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Finally back with this…

  • 過界 (Guò jiè/Bends, Hong Kong, 2013)

Dir. by Flora Lau.

Although Flora Lau’s debut film Guò jiè screened in Cannes – in the Un Certain Regard section – I only stumbled across it much later. It brings together two people on opposites end of the social spectrum, Anna, a wealthy Hong Kong housewife, and Fai, her driver, a worker from mainland China, as their lives fall apart: Anna’s husband suddenly disappears, leaving her only debts and social shame, while Fai is separated from his pregnant wife and child by immigration laws he is desperately trying to circumvent. If that sounds like a recipe for the beginnings of an affair, as far as I can tell from the synopses and reviews I have read, it is not. Rather this “slow-moving but ultimately affecting mood piece” (source) is about the human drama of two very different people in crisis, “the uneasy symbiosis of Hong Kong with mainland China” (source) forming the background of these reflections.

  • 「恋愛寫眞」(Renai shashin/Collage of Our Lives, Japan, 2003)

Dir. by Tsutsumi Yukihiko.

I am playing with the thought of doing a Matsuda Ryuhei review season (your thoughts on this are welcome), so I’ve been looking through his filmography. One of Matsuda’s earlier films is Renai Shashin, in which he plays Makoto, a photographer that fails at his work. One day he learns that Shizuru, his girlfriend from college days, is dead – and has been for a year. Makoto struggles to comprehend the news as he has a letter from her, postmarked only one week ago, in which nothing seems amiss.

  • 「御法度」 (Gohatto/Taboo, Japan, 1999)

Dir. by Oshima Nagisa.

Going even further back here in time with Matsuda Ryuhei films. The director, who died this year, is the one of 「愛のコリーダ」(Ai no Korīda/Realm of the Senses, Japan, 1976) fame, so you can imagine it’s not your average kind of flick – and certainly a daring one for an actor to take on early in his career. Set in 1865, Matsuda plays Sozaburo Kano, a young and rather effeminately beautiful samurai who stirs the desires of many. Yes, Oshima ventures into taboo territory: gay samurai. The reviews of the film are mixed, but that’s not necessarily a deterrent.

  •  「46億年の恋」  (46-okunen no koi/A Big Bang Love: Juvenile, Japan, 2006)

Dir. by Miike Takashi.

And one more for Matsuda Ryuhei, again with a homosexual theme but in a more present-day setting. Jun (Matsuda) ends up in prison after killing a man that sexually assaulted him in a gay bar. In jail he meets Shiro (Ando Masanobu). The former is timid, the latter forceful, but there is attraction between them. Everything I have read about 46-okunen no koi is intriguing. To start with, it’s from Miike Takashi, the man of many faces and films. Right before this project came「妖怪大戦争」(Yokai daisenso/ The Great Yokai War, Japan, 2005), meaning there’s a 180 degree turn in between. Most reviews connect 46-okunen no koi to the works of internationally renown cine auteurs, with Midnight Eye describing it as “an overtly homoerotic, Brechtian prison drama whose barely-lit concrete corridors echo whispers of Caligari, von Trier, and Godard” (source). They add: “[i]t will make you wonder, curse, marvel, tremble, scratch your head, grow bored, and awaken rudely. Celebrate it.”

It looks like a weird beast, but oh! I like it.

There is, by the way, a whole set of gritty & pretty posters for the film out there:

Big Bang Love Juvenile A 4 Big Bang Love Juvenile A 6

Plus shots of scenes that have a fascinatingly futuristic vibe, but in an old-time way:

Big Bang Love Juvenile A 3

  • Go」 (Japan, 2001)

Dir. by Yukisada Isao.

How did I come across this one? I don’t remember. But it’s about the issue of race in Japan, which is always something that catches my interest. The focus is on Sugihara (aka “Go”), who is Japanese in every way except that he is 50% of North Korean descent – which in Japan means everything. After he decides to enter a regular Japanese school (rather than the North Korean one he previously attended), his daily life becomes an even greater struggle between people who wish to fight him, others who consider him a traitor, and some that want to see beyond this all.

  • Abigail Harm (USA, 2013)

Dir. by Lee Isaac Chung.

I came to this one by way of a couple of articles on the Asia Pacific Arts website (which I do rather recommend). The titular Abigail is a lonely, middle-aged woman who rescues a young, wounded man but only to capture and keep him. The story has its beginnings in the Korean “The Woodcutter and the Nymph” fable, where an injured deer grants a wish to the woodcutter that saves him, though echoes of other fables (Irish selkies) also come to mind. The film stars Amanda Plummer and “reborn” actor Kuramochi Tetuso as an otherworldly creature. It premiered at the Busan Film Festival and double-won at the LA Asian Pacific Film Festival, receiving both the Grand Jury Prize and the Best Director award. I do hope this film will pop up at some London festival at some point – Raindance or next year’s London East End Film seem like possible fits.

Bonus Bits

  • A recent interview with Shinkai Makoto: The Garden of Thoughts.
  • New Olly Moss artwork for two Studio Ghibli films out there (for other creations, see here). The 「ハウルの動く城」 (Hauru no Ugoku Shiro/Howl’s Moving Castle, 2004) poster works better for me than the 「千と千尋の神隠し」 (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi/Spirited Away, 2001) one.

Olly Moss mononoke

Olly Moss spirited away