East Side Sushi

Equal parts charming and clumsy. It felt like a senior project, and the script had all the usual characters, as if cut from film school cardboard. But there is heart, and… Oakland.

The Handmaiden

Is it fair to say that this is Park Chan-wook at his most restrained? And most elegant. Which is appropriate, given the tale at hand, and its source material. It’s great to look at, and very solidly structured. My only real complaint is how easy it is to see what is coming, during the second third of the film…

Isle of Dogs

I like Wes Anderson best when he doesn’t have doesn’t have actual actors being so quirky. It’s better, and less cloying, when puppets are put into these situations, and saying these lines.

Even if the lines are in Japanese. Would I have liked this film as much if there were no Japan connection? I’m not certain. And I’m also not sure about the racist charges that the film seems to be attracting. Again, maybe because I know that Japan is… like this?

At any rate, first-rate eye candy, as usual. Superb attention to detail. I liked it.

The Great Happiness Space

Who exactly is happy? This documentary showcased some of the things I most disliked during my time living in Tokyo. Silliness from adults, including drunkenness and screaming in shrill voices from girls, and guys with stupid, dyed hair who think far too much of themselves. And the girls pay to be with these guys? Oh, hookers. That makes some kind of sense. A pathetic tail-swallowing spiral of wasted time, money, lives…

Girl Model

Indentured servitude and human trafficking  are two of the parallels drawn by other critics to the kind of model recruiting that is depicted here. The scout, Ashley, knows exactly what she is doing to the young Russian girls who she recruits, because she is a former model herself. There are many scenes taken from her own camera during her time as a girl model in Japan, in which she films herself describing how unhappy and depressed she is.

Now, as an adult, she doesn’t seem any happier. Most telling are the shots of her in her huge house in the U.S., purchased with the proceeds of her modeling success. But it’s empty, hollow, and lonely…

She hasn’t escaped the racket, she has become more deeply a part of it, enabling the agencies she works for and their slimy owners, continuing to profit without the least hint of compassion for the girls she should largely be responsible for. Instead we see the young Russian models struggle with the day to day realities of being in a foreign country, with no knowledge of the language or culture, completely in the dark about what they are doing as they are shopped around to various clients, put up in a typical rabbit-hutch of a Tokyo apartment, left largely to fend for themselves.

Not a happy movie…

Norwegian Wood

Apparently this had very little to do with the book upon which it was based. But not having read the Murakami novel, I was able to enjoy the film on its own merits. It benefited from a non-Japanese director, who steered the project away from the typically overdone Japanese style, which seems always to push things too far – the acting, the emotions, the soundtrack. And who does it turn out to be? Tran Anh Hung, who directed The Vertical Ray of the Sun and The Scent of Green Papaya

Somewhat like those films, this moved at a leisurely pace, and depended to a great degree on lingering shots of good-looking people. But this feels a good bit more melancholy. As Roger Ebert put it, “There’s something depressing about a young couple helplessly in love. Their state is so perfect, it must be doomed.”

 

Vibrator

The Japanese just love this kind of film, involving someone with a fucked-up personality and some variety of twisted sex. Me, not so much. The characters basically annoyed me, and I wouldn’t want anything to do with them in real life. Plus it takes place mostly in the cab of a truck. The only positive thing I can say is that it managed to end on a hopeful note.

Tokyo Gore Police

Japanese fantasy flick featuring hottie in police uniform whose job it is to track down and kill mutants. Schlocky and hokey and not titillating – the uniform stays on, after all – and not a little bit gory. Meh.