Daily Archives: October 14, 2012

LFF 2012 #4: For Love’s Sake (Ai To Makoto, Japan 2012)

Tsumabuki Satoshi as Makoto Taiga, posed with the girls from the ‘trade school’.

Is Takashi Miike the hardest-working man in showbizz? He certainly completes a mind-boggling number of films each year. Very few of them get a cinema screening in the UK, so I was delighted to get the chance to see this in NFT 1, albeit on a French print with burned-in French subs and an extra English subtitle above.

For Love’s Sake (aka The Legend of Love & Sincerity) is a live action adaptation of a manga, although it begins and ends with short anime sequences. (It’s a Kadokawa film from a Kodansha manga – i.e. the Kadokawa parent – but produced for the Toei Studio) That’s the simple part of its definition – placing it generically is more difficult. The central character is Makoto, at 18 a rebellious and violent young man, full of aggression. We meet him on the streets of Tokyo, taking on a whole gang of wild youths single-handed. Surprised by the appearance of Ai, a wealthy and very poised young woman, Makoto allows himself to be taken by the riot police. Ai then determines to use her father’s money and influence to spring Makoto from prison and get him admitted to her exclusive prep school. We know from the anime prologue that Makoto saved Ai’s life eleven years previously when he swore her to secrecy because he didn’t want it known that he’d helped a rich girl. She now recognises him (from the scar on his forehead), but he wants nothing to do with her. The other point to make here is that the time period is supposedly 1972. Since a) most of what follows takes place on highly stylised sets and b) Japanese school uniforms and the outfits of street gangs are more or less timeless, I forget about the time period for the rest of the film.

Takei Emi as Saotome Ai

Perhaps the best way to describe the genre repertoires is Grease-style high-school musical meets Buffy the Vampire-Slayer (but without any supernatural stuff) and a yakuza comedy. Various other Japanese generic characters wander in at various points and the whole is extremely enjoyable. The sets really are wonderful and reminded me a little of Suzuki Seijun films from the 1960s such as Gate of Flesh. Several sequences require characters to burst into songs. I know very little about Japanese pop music but they were easy to listen to and the performers were excellent. The major point about Miike is usually the violence and there is plenty of it here, mostly enormous fistfights and kickings. In this film the female gangs are just as vicious as the male and Makoto fights both with equal gusto. I’m not sure if this suggests sexual equality but once you become inured to the violence through constant repetition, it ceases to be violence at all really – more like a form of aggressive dance choreography. (I wonder if Miike has ever seen the British ‘St Trinian’s girls in films – schoolgirls with hockey sticks instead of baseball bats?) The plot requires Makoto to get involved (against his will) with two other young women and Ai has her own unwanted suitor in the form of a geeky character who reminded me of a less quirky/comical Richard Aoyade (Moss in The IT Crowd on UK TV). In the end we discover the real reason for Makoto’s aggression.

Makoto is played by Tsumabuki Satoshi, who I later realised had played the lead in Villain (2010). At 31 he is considerably older than the teenage Takei Emi who plays Ai.Wikipedia reveals that the original manga by Kajiwara Ikki was published in 1973 and was followed quickly by an audio (radio?) version, a TV adaptation and three live action film versions, all produced in the 1970s, which explains the setting.

I can’t really think of a better recommendation than to suggest that the film is constantly entertaining throughout its 130 mins running time. I assume that it will become available on DVD, but if you get the chance, see it on the biggest screen possible in order to appreciate the sets and the ‘Scope compositions from Miike’s current cinematographer Kita Nobuyasu.

Here’s a trailer with English subs:

LFF 2012 #3: El taaib (The Repentant/Le repenti, Algeria-France 2012)

Rachid meets his father in his home village after deciding to ‘repent’

By the time of my third film of the day, I was very tired and this was a demanding film in the circumstances. This interesting review from Cine-Vue suggests that the film was well-chosen as part of the ‘Debate’ strand of the festival (a slide on-screen announces this after you’ve sat through the rather tedious festival filmed introduction sequence of a young woman watching films and stuffing herself with popcorn). I’m not sure that simply giving us ‘Debate’ – almost as a command – works for me, but having an Algerian filmmaker or critic present to introduce the film would have been good. LFF is actually quite good at this kind of thing.

Merzak Allouache is a veteran Algerian director (born in 1944) and I remember with pleasure his 1996 film Salut Cousin! about a North African visitor’s sometimes comic adventures in Paris while staying with his cousin. This new film is very different. A statement during the credits tells us that a ‘Repentant’ is the official term used by the Algerian authorities for ex-soldiers from the Islamist guerrilla groups who fought in the Algerian Civil War and who were prepared to come down from the mountains and forests, hand in their weapons and report to the police before resuming ‘normal’ life. One such is Rachid, whose appearance at the beginning of the film in his parent’s village creates a local stir with some villagers attacking him as the only available possible murderer of their family members. I didn’t pick up the precise time period for the action in the film but historically the story would fit in the period around 1999-2000 following the passing of legislation about ‘civil concord’.

Rachid reports to the police in the neighbouring town. He is offered a job in a café-bar arranged via the police and expected to start naming names. But when he discovers the identity of the local pharmacist, he feels compelled to act without telling the police. I won’t spoil the narrative. Suffice to say, we don’t know at first why the pharmacist is so important or where the story is going to go. Narrative information is given to us sparingly and there is a palpable sense of unease. The film is quite short (87 mins) and it ends rather abruptly. I think I agree with the Cine-Vue reviewer that some of the characters such as the (very reluctant) café owner and the local police chief who set up Rachid in his new identity need more time on screen.

The Algerian Civil War was brutal in many ways and it clearly isn’t ‘over’ yet. I think it’s to the film’s credit that it doesn’t succumb to over-optimistic outcomes. When I reflected on the narrative afterwards I thought this was a restrained and powerful little story. Having said that, I’m not sure what there is to debate. It’s a neglected war in terms of histories and contemporary media coverage, especially in the UK and it shouldn’t be – especially given recent events in the rest of the Maghreb and elsewhere in the Arab world. The film doesn’t take sides or explain why the characters behave as they do, it just shows us some of the terrible consequences of civil war. Allouache himself says that he wanted to “question the amnesia” about the war in Algeria itself. He lives in France and made the film on location in just 20 days with little co-operation (but no banning restriction) from the Algerian cultural authorities. (See his statements in this Euromed Audio-Visual report – including some interesting comments about film culture in Algeria.)

The film was another to be screened in Cannes in Directors Fortnight and it was given a prize by Europa Cinema distributors. I hope it does get a wide release but I think, unfortunately, that it will be a hard sell in the international market. All the more reason then to be grateful to the LFF for bringing it over.

LFF 2012: #2: 3 (Uruguay/Argentina/Germany/Chile 2012)

Graciela, Ana and Rodolfo en famille in Rodolfo’s car

Uruguay is the richest country in South America, but it also has the smallest population. No surprise then that this film is a co-production. For a country with such a small population (under 4 million), Uruguay produces some major talents in football and cinema and this film is a worthy addition to the national output.

I thought at first that this was going to be a drama. I was surprised by the ending but on reflection it all makes sense. Perhaps a ‘comedy family melodrama’ is the best description? Director and co–writer, Pablo Stoll, has previously made dry comedies such as the international hit Whisky (2004) with collaborator Juan Pablo Rebella. 3 is his second solo film and it was screened in the Directors Fortnight at Cannes in 2012.

Rodolfo and Graciela are divorced. Rodolfo is in a second marriage, but that too is failing and his contact with his teenage daughter Ana remains important and brings him back to Graciela’s apartment, now sadly neglected. Rodolfo is a roly-poly dentist with an obsession for order, a love for his collection of houseplants and a passion for football which he still plays quite well, despite his weight. As one marriage deteriorates he finds himself increasingly trying to patch up his old one — literally in terms of falling plaster and damp on the walls and, in human terms, with his daughter.

Graciela is introduced as a harassed mother and single woman who nightly visits the hospital where her spinster aunt is gravely ill. At the hospital she meets a younger man who is similarly visiting as a ‘carer’. The two hospital patients are never seen, joining Rodolfo’s second wife, whose recent presence is signalled by ashtrays full of cigarette butts (everyone smokes with a passion), as unseen but narratively important characters.

Ana is a typical adolescent, first introduced as the bright girl being cautioned by a tutor because her lateness and frequent truancy are likely to see her repeating the year. She is also sporty, playing on the school handball team and taking after her father in a way. Ana discovers boys, alcohol and other means of spending her time. She is well-played by Anaclara Ferreyra Palfy, who at 20 manages to look 15 most of the time – although the traditional school uniform doesn’t help. She also bears some resemblance to Sara Bassio as her mother, so the casting works well.

3 has excellent music, some good laughs, terrific performances and overall offers decent entertainment. It should do well on the international market, though at 115 mins it is perhaps a tad too long. If I was being hyper-critical, I’d suggest that the narrative favours Rodolfo just a little too much. I liked him as a character but I’d have liked to know more about Graciela. There is a useful ‘official website‘ (in Spanish and English).