“We’re realists while they’re fantasists!”
“Realism will lose!”

I always watch the wrong Sion Sono movies. I heard either Love Exposure or Guilty of Romance was good, so somehow I got the idea to watch this instead – and I hated it, so now my chance of ever watching those others is lower.

Okay, I didn’t hate it. You can’t hate a movie where a group of young, failed filmmakers called the Fuck Bombers end up choreographing an actual gang war, and where stuff like this happens:

But it feels like Sono has cult-ready ideas, good-enough execution, and little sense of timing. Endless hours of build-up, and everything gets repeated to death by the time the end finally comes. Maybe it feels different at a midnight screening with a giddy audience, and at least it’s an improvement on Noriko’s Dinner Table (which I just realized has similar plot points to Alps).

Lead gangster is Jun Kunimura, who I just saw playing the devil, probably, in The Wailing. His daughter, a former advertisement star and the rainbow swordsman above, is Fumi Nikaidou (Lesson of Evil). Rival leader Ikegami is Shinichi Tsutsumi of One Missed Call. Hirata (Shin Godzilla star Hiroki Hasegawa) is the lead Fuck Bomber, and his Bruce Lee-prototype star is Sasaki (Tak Sakaguchi, star of Versus).

C. Marsh in Cinema Scope:

When Hirata dreams of filmmaking, he dreams of the practice’s classical conception, romanticized with the rigor of a hardcore purist: he envisions rack lighting, metres-long camera dollies on steel rails, a trained crew of hundreds, and, above all else, the sprocketed hum of rolling celluloid. In the end that’s what he gets, and it costs him everything. Sono seems sympathetic to the sentiment – he relishes the physicality of the traditional film equipment as much as Hirata does – but he ultimately undermines it. The form itself is a joke. The movie was shot digitally, on Red Epic: and though his characters would be doubtless loathe to admit it, the results look more than fine.

The Venice Film Festival posted 70-ish short films online to commemorate their 70th anniversary. I watched them gradually over the past year. Already rounded up my favorites and least favorites – this is the rest.

Krzysztof Zanussi

Kids haul a film can containing Zanussi’s Venice prize-winning A Year of the Quiet Sun from a trash can.

Sono Sion

“Cinema’s Future is My Future” title cards. An excited man films things in a neon room. A crowd chants “seventy!”

Antonio Capuano

Green-haired teen zombies carry video cubes on subway station escalators.

Tariq Teguia

“Still, tomorrow’s cinema will be saying: someone is here.”
He has a Film Socialisme poster. Show-off.

James FrancoThe Future of Cinema

FF Coppola says he hopes filmmaking professionalism will be destroyed and regular people will be able to make them. Then some vandals trash a house and it looks like we’re watching the framing story of V/H/S. Then all goes berzerk, and Franco appears, laughing amidst the chaos.

Pablo Larraín

Camera perched atop one of those sail-surfboards looking down, piano playing a riff on “My Blue Heaven”.

Nicolás Pereda

Single shot of couple in bed playing on their phones, unseriously discussing getting married.

Wang Bing

A guy works the land, comes home to his horrible, fly-infested cave.

Kim Ki-dukMy Mother

Kim films his own mother going to the store (slowly and painfully), buying cabbage and prepping dinner for his visit.

Edgar Reitz

Franz Kafka is moved by a film, walks outside into the present-day world of everpresent video screens and advertising. Searching for the source of his quote (“Went to the movies. Wept.”) led to an interesting-looking book called Kafka Goes to the Movies.

Pablo TraperoCinema Is All Around

iPhone videos of tourists taking photos at a waterfall while Doris Day sings Que Sera Sera.

Jia Zhang-ke

People watch old movies on new screens.
Unusually commercial-looking style for Jia.

João Pedro RodriguesAllegoria Della Prudenza

Grave sites (there are multiple) for Kenji Mizoguchi in the whispering wind. Cameo appearance by the grave of Portuguese director Paulo Rocha.

Peter Ho-Sun ChanThe Future Was In Their Eyes

Photo montage of the eyes of many dead filmmakers.

Isabel Coixet

A square little film sketch with bouncy music.

Haile Gerima

He’s in an edit suite reviewing Harvest: 3000 Years. “I am incarcerated in the historical circumstances of Africa. Our cinema is a hostaged cinema.”

Atom EgoyanButterfly

He lets us see video of an Anton Corbijn gallery exhibit before deleting it from his phone. “Frankly I can’t be bothered to store more useless memories that I’ll never look at again, so I have to make some choices of what to lose.”

Hong Sang-soo50:50

Guy smokes with a stranger, tells her that his wife, sitting on a nearby bench, is terribly ill.

Celina Murga

Theater full of kids watch a movie.

Hala Alabdalla

Driving through Syria shooting through a window with a beard-n-sunglasses silhouette stuck on. Then: close-ups of eyeballs.

Pietro Marcello

Silent stock footage and clips of film equipment at work, then a Guy Debord quote.

Jan CvitkovicI Was a Child

Nice moving camera while narrator tells of when she first realized that everything is god.

Jazmín López

Camera follows a trail of discarded objects to two identically-dressed girls making out.

Amir NaderiDon’t Give Up

Aged film of dust storm on a dead sea cut with some present-day film storage room.

Alexey German Jr.5000 Days Ahead

Single travelling shot, people on a beach discussing movies of the future, personal experiences using neural transmitters, “like dreams with subtitles.”

Benoît Jacquot

Single take of a girl looking into camera.

John Akomfrah

B/W travel footage rapidly edited, closing with titles about the Boston Marathon bombing.

Shekhar Kapur

Bunch of short fragments using the white balance and focus in nonstandard ways.

Davide FerrarioLighthouse

Open-air cinema is playing Buster Keaton, shown with nice helicopter(?) shot.

Ermanno OlmiLa Moviola

So that’s what a moviola looks like. Hands and a sort of stop-motion/time-lapse ghost set it up and start it rolling.

Giuseppe Piccioni

We’re at a party, dude goes to get a drink for the girl in center of shot, and she slowly glides with the camera into the other room, audio from a climactic scene from Double Indemnity in her head, then back again.

Brillante MendozaThe Camera

A movie is being filmed, shots of people across town already enjoying it on TV, but back on set someone has run off with the camera.

Monte Hellman

Slate, couple at a cafe, he pays and leaves while she silently cries, the traffic noise dialing down, slow pull in, then “cut”.

Teresa VillaverdeAmapola

Poem recital like a horror-movie bible reading, “jackals that the jackals would despise,” blurry TV sets with close-ups of faces upon them.

Guido LombardiSensa Fine

Last shot of a film, the lead actors kiss, then won’t stop kissing.

Shirin Neshat

Scenes from October and Potemkin played with a stop-motion-looking low frame-rate.

Sometimes I rent something because it looks like a stupid good time, and sometimes I’m very wrong and it turns out to be just painfully awful. This one would look, from the screenshots, to be at least more exciting than Sukiyaki Western Django, but it is not.

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Ruka (above, girl with the needles in Audition) works for the cops. Inexplicably, she’s the only one who can defeat the “engineers”, berserker killers with fleshy Cronenbergian keys in their heads. She meets the original/lead engineer (Itsuji Itao of Negative Happy Chain Saw Edge, unless that’s actually an alternate title for this movie) who killed her father long ago as a hired assassin when her dad was leading some kind of union, but it turns out the cops are corrupt and wanted her dad killed so she teams up with the engineer and takes down the cops after becoming part-engineer herself (below).

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But the plot ain’t what the movie is about. It’s about limbs being chopped off and the endless watery blood sprays that follow. Seems to steal parts of Hostel and Hellraiser in addition to the Cronenberg works. I found the movie to be headachy crap, with music that made it sound like an advertisement. Tried to compensate for its MPD Psycho-like video look with a constantly moving handicam, achieving the worst of both worlds. Wasn’t even worth watching for cool fight scenes, since the fight scenes were not cool.

Itsuji Itao:
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The director started as a makeup/effects artist, and it shows, since that’s all he seems to care about here. He is joined by a writer of Uzumaki. Apparently, irritating teen-girl-obsessed director Sion Sono was here as an actor somewhere. and Tak Sakaguchi (star of Versus) and Takashi Shimizu (director of Ju-on/Grudge and Marebito) also appeared, I don’t know where or when.

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I’d heard this was a sequel to Suicide Circle, so I assumed it was a horror movie. A natural assumption, since Suicide Circle is very much a horror movie. But by no means is this a horror movie, nor is it any good at all, and it is almost three hours long, which means I could have watched two short, good horror movies instead of this one. Tragedy!

Lots of steadicam, with the low-budget video look of MPD Psycho. First hour is a bunch of teen girl crap, with Noriko getting tired of her family and wishing she was as accepted in real life as she is online, where her screen name is Mitsuko. The online community is related to the Suicide Circle cult (it’s the website with the colored dots), but besides a couple flashbacks to the intro train scene of that movie, some “Desert” posters on a wall and some dodgy explanations at the end by a group member, there’s no real mention of the events of the other movie. Instead, we are presented with a wholly different view on Sion Sono’s ideas of group and individual identity, life and death, and the social problems of modern Japan. Maybe it’s deep if you think about it long enough, but it doesn’t make for a very interesting movie, with its amateurish cinematography, excessive length and dull repetitive voiceovers about the boring family problems of teen girls.

Happier times. But WERE they really happy? Are the kids smiling? ARE THEY?
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So, right, Noriko/Mitsuko runs away and meets her online buddy Ueno Station 54 (named after a locker full of junk she found). That’s #54, as in the 54 kids who jumped from the train station… you can look for explanations all day long, but it’s not gonna solve anything. Noriko’s sister Yuka runs away a few months later, changes her name to Yoko, and the sisters meet up in the city. With US54 they work for a family-rental business pretending to be family members of lonely people for an hourly fee. Meanwhile, their real parents are crazy with grief over their disappeared daughters, and after a year the mother kills herself so the father (Ken Mitsuishi of The Pillow Book, Chaos, Eureka, Audition, Invisible Waves) starts combing their rooms for clues and finally comes to the city to find them.

Death is no big thing in Japan
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All is well in the family rental business. Sometimes a client kills a “family member”, as above, but there’s Kumiko/US54 on the left taking his money as if nothing special has happened. The dad gets a friend to help, moves all his stuff from the old house and sets up a new place just like it, then gets the three girls to come over, climactically bursts out of a closet and… stands there like a damned fool. Um, some cult dudes show up and pummel the friend, but dad kills ’em all with a knife. Finally the girls somewhat snap out of it, and go oh yeah it’s our dad. I think Noriko runs away again at the end. I’m probably forgetting something, but whatever.

Separated by sun
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Hints:
– the suicides kept going after the last movie ended… they did not stop with Dessert’s final performance.
– “What about the suicide club – it’s the result of Kumiko’s grudge, right?”
– “The world is the suicide club, with far more suicides than our circle.”
– “Being close to death gives living value”
– Dad is told by a club dude at a diner: “Feel the desert. Survive the desert. That’s your role.” Get it – Desert? Dessert? Get it?? Phthhhht!

What, no floss?
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If this was better lit you’d see “Kiyoshi Kurosawa wuz here” on the windowframe
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“Are you connected to yourself?”

Watching for the second time (and reviewing the plot on wikipedia), I abandoned the thought that the plot would make any sense or come together in the end (the writer/director is apparently a poet, so that explains that) and enjoyed it for what it is, a bloody and effective horror movie. Movie features high-school kids dying en masse as a muddled critique of society, which I guess is why it gets compared to Battle Royale. What with the unexplainable deaths around the country, mysterious websites and themes of interconnection, I’d say it’s more similar to Pulse.

The wiki does a good job on plot, so I’ll make this quick. Pop group Dessert (aka Dessart, Desert) has annoying hit song. Backstage at their concerts, fans who are connected to themselves have patches of skin shaved off and mailed to the police, then a few days later the fans kill themselves. Female internet informant The Bat is kidnapped by flamboyant male “suicide club” leader Genesis, but I’m not sure that either of them have anything to do with anything. The cops fail to figure anything out, but a girl named Mitsuko does. At the end, instead of throwing herself under a train, she enigmatically steps aboard it, smiling at a cop, as Des(s)aert announces their final performance.

left: Ryo Ishibashi, star of Miike’s Audition, also in Big Bang Love, Kitano’s Brother, and that Masters of Horror called Dream Cruise. right: Kimiko Yo of Hou’s Café Lumière
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Akaji Maro’s distinctive face has appeared in movies by Miike, Beat Takeshi and Seijun Suzuki, as well as the Maiku Hama trilogy and he is Ichi the Killer’s (the actor’s) dad.
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Masatoshi Nagase is Mike Hama, also in The Hidden Blade, Pistol Opera and Mystery Train.
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skinbag:
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sega genesis:
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