Monthly Archives: June 2012

  • Ran Akira Kurosawa (Japan 1985)

    Ran Akira Kurosawa (Japan 1985) Tatsuya Nakadal; Mieko Harada Viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 17 June 2012; Ticket £5.00

    Ran meaning: riot – uprising – disorder; disturbed – confused

    Ran is a masterful exercise by AK in synthesising culturally opposing expressive forces in the exposition of his theme. Ran is riotous filmic feast in which traditional Japanese plastic arts are promiscuously are entangled with Hollywood’s; in larger writ plastic values of US and Japanese society and culture are seamlessly interwoven.

    Ran’s confusion of stylistic and expressive affects structures the core underlying motif: a statement by AK about the disintegrative effects caused by the penetration of American values and practice into Japanese culture. A culture no longer protected by self policed isolation; a society and culture in turmoil but inventive and creative enough, to absorb and replicate on its own terms, to reinvent itself as a hybrid.

    Ran (R) is a conscious play on form, a confusion of genre and expression. It is a triumphant mangling of Hollywood and Japan a sort of filmically structured paean to post war cultural buggery. Ran is witness to AK’s self evident delight in shuffling together: samurai and cowboy; ‘NOH’ acting tradition and US daytime soap convention; classical Shakespeare and Hollywood; the mobile and the immobile, the vertical and the horizontal.

    The large set piece battles are majestically staged but the form of the battles strongly suggests John Ford. As the army of the King’s son charges on horse and foot across the field it is ambushed by devastating volleys of raking firearm fire decimating the attackers. The opposition of sword spear and bow and arrow against the gun, suddenly re-casts the battle as the traditional Hollywood spectacle pitching primitively armed Native Americans (Red Indians) against the superior arms of the US cavalry with their Colts and Springfields. The clash of the Samurai warriors instead of being represented as a traditional sword/spear based ritual, is filmed as a Hollywood slaughter vehicle, a massacre ensuant on the mismatch of unequal forces. The battles in Ran don’t pander to traditional notions of the Japanese Samurai Code. Death strikes anonymously without honour from a distance. When the cowboy shoots the lesser armed Sioux or Cheyanne, the gun acts as more than a tool. It is also a valedator. Its technological supremacy legitimises the victory of the White Man’s culture. In the same way, atomic weapon technology justified American cultural supremacy.

    In Ran AK also exploits the dynamic and expressive possibilities of intermixing two styles of acting tradition which draw on very different formal expressive ideas and tradition. Noh tradition: the use of the mask, little or no facial expression; this is not a theatre of expressive faciality, rather of codified gesture where hand and body combine to create a system of signed meanings. The American soap style in contrast emphasises the face as the expressive medium, with full use of eyes mouth lips and teeth used to convey the required emotion. The signage in soap is mostly primary animalistic response, like a dog bearing its fangs you don’t need to be conversant with a code of cultural signs to get the meaning. Likewise the delivery of lines is emotively charged to convey unambiguous intent, even if the words are not explicitly understood. In the playing of characters such as Lord Hidetora and Lady Kaede, AK synthetically fuses these two opposing acting styles. The affect is an intensification of tension between the mobile and the immobile. The audience is caught suspended in anticipation of the character’s response: whether it be control or loss of control. Lady Kaede initially is all mask, a complex of archaic gestural signage, every movement initiated out of the depths of theatric stillness. In one sinewy terrifying moment like a snake pouncing she is at the throat of her brother in law and suddenly all Noh convention is completely abandoned and like a suburban housewife contorting her face she screams at her brother in law to marry her and bring her the head of his wife. Lady Kaede then with equal suddenness switches back to the still Noh mode of expressive presentation.

    Ran is sometimes described as a Japanese version of King Lear. Ran is not pure as a narrative form. AK as part of a culture that traditionally has purity of form at its core, abandons this idea in Ran, and has recourse to the Hollywood idea of adaptation of the material: stripping the scenario down to a simple base line. Ran’s story is a conflation of Macbeth (with which K was very familiar) and a Lear type story, with sons substituted for daughters. Two ideas welded together: the conceit of power that is unable to see behind the formulaic countenance of love, behind which lurk simmering contempt and desire to usurp; and the mythic disaster caused by a weak usurper unable to resist the destructive forces of the feminine.

    Fire seems to me to be the defining filmic element of Ran. Visually it periodically intrudes and finally dominates the visual field. In the first sections of Ran AK’s fills frame with horizontal movement. Bautifully staged pans, the flow of horses and people through and across frame. This is movement that in all its magnificence suggests continuities, as if it were the template of a timeline. In the final sequences but also intermittently through the final sections, ‘fire’ fills frame vertically. Cutting in disrupting on the vertical axis the easy harmony of flow. AK has structured into the visual syntax of Ran the core notion of disruption; time itself is subject to being broken, its flow smashed up, disrupted. This idea built into the grain of Ran is the deepest level of communion with his times as AK understands them. adrin neatrour

  • The Dictator Larry Charles, script: Berg and Cohen (USA 2012)

    The Dictator
    Larry Charles, script: Berg and Cohen (USA 2012) Sacha Baron Cohen; Anna Faris; Ben

    Viewed: Empire Newcastle upon Tyne 29 May 2012; Ticket: £3.50

    The Dictator (D) opens with a dedication to Kim Jong ll issuing a spoof claim that it’s a film that is designed to be a satirical political vehicle for Sacha Baron Cohen’s (SBC) performance. But it’s not; D is SBC as a vestigial archetype a repository for a recurring psychic type: the trickster.

    D is uninteresting from the point of view of its formal filmic qualities. As film it simply lurches from one cameo set up to the next, to drag the plot line through its beginning middle and end. The plot is a rigid mechanical structure that lacks the fluidity improvisation or relational complexity that characterise other filmic comedians such as Chaplin, the Marx Brothers or Woody Allen. D is a crude construct, but a construct that reflects, in script and performance, the essence of its core intent: transgression. The eruption of the forbidden and the shocking out of the shadows into consciousness.

    The cinema was full (it was the Tuesday cheap seat night) and the crowd had come in expectation of a laugh. But what constitutes a laugh? SBC is not a clown. He never really gets into the shit in any meaningful sense. SBC is the nightmarish emanation arising out of the tension between the animal and culture: grossly sexual, stupid, and although not really evil he does the most atrocious things from sheer unconsciousness and unrelated ness. He is saved by his almost divine animal nature. SBC’s role is that of the Trickster, the violator, a serial malicious profane transgressor.

    Violator of the sacred.

    SBC in all his films plays: the Trickster. A psychic figure who occupies a latent place in our psychic functioning and who spontaneously manifests in external expressive representational form when the gap between the stated values, the cant and shibboleths of civilised culture and our own animal nature, reaches points of extreme tension.

    The phantom of the trickster haunts us….a faithful reflection of an undifferentiated human consciousness that has barely left the animal level. (Carl Jung: Four Archetypes)

    The Trickster manifest is a projection of our needs.

    At a time when Western Liberal Culture is characterised by discourses of quasi religious intensity in respect of: human rights, women’s rights, individuation, the sanctity of mother family and children: enter the trickster to hold up to us the reversal and opposing debasement of these values. To allow us smash through the tensions of civilisation in the darkness of the cinema.

    In the same spirit as in the Medieval church where a simpleton was elected anti-Bishop during Epiphany and presided over a mass attended by donkeys where the congregation brayed in liturgical response; so BSC sticks his hand up the vagina of the mother whom he has just helped give birth, and retrieves his ringing mobile phone he’s left in her uterus. Both actions stem from the Trickster role as a mythic archetype: manifest violation of the sacred. And both actions are part of a psychic reaction to a dominant cultural imperative. They transgress or reverse carefully defined spacial borders as a radical gestural performance that is aimed specifically, if temporarily at sabotaging the psychic legitimacy of the dominant discourse.

    D’s main effect is not to be funny but rather to shift psychic response from the unconscious to the consciously maifest. A cathartic shift that is often necessitated by an overwhelming of our defences and resistance to the stimulus of the antics of the trickster If D is not by and large actually funny the movie nevertheless educes laughter from the audience. Laughter that is the expressive ejaculative response that we have recourse to when we have no other immediate means of release from physical and emotional tension.

    The Trickster’s radical transgression, even in ritual form, causes a sudden rise in psychic/emotional stresses as we witness a sacred phenomenon systematically assaulted. The releasing outlet for this tension is laughter; remembering that the rictus of the laugh shares a common physiological root with the rictus of aggression, which is also consequential to a sudden rise in unbearable tension.

    Tricksters, as mythic characters have very crude natures. There is no point in expecting subtlety from them. They are physically gross and sexually explicit, their sex organs prominent and dominant when and where least appropriate as when the Dictator is taught how to masturbate himself by Zoe the health food store manager.

    The targets of human rights, feminism, United Nations, democracy, mother and apple pie have no political significance, only a collective mythic imperative to debase and upend.

    Superficially D tries to lay claim to making some form of political statement. It’s opening dedication to Kim Jong, and in the penultimate sequence when BSC as the Dictator delivers a speech to UN officials satirically praising democracy as being the most desirable form of government because in democracy: 1% of the people own 99% of the wealth, in democracy the poor pay all the taxes and the rich pay none, and in democracy the gaols can be full of specific poor ethnic grouping. I think the claim to be a political satire is spurious. SBC’s delivery of his UN speech is the weakest part of his performance, as if he realised the speech/diatribe was of course undermined by the nature of his role as Trickster. In this sequence SBC’s delivery seems mechanical formulaic and underplayed. It’s not political rather the weakest part of the Tricksters repertoire of transgression.

    SBC in performance has strong representational qualities kin to the Trickster. The beard and the thinness of his body both play a part in suggesting a manifestation from the depths. The beard (and its loss) is a wondrous cheap device perfect for the guise of trickster and SBC’s thinness has a menace such that although a tall man he’s thin enough to slip inside your defences and unbalance you; slim enough to slip inside your urethra. And SBC’s delivery has a quality of the ventriloquist’s dummy, the removed insinuating of a wicket schoolboy automaton.

    According to Jung The Trickster is a vestigial figure surviving from a barbarous consciousness of aqn early phase of human consciouness: a collective shadow figure. As architype the Trickser remains pyschically close to us often revealing his presence in popular culture. He can be repressed but never goes away, never entrirely absent from our collective life. adrin neatrour