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The London air smelled like snow today – crisp and fresh. It hasn’t snowed (not yet anyhow), although some forecasts seem to say that it will. Who knows. My sister has been telling me since yesterday that Vienna’s turning white, I haven’t talked to my Mom yet whether the same is true for the hometown. My Dad is of course snow-less in Delhi, but he did send me a photo in December from Srinagar (Kashmir & Jammu), where travelling to the construction site was a bit of a fight against the elements (apparently they needed a tractor to tow them out).

December snow in Srinagar, Kashmir & Jammu.

December snow in Srinagar, India.

In case you can’t tell I love snow and the green Christmas this year was really a let-down (I got only snow dustings on the day I flew into Vienna and the day I flew out again. Boooohoooo.).

On to films now…. I have got five for you today:

  • スターフィッシュホテル」(Sutāfisshuhoteru/Starfish Hotel, Japan, 2007) – I am curious about the filmography of John Williams, a film director that stems from Wales but makes Japanese films (i.e. set in Japan, starring Japanese actors, using the Japanese language). I first heard of Williams when his「佐渡テンペスト」(Sado tenpesuto/Sado Tempest aka Arashi, Japan, 2012) screened at the most recent Raindance Festival. Although I still haven’t watched anything by the director yet (Sado tenpesuto is still in my pile of unwatched DVDs), his works sound intriguing, including Sutāfisshuhoteru: Arisu Yuichi is a typical salaryman lost in the humdrum of middle-aged life in the impersonal cosmopolis of Tokyo. With the relationship to his wife also having become increasingly distant, Arisu leads an existence of emptiness. However, he has one interest: every night he delves into the world of the mystery novels of Kuroda Jo, set in a strange alternate universe called Darkland. Then one night Arisu’s wife vanishes. When the salaryman falls asleep on his daily commute the next day, he awakens in a dream, in which he meets Kuroda and soon finds himself – the viewers with him – caught between fantasy and reality, in a dark mystery story of his own past. Is it a memory or a dream? I don’t have the answer to that, but the plot sounds like a short story of Jorge Luis Borges (“Las ruinas circulares”/”The Circular Ruins”) crossed with the novels of Paul Auster (The New York Trilogy). Oh goody!
  • 檸檬のころ」 (Lemon no Koro/ The Graduates, Japan, 2007) – High school set stories, particularly those that sensitively explore the various challenges of growing up, are among my favourites, both for films and TV dramas (one of the reasons why I love ♥♥♥ the currently airing 학교 2013/Hakgyo 2013/School 2013 K-drama). Plot-wise this one makes the cut: it’s about senior high school students Kayoko, Takumi, Tomizo, Kei and Kazuya – two girls, three boys – whose lives in their last year in school intersect through love and friendship as they (as the Japanese say) ‘make memories’. I don’t expect Lemon no Koro to be a life-changing film – it’s merely a story about things we have all experienced at some point – but often these little productions do so much more for me than the latest, high-profile, big-budget blockbuster.
  • 機関車先生」 (Kikansha Sensei/Locomotive Teacher, Japan, 2004) – A random discovery. The trailer for Kikansha Sensei popped up when I was looking for videos for Lemon no Koro and it immediately drew me in, despite the lack of subtitles. It seemed to be a story of a young man travelling to an island to teach and bonding with the children there. Then I read a synopsis, and it got even better: Yoshioka Seigo is indeed a young man that does just that, but the detail that I missed without the subtitles is that he is mute. It’s not a handicap that he has had since birth, but rather he lost his ability to speak after a kendo accident. Struggling to live without a voice, he journeys to the island where his mother was born, facing hostility from parents who doubt his capabilities as a teacher, but soon being cherished by the students. Note: At first I thought it was an older – 70’s, 80’s – film (due to the film quality of the trailer), but Kikansha Sensei actually only dates back to 2004!
  • モンスターズクラブ」 (Monsutāzu Kurabu/Monster Club, Japan, 2011) – Eita was featured in my Dorama Special Trailer Weekly last week, and here’s another project of his. Director Toyoda Toshiaki creates the Unabomber-inspired character Kakiuchi Ryochi, who dwells in a cabin in the woods, withdrawn from the rest of the world. There he makes and mails off bombs to companies. When out hunting one day, he sees a ‘monster’ and, later, his deceased brother, in his dreams. He is “dragged closer and closer to returning to civilization, a move that threatens to shatter him into pieces” (quote). The film screened at Terracotta last year, but I missed it. Dummy me – the title and the images used to promote the screening made me think it was about something else entirely and I also didn’t realise Eita was in it. Note: Lovely poster(s).
Most commonly used to promote Monsters Club

Most commonly used image to promote Monsutāzu Kurabu, which originally misled me.

monsters club

This poster (plus the one in the gallery heading the post), meanwhile, gives off a rather different vibe.

  • きいろいゾウ」 (Kiroi Jou/Yellow Elephant, Japan, 2013) – I’m not quite sure about this one, in part because I’m on the fence about Miyazaki Aoi (not sure why, and, I admit, it may be an unfair bias). Miyazaki plays one half of a married couple, Mukai Osamu is her husband (and both, particularly Miyazaki, just look way too young to be married – though Miyazaki was married – and scandalously divorced – in real life already).  The pair leads a quite life, Miyazaki’s character, Aiko, being a somewhat naïve wife while Mukai’s, Ayumu, is an unsuccessful novelist. When a letter arrives for the latter one day, the two of them slowly become estranged. Adapted from a novel, this plot line does not reveal very much at all, although a shot in the trailer showing Ayumu with a large tattoo on his back may be a clue: he may have a dark yakuza past. I’m totally guessing here on the basis that a) tattoos are closely associated with yakuza and b) therefore still seen as something very objectionable. Note: Poster feels a bit too pretty, doesn’t it?

Bonus Bits

  • While we are impatiently waiting for 「言の葉の庭」(Kotonoha no Niwa, scheduled for release in the first half of 2013), we will be getting an anime-short from Shinkai Makoto next month:「 だれかのまなざし」 (Dareka no Manazashi/ Someone’s Gaze, Japan, 2013). No wonder that Shinkai seems to barely leave his office. The short will be shown during a home living exposition, Tokyo International Forum, in early February. More details about Dareka no Manazashi will be announced on January 23 (I’ll keep you informed). See also Shinkai’s official website (in Japanese).
dareka no manazashi

Shinkai’s short Dareka no Manazashi.

  • At Slate, Bill Wyman argues why Beasts of the Southern Wild (USA, 2012) could win Best Picture at the Oscars. Now, I liked that movie, but I don’t think I would make it best picture (neither in my person top-films of 2012 list nor among the Academy Awards nominees). I also don’t find Wyman’s argument all that compelling, indeed, I think he’s contradicting himself when saying that Michael Haneke’s “Amour is just happy to be nominated” and “doesn’t stand a chance” (it seems, because it’s in French), but apparently Beasts of the Southern Wild does because “these days, the Academy likes low-budget critical favorites”. Wyman appears to be basing himself on the (somewhat) unexpected small-films-go-big trajectories of Slumdog Millionaire (UK, 2008, Best Picture 2008) and L’artiste (The Artist, France, 2011, Best Picture 2012), or even The King’s Speech (UK, 2010, Best Picture 2010) and The Hurt Locker (US, 2008, Best Picture 2009), but unlike these, Beasts of the Southern Wild has primarily seen success in the circles of critics and film festivals. Indeed, my impression is that Amour‘s positive critical reception has been bigger (Haneke is well established, Benh Zeitlin’s film is his debut) AND that the film has been seen as well as appreciated by more mainstream viewers than Beasts, which operates on metaphorical and symbolic levels – too much so for mainstream audiences to be easily won over. While there is certainly truth to the language argument with Amour, people said the same about a silent film having no chance at winning last year. And yet it did. Now, I doubt either Beasts of the Southern Wild or Amour will get the trophy in this category, but Beasts isn’t more likely to win than Amour. The Academy still likes big films most of all. If it likes small films, they have got big backing (à la Harvey Weinstein for L’artiste), which neither Beasts nor Amour do. I guessing Lincoln will win, it’s big, it’s Spielberg, it’s got Daniel Day-Lewis, and it is about American history. (It’s a film that doesn’t interest me in the slightest, but that’s just personal preferences.)