VIFF Dispatch 1 on GreenCine

My belated coverage of the Vancouver International Film Festival begins on GreenCine:

Takashi Miike is still cranking out three or four features a year (down somewhat from his absurdly prolific era of the late-90s/early-00s, surely for the better), but fewer of them seem to be making it stateside, even on DVD – and those that do often seem undercooked. Where so many of his earlier films rode a crest of creative adrenaline to carry audiences through the narrative incoherence, he no longer seems able to sustain himself and too many of his recent films play as strings of set pieces and visual ideas stitched together with halfhearted scenes to create an illusion of continuity. With God’s Puzzle, he dials down his stylistic flamboyance and erratic narratives and does something I haven’t seen him do for a while: tell a story.

While hardly inspired, God’s Puzzle is an amusing drama of a rocker and part-time sushi chef (Ichihara Hayato) who takes the place of his brainy twin brother and ends up floundering through college physics and teaming up with a reclusive 17-year-old girl genius (Tanimura Mitsuki) on a theoretical project to create a universe with our own universe. The film sprawls over more than two hours, and much of it is dedicated to quantum physics and metaphysical debate, which Miike manages to make interesting (he directs one lesson as an action movie, with Ichihara leaping through a lecture and breathlessly delivering his summation). The finale turns into a kind of WarGames with a metaphysical foundation and a God complex, which Miike leavens with a little humor, courtesy of the amiable goofball Ichihara. Throughout the film he launches the flashbacks and fantasy scene with the click of a “button” dropped on screen like a website link, and for the end, he transforms an action thriller into a rock musical. Miike lets the cheeky humor bubble up through the film, as if reminding us not to take the science-babble too seriously. After all, it is a film that concludes with a contemplation of the theory of sushi relativity. It’s almost refreshing to see Miike loosen up so much, but he’s still marking time.

Achilles to kame Takeshi Kitano’s Achilles and the Tortoise premiered at Toronto to general indifference and hasn’t found any champions since. Ostensibly the final film in a trilogy inaugurated with Takeshis and continued through the fragmented mess that is Glory to the Filmmaker!, this tale of a frustrated artist sends a confused message. The young son of a passionate art collector and artist patron is inspired to become a painter. The early scenes of the boy and, later, the young man learning his craft and exploring possibilities are full of the excitement of creative potential and artistic expression. He’s feeling his way around, looking for affirmation and latching on to every minor encouragement of an art dealer with overzealous intemperance. His dedication is admirable but the attempt to find his voice gets lost in his efforts to find success. The film turns into glib parody by the time Takeshi himself takes over the role as the middle-aged failure so obsessed with making a name for himself that he lets his family sink under his neglect. It’s a sour satire of the commercialization of the creative impulse and Takeshi’s portrait of the artist as an unfeeling obsessive falls between emotional apathy and amoral neglect. When he looks on the corpse of a loved one (dead from his own failure as a father and a human) and sees only a new idea for a conceptual piece, the body merely raw material for his use, he’s no longer pitiable, he’s just despicable. If this is some metaphor for his corruption as a commercial artist, then his message is lost on me.

I also review The Good The Bad The Weird and Hansel and Gretel and report on a near-disaster averted.

Read the complete piece here.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I’m a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I’ve written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View.

I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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