Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fine Movie, Totally Not Fine Situation

Japanese films rarely get a release here except when it's some J-horror or melodramatic romance, like the overwrought Crying Out Love At The Centre Of The World. During that movie, women were sniffing away and tearing at tissues, while I was squirming in my seat, busily scrubbing the soppiness off my skin.

Once in a while, you do get some great stuff, outside of the annual Japanese Film Festival at GSC. Like last year, we had what was clearly the best film in any language, Yamada Yoji's Love And Honour. SOme years ago, when the GSC International Screens was still in its early days, there was Mitani Koki's Welcome Back, Mr McDonald (Rajio no Jikan), which was the funniest, most feel-good film I'd ever seen. That film holds a record of sorts. It was, I believe, the longest running International Screens film ever. It ran for months, during which I went to see it a total of eight times. I loved it that much. Now that I have it on DVD, I watch it at least once every year.

Recently I saw the much acclaimed Fine,Totally Fine, starring Mr Funny Face, Arakawa Yoshiyoshi. It's a rare kind of movie that keeps getting funnier as it goes along, until it reaches a point where it gets you rolling around with a bellyache. It's slapstick, but it's also not quite what you expect it to be. By the end, it is something that's moving, lovely and quite life-affirming.

You can read Todd Brown's review of it here at Twitch.

Then I realised this is one of those films no distributor would bring here, not even GSC. And I started thinking about all the other fine Japanese films that won't make it to our cinemas, that we won't have a chance of enjoying on the big screen.

Yamada Yoji's Kabei (Our Mother) hasn't seen the light of day here, so we can pretty much forget it. I've already got the three-disc limited edition box-set, and yes, it's every bit as great as they say. I thought it would have a chance to be released here since Love And Honour was shown last year, but then this film has no swordfighting nor good-looking pop idols, and is a family drama that runs for more than two hours. Its chance was as fat as a rubber suit.

And same situation too, with Kurosawa Kiyoshi. His Retribution surprisingly made it here, but was riding on the popularity of J-horror. Unfortunately, no one expected it to be so "out there" with its idea of horror. During the press preview, some annoying journalists were giggling like they were watching a comedy. At that point, I knew the movie wasn't going to go down well with the average horror fan here. So, no point in keeping our fingers crossed for Tokyo Sonata, a family drama which is also Kurosawa's first attempt at something outside of the genre that made his name.

Finally, I talked to a distributor and got word that Mitani's The Magic Hour isn't going to come here either. It's "not really that funny and is a bit too long," was what I was told.

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