The Edinburgh International Film Festival is over for another year. I may attempt some kind of summary later in the week. I had a ball. For now, though, I’m going to flashback to a week ago. Our friend Chris Bourton arrived from Reading last Monday and we all piled into the tiny Cameo 3 to catch MOONRISE KINGDOM before it disappeared, afterwards proclaiming it Wes Anderson’s best film to date.
Then it was off to the Film Festival for me and Chris, while Fiona caught up with her buddy Jonathan Romney. By chance, the best stuff on offer which could be slotted together into a schedule seemed to be all Japanese. In the end, ISN’T ANYONE STILL ALIVE? by Gakuryu Ishii (who, under his original name of Sogo Ishii, made the brilliant satire CRAZY FAMILY and the hyperkinetic lunacy of ELECTRIC DRAGON 80,ooo V) was too much like a teen soap opera so we skipped out early, but we got a lot of pleasure from Shinji Somai’s final film, KAZA-HANA, and Shin’ya Tsukamoto’s latest, KOTOKO.
In the Somai film, a disgraced, alcoholic bureaucrat and a desperate bar hostess take off together for Hokkaido, northern Japan, to commit suicide in the snow. If TYPHOON CLUB is Somai’s BREAKFAST CLUB (and it is, but crossed with King Lear — everybody goes mad in a thunderstorm) then I guess this is his PLANES TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES, a road movie in which a couple come together emotionally after a lot of conflict. (He never made an UNCLE BUCK.) But really it’s more like Mitchell Leisen and Preston Sturges’ REMEMBER THE NIGHT. As with other Somai films, it moves from naturalism to elemental, mythic moments of transcendence, by way of spectacular long takes.
There’s also a striking use of flashbacks, as the heroine’s life story is told backwards in a series of vignettes dropped into the forward-moving road trip narrative — as each earlier memory is happier than the one before, this has a quietly devastating effect, and Kyoko Koizumi is a powerfully sympathetic player. Leading man Tadanobu Asano (seen recently in THOR and BATTLESHIP) has a less appealing role, but is effective with his slick Alain Delon looks, which becomes more appealing when he’s rumpled and ruffled.
KOTOKO, the latest from the maker of TETSUO and TOKYO FIST continues Tsukamoto’s obsession with couples transforming their relationship by transforming their bodies through violence, but that’s really a sidebar to the main event, a mental breakdown drama with elements of REPULSION. A new emotional maturity and depth jostles against upsetting scenes of baby endangerment — the movie can be hard to take, and if you’re a recent parent, I’d kind of recommend avoiding it. I’m a hard bastard, though, so I mainly enjoyed the thing. Lead actress Cocco, a singer who also co-wrote and designed the film (leaving the multitasking Tsukamoto in charge of cinematography, production, direction, editing and co-starring), is extremely impressive, wrenching out a performance which is effective, audacious, intense, sometimes embarrassing and often rather cunning…
The movie may not altogether hang together, but it does continue Tsukamoto’s evolution from physical to psychological horror — both are strongly present here, giving the film the grotesque fascination of a bug halfway out of its larva.