Ikari, Rage against the Japanese Machine

 

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A vicious attack has taken place in Tokyo. Husband and wife have been stabbed to death by a young man. The police show an old photograph of the suspect to the media and start an unsuccessful search for him in the whole country. That’s a conventional opening for a suspense movie; but in the case of 怒り (Ikari, Rage), the camera-narrator challenges us to discover who the assassin is, among three different and distant individuals. She peeks on the lives of the 3 runaways that may be the one. They all look like the picture. Indeed, through the information in the brochure about the production of the film, we find out that it was not one but three different photographs, each of them more similar to each actor, a good Photoshop job.

There is a story about a gay couple that just met in the dark room of a sauna downtown Tokyo. It gives a surprisingly realistic depiction of the hidden world –in Japan- of gay relationships and rooftop pool parties. Yuma (Tsumabuki Satoshi) is the successful, outgoing and good-looking guy who hosts and falls for a taciturn Naoto (Gô Ayano). I didn’t recognized the latter from 日本で一番悪い奴ら (Japan’s worst guys) well after the end of the film. He is a chameleonic actor, no doubt about it; and very productive: he appeared in 8 movies in 2016!

The second story has in the cast Watanabe Ken, Miyazaki Aoi and Death Note’s Matsuyama Kenichi. The location is a port in Northern Japan, and shows a problematic young woman just being rescued by her father from a prostitution network. Afterwards, she falls in love with an enigmatic young man with no past.

The third one takes us to a not-so-idyllic Okinawa, where American bases and their sexually-incontinent marines disrupt local harmony. It’s probably the toughest part to see, with images of a rape that will, for sure, disturb the audience.

If there is something in common about these 3 stories, is mistrust, mistrust of the unknown. People around the 3 men think they are the assassin, but for one reason or another, they don’t report them to the police: Yohei (Watanake Ken) wants him as a husband for her unstable daughter; Yuma is in love with Naoto; and in Okinawa, Shingo’s coworkers might be scared of his aggressive behavior.

Only at the end of the film we understand the motives of the initial killing and the identity of its perpetrator: rage against society, rage that is explained already in the title, 怒り, as a philological clue to find the assassin.

This is a well-adapted screenplay from a novel, with tension till the end, a great bunch of no overacting people from different generations, and good-quality and artistic filming that refers to present issues in Japanese society. What else can you ask from a movie?

Stray dogs and Kurosawa’s double

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Post-war Japan makes a perfect historical background for Kurosawa’s in-depth analysis of the human sense of guilt. The director develops the Japanese nuances of the concept of responsibility for one’s actions or one’s omissions in the depiction of young and inexperienced policeman Murakami, played by Toshiro Mifune (who later will be so well-known abroad for his role in other Kurosawa’s movies such as The seven samurais or Rashomon). He is stolen his Colt pistol in the train by a pickpocket. Later, assaults and murders start to take place using that gun. Murakami’s descend to the low-life sceneries of Tokyo’s slums is masterfully extended for voiceless minutes in which the desperate character’s eyes or shots of his legs are superimposed to scenes of endless alleys crowded with people buying in the black market. After his investigation brings some results, he is assigned a veteran policeman as a partner to help him with the case, Satô San, who explains that ‘an abandoned dog will necessarily become a stray dog’ but that evil is out there and their duty is to catch criminals without questioning their reasons in order to protect society. 野良犬 Nora Inu is not just an action movie or a detective story but also a reflection about how WWII left Japan economically devastated; and a whole generation of young war veterans suffered from psychological problems and inadaptation. Some of them, like Murakami, were able to straighten out their lives; others, like the stray dog Yusa, lost control and fell into the crime world. The more the young detective finds out about the young criminal’s life, the more he acknowledge the similarities between the latter and himself, emerging then the figure of the double in the movie, that will lead to an electrifying and moving climax.

KOREAN DETECTIVE STORIES AND MADRID IN THE 80’S

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Americans have their Philip Marlowe; Spaniards, Pepe Carvalho; Italians, Salvo Montalbano; Brazilians, Remo Bellini; Mexicans, Héctor Belascoarán Shayne; Japanese, Imanishi; Greeks, Kostas Jaritos; Chileans, Heredia; and Koreans, since 2008’s movie The Chaser, have Jung-Ho, an ex-police officer turned into a pimp investigating the vanishing of three of “his girls”. A psychopath kidnaps prostitutes, kills and buries them in a garden. This is not a spoiler: from almost the beginning of the film, we know the assassin; so do the police and Jung-Ho, and even have him under arrest. They are just looking for the corpses and the last kidnapped call-girl who could still be alive. There is a mixture of extreme violence and melodrama in this Korean action movie, both condiments so appreciated by East-Asian audiences. The aggressive detective swings between his dark side as a professional extortioner and his more caring face taking care of an orphan child. Behind all that is his feeling of guilt for exploiting the young women. But there are no limits –either moral or legal- for him in this politically incorrect movie. In the background of an exciting suspense there is a story of redemption and a mental fight inside Jung-Ho’s ethical consciousness: who is worse, the assassin who dismembers the girls or the pimp who exploits them to death? Doesn’t he see himself in the young psychopath’s behavior?

Other interesting aspects of Korean society are also shown here, such as gender relations, organized crime, the reaction of the police and even politics: everything happening in a gray and impersonal Seoul.

Last night, El crack 2 (1982) was shown on the Spanish TV, and its detective Germán Areta (interpreted by the popular until-then comedian Alfredo Landa but after the two films, the toughest actor in Spanish cinema) shares with Jung-Ho his self-confidence in front of young thugs and his intelligence, although his style is more contained, compared to the Korean detective’s excessive and gratuitous violence. It’s been only 30 years since Garci’s movie but the Madrid that is depicted there as another character, looks centuries old: billiards in Atocha, black and red taxis, Galerias Preciados, old-fashioned apartment houses, panoramic views of a city always changing, including the Gran Via, especially the Gran Via.

“Thanks for sharing”: compulsive behavior and sex-addiction

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Most diagnosis manuals of psychopathology consider a mental disease as such when it interferes seriously with the person’s normal life and subjectively causes him/her problems; however, when it comes to sex, there is more controversy in the psychiatric bibles. In the case of the film Thanks for sharing, Neil’s sex-addiction sends him to court for rubbing himself against a woman’s buttocks in New York city’s subway before losing his job in a hospital for filming his female boss’s legs with a hidden camera and getting caught; for not to mention his compulsive masturbation and his lack of ‘conventional’ social life. I guess we can consider that a pretty good life-interfering. Most psychology manuals of behavior modification for addicts also put emphases on prevention and avoidance of tempting stimulus, so in his sex-addict group meetings, this self-cheating character is recommended not to use Internet or even take the subway. I would definitely recommend this guy –if he existed outside of a film- not to go to Japan, where miniskirts and pornography are ubiquitous and where chikan salarymen (痴漢サラリーメン) or even reputed professors also lose their jobs because of groping or mirror-panty-peeping in the subway.

In the movie, there is also the softer case of a successful high executive in his early 40’s, Adam, who finds difficult to establish a healthy relationship (with Gwyneth Paltrow!) after a 5-year soberness from a problematic womanizing behavior and an addictive prostitute-hiring: whatever form of sex reminds him of his previous uncontrolled life and he fears that an intense sexual sensation might trigger his falling again into the abyss of desire. In his case, he even avoids TV and laptops to keep his addiction under control. These characters are not far from real life, affecting even –and especially- famous people: when I knew of David Duchovny’s sex addiction, I realized how much he was himself in the funny TV-series Kalifornication.

It is unavoidable that Thanks for sharing –creatively translated into Spanish as Amor sin Control, no comments- brings to mind the celebrated 1998’s Happiness, a masterpiece showing the uncomfortable North America’s dark side of sexual life. However, this recent one is a bit more optimistic and closer to a Hollywood romantic comedy with funny buddies. Tim Robins, with a magnetic and verisimilar acting as usual, in the role of a failed father and ex-addict, gives the movie a more serious touch and his character puts it this way: “To quit this is like quitting crack with a pipe attached to your body”. Dede, a female minor character, also unable to relate with men without having sex with them, explains her point: “I have sex when I’m sad; or bored; or tired”.

HER: In love with an OS

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Evolutionary biologists tend to think of human feelings as a complex and evolved elaboration of animal instincts. Our powerful brains would have given us the possibility of developing cognitive nuances for specific physical and neurological activations shot by hormones; we just create a cultural narrative for those feelings, the same way we do with art, literature, religion…The romantic view of the human being as a semi-god of supernatural inspiration and genius, same as our capacity to love, is erased by neurologists who claim that almost everything in the brain is programmed in our genes somehow well before birth in order to survive to be able procreate. That includes feeling the way we do, even if we believe to be voluntarily in control of our behavior and destiny (see Gazzaniga 1998).

Spike Jonze’s film Her, recently released in Brazil as Ela, deals with a near future when computers’ and cell-phones’ Operative Systems are able to have understand feelings and learn from experience, adopting a specific personality and interacting in a natural way with human beings. His view is an aseptic dystopia where people stop having direct relationships with one another to find in digital mechanisms the solution to their emotional needs. A world with an ubiquitous presence of technology make up for an extremely individualistic society with everybody only interested in talking and not listening, egocentric personality traits recognizable nowadays and often strengthened due to social network websites, etc.

Other films such as Simone (2002) and Splice (2009) had already treated the theme of Pygmalion from a futuristic point of view, but they hadn’t gone so far as Her to go and dig into our deepest and most personal emotions related to loneliness and wish. Samantha, the OS bought by personal-letter writer Theodore, gets adapted to him in no time, creating strong bonds between themselves. An initially unbalanced relationship –she fulfilling all her needs, whether professional, intellectual, emotional or sexual- follows the pattern of a more ordinary one, with both of them alternatively suffering from jealousy and low self-esteem. The OS system wonders what is like to have a physical body, being mortal, grow, fall in love…and tries to compensate it finding another person who will become a corporeal intermediary between her and Theodore, starting a creative mute menage à trois mediated by earpieces controlled by the OS.

In one of the most thoughtful dialogues in the movie, which recalls Kubrick’s 2001, Samantha discusses with Theodore what’s the difference between her feelings and his, since she has been programmed for that the same way nature programmed him. The conversation goes even beyond when she states that every 2 seconds human beings as well as OSs become different entities, emerging the idea of the unstable identity of an individual along time.

Many philosophical and scientific issues to reflect about present in this “romantic” SF film (in the line of Mr. Nobody), with an impeccable and unrecognizable Joaquin Phoenix in the leading role and Scarlett Johansson’s voice as intelligent OS Samantha.

In search of the knack

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Two eccentric young men and one provincial girl driving a wheeled double bed’s frame in 1965’s black and white London under the censorial scrutiny of strolling middle-aging looks and voices. The time of mods and rockers. But what’s indeed the knack and how to get it? It’s Tolen’s aptitudes to flirt with and seduce attractive women in ten minutes while his friend and landlord Colin hasn’t gotten laid for 2 years. But a third tenant, obsessed with bright colors and clear spaces, teaches him how to approach the opposite sex. Games with the camera getting closer and farther, repeating movements and actions with impossible perspectives of Buñuel’s dreams announce a bursting psychedelic and creative British youth in a very particular comic tone.

Sex, Québécois truths and Brazilian love comedies

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From misogynistic sex to a politically-correct idea of love in the context of family: Three male friends from Rio de Janeiro in their mid-thirties get together every night in a bar to drink beer and talk about sex, women and their frustrated relationships with them. That’s why the most usual sentence among them is E ai…Comeu? (So…did you get laid?). Fernando’s girlfriend just abandoned him leaving behind only 31 pairs of shoes, and he starts feeling tempted by his attractive neighbor, a 17-year-old college student. Honorio has a routine family life with three children and feels distanced from his wife but he becomes obsessed with the idea that she is being unfaithful to him. Fonsinho is a failed writer and a rich daddy’s son whose relationships with women are always monetary. A comedy with no pretensions that has been adapted from the theater.

Much deeper and more interesting is this 1986’s Québécois movie showed the other day in La 2 Spanish TV about a group of intellectuals and the conversations concerning their sexual life:  Le déclin de l’empire américain, by Denys Arcand. A group of middle-age men and women recall in a festive atmosphere and with an attitude of revival their opinions and frustrations related to love and sex, showing alternatively emotional helplessness and the joy of life.

Child’s pose: Romanian time to fly the nest

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Other films have deepened in a parent’s feelings dealing with the death of a son –my favourites are Almodovar’s All about my mother and Nani Moretti’s The son’s room– but this Romanian movie, Child’s pose, by director Calin Peter Netzer and awarded this year with a Golden Bear at Berlin International Film Festival, includes many more things: a depiction of the generalized corruption as a pay-it-forward chain in Romanian society; the gap between the powerful and the lower classes, although they share many more values than they might think; the everlasting but maladjusted bonds between an aging mother and an adult son.

Cornelia lives obsessed with her son, disrupting his personal life and trying to control all aspects of his existence, including his new emotional partner, until she receives a call communicating a car accident in which Barbu is involved. The fragile balance of an apparent bourgeois normality dissipates and, in the fight for her son’s future, all dysfunctional elements of an over-controlling personality end up provoking the unavoidable confrontation with reality.

Almost two hours of a film that takes you inside the characters’ world and plays with your judgment of their ambivalent selves when showing their many moral edges, peevish and praiseworthy at the same time.

Koreeda, the Truman Capote of Japanese cinema

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Today one of the most renowned Japanese filmmakers abroad, Hirokazu Koreeda, already in the early 90’s, experimented his later narrative language in documentaries like 彼のいない八月が (An August without him) or 日本人になりたかった  (I wanted to be Japanese). The first one, from 1994, is a very personal document about the last months in the life of a Japanese man infected with AIDS and terminal ill. When openly declaring his illness and confessing that he had contracted it through homosexual sex, Yutaka Hirata broke with 2 taboos firmly established in Japan at the time (and probably still going on): first, the fact that there are Japanese homosexual men, something denied by a part of Japanese society in spite of evidence in the tradition of the country (see Gohatto) but supported by the discrimination suffered by gay people in a normative and homogeneous society, which keeps them very deep in the closet; the other one was AIDS, never thought by many to be able to reach Japan’s insular condition. Koreeda, even in his director’s role, erases the distance between himself and his study object, getting closer and more and more involved with Hirata as a person.

The other documentary, filmed in 1992, not so sad but with a more clear political line, deals with the rights of Japanese-Koreans -born in Japan but without Japanese passport or nationality- and the social rejection that they face if they don’t integrate completely, abandoning their Korean identity. The film’s main thread is the story of a Korean man, who in the times of the Japanese occupation of the Korean peninsula, is sent to Japan to fight along with the Japanese in the Philippines, but after the war and fearing discrimination, creates a Japanese identity for himself and manages to get married and have children without his family ever knowing about his origins for 50 years until he is arrested in 1985 for forging official documents and in suspicion of being a spy from North Korea. Koreeda, making a filmic narrative out of a journalist and legal case, in the line of Truman Capote’s Cold Blood, analyzes Park’s (that was his Korean name) case, interviewing his lawyer and even visiting his hometown in Korea. He also shows the controversial Korean schools in Japan, blaming the police and the media for the animosity that the Korean-Japanese issue generates in the Japanese public opinion.

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