Monthly Archives: May 2011

  • Audition Takashi Miike (Jap 2000)

    Audition Takashi Miike (Jap 2000) Rijo Ishibashi. Eihi Shiina

    Viewed Star and Shadow Cinema Newcastle 19 May 2011; ticket: £5.00

    Cherry Blossom Time

    “The position that an epoch occupies in the historical process can be determined more strikingly from an analysis of its inconspicuous surface-level expressions than from the epoch’s judgements about itself. The surface-level expressions…provide unmediated access to the fundamental substance of the state of things.” ( S.Kracauer, the Mass Ornament)

    Takashi Miike’s (TM) Audition is a film stylishly but not particularly well made or shot that lacks even internal coherence. But it is remarkable in its unrelenting expression of one controlling idea that gives it shape force and relevance: the abandonment of history. Specifically the abandonment by the Japanese of their cultural legacy.

    Item: in his wooing of Asami, Shigeharu dines her in the sort of high class anodyne restaurant that could be located anyplace in the world. As she responds to his personal questions what we are most acutely aware of is not so much her reply rather the crashing sound of the passing traffic outside. The pervasive white noise of the 21st century Japan threatens to drown even personal history.

    From the film’s opening sequence in which Shigeharu’s wife dies in hospital hooked up to high technology, through all the establishing domestic and work locations we see a culture that looks and feels Anonymous/First World/American. Shigeharu’s home could be in suburban Boston: the offices, the streets, clothes shoes and food eaten are all replicated American forms. Japan as a culture has been obliterated: Japan is become transposed USA. The scored musical soundtrack is sometimes strange but although there are subtle hints of the pentatonic scale, it is characterised in the main by Western diatonic harmony. There is nothing in main establishing settings in which Audition is located that that even hints at cultural historical or eidetic memory. That is until Asami attends the audition.

    In setting up the audition Shigeharu talks to his friend about Japan who comments that all Japan is lonely; Japan comprises only of lonely people. This society exists in aloneness. As Audition develops it seems that this comment probes deeper and beyond reference to the networks of lateral ties that interweave relationships and create couples families and groups. The deeper significance of the comment is that Japanese individuals have become detached from the culture that previously defined them and was part of their identity. They have become people without roots to anchor their individualities into the social matrix. They are lonely because they are incomplete: they have no past, only an eternally renewing present. Loneliness is a psychic state endemic in those without a past, knowledge and belief in which psychically validates both the present and the future. If there is no past who can have belief in the future which flows from the past, a time that itself was once itself the future of a preceding present. Without the past vital interconnections are severed in the social matrix conditioning a persistent and default state of anxiety about identity and neurotic existential loneliness.

    Without a past there are no Japanese. There are mutated replicants condemned to live out an eternal present without meaning.

    Audition’s idea is given expressive mediation through the opposition of Shigeharu and Asami: the male and the female who stand structurally opposed in their reactions to the dilemma of their deracinated culture.

    Shigeharu’s solution to the problem of ’no wife situaion’ (loneliness) is to search for form without content. (a quest also undertaken by Western men and women who look to foreign cultures to find spouses) Shigeharu wants to be a tourist in his own country free to gaze upon images of the other without understanding. For an audience ballet is form without content but for the performer it is form with personal meaning: pain. Shigeharu solution to his loneliness is to create a two dimensional simulacrum of the traditional characteristic cultural traits and to locate a personal reality on this surface as if it had depth. Asami’s ideas are quite different.

    Our first impression of Asami from her resume are that she embodies traditional Japanese traits and this impression is confirmed when we see her walk into the audition room as a physical statement of Japanese female ideal. A long white dress suggesting a kimono; immaculate long brushed black hair; submissive presence.

    Asami of course does not have the resources to resurrect the culture from which she is cut adrift. She is aware that the surviving elements of her cultural legacy are only forms retained as a phantom acknowledgement of the past but without substance. Asami’s solution to this dilemma is different from Shigeharu’s: she does not want to denigrate the past by resurrecting it in the form of a cheap advertising image.

    Asami’s idea is to relocate the past, the legacy of Japan, on and in the body. In actions of desperate psychic resonance she displaces the history of her society onto the body in the form of pain and mutilation. The logic that is at work is psychotic but it has a rationale. The past and images of the past cannot be bought and sold cheaply. There must be protection of these things and Asami is the gatekeeper. If Shigeharu desires contentless simulacrum of the past, it cannot be without a price. It can only be had at personal cost to him. He cannot have Asami and all her image represents except on her terms. He will have to pay with his body and perhaps his life. As he experiences fear pain and mutilation at her hands he will have to understand that his desires are being satisfied but in a manner he did not anticipate. The message from Asami is that these things are not to be played with like toys. They are real forces. Audition is ultimately about something real.

    Audition looks like a typical Asian torture porn movie. But as Kracauer observes it is precisely in its surface level expressions that it expresses a deeper and more disturbing vision of contemporary Japan.

    adrin neatrour

  • How I ended this Summer Alexsei Popogrebski (2010 Rus)

    How I ended this Summer Alexsei Popogrebski (2010 Rus) Grigory Dobrygin; Sergei Puskepalis

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema Newcastle 2 May 2011 Ticket price £7.70

    Chekhov in No Man’s Land

    How I ended this summer (HETS) is a film made by Alexei Popograbski (AP) that in its opening sections takes the manner and form of a Chekhov short story. Chekhov’s short stories (and his plays) are structured using the classical unities of time place and character. Chekhov writes with deceptive simplicity often introducing an event to create a dynamic interpolation in the situations and characters he has set up. The event provokes change, sometimes but not always remarked in the state of mind of a character; often this change, described as it takes place is externally imperceptible. An event in a Chekhov short story in induces reflection, both in the character and in the reader. In the Chekhov mode the short story shares some qualities with neo realist cinema in that events often have contrasting readings. Firstly by the characters involved and then as a powerful secondary dynamic is released, readings located only in the mind of the reader. The reader is left to consider those things that are unsaid and those things that may come to pass after Chekhov has closed the story.

    HETS, like a Chekhov short story, is initially based on close careful observation of its situations and subjects: a chamber piece, set in an artic meteorological station, for two men and voice. Whilst it stays true to its form as situaTion and character piece it has coherence and tension within the terms of its own structure. But suddenly, AP betrays the intelligence of the set up, abandons reflection and state of mind and opts for the banality of narrative form as a means of rounding off the film. In the characteristic manner of many contemporary film makers AP betrays the traditions of his Russian roots, betrays his own historical cultural forms and allows Hollywood to dictate the style and nature of the second half of the film.

    The critical weakness of HETS is that it subverts its own structure, for no gain, by introducing into the body of his film a lengthy chase section that is filled and tricked out with the clichés of this kind of cinema, using ambiguity of camera framing as a device to scare the audience. Initially AP sets in play a number of psychic forces: The old school meteorologist steeped in personal and collective history opposing the young tyro scientist fresh from college and living outside history in the virtual world of computer games.: the static decaying location of the weather station and the archaic radio system that has to be used for communication. These powerful resonant psychic assets are suddenly ditched as the films lurches into another zone: the section of the film where it suddenly deviates from its anchoring in character and situation into a cod horror chase sequence. The flight of the young man from the real or imagined fury of his colleague. The tone of the film changes; the unity of place and character are fractured. HETS becomes Hollywood gothic, with the older guy, as real or imagined pursuer, caste as the bogey man. HETS loses its key in the realm that it first establishes; the psychological interactions between the two guys are replaced by the crudity of the action. Chekhov is ditched by AP’s meaningless transposition of his material into an alien key. A change that leads nowhere in relation to the psycho-social realm that has been previously established. This psychic dead end has to be resolved by a dramaturgic revenge device that is practically meaningless in terms of the dynamics set in play in the establishing sections of the film.

    The problem may lie in the calculation of the director that in order to justify the use of film as an expressive form he needed to produce a feature film length product . AP may have felt that without an action sequence HETS natural length would be somewhere about ±60 mins: short story, novella length. AP, to qualify for feature film status, may have felt his script should follow ‘the guidelines’. The rules for feature films taught by all those script writing courses (based on the Hollywood template) that have been peddled round Europe brainwashing people for the last 20 years. AP’s script conforms almost slavishly to the received wisdom of Schrader et al: the liminal phase, the change, the plateau the resolution the new situation. A formulaic product that ultimately is the negation of imagination and creativity in film. Initially the HETS held out the promise of a film of pure creative delight. By the time it had run its course HETS looked like a movie that conforms to the rules.

    I was uncertain about the use made of time lapse photography in the film. It is a common feature of many of contemporary films that they contain long shots of landscapes. Where there is an enfolding of the scape into the reflective body of the film, this can work. But often these shots function as little more than travelogue style fill: the pretty sunset shot. Their insertion into films is simply as a time slug to help fill out the material to feature length. In HETS the location and nature of the oppositional characters provides a setting where time and place have meaning located in the relations between the two men and the social vistas that their separate and conjoined experience of life call into play. But the use of time lapse for many of the landscape shots seemed little more than another gimmick. The land – sky -sea scapes were remarkable in themselves and didn’t need tech make-overs to emprint their significance. Did AP use time lapse to try and suggest an analogous grounding for the relationship between the two guys and the passage of time? If so why? I don’t know and HETS slides into an exercise in banality….

    adrin neatrour