Friday, 19 October 2012

Petty Romance reviewed

Kim Jeong-hoon's debut feauture, Petty Romance, is said to be one of South Korea's box office smash hits, and I can understand why this was the case, as it does not only warms the heart, but also increases paper handkerchiefs manufacturers' profits.

The film is a light comedy, its rather mundane story line of boy meets girl, they pretend they do not like each other, when they do, with the expected tear jerking closure, is raised by the quality of its acting, and the integration of Seok Jeong-hyeon's adult Korean comic book style illustrations, used to express the inner thoughts and feelings of the protagonists. Jung-bae (Lee Sun-Kyun), a talented but rather unsuccessful cartoonist, a brilliant illustrator, but not so good at story telling, hires Da-rim (Choi Kang-hee), a cirpy sex columnist who have just been fired from her magazine, to see if he can have a chance of winning a multinational adult cartoon contest. Da-rim's exuberant imagination makes up for her total lack of experience on sex and love, a galore of comical scenes follows, and hinting at the role laying we do every day to get on in life.

The story goes through the usual “will they?”, with the expected highs and lows of their relationship, contained jealously of their lives outside the times they spend together. However, this mundanity is raised by the illustrations interlaced into the plot, produced, and imagined, by both of them, as the comic book gets written.

A heart warming and enjoyable comedy that lays open to our prying eyes the process of producing an adult Manwha, a Korean comic book.

Petty Romance DVD is out for sale in Britain under the Terracotta Distribution label.


Starring: Lee Sun-kyun (Oki's Movie, Paju, Night and Day, Coffee Prince), Choi Kang-hee (My Scary Girl, Whispering Corridors), Oh Jung-se, Ryu Hyun-kyung
Korea / 2010 / 118 Mins / In Korean with English subtitles

One of South Korea’s biggest box office smashes, first-time director Kim Joung-hoon’s PETTY ROMANCE comes to UK on DVD 8th October 2012

Spectacular action and sizzling love scenes from the couple’s imagination were given life through the hand of award winning illustrator Seok Jeong-hyeon.
The movie captures the process of adult animation production and director Kim Jeong-hoon uses a great technique of mixing feature film and adult Manwha (Korean comic books) for erotic & fighting segments when the couple’s inner thoughts come alive into action.

An adult cartoon contest is announced offering a $100,000 prize. Talented cartoonist Jung-bae (Lee Sun-Kyun) is constantly turned down by publishing companies because of his poor story lines. To raise his chances of winning, he hires a sex advice columnist, Da-rim (Choi Kang-hee), a self-claimed expert on relationship and love-making with big imagination and zero experience. For the cartoon competition, Da-rim comes up with the idea of a female assassin, Ma Mi-so, who keeps her male victims captive for erotic kicks.
The two, who seemed perfectly matched, team up for the lucrative prize, bringing out their respective wildest fantasies. Trouble is set to brew: will they be able to complete the task and win the competition?…
Live action interspersed with erotic and action manga scenes.

DVD Special Features
Making of
Interview of lead actor and actress
Korean Teaser Trailer
Stills Gallery

Comedy, 2010
Certificate 15
Country: South Korea.
Language: Korean with English subtitles.
Running time: 118 min

Tetsuo: The Iron Man, and Tetsuo II: Body Hammer, reviewed

What I remembered of Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo: The Iron Man, when I first saw it in the big screen sometime during the 1980s, was the frenzied and high contrast imagery, rather than the story itself, rather minimalist: a man, a lowly pawn in the economic and social order in post-war Japan, becomes an iron cyborg, the voyeuristic camera gazing at his despair as the transformation of his body takes place. A kind of alchemist transmutation of lowly, rusting, and discarded iron, into something else, into a kind of cyber cyclop, a process being guided by an iron fetishist he ran over when going out for a ride with his girlfriend, on what was termed, at the time, cyber-punk.

Undoubtedly, the anarchist anti-establishment ethos of the film, reflected on the visual craziness, is akin to punk in its frenzied imagery, dislocated juxtapositions of extremely short abstract takes piled one of top of the previous one, merging into each other at other times, a frenetic clash of human flesh and scrap metal, the opening scene being dramatically brutal, scenes populated by cyber zombies, a recurrent image of transmuting iron worms acting as a kind of leitmotif across both films being particularly effective in portraying the sensual nature of decaying scrap metal, made alive by this process of transformation. The soundtrack is also rather memorable, adding to this feeling of brutaleroticism with its torrent of industrial sequence of sounds, punctuating the torrent of images invading our eyes.

The fact that it was shot on black and white 16 mm film stock on a low budget, as an afterthought , following the success of an underground theatrical performance, also written and directed by Shinya Tsukamoto, adds to the aura of transgression surrounding it, which made Tetsuo: The Iron Man a cult film residing in the outer regions of cinema, hence this release on DVD and Blu-ray formats under the third window films label, together with Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (which is not, really, its sequel, but a different treatment of the subject), a digitization process done under the careful eyes of Shinya Tsukamoto. While on the interview contained in this release, Tsukamoto does not confronts the political undertones of Tetsuo, implicit in the label of punk, he does, indirectly, refers to it, as he repeatedly mentions of his work at the time in an ads agency, and the nature of the first appearance of Tetsuo as an underground play.

What most impressed me of both films, but particularly on The Iron Man, is the beast-like baroque sensuality and eroticism imbued in this aesthetic of scrap metal and raw flesh, allusions to rusting iron hinting at not only the hardness of a male industrial fetishism, a kind of cyber-porn rather than cyber-punk, the scene of the drilling iron penis sported by the “salaried” man, aimed at his spooked girlfriend, is probably one of the most memorable sequences in cinema in its horrendously erotic bestial beauty, a metaphor for the inner brutality of a certain kind of male psyche; but also to the industrial decay of abandoned warehouses and factories, dark, scary underpasses, the harsh environments of urban railways, and roof tops of faceless skyscrapers (in Body Hammer) that store the countless pawns that make a contemporary industrial society tick.

By acts of obsessed will, on both films, the scrap iron littering this decaying landscape is slowly transformed into cybernetic cyclops, encompassing and absorbing several individuals (particularly in Body Hammer), massive and near pornographic cyborgs in their aggressive maleness, bent on taking on the world, cyborgs of apocalypse unleashed onto the quiet streets of suburbia, and onto the greyness of industry.

Women's roles on both films are subservient to the brutal aggressive and predatory maleness of their partners, of which they are not aware until it is too late to step back, a situation savagely alluded in the scene of the exploding child on a roof top in Body Hammer. In this sense, women prove to be incapable of arresting this transformation of their partners, fuelled by a visceral will of destruction and revenge.

This will is the trait that unify both films. It does not matter if they succeed, what is important is that process of transmuting the materials that litter the edges of a contemporary industrial society, either rusting iron, or lowly cannon fodder, men and women that no one sees, into a powerful force that challenges that society, that established order.

The bestial beauty of destruction...

And, perhaps, of creation...

Both Tetsuo films are part of a tradition of horror/science fiction genre, although with a rather raw DIY quality, acquiring a kind of visceral realism, which differs from the more polished mainstream cinema offerings. I found The Iron Man, the original Tetsuo film, to be the strongest one of the two, precisely because its story line is bare, having been reduced to its essential core. Body Hammer makes too many nods to mainstream cinema in its plot, such as the mad scientist, the criminal underground organization, the gangster-like characters, and the flashbacks to childhood traumas. Déjà vu. I presume the introduction of these elements was to make Tetsuo II a better box office proposition.

Cyber -punk, or cyber-porn, transgressive, and ultimately subversive, both Tetsuo became cult films, yet neutralized by mainstream culture by the act of pushing them into that box.

Tetsuo: Thee Iron Man / Tetsuo II: Body Hammer, are out in a 2 disc DVD and Blu-ray sets in Britain, under the third window films label.

(cert 18)

A film by Shinya Tsukamoto (Kotoko, Snake of June, Vital)

Two of the most talked-about Japanese cult films of all time makes their way onto a double-disc blu-ray set for the first time in the world with a brand new high definition transfer supervised by Shinya Tsukamoto!

This 2 disc blu-ray and DVD set will include a brand new exclusive interview with Shinya Tsukamoto as well as the first English-subtitled release in the world of his 45 minute pre-Tetsuo student film ‘The Adventures of Electric Rod Boy’ which has also been remastered

The release will feature both a slipcase as well as a reversible sleeve so fans can choose whether they’d rather have an image from Tetsuo I or II on the front of their box.

Tetsuo: The Iron Man - Japan / 1989 / 67 Mins / In Japanese with English subtitles / B&W / 16mm

Tetsuo II: Body Hammer – Japan / 1992 / 83 minutes / In Japanese with English subtitles / Colour / 16mm

DVD/BLU-RAY Special Features:

New High Definition Transfer supervised by Shinya Tsukamoto
Exclusive interview with Shinya Tsukamoto
'The Adventures of Electric Rod Boy' - Shinya Tsukamoto's early film
New UK Trailer
Japanese Theatrical Trailers for both Tetsuo I & II

Thursday, 6 September 2012


Such a pleasure to watch the intelligent, inquisitive, yet restless, Marta, as her gaze takes in the sights, the sounds, the smells, of her new city, her new reality, and attempts not only to comprehend it, but also, more importantly, to carve her own space within it, to sculpt her own identity by doing so.

Marta (Yle Vianello, such a beautiful name), a 13 year old who has grown up in Switzerland, has recently moved to deeply Catholic and conservative Southern Italy (the film was shot in Reggio di Calabria) with her mother and older sister, Rosa. Alice Rohrwacher, director and writer, in this stunning debut feature film, casts a non judgemental eye, and her lens, not only on a young girl's desire to mould herself within this new reality, within this new community, she feels like an outsider, and is constantly reminder of it by Santa, the priest's assistant, who runs the catechism classes she has to assist in order to undergo the Catholic ceremony of the confirmation; but also on her curiosity on her own growing body, as we see her contemplating in a mirror her burgeoning breasts, then for her to appropriate, and wear, her older sister's bra.

The moment where she finds out that she had had her first period, in a restaurant up the mountains having a snack with the priest, Don Mario (Salvatore Cantalupo), is set by Alice Rohrwacher as a matter-of-fact attitude by Marta, part of her process of growing up, of understanding of her reality, of her being. Her subsequent meeting with the old priest in a disused church located in a deserted village up the Calabrian mountains, paradoxically, by unsettling the view of Catholic doctrine as is being imparted on her, leads her to the independent path she is to follow to carve her identity.

The scene where she asks the meaning of the ritual words she has to repeat during the Confirmation ceremony in the catechism class, just to be sharply rebutted by Santa, resonated deeply in me, as it reminded of a experience I had some 40 years ago, in a completely different context, I had when I asked my Mathematics teacher ( I still remember his name) about the meaning of an equation. His rebuttal led me to completely abandon Maths at school, in spite of having been quite good at it. Somewhat, watching this scene, I understood Marta starting to recoil from her Catholicism, or, rather, from this deeply conservative vision of it that her community has, and tries to make her to sign to. Alice Rohrwacher's camera constantly reminds us of this traditional attitude, as when Marta watches from a rooftop a group of old women singing a religious song in a courtyard, or the initial scene, shot in the night, contrasting a pilgrimage against the secular background of passing trains, and the greyness of that no-man land found in our cities between railway lines, motorways, as dawn breaks-in.

The sad episode of the kittens does not only contributes to her increasing independence of her own self, but also exposes the unwitting double standards, perhaps even hypocrisy, of the Catholicism of the local community, when Marta, and her fellow classmates, enjoy themselves with the kittens they found in the store room of the church, just to be sharply rebutted, yet again, by a disgusted Santa, who gets the janitor to “take care” of the kittens. Marta, in despair, follows him, and watches as he beats the plastic bag where the tiny creatures are on the road, before throwing it into the river. After her attempts to save them fails, Marta is found wandering on the autostrada by Don Mario, the priest, who takes her to a political meeting. to which she wanders in, when she was not suppose to do, before climbing the mountains in search of a crucifix in that abandoned church, a crucifix he needs to make the Confirmation ceremony special, in an attempt to arrest the continuous decline of his church, perhaps giving him enough kudos to get a transfer by the bishop to a bigger parish. As Don Mario tells Marta, being a priest is also a job, what you do can make, or break, your career path.

The Italy of Corpo Celeste is not that of postcards, or the tourist office advertising boards, what Alice Rohrwacher constantly shows us is a ravaged landscape which has been altered, used, abused, and even abandoned, as Marta's and Don Mario's personal pilgrimage to that abandoned village in the mountains shows, and leading to epiphany for both of them.

I have read elsewhere users comments, where the tone is: “Who cares about the state of the Catholic Church?” Perhaps it may be so, particularly for British, or American audiences. However, I feel that Alice Rohrwacher may have not made Corpo Celeste for those audiences, in spite of having been distributed both in Britain and in the Sates. Hollywood studio cinema, to which we are getting more and more used due to their relentless marketing campaigns, is, mostly, designed as commercial products to satisfy the craving for entertainment of global audiences. Corpo Celeste belongs to another kind of cinema, a cinema that looks into the dynamic of small communities, of small lives, into their humanity.

Corpo Celeste is not only about the tribulations of a girl growing up, or about the state of the Catholic Church as seen in the context of a small community, but, fundamentally, casts an eye on a sense of identity in a world which is constantly evolving.

Corpo Celeste is released by Artificial Eye in the UK on DVD & Blu-ray on 10 September 2012.

Set deep in the south of Italy, Corpo Celeste is the story of 13 year old Marta who is struggling to resettle after ten years growing up in Switzerland. Bright-eyed and restless, she observes the sights, sounds and smells of the city but feels very much an outsider.

Marta is about to undergo the rite of confirmation. In the convention of the Catholic Church she takes catechism but confronts the morality of the local Catholic community. A series of subtle moments trace her journey as she connects and conflicts with her mother, sister and the Sunday school teacher Santa. From experiencing her period to making a bold decision to cut her hair, Marta begins to shape her own life for the first time since moving back to Italy.

Corpo Celeste heralds the arrival of a young and distinctive voice. Alice Rohrwacher’s writing and directing debut is a sensitive unveiling of the moral and religious layers that can smother adolescence.

Interview with the director Alice Rohrwacher

Monday, 20 August 2012

The Monk reviewed

Dominick Moll's The Monk follows the rise and downfall of Father Ambrosio (Vincent Cassel), a Capucin friar who was raised, and have lived all his life, within the walls of a monastery located just outside 17th Century Madrid.

The film begins with a voice over a dark night scene, describing how Ambrosio came to the monastery, a baby dumped on its main doors after the servant carrying the tiny bundle that stormy night refused to dump him into the river, as evidently his instructions were, when lighting revealed a figure of the Virgin Mary, as if she was watching him, a kind of ancient Big Sister, or so he felt. Remember, what we are talking about here is deep Catholic Spain, centuries ago.

As the years pass away, Ambrosio's fame as a passionate, fiery and uncompromising preacher grows, the church overflowing with parishioners during his sermons, to the point that at least one of them, a young woman, Antonia (Joséphine Japy), faints the first time she heard him preaching. Obviously, this is the 17th century equivalent of a modern day rock star, all that adulation...

But the monk is a preacher who lacks the compassion of those who have lived.

A key scene is when Ambrosio heards the confession of an inveterate sinner, and now pedophile (Sergi López), who describes the debauchery of his niece in great detail, whom he felt as if she were her own daughter, a confession which almost felt as if he was taunting the priest, perhaps trying to tempt him to go astray too. This character reappears at the end of the film, in different circumstances and guise, closing the story. About this time, Ambrosio tells Father Miguel (Jordi Dauder), his mentor and the friar who picked him up as a baby from the threshold of the monastery all those years ago, of a recurrent dream he has been having, a dream in which he sees a young woman clad in a red cloak, praying in front of the church, a woman whom he doesn't see her face, and whom he cannot touch.

Another key scene is where Ambrosio confesses a young novice, Sister Agnès (Roxana Duran), a confession that led to her death in the most horrendous circumstances at the hand of the Mother Superior (Geraldine Chaplin makes an appearance here). The same Mother Superior whom we see sternly humping the ground as she marches at the head of her covered novices during a procession of the Virgin Mary, a procession used by Ambrosio as cover to commit the deed that leads to his downfall, and punishment at the hands of the Inquisition, presumably. A deed like the one he himself sent Sister Agnès to her death.

The monk's fame also attracts a mysterious novice, Valerio (Déborah François), to the monastery. A novice who turns to be someone other than what he pretended to be, becoming the tool that led to his downfall, paradoxically after saving his life. Did Valerio do what he did unwittingly?

Meanwhile, Ambrosio grows increasingly obsessed with Antonia, the nature of their real relationship, and the horror that follows, not revealed until the very end, in an scene that ties together all the loose strings.

The Monk brilliantly conveys not only the febrile religiosity of a deeply flawed friar high on rhetoric, and short on compassion, but also the contradictions between an oppressive Catholic Church and the zest for life of the population in 17th Century Spain.

However, I felt that The Monk hovered indecisively between being a horror film, and one exploring the nature, and the excesses, of extreme religious fervour, as the episode with the myrtle branch, itself an ancient emblem of love, indicates.

The Monk is released in the UK by Metrodome Distribution on 20th August 2012

Certificate 15 / 101 Minutes

Directed by Dominik Moll (Lemming / Harry He’s Here To Help), THE MONK is a sumptuous adaptation of the eponymous cult classic Gothic novel which follows the rise and fall of a Capuchin Monk in 17th century Madrid.
Abandoned as a baby on the steps of a monastery and raised in strict Capuchin fashion, Ambrosio has become the most famous preacher in the country.

While large crowds from all over the country come to hear his mesmerizing sermons, he’s also bitterly envied for his success by certain fellow monks.

Convinced of his virtue and righteousness, Brother Ambrosio thinks he is immune to temptation until obscure events start terrorizing the monastery.

Could they be connected to the unexpected arrival of Valerio, an apprentice monk who has the miraculous gift to relieve Ambrosio’s splitting headaches and hides his disfigured face under a wax mask?

Starring Vincent Cassel ( Eastern Promises, Mesrine & Black Swan) Déborah François ( L’Enfant, The Page Turner) Sergi López ( Pan’s Labyrinth, Harry He’s Here to Help & Dirty Pretty Things) and Geraldine Chaplin ( Talk to Her, Doctor Zhivago & The Orphanage)

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Silent Souls, a meditation on tradition and modernity

The burial of Tanya (Yuliya Aug), the beloved wife of Miron (Yuriy Tsurilo), according to the ancient traditions of the Merya people, gave director Aleksei Fedorchenko, and writer Denis Osokin, the vehicle to produce this visually stunning film, a cinematic poem not only about life and death, but also about the asphyxiating space left for the traditions, rites, ways of life of minorities, such as the Merya people, to culturally survive in the increasingly corporate and globalized space of contemporary life.

Miron, the manager of a rather dilapidated paper mill on post Soviet Union Russia, and Aist (Igor Sergeev), a forty something bachelor, who works as a photographer in the mill, embark on a long road journey for the cremation of Tanya's body, and the burial of her ashes, on the flowing waters of the river, according to their tradition. At one moment, during their travels, we see them wandering through the “stacked to the roof” aisles of a large supermarket in a provincial town, marvelling, to some extent, at the wide variety of goods, toying with some plastic toys. I could not stop having a feeling of nostalgia when I was watching this scene. I decry the increasingly cultural homogeneity and conformity resulting from the advance of modern capitalism.

Silent Souls is more than just a road film, it is a journey as much through a cultural landscape, through a landscape of the mind, as through a physical space. Miron finds out, as he “smokes”, in this road trip with Aist, much more about Tanya than he knew at first. “Smoking” is being defined in the film as a practice of the Merya, where they narrates intimate details of their conjugal relations after the spouse has died, if their interlocutor agrees. I am not sure if “smoking” is the right translation of the Merya word.

Visually, the stunning footage of the camera focussing on Aist's bicycle as he pedals home with the two birds he had just bought, tells us from the very beginning the nature of Silent Souls, not only a journey through the interstices of contemporary Russia, but a cinematic ode to the desire to escape from that confinement, from our confinement, in fact. Indeed, from this point of view, the sexual encounter between Miron and Aist with the two women after the burial is not only a song to life, but also a song to freedom, to be away from the sadness of death, from the ties of life. On this sense, the escape of the two buntings that Aist bought from a rather taciturn street seller, at the beginning of their journey, become inexorably linked to the escape of both Miron and Aist at the end of their road trip, as they return to the river.

What initially began as a journey initiated by Miron to honour his wife in death, as he did in life, through his “smoking” it also becomes Aist's journey, as it became clear that he was not only in love with Tanya, too, but he also brings up his own remembrances of his parents, the ridicule that his father, a poet in the Merya language, suffered. A scene comes up of Aist, as a child, helping his father to bury a typewriter in the river. Then, their encounter with the two women becomes an act of liberation for both of them, as it was their final act, when they return to the river, where a typewriter is waiting for Aist, while Tanya awaits Miron.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Orlando reviewed

Tilda Swinton's performance, in its nuanced directness, was central for Sally Potter to realize her vision, her interpretation, of Virginia Woolf's novel into cinema.

In this masterly classic of British cinema, Tilda Swinton plays the four hundred year old, or so, Orlando. By the end of the story, she has become free of all the encumbrances of gender, class, property, history, particularly depicted in that scene when she returns, with her young daughter, riding a motorcycle with a sidecar, to their ancestral stately home, a rather palatial residence by the Thames, serenely mingling, and watching, the usual throng of tourists, no-one commenting, or even seeing, the uncanny resemblance of the woman standing beside them with the portrait of her as young Orlando on the wall, a painting of her when she was still a young man in the 17th century. As the character says, talking to us, the viewers: “Same person, different sex. That's all”.

By returning to the nest where her (his) career began, she is now free to fly out of that nest, which is, ultimately, a nest of vipers. Illuminating is the scene where, having recently become a woman, she endures the disdain of a gathering of enlightened 18th century poets, including Alexander Pope, who all conclude that a woman needs the guiding hand of a father, or a husband, all questioning her presence in the salon on her own.

In Sally Potter's interpretation of the central character of the novel, the film opens with young Orlando reading, and writing poetry under an oak tree, preparing himself to the forthcoming visit of the old Queen Elizabeth I (sublimely portrayed by Quentin Crisp). After, briefly, becoming her lover, the Queen grants Orlando the deeds of the ancestral stately home, on one condition: that he shall not grow old. This is how we get to see him, now a woman, on the same field in the closing scene, daydreaming under that same oak tree, her daughter running around, a video camera replacing the quill that the younger Orlando used to write his poem The Oak Tree, all those centuries past, and recently accepted by a rather obnoxious publisher (upon rewriting it, of course), whilst an angel (Jimmy Sommerville) appears floating above the trees (we see, in the features section of the Blu-ray disc, how this was achieved), falsetto singing, the future shining for them as a tear slowly runs down her face.

She no longer looks directly at the camera, confiding in us, the audience, as she did in the opening scene. There no longer need for that.

The episode where Orlando fells madly in love with Princess Sasha (Charlotte Valandrey), the daughter of the Russian Ambassador (Viktor Stepanov), during the great frost of the beginning of the 18th century (these scenes were filmed in Russia), much to the chagrin of the aristocratic young lady to whom he is betrothed. This scene sets the pace and the mood for the rest of the story, as we see over and over Orlando defying the social conventions of the time as she follows her own path, her own heart.

The other scene that Sally Potter sets up to show Orlando's nature is when we see him worrying for the fate of a rebel attacking the city in Central Asia, where he has been posted as an ambassador by the king (while in the novel this city is indicated as being Constantinople, in the film the actual location is not specified), taking no notice when he is told that it does not matter, that the fallen soldier is not a man, but the enemy.

Further adventures follow, where, Orlando, becoming a woman after a long sleep, returns to England, taking hold of her ancestral home, and its delights, until it is finally taken away from her as she is legally dead, and, on top of that, by being a woman, she can no longer hold the deeds of the property.

Upon meeting the loquacious and idealist Shelmerdine (Billy Zane), she has a daughter, and but she refuses to go with him to America, where the future lies, by simply asking him “when this future is going to come”.By doing so, she liberates herself, and her daughter, from all the ties entrapping her to the zeitgeist.

“Same person, different sex. That is all”.

This Blu-ray release contains a series of documentaries on how the film was made, plus an interview to Sally Potter, which would be of interest to cinephiles. Particularly enlightening is the section that narrates the ins and outs of filming in Russia, just before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Orlando Blu-ray disc is already on sale in Britain, courtesy of Artificial Eye.

Sally Potter’s dazzling adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s classic novel is the tale of the apparently immortal Orlando, who begins an epic quest for love and freedom in the court of Elizabeth I as a man and completes the search 400 years later as a woman. This journey takes Orlando from the frozen river Thames and central Asia, where he changes sex, through to romantic love and loss in the Victorian age, motherhood and war in the twentieth Century, until finally arriving in the present moment. Tilda Swinton leads an outstanding international cast in this enchanting, witty, visually stunning and brilliantly original story of self-discovery, romance and adventure.

Special Features
  • Documentaries ‘Orlando Goes to Russia’, ‘Orlando in Uzbekistan’
  • and ‘Jimmy Was An Angel’
  • Selected scene commentary by Sally Potter
  • Interview with Sally Potter
  • Venice Film Festival press conference
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Stills galleries

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Himizu reviewed

An intense and claustrophobic drama, ultimately cathartic, played against the desolate and hellish landscape of Fukushima, post tsunami, where the violence of human relationships resonate in the violence inflicted upon the landscape, and its people, by nature.

Yet, that intense focus is constantly relieved through the film by the often hilarious antics of a group of survivors camped in tents on the land where Yuichi Sumida's family runs a boat hire business, imparting a kind of normality to the destructive lashes of the tsunami, and the seismic nature of the relationships between Sumida (Shôta Sometani) with his family, and then with a young girl, a classmate, Keiko (Fumi Nikaidô), also fifteen.

When I said Sumida's family, that was an overstatement, when you consider that his mother comes every night with a different man, and his father, who is usually drunk, keeps beating him up, and telling that he wants him dead, as he then can claim for the insurance money he thinks he has. On the opening scene, we see the boy walking on this grey and utterly devastated landscape, the photography becoming darker, we then see one of the survivors, an older man who usually behaves like the proverbial buffoon with a heart of gold, still wearing a white shirt, his business having been wiped out. A rather muddy lake near the boat house, with an incongruently and precariously located shed in the middle, acts as a visual leitmotiv which constantly reminds us of the closed and muddy prospects awaiting all of them, a metaphor which I have seen in many recent Japanese films, although more in the context of the brutal economic conditions. In this sense, the boundaries between dreams and reality are eroded, a dream scene opening Himizu resolves the development of the story on a different direction at the end, that initial dream scene having thrown us off the story line, somehow.

Sumida wants only one thing in life, not to have a dream as his teacher keeps indoctrinating the kids at school, but just to be ordinary, like a himizu, a mole. Not a strange request, considering his dysfunctional family. Keiko, a classmate, falls in love with him, much to his embarrassment at the beginning of their relationship. But she persists, particularly when we see her mother lovingly building a gallows for the girl to kill herself, as life would be so much better if Keiko was not around. A gallows painted red.

Keiko does not only falls in love with Sumida, although he is constantly feel annoyed by her, but she sees in him a project to develop, too. A project where she can also develop herself. When the boy's mother finally leaves him for not to come back, Keiko, and the group of survivors, try to help Sumida to run the boat hire business, his only way of being able to subsist, in spite of his rejections. Yet, any attempt by him to try to run just an ordinary life, his dream, gets constantly scuppered by the constant apparitions of his drunken father, demanding money and psychologically torturing him. One night, after suffering another brutal beating by him, one beating too many, something breaks inside Sumida, and in a moment of absolute rage and impotence, he attacks and murders him, to be almost instantly horrified by his action. In despair, he stalks the streets of the nearby town, attempting to get rid of all those violent people, like his father, who also roam those streets.

A tale of two brutalized teenagers not only by the devastating power of nature, but also by their selfish and destructive families, a tale of a journey through hell and, ultimately, redemption, against the backdrop of the hellish landscape of Fukushima (this is the second Japanese film which has been filmed there that I have reviewed), and the darkness offered by their future: emptiness, and the gallows.

I found particularly attractive the manner that director Sono Sion has structured Himizu as a counterpoint between the central tale of Sumida and Keiko searching for their morrow, and a chorus, like those of a Greek tragedy, formed by that group of survivors, who finally leave with the coming of the redemption of the two teenagers, the closing luminous scene alluding to the dark dream like opening scene.

Sono Sion's Himizu is out on selected British cinemas from today, June 1st, 2012, courtesy of Third Window Films.

Sion Sono
Minoru Furuya (manga), Sion Sono (screenplay)
Shota Sometani, Fumi Nikaido, Tetsu Watanabe, Mitsuru Fukikoshihi, Megumi Kagurazaka, DenDen
Set after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, all 14-year-old Yuichi Sumida (Shota Sometani) wants to become is a regular boy and live a decent life. His environment though repeatedly drags him into the mud. He runs his parent's rental boat business, which is located next to a nondescript lake. His mother frequently comes home with different men and soon she leaves him entirely. His father only comes around looking for money. Whenever Yuichi's father is drunk he tells Yuichi "I wish you were dead."
Keiko Chazawa (Fumi Nikaido) is a classmate of Yuichi Sumida. She harbors a severe crush on Yuichi. Keiko's home life isn't much better than Yuichi's. Her mother builds a gallows with a noose in place for Keiko to take her own life. Her mother believes her life would be better off without Keiko.
Under these circumstances, Keiko pays a visit to Yuichi's home. A group of people are lingering nearyby who live in make shift tents on the property. Keiko tries to befriend Yuichi, but she is berated and even physically assaulted. She doesn't get deterred though and sticks around.
One day, the yakuza come by Yuichi's home. They look for Yuichi's father who is nowhere to be found. The men then tell Yuichi that he has to come up with 6 million Yen by tomorrow to pay off his father's debt. Yuichi already heartbroken by his mother's abandonment and abuse from his father nears a tipping point. A string of incidents then occurs that brings Yuichi's world to a screeching halt. Is there light at the end of the tunnel for Yuichi?

Date of Domestic Cinema Release: 
June 1st, 2012


68th Venice Film Festival - Marcello Mastroianni Award, 14th Deauville Asian Film Festival - Critics Prize, 4th Terracotta Film Festival - Audience Award, 30th Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival - Orbit Prize
68th Venice Film Festival, 36th Toronto International Film Festival, 16th Busan International Film Festival, 44th SITGES International Film Festival, 14th Deauville Asian Film Festival, 8th Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, 21st Oslo International Film Festival, 26th Mar Del Plata International Film Festival, 30th Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival 

Avé reviewed

Avé depicts a journey through the roads of Bulgaria as Kamen (Ovanes Torosian), a rather taciturn art student, hitch-hikes from Sofia to a village, Ruse. To begin with, we do not know why, we only know something extraordinary may have happened, as the previous scene showed a member of staff at the art school wanting to talk to him. However, we soon learn that he is going to a funeral of a close friend, another art student, Victor, who has killed himself. The reasons for this act are never explicitly said, although we may infer those, as the story develops. Kamen is obviously disturbed, and brooding, by the death of his friend. However, what is interesting is that we learn about this fact through Avé (a wonderful Angela Nedialkova), a runaway 17 year old girl who kind of joins him on his journey on a road going out of Sofia.

She has a penchant to fabricate, and tell, stories, herself, and Kamen soon becomes part of this spider web coming out of her imagination, these stories she constructs from the flimsiest treads she finds in every situation that she, and now, Kamen, find themselves embroiled, sometimes potentially violent, with some of those drivers who have picked them up, including a pedophile lorry driver ( Martin Brambach), although I thought that the depiction of this particular character was a bit clichéd. She, having probably spent a longer time hitch-hiking , has become much more street-wise than Kamen, her stories are, in part, a construction of a imaginary character for her to have some street credibility, and protection.

However, I have to stress the words in part, as the narrative progresses, a much darker story emerges. Whilst the film is, apparently, a story about this uneasy couple, Kamen being very hostile to her to begin with, and told, mostly, from his point of view, as the camera is more often than not focussed on him, the girl is, in reality, its centre. Avé is a exploration into her psyche, as one of the stories she tells Kamen, in private, turns to be true, a tread which links her past, her recent journey, and her morrow, a scene that ends the film not with an answer, a closure, but leaves the door open for the mind to further delve into what is to come.

This is the beauty of Avé, the fact that behind what seems to be, on first sight, a simple road movie set in Bulgaria rather than on the wide plains of North America, there are glimpses of a complex and troubled psyche, and the transformation of both characters, his initial hostility to her becoming love. There is a significative scene, near the end of the film, where we see Kamen, now on his own on board of a train, repeating to a stranger those stories he first heard from her lips, a device he not only uses to give him a cover for his actions without exposing his inner feelings to the outside world, but as a way to remember her, to live her own story within himself.

Bruno S., whom we know from Herzog's The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, and Stroszek, plays a part as the grandfather of the dead boy, Victor. An interesting casting, as I consider both films to be road movies, literally in the case of Stroszek, and figuratively in the case of The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser.

Konstantin Bojanov's film is an assured and striking debut feature, exploring not only the complexities and development of both main characters, but also a kind of survey of contemporary Bulgarian society as we see, through their eyes, those people who have picked them up, the places where they have stayed, all those highways, those road side cafés, those bus and railway stations.

Network is pleased to announce the DVD release of this road trip with a twist- AVE (15) is available to buy on DVD on 28th May 2012.


Recalling classic road movies such as The Passenger, Five Easy Pieces and La Vie Revée des Anges, and inspired by haunting real-life events and encounters, Konstantin Bojanov’s debut feature is as spontaneous and freewheeling as the characters’ adventures. Portraying the unfolding of two personal dramas with levity and humour, this remarkable, triple-award winning film explores exceptional moments when time feels suspended, and one’s responsibility is only to the beat of one’s own heart.
While hitchhiking from Sofia to Ruse, Kamen, an alienated art student, meets Avé, a 17-year-old runaway. With each ride they hitch, Avé invents new identities for both of them, her compulsive lies dragging Kamen deeper and deeper into trouble, drawing him into a confusing adventure and ultimately forcing them to confront both death and love in a cathartic and life-changing experience.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Crime or Punishment reviewed

An alarm clock goes off. A hand stops it. The camera focuses on the daily routine of a office worker in Tokyo. On his way to work, he stops in his usual shop, to get a smile from a beautiful assistant, who gives him his usual purchases, just they are somebody else's purchases, as she mistook him. Then, this invisible man, people keeps banging, and looking down, on him, witnesses a murder, when a woman's body fell in front of him. He cannot find his mobile, so he crosses the street to a public phone, and gets run down by a fancily decorated truck. When the truck departs, a young woman is there, standing, watching, almost unbelieving what her eyes are seeing.

Meet Ayame Enjoji (Riko Narumi), a rather unknown, and shy, model who has been getting printed out upside down in a fashion/softcore magazine for men for which she models. A flashback reveals that she had come out of the magazine office, disgruntled because not only no one wanted to know about her complaints, but they laughed at her, being nicknamed as “the upside down” model. Her school friend, Momo (Sakura Andô), has become the cover girl, and laughs at her too.

Ayame steals a copy of the magazine from the shop, the same one we saw at the beginning, where a man wearing a uniform was sketching the floor layout. Of course, shy Ayame gets arrested and, as a PR stunt, her agency arranges for her to be the police chief for one day. On her first speech as such, high on a podium, in front of a bunch of press photographers, the wind lifts her skirt, and all the camera start clicking. This rather innocuous scene, I thought, is quite a key one in the film, as it points out at the flesh merchandise value attributed to young women (one of the furtive actions of the office worker we saw at the beginning was to grope young women in the underground), adding to their sense of unsecurity, a theme which has been treated a number of times in recent Japanese cinema.

As the police chief for a day, she is taken seriously by the force, and the officers wait for her commands in her rather surreal office. Commands that, at the beginning, she finds to be incapable of issuing. Ayame also meets her former boyfriend, now a detective, from whom she split five years before, a dark secret being the reason. There is a link here to the beginning of Crime or Punishment. However, near the end of her tenancy of her post, and resolving a hold up on that shop, she finds her feet, and becomes a self confident young woman, now sure in her path.

A riotous comedy, a parable on contemporary urban life in Japanese society, Crime or Punishment grew out of a scene in a play staged by Nylon 100°C, the theatrical company founded by Keralino Sandorovich, who also directed the film. In fact, this quality permeates through its scenes, many which were shot in enclosed spaces. The final scenes, in particular, had the hallmark of a theatrical comedy.

The DVD also contains excellent features, one of them being a short film of a scene from the play. Many of the actors from the play also acted in the film.

Crime or Punishment DVD is now on sale in Britain, brought to you by third window films.

Have you ever experienced a day when you are carrying on as usual just like the day before but strange things keep happening one after another on that particular day? This is a slapstick comedy, like Kafka’s novel, filled with incongruous nightmares and nonsensical laughter.
Ayame (Riko Narumi) is an unsuccessful girl celebrity, who happens to take on the PR role of a “police chief for a day”. The job of a campaign girl is to smile and act as a police chief for one day. It should have been a simple job, however, the police station staff treat her like the real police chief and look to her for instructions, which makes Ayame feel perplexed. In addition, she runs into her ex-boyfriend, Haruki (Kento Nagayama), who is now a detective at the station, which means her ex is her subordinate for the day.
Furthermore, Haruki holds a dreadful secret which was the cause for the couple’s separation. To make matters worse, a major event takes place on that particular day, and the situation takes an unexpected turn. Would Ayame be able to solve the case, and what is Haruki’s secret?
Director - Keralino Sandorovich Profile
Born in 1963 in Tokyo. In 1982 he formed a new wave band, Uchoten. In 1985 with Inuko Inuyama and Minosuke he also established a theatre company, Gekidan Kenko, where he commenced theatrical works. After the company’s dissolution in 1992, the following year, he formed Nylon 100. He won the 43rd Kishida Kunio Drama Award for his “Frozen Beach” in 1999. In the theatre, in addition to productions by his theatre company, he headed up and participated in other troupes as well as participating in many external productions. His recent works include an award winning Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” by SIS Company Inc.(Directed), “Okasankana” by CubeWritten and Directed, and “The Lower Depths” by Theatre Cocoon on Repertoire 2008 (Directed). In films, he directed “1980” (2003), “A Delicious Way to Kill” (2006) and “Gumi Chocolate Pine” (2007) as well as this film. As for TV dramas, he wrote the script and produced “Jikokeisatsu” (TV Asahi, eighth episode) and “Kaettekita Jiko Keisatsu” (fourth episode).
Written & Directed by Keralino Sandorovich
Riko Narumi, Kento Nagayama
Yasunori Danta, Inuko Inuyama, Hajime Yamazaki, Megumi Okina, Koji Okura, Sakura Ando
Yui Ichikawa, Yu Tokui, Eriko Sato, Seiji Rokkaku, Minosuke, Yasuto Hida, Hitomi Takahashi ,
Akira Otaka, Kumiko Aso, Takuya Ishii, Masato Irie ★ Kazuyoshi Kushida
Producers: Joohoon Lee Mato Obata Hiroyuki Kitamaki Chikako Nakabayashi
Planning: Norio Enomoto
Cinematography: Shinji Kugimiya Lighting: Hiroshi Tanabe
Recording: Satoshi Ozaki
Production Design: Kei Itutsuji
Props: Tetsuji Tatsuta
Editing: Koichi Takahashi
Costume: Atsuyuki Okada Make-up: Mariko Honda
Scripter: Kaoru Yamauchi
VFX: Norio Ishii
Production Manager: Ryuta Hashimoto
Music: Fumio Yasuda
Production Companies: Shipyard Company, Booster Project
Ending Theme: (DefSTAR RECORDS) Song by Sowelu Produced by Taku Takahashi
© “Crime or Punishment !?” Production Committee

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Mitsuko Delivers: a review

There is a place in Tokyo which escaped unscathed the intense American bombing during the Second World War. Yet, the urban myth is that an unexploded bomb lies underneath the floor boards, after all those years. Will it explode? Or, rather, when?

This place, a narrow working class tenement residential alley, remained locked in a time capsule whilst the rest of the city was re-developed, has become the last refuge of those fleeing the exploding time bomb of the economic crisis affecting Japan for the past couple of decades, or so.

This place is where 9 month pregnant Mitsuko (Riisa Naka) drifts into after following the cloud which has guided her since she was a child, in a taxi she could not pay, leaving an astonished driver behind, who never knew that such a place could exist in Tokyo after 20 years driving a taxi. A dejected Mitsuko who just says “Okay” and takes a nap until the wind goes her way. A rejected Mitsuko, not even her new neighbour in her last home wants to talk to her, abandoned in California by her American GI boyfriend, who finds her way back to Japan with his still unborn child.

A Mitsuko who refuses to surrender to the bad winds.

A Mitsuko who goes back to the woman she calls Granny, the elderly lady who owns and leads this alley tenement with an iron fist that masks a compassionate soul, whom she knew as a child when her parents fled their imploded parlour business to this very place. A place which is now even more run down as it was fifteen years ago, as most of the tenants have already left, with Granny the land lady now confined to her bed. Here she also meets a grown up Yoichi (Aoi Nakamura), whom, as a child, promised he would marry her when Mitsuko and her parents left the tenement back to “civilization”. Now, the restaurant his uncle and now him runs is also reflecting the bad times, the takings are poor, customers are scarce. All being so “uncool”.

What does Mitsuko do? She just says “Okay”, takes a nap, then fills the tenement with life as old and new tenants comes in, fills the restaurant with new and returning customers, gets Yoichi's uncle Jiro (Ryo Ishibashi) to declare his love for the woman who runs the café, establishing a second love axis to the film over her own with Yoichi. “Okay” and “cool” are her two favourite words. Perhaps a reflection of not only her own relationship with that American soldier who eventually abandoned her, but also the legacy left by the American occupation of Japan after the end of the war?

Meanwhile, whilst organizing the trip of the café woman to, of all places, Fukushima, to see her infirm mother, she comes face to face with her parents, who still believe she was in California. However, Mitsuko refuses to explain herself to them, as to do that is “uncool”, is not “okay”. Finally, they all manage to go in the trip to Fukushima, with Mitsuko driving, although, so close to the birth of her child, she can hardly walk, even less drive. Yet she does it because she wants to, because she does not want to stay still, because to do so is “uncool”.

When in Fukushima, her baby finally arrives, the birth being as normal as it could be in the midst of a field and the cacophony of voices, gestures, movements of her parents and friends, including Granny, who has recovered the use of her legs, as no one knew what to do; in spite of the warning by her doctor that it would be a difficult birth.

Mitsuko Delivers, a Japanese style comedy with a sting, a metaphor of contemporary life for all of us, and which I truly enjoyed. Yûya Ishii's camera caresses as much as the faces of heart throbs Riisa Naka and Aoi Nakamura as it does with the details of life in this alley, the back pack of Mitsuko as a child, the flower that Jiro brings not only to the café woman, but also to Granny, whom he and Yoichi takes turn to care for until Mitsuko appeared in the scene.

Did the unexploded bomb under the floor boards go off?

Come and see the film, and you will know.

Mitsuko Delivers will be shown on selected British cinemas from Friday 11 of May, 2012, courtesy of Third Window Films.

Mitsuko is in her ninth month of pregnancy. Her parents (serial failed entrepreneurs) think that she's in California with the baby's GI father, and she's happy to leave them in ignorance. But she's actually back in Tokyo, broke and friendless. So she has her flat cleared, gets into a taxi she can't pay for, and follows a cloud back to the little working-class alley where she grew up. The place is pretty run-down and depressed these days, but Mitsuko's can-do, bull-in-a-china-shop attitude soon shakes everyone up. There's much to be done. The little diner needs more customers, the alley's elderly woman owner needs carers, the tongue-tied man who could never propose to the widow in the coffee-shop needs a push... So much to do, so little time before Mitsuko goes into labour. Yuya Ishii follows Sawako Decides with another breathless comic drama about a girl asserting herself when all around her are floundering.


The acclaimed filmmaker x the new muse of Japanese film

Director Yuya Ishii x Riisa Naka – two young talents join forces!

The 28-year-old film director, Yuya Ishii, has now burst on the world scene with his brilliant filmmaking. Ishii’s film ‘Mitsuko Delivers’ was featured in the 37 th Rotterdam International Film Festival and the 32 nd Hong Kong International Film Festival – an exceptional honour for a fledgling director. At the Hong Kong Asia Film Awards, Ishii was again recognized and awarded the inaugural “Edward Yang New Talent Award.”

Back home in Japan, Ishii won the Pia Film Festival Grand Prix in 2007 for “Mukidashi Nippon” (Bare-Assed Japan) and followed up with the mega-hit “Sawako Decides” (2010) for which he won the Best Director at the Blue Ribbon Awards and the Best New Director Award at the Yokohama Film Festival. His next film “A Man with Style” was again, highly acclaimed. The entire world has been enthralled with the originality of Ishii’s world that eludes categorization in any single genre.

The actress chosen to star in director Ishii’s newest venture is Riisa Naka, winner of this year’s Japan Academy Award for Best New Actress. Her film credits include “Toki wo Kakeru Shojo” (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) and “Zebraman ~ Zebra City no Gyakushuu” (Zebraman: Vengeful Zebra City) as well as a number of TV commercials. Naka meets director Ishii’s world view head on, with a boldness that belies her sweet image. Evolving as the newest muse of Japanese film, “Hara Ga Kore Nande(Mitsuko Delivers) is destined to be one of Naka’s showcase films.


Riisa Naka / Aoi Nakamura / Ryo Ishibashi

Miyoko Inagawa / Shiro Namiki / Miyako Takeuchi / Momoka Ohno / Yoshimasa Kondo / Yukijiro Hotaru / Risho Takigawa / Shigeyuki Totsugi / Ryu Morioka / Keiko Saito


Written and directed by: Yuya Ishii

Theme Song: “Ai Nante” – GOING UNDER GROUND (Pony Canyon)
Produced by: Pony Canyon Inc., PARCO Co., SHOWGATE Inc., dub Co., Toei Channel, PIA Co., Yahoo Japan Co., TOKYO FM Broadcasting Co., smoke Co., Nippon Planning Center Inc.

Planning: PARCO Co., Pony Canyon Inc.

Production: smoke Co., dub Co.

Distribution: SHOWGATE Inc.

Ⓒ2011 “MITSUKO DELIVERS” Film Partners