Sunday, September 17, 2017

Alienness of Human Bodies

Malgre la nuit (2015) - Philippe Grandrieux
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Malgre la nuit plays out like a lurid Lars von Trier film, plot-wise. Gotta say, it is perhaps the most narrative heavy Philippe Grandrieux film to date. But the imagery he presents here is still tour-de-force. The bodies, the alienness of white human skins against its dark backdrop - in the woods, unlit bedroom, basement, whathaveyou... make strong visual impact and brings out visceral, emotional reaction from me. Grandrieux makes a good use of his two skinny actors bodies - Ariane Labed (Yorgos Lanthimos regular) and Kristian Marr. Often completely naked, with their fawn-like sad faces, they go through raw emotions of being in some kind of mythic tragic love story.

Lenz (Marr) is in town, looking for love of his life, unseen Marlene. At some sado-masochistic gathering, he meets Helen (Labed), a deeply troubled young woman with a Laura Palmer style deathwish. Through his sleazy friend Louis (Paul Hamy of The Ornithologist), Lenz is introduced to an alluring dream pop singer Lena (beguiling Roxane Mesquida). She falls for self-distructing Lenz and as he rejects her, she burns with jealousy for both Madelene and Helen. She will be relying on her powerful underground boss dad to exact revenge.

I've said this before. In Lynch's long absence, I welcomed Grandrieux's artistry to fill the void. They are kindred spirits in more ways than one - their love of texture, steeped in noir trappings, fatalistic love, the dark side of human desires etc. As Lynch came roaring back with Twin Peaks: The Return, their differences are more pronounced - Lynch loves puzzles and working in his inner logic, Grandrieux is only interested in images. And these are not criticism at all for either one of the artists. Just an observation. But seriously, narrative is for pussies.

Anyone knows how to get a hold of the soundtrack of Malgre la nuit, please let me know. I need Roxane Mesquida's sweet dream pop in my life!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Some preliminary thoughts on Twin Peaks: The Return

Twin Peaks: The Return (2017) - Lynch
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Defying conventions

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One thing that defined David Lynch's Twin Peaks: The Return is it defied everything we know about the tv or film narrative, genre, structure, casting, sound.... It even defied the original two seasons of the series. He didn't set out to make a lip service for the diehard fans of the old series. Just as he reimagined it with Fire Walk with Me, with co-creator David Frost, he has built a grander, larger mystery on top of the original Twin Peaks frame. But he in any way disrespected the old characters. Notice that it's all the new characters who are fucked up, and all the old characters, growed up and wised up. OK, Shelly is still dumb as a doorknob

Who's dreaming who?

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There have been many time traveling, dimension jumping universe Sci-Fi films and tv shows in the past. Some of these were cleverly done but they were always more interested/in love with themselves in their own logic than its metaphysical, spiritual consequences. None of these shows rose above the rules it sets itself within. Lynch applies it to 'the girl who lives down the road' story. So much of Twin Peaks: The Return revolves around Dale Cooper and his evil doppelganger but by the end, we realize that he might have been dreamed up by Laura Palmer, a 17 yr old troubled High School girl all along, who died 25 years ago. It was Laura. It was always Laura. Laura is the one. That in fact the whole series, including all the 200 some characters are dreamed up by Cooper who is dreamed up by Laura. But if it's one of those 'it was all a dream' movie, everything is a lie, and it means nothing. But to Lynch, as his other films before this can tell you, dreams are as real and important as real life, that our lives, flesh and blood & meaning et al, may indeed be someone else's dreams. It's a humbling experience for sure.

You can't go home again

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It's a well known fact that Wizard of Oz and Hollywood's golden era influenced 71 year old baby boomer Lynch greatly. There was Hollywood and there was WWII and atomic bomb. Without being cynical, he sees beauty in the darkness in this often contrasting, dual world. Time and time again, Lynch plays with this duality over and over.

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Lynch's approach to his fears and nightmares, whether it be homeless people or that drugged up naked brunette who walked down the white suburban neighborhood street where he grew up on and remembers or trailer park white trash or seemingly normal parents (all the flip side of Land of Aplenty) or a roach-frog he swore he saw as a child or an atomic bomb blast, is to face them head on- exorcising these negative thoughts out of his system on to the screen. They are frightening and mysterious. They are beautiful.

Even well-meaning, special agent Cooper, who splits into two then becomes a whole again by the end, gets lost in his journey to make things right. The past doesn't dictate the future. The wicked witch, born out of an atomic blast, sidetracks him. He is as lost as poor Laura Palmer.

Mystery continues, beauty retained

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The Return's finale was as frustrating as it had been expected. Part 17 neatly wrapped many of the messy threads the show was building up to. It was indeed the actual ending of one mystery, just as Lynch and co opened up another one with Part 18. Thankfully for us, the mystery continues and retains its beauty forever as the show ended. The whole show was still the most exhilarating viewing experience ever. It provided most beautiful, spellbinding imagery I've ever experienced in my life. Part 8 alone is the most cinematic, thrilling event of all time in tv/film history, easily topping any Brakage or Malick had ever done.

I just feel so fortunate that this summer we were blessed with 18 hours of new Lynch creations. Even if Lynch doesn't make another movie or tv show for the remainder of his life, this has been a true blessing. And I am very grateful for it ever happening.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Night the great equalizer & enabler

Toute une nuit (1982) - Chantal Akerman
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Night is a powerful equalizer - in the shadows, we can hide all our imperfections. In the shadows, night is also an enabler for those who act on their impulses. This is how I felt watching Toute une nuit. No one does loneliness like Akerman. She stitches together these lonely souls in short, almost silent segments as they sit in empty bars, cafes, rooms, balconies, corridors. They also run around, pack and leave, break up, and embrace each other and dance. There are so many embraces in Tout une nuit. They are not the happy ones. They are desperate, sad ones- holding each other tight, not able to let go and becoming sad dances.

Toute une nuit is a beautiful, melancholic piece that speaks to the lonely hearts everywhere.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Rare Occurrence

Le rayon vert (1986) - Rohmer
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Delphine (Marie Rivière) just got dumped by her fiancé just before the Summer vacation. Now she has no idea where to go and who with. The Green Ray follows her one uncomfortable situations after another, as she vacillates, agonizes every choices she makes in desperation, out of loneliness. She doesn't want to go to Ireland with her sister's family. It's too cold there and weather's lousy. She agrees to go to Cherbourg with her friends but once she's there, she's miserable even though everyone around her is very nice and trying to accommodate her eccentricities at every turn. Her vegetarianism turns into a discussion on being light which Delphine can't quite explain (so as a lot of things she's feeling) and they end up calling her a being like a plant. Once back in Paris and still plenty of time left for her vacation, she goes to the mountains alone where she and her ex-fiancé have had a contact who rents out a cabin. But soon as she gets there, she gets bored, ends up coming back to Paris the same day- this must've been a nightmare scenario for Rohmer's producer: "what, you want to go to the Alps for a couple of shots that lasts less than a minute screen time for a character to show she doesn't know what she wants? Boy, that would be a logistical nightmare and will cost you half of your budget!"

Delphine's life might not be too exciting but she is a perfectly lovely woman. So she's not exactly an extrovert nor extremely neurotic. She cries a lot, out of her loneliness. The thing is, we've all been there or know someone who's been there. Rohmer gently, beautifully sketches out a woman who suffers greatly from loneliness but too stubborn to be outgoing. The Green Ray makes me think about the relationships in the age of social media generation where everyone seems to have their emotions on their sleeve, ready to divulge their innermost feelings for everyone to see. With her complicated feelings and her lack of clear communication skills, Delphine is a hard woman to like, but that's precisely why I find her so lovely and relatable.

Back in Paris, she runs into an acquaintance who has an access to an apartment in the resort beach town of Biarritz. So she is off to Biarritz, swimming on the beach but still lonely. She meets a vivacious topless Swedish girl who doesn't take things as seriously as she does. The two men come over to flirt with them. They are perfectly nice, but that's not what Delphine wants. After she runs away from the scene, she eave drops old folks talking about the green ray, a rare occurrence where you see the sliver of green light at the tip of the setting sun for a second as it disappears on the horizon. Dephine needs that rare occurrence in her life. That it is possible that there is somebody who is in the same wavelength as you. However rare meeting that person is, it could happen.

Deeply humanistic and beautifully drawn, Le rayon vert is one of my new favorites of all time.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Lost in La Mancha

The Trip to Spain (2017) - Winterbottom
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The third installment of The Trip series, which started as a TV show in 2010, Michael Winterbottom, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon's The Trip to Spain delivers yet another delightful, charming road movie.

Coogan and Brydon again reprise their slightly exaggerated (still fictional) roles as themselves, on another assignment given by The Observer (Brydon again, serving as a food critic) and The New York Times (Coogan, travel essayist), this time to Spain and engorge themselves on great food and appreciate local culture in spectacular scenery of many different Spanish regions while wrestling with aging, self-worth and fragile masculinity.

Calling The Trip to Spain anything other than an overly indulgent project would be an understatement: the endless in-jokes, impersonations and food porn aplenty. But who cares? As a fan of the series and Coogan and Brydon's sardonic banter, Spain is by far the funniest of the three.

In Cervantes-esque whimsy, Coogan, the cocky narcissist of the two, takes on the Don Quixote role to good-natured family man Brydon's Sancho Panza, which ties nicely in with the theme of Lost in La Mancha, later in the movie.

They start in England, taking a ferry to their first destination, Getaria, a picturesque fishing village in the Basque region. After dining on some grilled seafood and some hilarious Mick Jagger impersonations, they drive to inland region of Rioja. There, the arid desert vistas of inner Spain is spectacular and the medieval town built on the ledge of the barren mountains is a site to behold.

Coogan is seen flirting with women everywhere he goes, and Brydon is seen skyping with his wife and their young kids every night. It's their established rapport through the years, which makes them such a great team. Their priorities are slightly changed since the last time: Coogan's success as a writer/actor boosted his ever growing self-importance. But he still struggles to be recognized as a serious artist. Last seen having an extra marital fling with a tour guide, Brydon is settled in domestic bliss. His only job now is ribbing Coogan whenever he deems necessary to do so.

Their impersonations of course, gets the most laughs- Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Anthony Hopkins, Marlon Brando, John Hurt by way of Caligula in I Claudius and Quentin Crisp (in Naked Civil Servant).

Talking about Moorish influence in Spain, they start impersonating Roger Moore to impress their female companion. A plate of grilled scallops develops into a stand off between Moore’s Bond and Christopher Lee’s Scaramanga. Brydon's insistence in Moore-ing everything, which goes on forever, should in theory outlive its welcome in a minute, but because its Coogan and Brydon, it's consistently funny all the way through.

And of course, their version of Michael Fucking Caine. They pull out "SHE'S ONLY SIXTEEN YEARS OLD!" in the film's most inappropriate moment and I couldn't stop laughing.

My minor quibble is that perhaps because the film is basically a shortened version of the 6 part TV series (like the other two films were) into an hour and a half movie, I find the ending quite muddled and unsatisfying.

On paper, two middle aged white male British comedians going through beautiful places, eating delectable cuisine, always cracking silly jokes and impersonating celebrities, don't sound all that attractive. But because it's Coogan and Brydon, who are genuinely funny and charming, makes The Trip to Spain one of the funniest movies I've seen in years.

The Trip to Spain opens in select U.S. theaters on Friday, August 11.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Cog in the Machine

Machines (2016) - Jain
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In my humble opinion, digital filmmaking, with its extremely sharp image, isn't really suited for general narrative filmmaking. I do not need to see every pore on Charlize Theron or Scarlet Johansson's face. I do not need to see every piece of debris when an alien space craft explodes.

But the high resolution digital technology renders wonderfully in documentary filmmaking, capturing nitty-gritty details of everyday life that was not possible with shooting on a film stock. In comparison and in context, I can think of Forest of Bliss, a lyrical documentary depicting life and rituals in Benares, India, directed by much-revered documentarian Robert Gardner.

Even though I have a film background and am a big fan of anything shot on film (just the sight of 16mm shot, grainy images triggers Pavlov's effect on me), seeing that deteriorating film reel projected on screen -- scratched, high contrast, with no details in the shadows -- I can only speculate what Gardner, Malle, Van der Keuken and a lot of other great documentarians could've captured with light(er) weight, larger censor cameras that can shoot 6K to 8K images for hours on end without stopping.

Machines, a film by Rahul Jain, answers that possibility. Shot entirely in and around a textile factory in the Guajarat region of India, the film doesn't only depict the everyday working conditions of the hundreds of manual laborers, but also captures it in a startlingly clear, beautiful imagery.

Using only medium to wide lenses, Jain invites us into the giant, labyrinthine factory where shirtless male workers go on about their work day. Even though the process is pretty heavily machinized on the floor, each step of the process needs human hands and eyes: moving the heavy loads of fabric, dragging paint drums from one place to another, the actual silk screening process, mixing paints, guarding fabrics through the machines, keeping the furnaces going, maintaining the axles of the machines. Their shifts in the factory require long, grueling, hard work.

Perfectly framed, these static shots of the interiors of the greasy, grimy factory, lit only with cold, dim fluorescent lights, is strangely, hauntingly beautiful. Colors and texture -- steam, metal, glistening human skin, the brightness of the fabric they produce -- all contrast/accompany each other in mind-boggling detail on the screen.

Is Jain drawing a correlation between heavy machinery and human labor, as demonstrated in cinema history as early as Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Charles Chaplin's Modern Times? Machines and their beautiful imagery can be easily used for poverty porn, but Jain takes a different approach.

Without a swooping score to manipulate audience's emotions, he silently observes the workers and they in turn talk about their working conditions. The filmmaker rightfully excuses himself from being seen or heard, leaving his silent questions to be answered by workers in a breathtaking 360 degree shot just outside the factory, surrounded by workers.

They came to Guajarat because there is work. Their travel cost put them into debt. Their 12 hour shift pays 300 rupees (about 5 US dollars). They have a short break, then go back for another 12 hour shift. The only thing they can afford is chewing tobacco which will keep them awake.

They talk about the futility of organizing; who has time for union activities? In debt and exhaustion, they literally can't afford to go to a union meeting. It's a vicious cycle. Jain interviews the management also. A boss gives a speech that's right out of some early 20th century capitalist handbook: "If the workers get paid more than what they get now, they get lazy. They need to be hungry to be a good worker."

There is an imminent danger we feel when a child worker nods off while on the job, then there's a tranquility in the shots of workers taking a nap during their break wherever they can. It's all beautifully captured. Even their makeshift raincoats, a big plastic bag with the hole for their face under a torrential downpour, are beautiful.

Bosses vs workers is an age old subject. But Machines is a visually sumptuous observation piece that transcends being a mere social commentary.

Machines will have a one-week engagement, August 9 – 15, at Film Forum.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Melancholic Fable

Bella e perduta/Lost and Beautiful (2015) - Marcello
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In Lost and Beautiful, Pietro Marcello concocts a heady and lyrical mixturer of fantasy and reality. There is Tommaso the sheep herder turned the keeper of an abandoned Bourbon palace who kept up the structure by his own means, against vandals and loiterers. There is Pulcinella, a masked actor from the 17 century who is ordered to take an orphan water buffalo calf named Sarchiapone (who narrates part of the film in voice over) from Tommaso. There is Gesuino, a larger than life hermit with a booming voice....

Shot on gloriously beautiful 16mm, the film is really something else. Marcello presents everything so gracefully, putting equal measure of importance on everything, whether it's the footage of ordinary people taking to the street against Mob violence or intensely blue-eyed Tommaso giving a silent tour inside the decrepit palace or a close up of an old farmer brushing her hair or picturesque pastoral countryside where Pulcinella and Sarchiapone take their long journey on foot.

Is human existence is all a dream of a buffalo calf? Lamenting the loss of the way of life, Lost and Beautiful is an immensely wise, melancholic look at what it means to be human. Beauty.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Fallen Out of Love

La Notte (1961) - Antonioni
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La Notte is perhaps the most heartbreaking film ever made about falling out of love. In a matter of two days and one night, the unhappy bourgeois intellectual couple in Milan, Giovanni (Marcello Mastroianni) and Lidia (Jeanne Moreau) slowly hurtles toward the inevitable.

It starts in the hospital room, where the couple's friend who is suffering from terminal illness. All pleasantries but they all know the case is hopeless for the patient. Lidia makes an excuse to run out the door. It sets the tone going forward, as they contemplate their strained relationship. In the hospital, Giovanni is attacked by a nympho girl and feeling guilty that he was tempted, he tells Lidia about it later on. Antonioni demonstrates the couple's sexual frustrations as Lidia watches young men shooting rockets in the field and as she stumbles on a group of shirtless young men fist-fighting.

Giovanni is celebrating his new book, Sleepwalkers, being published. In series of conversations, we find out that it's Lidia's family's wealth they are living off of and he has no qualms about not having another book published in the future. Then they meet Valentina (Monica Vitti), a 22 year old daughter of a industrialist whose dinner party the couple half-heartedly attends. It was Lidia's passive-agressive suggestion for Gio to talk to her since Val is seen away from the party reading his book. And surely enough Gio is smitten by a young, smart woman.

Both Gio and Lidia have chance to have an affair that stormy night. Lidia rejects the offer out of what, and Gio and Lidia are both rejected by Val, who stands for object of desire and the new generation rejecting the old. La Notte might not be the most cinematic films in Antonioni's oeuvre. But with older, knowing protagonists, it is a lot more impactful and sadder than L'eclisse. The last scene, as the unhappy couple trying to have sex in the field is perhaps the saddest movie ending ever. I think I am beginning to appreciate Michelangelo Antonioni's artistry more now that I'm older.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Japan Cuts 2017 Preview

Once again, always dependable Japan Cuts, a festival of excellent, current crop of Japanese cinema takes place at Japan Society 7/13 - 7/23.

Festivities start off with a bang on Thursday, July 13th, ushered in by special guest director and JAPAN CUTS veteran Yoshihiro Nakamura (Fish Story), who introduces the Opening Night Film MUMON: The Land of the Stealth, making its U.S. Premiere. Known for his masterful genre blenders, MUMON is Nakamura’s modern take on the traditional jidaigeki (period drama), full of fantastical ninja moves that uphold genre standards, yet imbued with a unique sense of eccentricity and playfulness. Director Nakamura appears in a post-screening Q&A, followed by a rollicking Opening Night Party held in Japan Society’s historic theater and waterfall atrium.

As previously announced, JAPAN CUTS is proud to present this year’s recipient of the CUT ABOVE Award for Outstanding Performance in Film to Joe Odagiri, the remarkably talented box office golden boy and matinee idol of Japan. Odagiri receives the award before the Centerpiece Presentation screening: the East Coast Premiere of Nobuhiro Yamashita’s critically acclaimed drama Over the Fence. A baseball themed Home Run Party follows the screening in celebration of the film and the performance that anchors it. Demonstrating the breadth of his talent and penchant for taking on difficult roles, Odagiri also participates in a Q&A following the U.S. Premiere screening of Kohei Oguri’s FOUJITA, about the life of the complex titular painter.

The festival's Closing Film offers a poignant and indelible deviation from traditional Japanese war dramas: Sunao Katabuchi’s In This Corner of the World, winner of the Japan Academy prize for Animation of the Year. A deeply moving coming-of-age story about a persevering young woman, In This Corner of the World captures civilian life under the catastrophic tide of World War II with a tone that is at once mournful, optimistic, and enchantingly heart-swelling. The film’s prolific producer (having previously worked on Patlabor, Satoshi Kon’s masterpieces, and many other titles) Taro Maki attends for the post-screening Q&A.

Here are some of the films I got to watch from the lineup. Please visit Japan Society website for tickets and more info.

ANTI-PORNO
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Can Sono Sion, known for his crazy movies with ultra violence and upskirt photography, have a cake and eat it too, in tackling a subject like misogyny in Japanese society? In his Nikkatsu studio commissioned Roman Porno Revival, Anti-Porno, Sono goes for it with mixed results.

Tomite Ami is Kyoko, who wakes up in her primary colored loft, prances around naked. She is supposed to be a famous author, painter and all around creator. She has a somewhat of an emotionally/physically abusive sadomasochistic relationship with her middle aged, mousy assistant Noriko (Tsutsui Mariko). Kyoko's adoring entourage arrives for a photo shoot and she makes Noriko naked on all fours barking like a dog in chain. Suddenly, director calls cut and reveals that the loft is a movie set and the roles are reversed - Noriko is the dominant one and Kyoko is the submissive, self-doubting, all around much abused young ingénue playing (terribly, she is told) the dominant role in a movie. During the course of the movie, their roles change many times.

In multiple flashbacks, Kyoko grows up with her parents’ hypocrisy on sex - their puritanical education on morality didn't match their voracious sexual appetite. So she very much longed to be a whore in high school. But yet, she seems deeply confused about what it means to be a whore. She seems incapable of escaping from being 'a woman' in a male dominant Japanese society. It's a vicious cycle- being a whore equals free equals being a men's plaything.

In this meta movie-within-a-movie thing, Sono even tries to assert artistic superiority of roman porno over straight up porno: when high school student Kyoko auditions for a roman porno project, claiming she wants to be a whore, ripping her sailor school uniform off, the director scoffs at her, "This is roman porno. Do you even know what it means to be a whore?"

Satire is one thing, but Sono doesn't seem to get the spirit of the roman porno. To be honest, this Nikkatsu revival of the genre is as dated and tiresome as James Bond franchise. The revivals are supposed to be a harmless titillation with certain restrictions - no depiction of underage sex, etc. It is sad that in depicting sex act, Sono can only resort to sailor uniforms. The movie is hardly sexy or titillating. Sono falters when he tries to be serious. At the end, he just needs to cover up his muddy messages with bucket of colorful paints thrown all over his female protagonist. I like his comedies more.


ONCE UPON A DREAM
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Just static images of quiet empty rooms, subway rides, cityscape at dusk consist Once Upon a Dream, a cult film that has been gathering followers over the years, including Kiyoshi Kurosawa who compared it to Jean-Luc Godard's. Indeed, the film's carefully composed exterior shots remind me of many of 80's Godard.

It tells a barely seen protagonist, a soft-spoken school teacher whose somnambulist existence and her weird demeanor are affecting her day to day life. We hear her thoughts in her voice over and her conversations with others, without us seeing anybody on screen. We hear the rustles of bed sheets, footsteps, breathing, moving of locomotives, idle, unintelligible conversations of others in the shops and cafes. Perhaps Once Upon a Dream is the most intimate eavesdropping film as opposed to the most voyeuristic.

Director Shichiri Kei, on the film's 10 years anniversary, added crisp new footage and redid sound design, giving this avant-garde classic a new life. The result is hushed contemplation of urban loneliness that is beautifully, uniquely realized visually and aurally. Quiet yet deeply affecting, Once Upon a Dream is a truly one of a kind experience.


HARUNEKO
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It seems that people who want to die end up in a cafe in the middle of nowhere, deep in the forest. It is run by a young man known only as 'manager' with the help of an old woman who sits in a rocking chair, knitting, and a boy name Haru.

The glimpse of the lives of would be dead are projected on a make shift screen, followed by sing-along, accompanied by an indie rock group with a white papier-mâché of a cat on their heads. After that, they are driven through a tunnel of no return deep into the forest where they disappear slowly and become the part of soundscape in the air.

Misty forest settings are highly evocative. It recalls Tarkovsky and the idea of a station between two realms reminds me of Koreeda's affecting Afterlife. Strange and beautiful, Haruneko is a somber, haunting and highly ambitious whatsit that falters a little in its own preciousness.


YAMATO (CALIFORNIA)
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Yamato, a city 35km south of Tokyo, hosts the largest US military base in Asia. A Yamato native director, Miyazaki Daisuke, tackles the influence US still has on its inhabitants in his indie feature, Yamato (California), and he has some pointy things to say about it. Sakura (Kan Kanae), plays a wayward high school dropout, first seen rapping in the city's garbage dump. She lives in a tiny house with her busy single mom and her nerdy brother. She works part-time at a traditional Japanese restaurant that serves grilled eels, but she spends most of her time alone practicing rap inside an abandoned van or tit-tatting with her brother over sharing a computer or their tiny living space (divided only by a curtain).

She hasn't quite found herself yet and her rebellion and thuggish attitude are not winning hearts and minds of her surroundings. In order to pursue her music career, she needs to get a computer and a smart phone. She finds out that there is a singing contest at a local cultural center with $2,000 US dollar prize.

Things get a little more interesting when Rei (Endo Nina), an American-Japanese daughter of mom's unseen American boyfriend comes to stay with them. At first, Sakura is downright hostile, but Rei's sunny disposition wins her over and they start hanging out. Sakura takes her to her drab local attractions - mostly shopping malls, cheap stores, the van and a rap music venue, which they get kicked out of, for being underage. They share beers and bad pizza. But Rei's insistence of hearing her rap pushes Sakura to re-evaluate her directions.

Yamato (California) treads the same path as Irie Yu's indie hit 8000 Miles trilogy in terms of disaffected youth with their shot at success theme. The interesting subtexts of US cultural dominance and the rise of jingoism are also there. It's also in the casting of Kan, a Japanese-Korean actress, playing downbeat young woman with cultural identity crisis.

There are so much potential in Yamato, especially with two beautiful, striking actresses- Kan who is very charismatic and has a good screen presence and Endo, a short haired gamine. I just wish Miyazaki concentrated more on the characters and details of their lives instead of awkward, obligatory actions that only serve to move the story forward and take up too much screen time.