Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Instant Swamp reviewed

Instant Swamp is a roller coaster hilarious comedy, riotously acted, which kept me laughing almost non stop all the way through. Kumiko Aso, bringing a gloriously feisty performance as Haname, the protagonist, and Morio Kazama as a rogue trader, glue the film together. It was a pleasure to watch this marvellous pair of actors. The “sunny” feel of the cinematography adds to the festive atmosphere of Instant Swamp.

Before I continue with this review, I have a confession to make: I shared, as a kid, a common liking with Haname for Milo sludge. Luckily, you cannot see me now as I am embarrassed.

The film is a parody on the beliefs in the supernatural, it lingers on the amulets and superstitions that sustain the underbelly of our daily lives, at times subconsciously, with fantastical overtones, which could have benefited from a tighter screenplay as, after a while, the gags become repetitive throughout its nearly two hours length.

Instant Swamp, or the curse of the black cat talisman that Haname Jinchoge, the protagonist, buried in anger when she was a little girl in a swamp near her home when her father left, as he could not cope with the oddities, eccentricities and beliefs in the supernatural that his wife had. The film is told from Haname’s point of view, it begins as a video diary with grainy footage that turns into the action in a seamless transition (I nearly did not notice that her voice over was no longer there), as she is in almost every frame. Indeed, Kumiko Aso carries the film onto her slender shoulders.

Haname’s key characteristic is that she absolutely does not believe in superstitions, ghosts, curses, fairies or water sprites, which puts her at odds with not only her colleagues in the no longer ‘fashionable’ fashion magazine where she works, but also with her mother. Yet, she is still convinced that her life is going downhill because of the black cat talisman buried in that now dry swamp. She soon loses her job as, finally, the magazine collapses under the weight of the tons of unsold copies, burying in the process her dreams of founding a fashion magazine in her dreamland of Italy with her idol, a trendy photographer much in demand.

When her mother is rescued by the police after she fell into a pond, chasing water sprites, an old post box was also found. A letter which was posted by her mother, but never delivered, to a charming man with dubious morals nicknamed Light Bulb Co. reveals her that he is her real father, a drifter who has settled down with a fake antiques shop. She meets and befriends him, gradually growing close to him, although doubtful at the beginning of their relationship and his personality. There she meets some odd characters, including a punk rocker called Gas, although he actually is an electrician.

Finally, due to the miraculous transformation of the contents of a warehouse that her father, Light Bulb Co. (she never told him that she was his daughter), sold the key to her for a million yen, the curse of the black cat talisman was finally lifted.

Objects, as symbols of beliefs in the supernatural and superstitions, talismans which usually bring bad luck when they are supposed to do just the opposite, not only anchor the narrative continuity of the film, but become characters in their own right together with Haname, Light Bulb Co., Gas, and the others.

The apparently worthless content of that warehouse (leading to some more hilarious scenes), ultimately may have not contained the gold or riches she was led to believe, but it contained something even better than those: it lifted the curse that afflicted her life (cursing her father’s life instead), defeating the gradual slow grinding down built into our lives (which reminded me of Peter Greenaway’s recent comment that there are only two certain facts in life: sex and death). If there is a moral to the film, here is where to find it.

The image quality of the DVD is excellent in its sharpness and colour, the transfer maintaining its original aspect ratio.

Instant Swamp (Insutanto Numa)

Director/writer: Miki Satoshi Japan 2009 120 mins Cert TBC
Cast:Kumiko Aso, Ryo Kase, Morio Kazama, Eri Fuse, Kankuro Kudo

Production Company: Kadokawa 

DVD UK release date: 24th May, 2010

Third Window Films Website: http://thirdwindowfilms.com/films/instant-swamp
Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLs8hXTJx3U

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