Dolls

Dolls

Dolls is no doubt a cult classic of Japanese cinema and if it’s not, it should be (well IMHO anyway).

Everything about Dolls is beautiful. From cinematography to story. There are dolls to begin with and admittedly the first sequence is a bit if a trial unless you like Kabuki  (?) theatre acted out by puppets (yes, read dolls). The dolls, of course, are beautiful and the sequence does set up the stunning quiet/cold aesthetic of the film.

There are three separate stories, one being the bound beggars, the other two tell of lost love, loneliness and obsession. The stories twine in and out of each other which is cleverly done by the director. He’s not out to make you catch all the strings but they are there.

The themes are those of selfishness and its outcomes, as well as love lost, and the extreme paths we find ourselves on in our lives because of decisions that seem small at the time. I am sure there is much more to be found if you are Japanese or have an understanding of Japanese culture or history. I don’t, but in the end I still thought this was a great film.

The dolls play a symbolic role throughout as we watch these stories unfold. Through the still beauty of the bound beggars, through the picture perfect backdrops to the characters lives (Japan’s countryside at its most amazing). I’m pretty sure the director made Dolls as a love letter to Japan.

There is one ongoing storyline of the bound beggars which “ties” together the film (“bind” “tie” , oh, the poetic symbolism!!). Our beggars wander through the film, through years, through seasons and throughout Japan I should imagine  (they do a lot of walking). They are beautiful even though past acts were not and their red cord is even beautiful. By the end of the film there is genuine affection for these two even though they barely say a word. Other characters are less likeable but you get that.

This is a very slow film that takes a long time to unfold but it really is worth it. There are subtitles so don’t watch when you are sleepy! Just be warned that once you finish watching Dolls you will probably be immediately overcome by the need to book a holiday to Japan in the spring, then one for the summer, then another for the autumn but probably not for winter that snow looks cold… beautiful but cold.

Brrr...pretty...brrr...cold.

Brrr…pretty…brrr…cold.

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A Common Thread

a common thread

Excuse this French…

A Common Thread is in French!!!! French movies – aargh!! Except this one isn’t a comedy so I didn’t have to endure what may be the unfunniest (only appropriate descriptor no matter its incorrectness) comedy movies in the multiverse and it isn’t a sad film so no tears of Frenchness (haha, my spellcheck wants me to change that to Frenchie – lol! I love you spellcheck).

Get this, it’s a French film I like! I also like crafty things like knitting and cross stitch and sewing so of course this film’s central plot thread (pun!), embroidery, tweaks my craft interest. This is a French film about embroidery (I sh*t you not). Well, it’s about a few other things like teen pregnancy, family relationships, grief and motherly bonds but you know, whatever. So embroidery is the reason its on the list because usually ‘French’ would have me running. (That’s not entirely true but I think I’ve made my point here.)

So this French film is set in a gorgeous little country village. The scenery is stunning and captured beautifully on the screen. Initially, because everything was so pristine, I assumed the film was set in the not too distant past but no, we soon see our leading teen working in a supermarket. The scenery really is that pristine and the buildings really are that old and untouched. I absolutely want to visit wherever this is, I was seriously drooling about this place (again, maybe not quite, but you get my point).

The film is quiet, charming and attractive as well. The characters are fully formed and I could relate to the actions of each one, the standoffish older woman suffering through her grief (and embroidering) and the young pregnant teen afraid and disconnected from her family (and really getting some embroidery in).

The main characters are all female and its nice to see such fully formed characters on the screen …oh dear, I’m about to say it… Hollywood could learn a thing or two about female characterisation from this French film (waaah, stoopid Hollywood – making me say that).

Also, the embroidery is stunning. Apparently a lot of haute couture dressmaking includes hand embroidered patterning! Who knew? No wonder it’s so expensive… apparently it takes forever. That stuff aside, the use of the embroidery as a way for the two women to bond through their different forms of grief is very clever. It even leads to a confrontation with the baby’s father (or some guy – as it’s not entirely clear who the father is, well, not to me anyway), clever stuff.

Really not much happens in A Common Thread. People deal with life stuff, grow, change and make an awesome piece of embroidery. Quiet, touching and beautifully made is how I’d describe A Common Thread (dagnabbit France!).

 

 

Intacto

 intacto

So I finally got around to watching Intacto, subtitles ‘n’ all! Intacto is number 2 on the list so I’ve been trying to get my hands on a copy for a while. The last one had no subtitles and seeing as I don’t speak Spanish it didn’t really work out. There is a bit of English in there but not enough for anything to make sense and this is a really confusing film.

It’s really hard to describe because it takes itself so seriously yet is set in (what I hope) is an imagined world. In this world you’re born with luck and others are born with the ability to steal it all. Yep, this is a film about gambling in a world where luck could be yours for the taking. Basically all the characters are gambling addicts who must gamble on more and more absurd things to get to the ultimate test of luck. A game of russian roulette with a man who has never lost and steals all the gamblers’ luck when they die (or if he touches them) and the luck of those around the dead gambler. And you have to dress like him to play the game and he has a bag on his head while you take your shot – not creepy or weird, no ma’am not at all. Of course, the guy runs a casino in the middle of the desert – as you do. We all know casinos grow in deserts.

So if you watch Intacto you will spend a lot of time watching men (and a few women – just a few – apparently women are not so lucky?) gamble on dumb dangerous things like running blindfolded across a highway or racing blindfolded through a forest. Blindfolded – kind of like I thought I probably could have been during this film although that would make it hard to read the subtitles.

Really this is just two really annoying guys, one who happens to be really lucky and one who lost all his luck to Casino Guy, trying to get to the roulette game to shoot Casino guy. Why not just walk up to him and shoot him at the supermarket? I do not know. I suppose because this film is all yellow and noir. (I’m starting to think yellow and noir may be a bad sign for me in a movie since the yellow noir fest that was Kaante.)

Maybe it was just too subtle for me but I really felt like the movie was quite isolating. It was hard to feel sympathetic towrd the characters and the gambling just seemed dumb. I mean, do people really gamble their family away? A world where people gamble the house on whether or not a praying mantis will land on their heads? Don’t answer. I don’t want to know. Maybe if the film had a sci-fi edge or a more fantastic world they lived in (not backwater Spain – who even knew there was a backwater Spain?) I could’ve suspended my disbelief a little better.

I’d actually be interested to talk to someone else about what they thought of it. I get the feeling Intacto could be quite divisive. I am not a gambler in general but it’s interesting to think that people so rich and so bored could become so addicted to dumb and dangerous gambling. Who knew? Not me.

The Story of the Weeping Camel

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Mongolia looks like an amazing country. The colours of this film are just astounding split between the whites and yellows of the sandy desert and the blues of the sky that range from light blue to dark blue but always stunningly clear of cloud. All that said I would not want to live here. The protagonists are rugged up against the cold yet it looks like a summer’s day. The distant mountains are snow-capped and the camels are covered in their winter coats. I can only imagine the extremes of weather these desert dwellers must experience.

The Story of the Weeping Camel follows a three generation Mongolian family living far from the power lines in traditional yurts. A colt is born after his mother has laboured for two days and she rejects him. This is the crux of the film – the fight to get this mother to love the colt that hurt her so much. The whole family is affected by the desire to right the situation. The poor little colt is a white camel and cute as a button. The mumma camel on the other hand is huge! I have seen camels living wild in central Australia and they have the biggest heads. Those heads could really knock a human out if camels were inclined to head-butting bouts – luckily they are not.

They can be grumpy, they spit but watching this film makes you feel like they really are gentle giants; accepting and friendly to their humans. There are little asides from the grandfather telling the mythical tales of the camel and these as well as their treatment of the camels shows the respect traditional Mongolians must have for the creatures. After all, they provide milk, wool, a ride, a place to carry your yurt (it’s so hard to find a good place to carry your yurt right?) and meat. They are all-rounders.

Apparently, if all else fails, you can make a mother camel love her colt by singing to it and playing some violin. No-one in the family plays violin so the two young grandsons go off to the local city centre (it’s totally not a city just a conglomeration of yurts a ‘yurtglomeration’ if you will). They do have electricity though and the youngest’s transfixation with television is gorgeous – screen obsession = instant. (Yes, transfixation is a real word it just doesn’t belong in this sentence…don’t look it up it’s medical – gross.)

This film is slow and steady in its storytelling but it is beautiful in both the use of colour and landscape as well as in the delightful family we see living out there lives in an unforgiving desert. Apparently it’s spring in the Gobi Desert which I can tell by the animals giving birth section of the film but there are no blooms and there is no green. This family leads a hard life. It is a traditional life with daily blessings, singing, cups of tea and definitely no television. While what I’m about to write is truly cliched – the truth is this simple, hard life is filled with simple joys and it is a delight to watch.

Also, I can tell you without a spoiler alert that there is definitely a camel in this film and it definitely cries. I can’t tell you if mumma camel accepts the colt without a spoiler alert but – Weeping camel? Check.

Lady Snowblood (1973)

 LSB

You know that sound when you cut yourself and the blood gushes out like it’s coming from a tap? No? Well you will after watching Lady Snowblood. There is not one stabbing, slashing, swording, samurai-ing (definitely words) that doesn’t end with someone bleeding out like they’re more blood than anything else and they just turned on a geyser. Also, get used to it. There is a lot of stabbing, slashing, swording and samurai-ing in this film.

Lady Snowblood is a classic story of revenge but Lady Snowblood herself is one generation removed from the victim she is avenging – her mother. This makes for some intrigue as we travel with LSB as she tries to track down the bad doers with only their names to inform her. This is a grand old story and really quite clever in the use of flashbacks and backwards story telling so you are never sure of the whole story – just like LSB.

The film is pure Japanese fun times. Best to watch this in the original language I think. It would be too cheesy with American accents and mistimed mouthing.

Here’s something else I can tell you – Quentin Tarantino has seen this film. From the female protagonist warrior to the film’s ‘chapters’ this is Kill Bill circa 1973. There’s a mean all knowing warrior master too (yep, training montage!!). Even the over the top blood spurting is Tarantino-esque. I’m 100% sure QT watched it A LOT. So much so that he just had to go full homage on it. I can’t blame him. Lady Snowblood is all sorts of amazing.

If you like swording and samurai-ing and schlocky over the top action sequences with excessive blood spillage, well, this is the film for you. It’s no Kurosawa but it is all action and all samsploitation (samurai exploitation – new word).  Plus there are women taking the main stage instead of second fiddle. Classic exploitation film stuff – the one place you’ll find female main characters who can take care of themselves, although the women usually wear crazy not helpful to fight in outfits – which is also true of LSB although hers is a kimono. Of course you also see female main characters who can take care of themselves in  Tarantino films… that guy watched way too many exploitation films back in the day but oh how we love him for it.

Lady Snowblood is definitely one of the best samsploitation (if I use it enough it becomes a word right?) films I’ve seen. I can’t think of any others I’ve seen right now so I can’t compare but I’m sure it’s one of the best nonetheless. I would like to call it delightful but there was a touch too much blood and torture and stuff and swording for that. Plus blood geysers are not exactly a delight. They are, however, awesome. I shall therefore describe it as aweful, nope, too close to awful. Let’s try – delightsome. Yes, that.

Casshern

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Casshern is an unusual beast. It has an anime aesthetic with rich visuals that are clearly animated yet it is a live action film. It’s dark, brooding and soulful yet also action packed and anime confusing. The anime is much more like a moving painting than a Saturday morning cartoon.

Casshern is a Japanese film therefore there are subtitles. This would be a problem for some as there is a lot of exposition regarding the society in which the characters live and the science behind the main storyline.

Set in a future dystopia after the end of the 50 Year War between Europa and Asia, the Earth has been decimated and the scenery is dominated by destroyed infrastructure and the blood red suffering sky filled with the pollution of so many years of war. This future is steam punk influenced with the great machines of coal and steam dominating the skyline. Even the robot armies of Europa have a feeling of World War I about them more than a shiny imagined future.

Society has suffered and Asia has won this devastating war which means the signage is a mix of Russian, Japanese and Chinese. Loud speakers announce Soviet style propaganda and banners hang from the walls in a way reminiscent of World War II.

The storyline is actually quite poignant, in retrospect, with lessons about compassion, understanding the different, the ethics of science experimentation, racism, the realities of war and political corruption. It is never really clear who the baddies are but it is clear which characters think they are baddies and those who think they are good.

The world is run by corrupt old officials and the people are looking for a saviour; in steps a human restored to life by neo-cells (don’t ask me; although I think the answer is “science”). He is a reluctant hero who is suffering from his memories as a soldier and trying to understand the situation in which he finds himself. He also has some solid daddy issues.  But then so do most of the characters.

I really liked this movie and it was actually in the retrospect that I think I liked it best. In some ways it was a crazy over the top sci-fi influenced anime but in others it was a poignant look at the trials of life, death and the decisions we make.

The main drawback of this film is the serious anime confusion one suffers while watching it. Maybe if I could understand Japanese Casshern would be less confusing, no doubt the more subtle concepts are lost in translation.

I certainly don’t think Casshern is for everyone but anime fans should probably check it out.

 

The Triplets of Belleville

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This is absolutely gorgeous! The animation is old fashioned and quirky which gives the film a warm huggy feeling. Worst description ever but I’m going to leave it there…

It starts out with a really ye olde style of animation in black and white referencing original Mickey Mouse and very early cartoons. Watching and listening to the triplets do their thing in ye olde burlesque Paris is grande. It’s a lot of fun to pick the homages being made to the Mouse as well as others such as Josephine Baker who was so loved in Paris.

There isn’t really any talking in the film so subtitles are not needed. I think they would be annoying and take away from the experience of falling in love with an old lady and her dog. There is little talking needed to pick the characters of these people as so much is portrayed by the way they are animated. There is an hilarious fawning waiter at one point who is almost falling over himself with the fawning – no words needed – I know who he is.

The triplets don’t really feature a lot but it really is a catchy title so I suppose that’s how they got top billing. ‘Old woman and her dog from Paris’ doesn’t trip off the tongue with quite such ease. In the French release it was call “Belleville Rendezvous’ which is the song the triplets are famous for and is oft repeated during the movie – good thing it’s damned catchy.

(According to my musical hubby there is a Bach refrain repeated throughout in different styles (jazz etc) as well, although I cannot confirm this…)

You should see this one. And watch it with the older kids. Miss 14 really liked it but Miss 11 thought it was boring. Apparently she doesn’t like to think too much while watching animation. And there is a lot here (because of the non-talking aspect) that you have to decipher for yourself. There is also quite a confronting reference to horse racing and what happens to the poor horses who collapse on the track (it’s bad and involves a gun). It is a bit depressing explaining that to a youngster. Although it nicely packages why I really dislike horse racing – surely there’s something better to be done for an injured horse? Is our society really that money over life obsessed? – oh, wait, yes it is.

The movie was produced by Quebecois folks and it shines through in their portrayal of the Americans encountered. It’s both a put down and a compliment (is that a French thing perhaps…). The Americans are all giant (tall and wide), hamburger guzzling idiots, however, they are also incredibly friendly at the same time (to the point of annoyance for the dear old lady).

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There’s also a bit of mystery here as the old lady tries to find her grandson after he dissapears during the Tour de France (of course because they are French they cycle). It does take a while to work out why he was kidnapped at all and that worked really well. Again, the non-talkiness meant that we weren’t told everything through horrible, horrible ‘everyone watching this is stupid’ exposition.

It’s short too so just watch it already.