Simian Substitute Site Of The Month February 2017: Pancake Apes!
Simian Substitute Site Of The Month March 2017: Messy Monkeys

MOSTLYFILM: Odd Obsessions

Destruction Babies"Various permutations of these fourteen films will be whizzing around fifteen UK cinemas from today until March 29th. Pick and choose the ones you like, and don’t feel you have to see every single film. Because that would be obsessive, wouldn’t it?"

Regular readers who've seen that paragraph turn up at the end of Odd Obsessions, my latest piece for MostlyFilm, will probably have wet themselves laughing after reading it. Because it refers to the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme, the annual collection of recent and classic Japanese movies that makes it way around the UK every February and March. Since 2012, the very nice people at the Japan Foundation have been sending me screeners of selected films from the year's programme, and I've been reviewing them for MostlyFilm. But for the last five years, I've also paid hard cash to see any of the programme films that I didn't have screeners for - and reviewed them either in the comments of the piece itself (2013, 2014) or in a separate blogpost (2015, 2016). So, yes, I have been that obsessive really.

Not this year, though: I can't give you a full review of every single film in the 2017 season. The MostlyFilm preview covers eight films: there are another six in the collection. I can't get to see three of them during the London run, through a combination of clashing schedules and unexpectedly fast sellouts. So you'll have to find out for yourselves what Somebody's Xylophone, Tsukiji Wonderland and A Silent Voice are like. I've now watched the other three, though, and you can read my reviews below as part of the bonus content for the MostlyFilm piece. Plus, there are thirteen bits of video for you at the end.

Lady MaikoThe trailer for Destruction Babies, all fragmented edits and noisy guitars, warns you that this isn't going to be a nice film: it'll be dark, edgy, and unsuitable for under-15s. And for its first twenty minutes or so, it lives up to the hype. We follow Taira (Yuya Yagira) as he walks the streets of Matsuyama picking fights with random passers-by. As soon as one fight is over, he's off looking for the next. It's an extraordinarily intense sequence of violent events, reminiscent of Alan Clarke's Elephant in its unwillingness to provide an easy context for the relentless violence. You find yourself wondering where the film can possibly go from here: unfortunately, the answer is not very far, other than glibly showing Taira having a viral impact both online and in real life. With no real attempts at light and shade, director Tetsuya Mariko plays the whole story at maximum volume, and the result has become fairly tedious by the end. Its dystopian viewpoint certainly gives you pause when the Japan Foundation's post-film survey asks you if you think the film's provided a useful window into Japanese society.

You could argue that Lady Maiko is more the sort of image that Japan might want to present to the world: it may be based on a tourist cliché, but writer/director Masayuki Suo (previously in one of these programmes with I Just Didn't Do It) is having fun with it. A maiko is an apprentice geisha, and this film tells the story of rough country girl Haruko (Mone Kamishiraishi) and her attempts to join their ranks. It won't be easy, as it's not just a question of breeding, but also one of language: which is the point where we realise we're in a rewrite of My Fair Lady, as a language professor who hangs around geishas too much for his own good takes on the challenge of battering Haruko's common speech (hilariously stylised in the English subtitles) into something more reminiscent of Kyoto. It's a traditional story structure - you could even argue it's the same structure as Flying Colours from elsewhere in this season - but Suo's featherlight touch and an excellent ensemble cast turn it into an utter delight. And I haven't even told you yet that it's a musical.

A Stitch Of LifeThe prospect of watching an adaptation of a dressmaking manga in the form of A Stitch Of Life - not to be confused with A Sparkle Of Life in the same season - becomes slightly worrying when we get our first glimpse of dressmaker Ichie (Miki Nakatani). She’s sat in the window of her shop by her grandmother’s old sewing machine, the window flooded with what Sezzyboy from the old Guardian talkboards used to call Jesus Light, that overblown effect that Spielberg uses to indicate cosmic importance. Thankfully, within a couple of minutes someone’s described her as being like a grumpy old man, and we can relax. That description comes from Fujii (Takahiro Miura), a rep for a big department store who keeps trying to persuade Ichie to expand her tiny business into a full-blown commercial brand, and to work on her own designs rather than keep harking back to her gran’s. It would be a major shock if a film like this ultimately took the side of industrialisation over artisanship, and it’s not really a spoiler to tell you that everything ends exactly the way you’d expect it to. But the journey is everything here, and director Yukiko Mishima gets the tone almost exactly right, with a perfect balance of sentiment, humour and practical business acumen. The one stumble comes with the ending: Mishima deploys a single glorious image that sums up Ichie’s final decision, holds it so that we get the message, but then takes fifteen unnecessary minutes to wrap up the film after it. Other than that, it’s rather delightful, working just as well as a human story as it does as frock porn.

As is traditional, I'll finish off with a playlist of clips and trailers for the films in the season. I've not been able to find anything on YouTube for Flora On The Sand, but here are the other thirteen:

  1. The Mohican Comes Home
  2. Destruction Babies
  3. Somebody’s Xylophone
  4. Flying Colours
  5. Pieta in the Toilet
  6. A Stitch of Life
  7. Kabukicho Love Hotel
  8. Lady Maiko
  9. Pale Moon
  10. A Sparkle of Life
  11. Odd Obsession
  12. Tsukiji Wonderland
  13. A Silent Voice


Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)