girls have a pistol duel.

Yonfan

Costume dance!

Salvatore Mereu

Young goat herder is watching movie on his phone that starred older goat herder many years ago – presumably something by Vittorio De Seta, since the short was dedicated to him.

Catherine Breillat

Hilariously self-deprecating – a café monologue about cinema’s ties to money and power is interrupted by some kids on their way to see a movie, but not the new Breillat because “I want something light, not to have to think.”

Walter Salles

Two photographs taken minutes before new popes were announced, while a woman tells a story of her absent mother who sent her a letter. “I keep you inside of me, like a film I watch and watch without ever tiring.”

Abbas Kiarostami

Laughing kid directs a remake of The Sprinkler Sprinkled.

Samuel Maoz

Hilarious digital representation of “the death of cinema”

Milcho Manchevski

Ironic piece about people engrossed in their portable devices – one girl watches a video about people on the street failing to notice some tragedy, ponders the video while walking right past another tragedy everyone is failing to notice.

Franco MarescoThe Last Lion

Hammy gangster type sings happy birthday to the festival in front of a giant cake and two silent twins, then devours the golden lion cake topper.

Aleksei Fedorchenko

Close-up split-screen faces of people dreaming movies (with sfx)

Ulrich SeidlHakuna Matata

Three guys say “Hakuna Matata” mantra-like, four times. Then three guys in a different setting, standing together in the same way, same action. Finally two of the original guys sweeping the floor. I have no idea what it means but I liked it.

Businessman Goda (the director himself, also listed as writer, editor and cinematographer) becomes gun-obsessed after his wife shoots herself. They are illegal to buy, so he trolls the underground, then constructs his own gun out of custom-machined parts, and finally a girl offers a gun if he’ll marry her for immigration reasons. It’s a no-brainer for him, with his life in an obsessive downward spiral by then, and she’s never seen again in the movie.

During his gun quest he ran into Chisato (Kirina Mano of Greenaway’s 8 1/2 Women) and her boyfriend Goto, a couple of punks in a street gang. I suppose we only get the fragments of the plot that Goda understands himself, so when a hitman starts killing off the gang and our guy offers his protection, we never find out who or why this is happening, and it leads to an odd conclusion, the hitman beating the hell out of Goto but leaving our three heroes alive.

It’s Tsukamoto’s trademark gritty handheld harsh black-and-white look, but his movies never seem as indifferently shot as most others which use handheld cameras and fast cutting to convey energy. He’s actually good, not just covering up a lack of visual ideas with speed. He’s great with physical intensity, but maybe less good with plotting. This one wants to be feature length (Haze was better-paced at 50 minutes) but doesn’t offer any new ideas past the halfway point.

As the title character in childhood flashback sits for minutes at a time on the floor while his mom quietly cooks hamburgers I’m thinking that Tsukamoto is punishing the people (fans? studio?) who insisted on a sequel to the great Nightmare Detective. I didn’t ask for this, just enjoyed the first one and trusted the director enough to watch another, but he gave me some bullshit, reminiscent of Noriko’s Dinner Table following Suicide Circle (fortunately not quite that bad).

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Seems like horror series usually save the long, unnecessary backstory scenes for part three (or for the remake, in Halloween‘s case), but we’re gonna explore the ND’s troubled past right here in part two, making a third movie unnecessary. His mom was psychic, became afraid of everything and everybody including her own son, and finally hung herself. ND can hear thoughts as well, but he’s less afraid than perpetually miserable. Somehow that two-sentence backstory takes up half the screen time, mostly through ND’s dream sequences which don’t do much to build atmosphere or further character development, but just begin to hang around and repeat themselves.

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Meanwhile some high-school girls (led by Yukie) terrify another girl Kikukawa (Hanae Kan, a star at 11 in Pistol Opera then the unrelated “family member” in Nobody Knows) who proceeds to haunt them Elm Street style. ND is interested because Kikukawa has the same fear issues as his late mother, gets belatedly involved after the deaths of two girls.

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At least Shinya’s got enough energy and interest to pull off a mysterious dream-murder scene among all the boredom and backstory. Yukie and friend Mutsumi nod off in class and dream a restroom in the gymnasium. K. appears, face hidden, walks backwards towards them and tosses a glass of water into Mutsumi’s face. Y. awakens, sees M.’s head has fallen through her school desk. Shades of Elm St. 4 minus the fumbled inhaler and sucking-face joke.

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Same video look but little of the epilepsy camerawork of the action scenes in part 1. Some cool imagery near the end, especially the N.D. stepping through Yukie’s body, dropping it like a rubber suit (which in fact it is), entering her dream to confront the out-of-control Kikukawa.

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The two stars of Big Bang Love: Juvenile A are back – Ryuhei Matsuda (the weak hero) as the titular Nightmare Detective and Masanobu Ando (tattooed superdude) as a curly-haired regular detective. It would seem like an inversion of their roles in the other film, except amazingly it’s not – the title character is weaker than everyone else in this movie. He has the power (at great personal risk) to enter the nightmares of others, but not to do anything else, so once inside he’s just bitter and afraid. It’d be kind of hilarious but there were always too many terrifying blurs of action to laugh.

your (very upset) nightmare detective:
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I suppose our main character is Keiko (played by singularly-named Hitomi). That’s her at the bottom warming her hands on a giant plastic brain-looking creature. Keiko works with rookie Wakamiya (Masanobu Ando) under chief Sekiya (Ren Osugi of MPD Psycho and Achilles and the Tortoise). Initially Keiko has a strained relationship with the others, since she formerly worked a desk job and doesn’t handle crime scenes well but all that’s forgotten when the shit goes down.

Ando and Osugi:
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Movie has a very video look, a la Haze or MPD Psycho. The horror action is never seen – pieces of blades or the color red may be glimpsed, but mostly you know that a fast, screaming blur is approaching the character, something unstoppable and terrifying (Tetsuo-like).

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The screaming blur is actually nightmare terrorist/suicide-assistance provider Zero (played by our director), who takes phone calls from depressed people then comes to slaughter them in their dreams, causing them to kill themselves (all with stabbing implements, I believe) in reality while still sleeping. He’s sort of a Freddy Krueger for hire. After a couple of people die, Wakamiya dials Zero (ha) as part of the investigation and ends up suffering the same fate, telling Keiko as he awakens “I didn’t even realize that I wanted to die.”

Zero/Shinya Tsukamoto:
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So Kagenuma, the nightmare detective, is drawn quite unwillingly into the investigation, more than halfway through the movie. He turns out to be juuust enough of a hero to get the job done, actually rushing the villain in a fit of bravery. Keiko, having dialed up Zero herself leading to a three-way battle inside her head, decides to live after all.

Tsukamoto: “The killer appears to be revealing the true terror of death to the willing.”

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Much of the online writing on this movie mentions the crappy performance of Hitomi in the lead role. I guess I just figured she was your typical buttoned-up brainiac movie detective and wasn’t supposed to emote. Or I was spending all my energy thinking “where is the nightmare detective? why is he barely in the movie?” From the look of the trailer, the upcoming sequel looks quieter, more contemplative, with less violent stabbing. This was great – Tsukamoto’s movies seem to get better and better – so I’m looking forward to it.

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Haze.

A complete nightmare, like Cube without any light or thought or the retard. Man wakes up in underground tunnels, finds his teeth wrapped around a pipe, crawls through water surrounded by blood and severed limbs. Eventually finds a woman stuck there too. Tries to escape with her, and he makes it out… but finds her dead after he escapes. Suddenly he’s an old man and they’re together then he’s alone again.

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Strangely moving… a true horror movie, terrifying, sad and thoughtful. Ambiguous in an interesting way, not a frustrating one. Our man (played by director Tsukamoto) falls asleep, awakens, has an identity crisis, may be dreaming the whole thing, may have committed murder, but at one point in the future or present, he was happy with the woman he loved, watching fireworks. Time just melts in this movie. Would like to see again. Has been wrongly compared to the recent gorefest torture movies like Hostel, actually rises far above those. I hate that I ended up liking Tsukamoto so much… may have to someday reassess the headachey mess that was Tetsuo The Iron Man.

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