July 7, 2013
The annual Eiga Sai Japanese Film Festival is once again being presented by the Japan Foundation Manila, in cooperation with the Embassy of Japan, Shangri-La Plaza, and the Film Development Council of the Philippines, from July 4 to 14, 2013, at Cinema 2 of the Shang Cineplex. These films are, as always, open to the public for free. You just need to be willing to line up, sometimes a full hour or more, to catch the film you like.
Here are my personal reviews of three films included this year's line-up of the Eiga Sai that I have seen:
ABOUT HER BROTHER ("OTOTO")
In "About Her Brother," Kohoru, a pretty young lady who works in the local pharmacy of her mother in a Tokyo suburb, is talking about her Uncle Tetsuro, her mother's younger brother, who is the family black sheep, for being a loser and a drunk. Her mother, the long-suffering Mrs. Ginko Takano, is the only family member who remained sympathetic to Tetsuro despite all the trouble and humiliation he has caused them.
The movie is two-hours long and slow to unfold despite the predictable story. The first part showing the shameful callous idiocy of Tetsuro was very difficult to watch. His foolishness at Kohoru's wedding and the huge unpaid debt he has incurred will make you feel so indignant. Yet, by the last thirty minutes, you would not be able to control your tears as those last heart-rending scenes squeeze them out of you.
This film's success I attribute solely to the sublime performance of Ms. Sayuri Yoshinaga as Ginko. Despite the movie being told in Kohoru's point of view, it is Ginko's quiet dignity and selflessness is the elegant heart and soul of this film. What Ginko goes through in this movie for her younger brother is harrowing and difficult, and many people now may not understand why she did what she did. But Ms. Yoshinaga's Ginko was so real. We feel her as our own mother.
This is a rare movie that tells about an older sister-younger brother relationship. I hope to see director Yoji Yamada's other films about Japanese family life. My introduction to Japanese film was a movie about a Japanese family, Ozu's fascinating "Tokyo Story". The emotions "About Her Brother" evokes in its final quarter somewhat reminded me of Ozu's work. The beautiful Asian sense of self-sacrifice in the name of family was showcased in its restrained nobility. 7/10
"Confessions" is about Ms. Moriguchi (Takako Matsu), a young school teacher who plots and executes an elaborate plot to exact revenge on two of her juvenile delinquent students who were responsible for the sad death of her four year old daughter.
This horror story happened in a seemingly "regular" school, where your own children are in right now. How are you to know if there are mentally-unstable schoolmates roaming around plotting the most evil of schemes for the most nebulous reasons? This is the main reason why this film is so unsettling and discomforting.
The film also makes a convincing case against the Juvenile Law of the Penal Code stating that those 14 years old and younger are not liable for their crimes and cannot be punished for them.
The film is highly stylized with liberal use of visual effects and computer imagery. It is also very graphically violent and shirked not from generously splattering blood in its depiction of the various deaths that occur in the film.
The performance of Ms. Takako Matsu in the lead role of Ms. Moriguchi is so quiet and restrained, which makes her seem even more sinister, even as you can completely see where she is coming from. The creepy portrayals of the two troubled boys by young actors Yukito Nishii and Kaoru Fujiwara are very vexing in their realism.
"Confessions" is a different kind of Japanese horror film especially since it has nothing supernatural going on in it. This is one film that is so difficult to watch because you get the feeling that this can happen in real life. It is a film that can make you lose faith in the future of humanity.
Yet, despite it being so dark, so disturbing, so demoralizing and so depraved, Director Tetsuya Nakashima tells the story in a riveting way that you will be mesmerized to follow it all the way to the bitter end. 7/10
"Parade" is a strange film about five young people, male and female, who share an apartment but hardly knew each other. One girl is obsessed with her eyebrows and her TV soap-opera actor boyfriend. One girl watches rape videos to relax. One guy is a yuppie who likes to run. One guy is a lazy bum student. The newest guy is a meddlesome blond- haired male prostitute.
In the two hours of this film, we simply watch these five people go in and out of their apartment, getting involved with their neighbors, their lovers, their curiosities about each other, and a serial killer on the loose in the park. The movie just jumps from one character to the other dealing with random mundane events in their lives. I do not really see a distinct unifying plot. It is all so "stream of consciousness"-like, definitely not for everybody.
I guess it is all about how you cannot judge a book by its cover -- how even the most sensible-looking or the most attractive of people have their own share of ugly secrets hidden in their closets. The young actors all did their best in their unusual roles. Unfortunately, everything in the script of director Isao Yukisada felt contrived and unnatural. It did not exactly fly for me. 5/10