Posts Tagged ‘Japanese Arthouse’

Ring (1998) *** Home Ent Release

Dir: Hideo Nakata | Mystery Horror | Japan, 96′

Ring was only his second feature, yet director Hideo Nakata became an over-night sensation with this supernatural B-movie, written by Hiroshi Takahashi, based on the novel by Koji Suzuki. And despite budget-related poor production values, Ring spawned many worldwide copy-cat features and although it now feels dated, the original impact is still tangible.

It all starts with teenage girls, Tomoko (Takeuchi) and Massami (Sato) discussing a strange video with three other friends in a motel room in Izu. At the end of the video, comes an even stranger phone call telling them they will die in a week’s time. And sure enough, death comes to them all on the day in question in the form of a cardiac arrest, their faces bearing expressions of the horror they encountered. 

Journalist Reiko (Matsushima), Tomoko’s aunt, starts to investigate the mysterious deaths, and watches the video tape in question. She too gets a strange phone call after watching, but this time she enlists the help of her ex-husband Ryuji (Sanada), to avoid the fate of the earlier victims. The couple has a son, Yoichi (Otaka), who, like his father is gifted with sixth sense. Both father and son watch the video, before the parents discover some clues, buried in the past: The psychic Shizuko who predicted the eruption of the volcano in Mount Mihara, later leaped into the volcano, after a scandal involving her mentor Dr. Ikuma and her uncle Takashi. But the real mystery surrounds her daughter Sukado, who was murdered and thrown in a well. Reiko and Ryuji are working against time – but Ring has a rather ghastly surprise in store.

Performances are on a par with the rather crass images. The overall effect verges on the theatrical, Kenji Kawai’s doom-laden score always warning of some imminent threat. There is blatant misogyny, with Ryuji slapping his ex-wife brutally, when she shows signs of fears. He also accuses her of not looking after their son, whilst he is a totally-absent father. The murder victims (in both the flashback and the main story) are, with one exception, all female. There is also the question of Japan’s very violent past (which has never been addressed), like the invasion of China and the consequent taking of sex slaves in the occupied country – perhaps the flash-backs are a form of recognition of these crimes. Finally, TV and video are seen like a virus, infiltrating Japanese society – a warning in a country, which, whilst very modern in its approach to technology, is still moored in an ancient past, which, though denied, comes back to haunt the present. A successful sequel was directed in 1999 by Nakata with Ring 2, in which most of the main cast re-appeared. AS

RING, will release in cinemas 1st March 2019 | It will then release on Digital, DVD, Blu-ray, Limited Edition Steelbook, and Limited Edition Collection featuring Ring, Ring 2, Ring 0and Spiral 18th March 2019.

37 Seconds (2019) *** Berlinale 2019 | Panorama

Dir.: Hikari; Cast: Mei Kayama, Misuzu Kanno, Shunsuke Daito, Makiko Watanabe, Minori Hagiwara; Japan 2019, 115 min.

Award-winning short-filmmaker Hikari has directed, written and co-produced her first feature 37 Seconds, a passionate but sometimes cloying portrait of cerebral palsy sufferer Yuma. Confined most of the time to a wheelchair, she is at the mercy of an over-protective mother who is afraid of being left behind, should her daughter gain independence.

Yuma (Kayama) is a gifted Manga artist whose work is exploited by her cousin Sayaka (Hagiwara), passing Yuka’s drawings off as her own and paying her a pittance in return. Yuma’s mother Kyoko (Kanno) is only interested in keeping her daughter under her own control, giving her no room to develop. Yuka’s father is absent, we learn later, when Yuka is visiting her twin sister Yuka in Thailand, that Kyoko has burned his letters and drawings to Yuma. She rebels and sends her portfolio to another publishing house where she is advised by the female editor, to have a sexual experience first if she wants to draw her Manga adventures. Yuma sets off to the Red Light district of Tokyo, hiring a male prostitute to have sex with – an experiment which goes wrong. She then meets sex workers Mai (Watanabe) and Toshiko (Kumashino) who take care of her, the latter travelling with her to Thailand to meet Yuka. Although Kyoko has tried to cut Yuma off from everyone but Sayaka, she has gradually come to terms with her daughter being a successful, independent human being, despite her disability.

The acting is impressive, particularly Kayama (who in real life is a social worker for cerebral palsy sufferers), and Kanno, who excels in her portrait of an overbearing mother, interdependent with her daughter. DoPs Stephen Blahut and Tomoo Ezaki enlivens the film with some impressive panorama shots of Tokyo and the Thai countryside, and always finds new angles to show Yuma’s fight for independence. But Hikari’s script is often too simplistic and far-fetched in her portraits of the altruistic sex workers. 37 Seconds (the time Yuma failed to breathe after being born) suffers also from a self-indulgent running time, but the rosy-coloured happy ending would have made Hollywood proud. AS




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