Review for New Directors from Japan
I’ve mentioned my compulsion to write about what I watch before. That usually serves me in good stead when it comes to reviewing DVDs and Blu-rays, but here comes the downside. Third Window Films ran a Kickstarter back in the day for this New Directors From Japan release, and due to workload, I shunned the usual check disc, and instead shelled out for a finished copy instead, intending to review it when I could make the time. That was five years ago. A release limited to 1000 copies, you’ll be hard pressed to find any new copies and second hand will be your best bet (although at the time of writing, there is a marketplace seller with one copy on Amazon). So this might just be the most pointless review I’ve written yet, unless these films are accessible digitally online.
New Directors From Japan showcases the work of three up and coming directors, featuring four films in all from Kosuke Takaya, Hirobumi Watanabe, and Nagisa Isogai. This is a three disc collection, with the films presented on a Blu-ray disc, repeated on a DVD disc, and a third DVD disc holding the extra features. I’ll be watching the films on the Blu-ray for the purposes of this review.
Buy Bling, Get One Free (27:13)
Presented in 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p with DTS-HD MA 5.1 Japanese and burnt in English subtitles.
Kamano is a dedicated, trendsetting fashionista, a man with unique style and sensibility, the kind of man who spends his time checking his look in a van mirror rather than actually doing his job of guiding traffic around a building site. But it seems no one appreciates his brilliance, not his family, not his girlfriend who dumps him and not even his fashion oriented friends. But when he gets a cover on the ORAGO magazine, he attracts the attention of the A(C) group, who won’t take no for an answer.
My thoughts: It took a while for Buy Bling, Get One Free to grow on me. That’s despite its short running time of less than half an hour. It’s because its takes so much of its time in developing its vain and ridiculous protagonist. Kamano’s fashion sense is so out there that you’ll be doing double takes for the first fifteen minutes. It’s the last half where the film clicks, turning into an effective satire of modern consumer culture and the fashion industry, the way we are all manipulated into accepting what trend-setters, or rather the money-makers tell us. I do suspect however, that the satire was actually more effective as I watched this film while wearing a grey tracksuit.
My Baby (15:30)
Presented in 4:3 480i with Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Japanese and burnt in English subtitles.
Two sisters, Hatsumi and Chika; Hatsumi is pregnant with a girl she intends to name Aoi, when Chika tells her that she is pregnant too. The ramifications of that are obvious, and the shock and subsequent fall causes Hatsumi to lose her baby. Nine months later, Chika’s daughter Aoi is born...
My thoughts: Oh dear! I hope that this is a parody or just juvenile silliness, as the soap opera histrionics of this particular short story are hysterical, and not in a good way. Sibling rivalry and antagonism has been with us since the proverbial Cain and Abel, so the fury flying between Hatsumi and Chika is nothing original. But it’s taken to extremes of shrieking and slapping that never seems serious, but is never cartoonish enough to actually be funny, at least not until the end, by which point it’s too late.
Lust of Angels Trailer (0:50)
Lust of Angels (38:32)
Presented in 2.35:1 widescreen 1080i 60Hz, with DTS-HD MA 2.0 Japanese audio and burnt in English subtitles.
Travelling by train isn’t an easy ride for a schoolgirl, and one line is so bad that the school bans them from riding that particular train, telling them to take the long way home. Four girls team up to bring vigilante action against the train molesters, but differing motives bring them into conflict with each other instead.
My thoughts: This looked like a fun premise. It’s always interesting when the worm turns, and this particular issue warrants the proverbial ‘kick in the balls’ solution rather than something more measured and civilised. There was a point, early on in the film that I thought it might turn out to be entertaining, but it quickly devolved into the same soap opera histrionics, the extremes of emotion and angst that so blighted My Baby. It’s only 38 minutes long, but Lust of Angels feels like the longest film on the disc by half, and I spent most of the movie watching the clock.
And the Mud Ship Sails Away... (88:30)
Presented in 1.78:1 widescreen 1080i 60Hz mostly monochrome, with DD 2.0 Japanese stereo and optional English subtitles.
The Film: Takashi is an unemployed layabout. He lives in the country with his grandmother, surviving on welfare cheques (most of which go to support his ex-wife and child) and spending every day doing as little as possible. Not that there is much to do in the towns and villages near his home. Then one day there is a knock on the door. A girl named Yuka is looking for Takashi’s father, also her father. Suddenly having a half-sister isn’t the impetus that Takashi needs to change his life.
My thoughts: Kiyo Shibukawa is a familiar face in Third Window Films’ catalogue (Lowlife Love) and he’s ideally cast as the wastrel Takashi. And the Mud Ship Sails Away is an interesting downbeat comedy, blending the dead-end existence in the Japanese countryside with a post-Fukushima malaise that culminates in the life of a man who has just given up. Takashi is the kind of man who rewrites the narrative of his life as it happens, infusing his daily ennui with a tinge of interest. Only no-one is buying. Then Yuka shows up, claiming to be his half-sister, and thereafter pops in and out of his life, continuing to shake it up as she gets to know him, veering between criticism and affection, but ever ready to pick out his flaws. The film flows quite well, even if its direction is ambiguous, and I was always waiting for the penny to drop, for some revelation. Instead, Watanabe pulls a bizarre and somewhat surreal conclusion for the film, apparently from thin air, and it’s revealed that the 88 minutes have all been setup for a punchline to a joke that has been building since practically the first frame, and nothing to do with the overall storyline.
It’s a mixed bag as you might expect given the specifications for each film given above, but all of them are watchable, despite only Buy Bling, Get One Free making the most of the Blu-ray format. The interlaced films have the jerkiness that you will expect from such media, but the disappointment technically is that Lust of Angels trailer is in 1080p, while the feature is interlaced. As for My Baby, it’s probably better to watch that film on DVD and let your player upscale the image, as it will most likely look better than the 480i version on the Blu-ray.
Once again you get a mix of audio formats and subtitle options with all of the films, ranging from Dolby Digital and burnt in subs to optional subtitles and lossless surround, but all you really need to know is that the subtitles are unproblematic, and the dialogue is clear in all of the films.
You get three discs in a DVD Amaray case, with two discs on a central hinged panel, and with an o-card slipcover repeating the disc art and blurb. As well as the short introductions and trailer listed above, you also get a separate DVD disc with a whole lot of interviews, although confusingly it uses the same main menu screen.
On it you will find the following interviews with the directors.
Kosuke Takaya (19:25)
Nagisa Isogai (31:08)
Hirobumi Watanabe (23:08)
You also get an interview with the Watanabe Brothers (20:31), and with Shogo Tomiyama (14:15).
I’ve mentioned it before, but anthologies are eclectic by their very nature, and it’s usually a matter of blind luck that all of the films within appeal. It’s probably clear at this point that the works of Nagisa Isogai don’t exactly hit the spot with me, or at least the two films presented in this set don’t.
I did find much to appreciate about And the Mud Ship Sails Away... It’s a little bit aimless and unsure, but it has an engaging story, interesting characters, and it unfolds in a way that holds the attention. But the surprise for me was Buy Bling, Get One Free, which was an assured piece of satire and social commentary, sharp and funny, and very effective. It’s easily the best piece in this collection.
If you can still find a copy somewhere, new or second hand, these films are well worth checking out.