Kuroneko (1968)

26 10 2010

Pretty standard Shindo fair here, in so much that he is able to show off his technical chops while also telling a pretty mundane story. Don’t get me wrong, ghost cats seem like they could be interesting (I guess?) but the mythology and folklore elements are all sort of lost on me due to the silly (if not simplistic) morality complex and just the fact that Shindo just seems to tell the same story over and over again. It would be reductive to call this a rehash of Onibaba but the similarities are staggering. Sure, that’s what autuerism is, but in this case, Shindo seems to go through the motions and just reiterate the visual motifs he likes.

I’ll give Shindo some credit because he really does manage to make all his movies look really good. He’s not the best of his peers, not by a long shot but he definitely holds his own ground. His films lack the extreme sensuality in say, a Yoshishige Yoshida film, as well as the jolting editing of Hiroshi Teshigahara, who is probably the single filmmaker most like him. Both seem to embrace content that should be below them, in all honesty. Teshigahara has his sub-Twilight Zone “surrealism” and Shindo has his folklore horror stories. I really don’t particularly care for either. In Teshigahara’s case, the form sort of overwhelms the content. He’s a bit more creative with the camera, and a lot less concerned with presenting a linear narrative.

It’s kind of fitting then, I guess, that this film is at its best when Shindo decides to focus less on exposition or any dialogue for that matter, and tries to make the film one extended montage. For at least 15 minutes or so, he manages to collide a series of images which repeat the routine of the daughter-in-law, played byKiwako Taichi. We see her confront samurais, lead them through a forrest, and then seduce them once they arrive at her place. It’s a bit repetitive and probably exhausting for the viewer looking for some “J horror” but represents Shindo at his sharpest. He manages to repeat this exercise but still produce new images. Sure, from a pure narrative standpoint, it’s easy to “get” but it is one of the few times he is not chiefly concerned with progressing the story. It’s the film’s most self-consciously artistic sequence, but it is also one of its best.

I’m not saying that the content here is completely boring, in fact, towards the end it actually becomes a little poignant. The encounters the hero has with the ghost version of his wife is heartbreaking despite the fact that it shouldn’t be. It’s weird, I get the impression that Shindo wanted to tell a story about losing loved ones and based on sequences like the one I mentioned, he would have nailed it. Unfortunately, there’s an excess of the folklore stuff, which really just reinforces the silliest and most negative stereotypes of the genre. The whole bit at the end with the giant cat paw is just ridiculous. It’s really a shame too since it comes off the heels of by far the most emotionally resonant stretch in the entire movie. Oh well, some good stuff here.

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Sebbe (2010)

14 10 2010

Well, where the hell did this come from? Just when I think the disgruntled youth in high school movie had long worn out its welcome, something like this comes along and sort of blind sides you into a new experience. Perhaps I’m embellishing it a little bit here, but this is definitely how one should execute such a movie. As far as I’m concerned, this, along with Paranoid Park represent the (faux) genre at it’s highest piece both in terms of form (though Van Sant’s film is definitely superior in that category) and intimacy.

The plot synopsis I read before hand described the story as that of a trouble young boy who gets beat by his mom. While this is certainly true, it is a pretty false representation of what the film is presenting. The film’s titular character is abused by his mother in a few instances, but it’s not some parental figure devoid of character, Sebbe’s mom is not a villain in any stretch. She has her unsavory traits to say the least, but she still manages to display something that resembles an affection for her son. In a weird way, this is almost like 35 Shots of Rum at least in the fact that it is one of the few modern films to actually attempt to look at the relationship of a parent and their child and to do so in a way that isn’t just about forwarding the narrative.

Truth be told, there’s nothing remarkable about the narrative itself. Sebbe is a resourceful boy, he spends his time collecting leftover electronics which he uses in the help of building various projects. He’s quiet and bullied at school. Sound familiar? I’m not riding the film off for being unoriginal just in it’s content. Even if it is unoriginal, it is concerning an issue that pretty much everyone is vulnerable at – the age of high school. Sure, perhaps not to the extreme it is depicted here, but it’s the sort of pathos that is difficult to just feel indifferent towards.

Speaking of being extreme, this does hold something of a tonal relationship with Lilya 4-ever in the sense that it’s about being young and it’s Swedish. Okay, there’s probably more but the comparison is vital in making my point. In that film, everything that happens is essentially bad, it’s a tragic film. I’m not saying it isn’t a moving story, but it’s the one that seems to have been staged with characters that are bordering on being interesting characters and just being chess pieces for the story.

This is pretty groundbreaking for myself seeing as how Lilya 4-ever use to be one of my favorite movies. I still like it, but I think the experience here manages to capture the same tragic tone, but apply it to something with less severe consequences. There is one extremely crucial scene towards the end that skirts the line of going into the over-the-top sadness of someone like Lars Von Trier, but it dodges all the dramatized “tragic” bullshit and ultimately becomes a story that is equally moving but manages to keep the audience grounded in a reality that is closer to them. Thus, the pain of the protagonist is all the more resonant.