VOD Picks Of The Week - Japanese triple bill
Monday 20 April 2020, by
Japanese Avant-garde and Experimental Film Festival [JAEFF] producer George Crosthwait picks his three favourite Japanese films currently available on streaming platforms in the UK.
Visitor Q – Mubi
First up is something thoroughly deranged. Takashi Miike’s no-budget tale of incest, domestic violence and lactation, shot on unappealing digital video. It’s a comedy.
This won’t come as a surprise to followers of Miike’s career. A famously hard working filmmaker (over 100 films in less than 30 years) whose genre hopping tales of excess made him a poster director for Tartan’s “Asia Extreme” DVD imprint in the late 90s/early 00s. Whilst Miike delivered a string of jidaigeki action epics in the 2010s (Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, Thirteen Assassins, Blade of the Immortal), and the recent gangster/boxing film First Love (released in UK cinemas in January), it was through his earlier hyperviolent and surreal films such as Audition, Ichi the Killer, The Happiness of the Katakuris and Gozu that he made his name.
Visitor Q oozes out of this period, and perhaps tops the lot in terms of risqué content. Ostensibly a riff on Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1968 satire of the bourgeois family, Teorema, Visitor Q likewise annihilates its middle-class milieu. In Pasolini’s film, the family are seduced and liberated by a mysterious stranger. In Miike’s updating, the family are abused and traumatised by both the titular visitor and each other. Their liberation, if we can call it that, comes from the evaporation of taboos and pleasure of transgression. If you can access the wavelength of this hysterical satire then you too may be released from the restrictions of your social coding (if not from your lockdown).
The Night is Short, Walk On Girl – Netflix
If, like me, in times of strife you seek solace in the loving embrace in anime, then you’re probably spending a fair amount of lockdown life working through Netflix’s auspiciously timed deployment of Studio Ghibli’s entire catalogue. But Ghibli is not the last word for Anime, and Netflix offers a (patchy) selection of delights beyond the gateway drugs of Totoro and Ponyo. On furlough with endless hours stretching out ahead? No better time than to dive into Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion (a kind of anime Twin Peaks). Other choice cuts include pre-Your Name work from Makoto Shinkai (Garden of Words), a rare example of anime directed by a woman (A Silent Voice), and the inventive Hiroshima-set WW2 drama In This Corner of the World.
My pick for this week, however, is Masaaki Yuasa’s The Night is Short, Walk On Girl. A Lewis Carroll inspired, offbeat odyssey encompassing an epic pub crawl, an improvised musical play within a film, a viral epidemic (how topical), a mysterious after dark second-hand book fair, unrequited romance and clandestine shunga traders, all in the course of one long (short) night!
Often citing René Laloux’s 1973 classic symbolist sci-fi animation The Fantastic Planet as his key inspiration, Yuasa’s wildly imaginative brand of surrealism has garnered him a dedicated following. Films like Mind Game, Lu Over the Wall, and adaptations of novelist Tomohiko Morimi (The Night is Short, Walk On Girl; The Tatami Galaxy) demonstrate the possibilities afforded to an animator with only a passing relationship to logic. Given that civilisation no longer makes any sense, why not dive into an animated world where nonsense rules supreme.
My final pick goes to Hirokazu Kore-eda; a household name following the Palme d’Or winning Shoplifters, and fresh off his first film made in Europe: The Truth. As seen in the latter, return to the childhood home and intergenerational relationships are two Kore-eda staples. These themes never crystallised as perfectly as in my personal favourite Kore-eda film, 2008’s Still Walking.
Still Walking plays as a kind of reversal of Tokyo Story (don’t say this to Kore-eda, he loathes the constant comparisons to Ozu) where the grown-up children visit their elderly parents. To me, Still Walking is a fulcrum around which the rest of Kore-eda’s filmography turns. The aforementioned themes aside, the cast includes some of his favourite actors: the great, and sadly late, Kirin Kiki, Hiroshi Abe (I Wish, After the Storm) and You (best known now for Terrace House!); there is a strong focus on food preparation and eating; and a final Kore-eda trope, the train. Without giving too much away, there is one long take at the end of the film which captures a train sliding across the screen. It’s very simple, although the timing is very precise. It’s one of my favourite moments in cinema.
Not much happens in Still Walking. The family argues and reminisces. Food is eaten. Walks are taken. This is a film of quiet moments and contemplation. Its a film that requires you to sync with its rhythm. If you do, you should achieve a sense of beautiful calm. A welcome meditation during these testing times.