It’s day four of the festival and I’m already feeling quite tired, but Friday is my busiest day so far with five films packed into a busy schedule! It’s also one of the most varied, bouncing back and forth between mainstream and indie, thrillers, gothic romances and family dramas, each directed by veteran filmmakers trying something a little a different.
After picking up my tickets I head over to Künsterlerhaus Mousonturm and grab a couple of onigiri from the sushi stand upstairs to keep me going through the day before taking my seat for the first of five films – Death Note: Light up the New World.
Not having been a fan of the first live action Death Note films, I came to Light Up the New World filled with hope but also trepidation. Shinsuke Sato, whose hugely enjoyable zombie movie I Am A Hero also played later the same day, has proved himself one of the better directors of Japanese blockbusters and Light up the New World does display his flair for big budget action extravaganzas, though longstanding Death Note fans may mourn the less cerebral, more directly procedural approach to the Shinigami problem.
Moving swiftly on from vigilante justice, Sabu’s second entry into the festival following his contemplative science fiction effort Happiness follows a newly conflicted Taiwanese hitman stranded in Japan when a job goes wrong. In true Sabu style, Mr. Long mixes surreal humour with an underlying sadness as he explores how each of these lives have been affected by the presence of organised crime. Though the titular Mr. Long speaks no Japanese, he does run into a sweet little boy who happens to be the son of a Taiwanese woman and therefore speaks both fluent Mandarin and Japanese. Thanks to the boy’s help Mr. Long is also adopted by the local community, who are very taken with his resourceful, yet delicious, cooking skills and set him up with a beef noodle stand. They may be exploiting him, in a sense, but it all comes from a good place and soon Mr. Long isn’t sure he wants to go home anymore, but the past has a habit of coming to get you even if you don’t really want it to.
Mr. Long saw Sabu working with Taiwanese stars and in Mandarin for a substantial amount of the running time, but in Daguerrotype, Kiyoshi Kurosawa makes his first full length international picture. Very much in the tradition of European gothic, Kurosawa retains his trademark style to make an ordinary French country mansion the seat of mystery and dread as a young man arrives to apply for the job of photographer’s assistant. Sucked into the eerie atmosphere of the house, Tahar Rahim’s hard-up opportunist not only develops a liking for his boss’ pretty yet ethereal daughter but also becomes embroiled in shady real estate dealings contributing to his ongoing moral decline.
Moral decline is also a minor theme of Miwa Nishikawa’s The Long Excuse, in which a formerly successful novelist has become so self obsessed and emotionally cold that he appears to barely react to the death of his wife in a shock bus accident. Sachio, played by Departures’ Masahiro Motoki, who also appears in The Emperor in August, making a long awaited return to a leading role, has carved out a career for himself as a TV pundit and minor celebrity addicted to the superficial validation of his fame but grief forces him to reassess himself when faced with the raw emotional pain of the husband and children of his wife’s best friend, who was killed alongside her. Loosely inspired by the devastating earthquake which struck Japan in March 2011, The Long Excuse is a contemplation of grief, loss, and the family but also of one man’s awakening to his own faults as he finds his doctrine of self delusion crumbling under the weight of such inescapable pain.
Moving in a different direction, Hirobumi Watanabe’s Poolsideman also focuses on undisclosed mental distress in taking inspiration from real life accounts of Japanese men travelling to the Middle East with the intention of joining terrorist organisations. The introduction given by Watanabe’s good friend Kenji Yamauchi, who is attending the festival with his stage play adaptation and comedy of manners At the Terrace, described the film as “even funnier than Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse,” which is setting a fairly low comedy bar, but even if Poolsideman is necessarily repetitive and restrained, it is enlivened by the presence of the director himself playing a loquacious colleague with some diverting comments on modern life from finding it difficult to converse with the One Piece generation to the generally low level of conversation available with the part-timers at the pool. Building to an increasingly ominous, maddening atmosphere, Poolsideman wants to ask where all of this unchanneled frustration might eventually lead, and offers a kind of warning about the dangers of living lives of quiet desperation.
At almost 1am the day finally came to an end, but thankfully there were plenty more great films to come over the next few days!
This is a guest article by the lovely Hayley Scanlon of Windows on Worlds.