“The Magical Kingdom of Shortened Fingers.” I think that’s part of what the above says.
The Shinji Somai retrospective began with an appropriate rainstorm outside — Somai’s characters are always getting soaked to the skin. In this one, PP RIDER (aka SHONBEN RAIDA) three kids (Jishu, in his waistcoat and tie, Jojo Kawasaki in his sleeveless T-shirt, and the tomboy girl named Bruce in her male drag) set out to rescue the school bully from kidnappers — so they can get their revenge on him for a scuffle at the start of the film.
The subject is sort of John Hughes meets The Hardy Boys, but the style is HIGH — practically every scene is an elaborate single take, with the camera crabbing through the scene, while voices from further ahead filter though onto the soundtrack — what’s going on up ahead? We’ll find out soon! In one scene, galaxies of soap bubbles serve this purpose, drifting into frame from the shot’s future. (At the end of MOVING, Shomei’s child protagonist is asked where she’s going: “The future!” is her forthright reply.)
Plus, I can’t think of a John Hughes film with so many bags of white powder figuring in it.
Bruce seeks the cathartic effects of water.
Festival director Chris Fujiwara has been inviting some of the Japanese filmmakers in town to help introduce the films, which gives an insight into how important Somei is in his homeland, and here the Hughes analogy does seem somewhat apt — his films encapsulated the pangs of adolescence for a generation (though he also made purely adult films in a way Hughes never quite managed). Atsushi Funahashi (NUCLEAR NATION) talked about Shomei’s love of water, and how his characters are always throwing things back and forth — he traced this tendency into the work of Kiyoshi Kurosawa, a former Somei assistant. And Toshi Fujiwara (NO MAN’S ZONE) talked about Somei’s gradually emerging mythical side, and those trademark sequence shots, which have a unique flavour in Somei, different from Mizoguchi, Tarr, Welles. Since Somei shoots almost every scene in a one-er, I’m particularly intrigued by his occasional decisions to cut within a scene…
And everybody is always bursting into song, but not as in a musical — these are naturalistic singalongs and recitals, except they’re not quite naturalistic at all.
Definitely a unique sensibility already apparent.