[For the month of July, Japanator's sister site Flixist will be covering the Japan Cuts film festival, which is running in New York City from the 12th until the 28th. For your convenience, we will be posting review roundups here, but you can find all of Flixist's coverage here, and their coverage of the New York Asian Film Festival here.]
If any of you went to the Japan Society last night, you may have noticed how decked out the lobby has become. Is that just for this festival? It totally didn't look like that last time I was there. I thought I was walking into a bar of some kind. Anyways, movies happened, and the quality of them will be discussed in detail next week. I will say, though, that Smuggler is really strange, and I still don't know if it's in a good way or not.
Anyways, we've got some stuff for your perusal. We've seen three of the four movies that will be playing this Sunday, which is sadly the final day of the New York Asian Film Festival. All three of them: Ace Attorney, Monsters Club, and Potechi (Chips) are definitely worth watching, so if you had any plans on July 15th, I think it's time to cancel them.
Ace Attorney (Gyakuten Saiban | 逆転裁判)
Synopsis: A big-budget, live-action movie directed by Takashi Miike, Ace Attorney is a letter-perfect adaptation of the first game in the videogame series, following Phoenix Wright's rise from novice counselor to law god supreme. When his mentor, Mia Fey, is murdered investigating a long-buried cold case, Wright winds up defending the prime suspect--her sister, Maya. The pandemonium that follows includes a giant samurai, a talking parrot, sea monsters, a heaping helping of cartoon logic and a mystery so utterly ludicrous Jessica Fletcher would need to be taking psychotropic drugs to work it out. Who is Redd White? What is the secret of DL-6 that could change the face of video game law? And what's with the Blue Badger, anyway? Miike has done video game adaptations before (Like a Dragon), but this time he's operating on a higher level. Case closed.
Thoughts: Ace Attorney is the best videogame movie in the history of existence. It's also an amazing movie in its own right. If you've been waiting for the movie to prove that videogame adaptations are viable, here you are. The film drags a bit towards the end, but it's a faithful adaptation that doesn't get crushed under the weight of its source material or the expectations that come with it. If you've played the games, you are obligated to see this movie. If you haven't played the games, you should definitely still take the plunge. If you have a chance to see it with an audience, you'd be a fool not to take it. This is a movie that really takes advantage of a crowd.
Monsters Club (Monsutâzu Kurabu | モンスターズクラブ)
Synopsis: Struck by a lightning bolt of inspiration after reading Unabomber Ted Kaczynski's manifesto, director Toshiaki Toyoda headed up into the mountains where he filmed without a script for two weeks, retelling the Unabomber story from the point of view of the bomber. Ryoichi has withdrawn to a snowbound mountain cabin where he mails out letter bombs to corrupt CEOs, writes in his journal, and goes about the hard business of living off the grid. But he can't escape society, it's too big and too hungry to let anyone go for long. Haunted by a monster (inspired by Hayao Miyazaki's Totoro, and played by Japan's genius pansexual drag artist, Pyuupiru) Ryoichi is dragged closer and closer to returning to civilization, a move that threatens to shatter him into pieces.
Thoughts: Even though Toyoda apparently shot the film without a script, there's something taut about the story and the imagery in Monsters Club. At a lean 71 minutes, there's not much room for dallying. What we get is a strangely sympathetic look at a severely alienated and troubled mind, one haunted by the past and the mental degeneration of self-imposed isolation. The ghosts of the film seem built out of foodstuffs -- meringue in one case, meat in another -- and they help convey that pull of the modern world and the erosion of Ryoichi's mental state. Maybe being a madman among others isn't as bad as being a madman alone. While I think Monsters Club expresses the frustrations of living in the modern world quite well, it could have made an extra leap with its ideas -- some larger and more unique personal statement about the way the world works or ought to work. That would have really set the film apart. Maybe this is conveyed in the poetry of Kenji Miyazawa, which plays a role in the movie. Monsters Club is a modest but haunting art film that will stick with me even though I wanted something more out of it.
Verdict: Consider it. [Read the full review]
Chips (Potechi | ポテチ)
Synopsis: Drawing on a short story from Kotaro Isaka's omnibus Fish Story, this is the fourth film directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura from a work by the bestselling author. Set in Sendai, a northern city devastated by the March 11 catastrophe, Chips addresses life in Japan after the tsunami with delightfully offhand black humor while focusing on two men whose lives are both parallel and poles apart--one a star professional baseball player and the other a burglar, both with manifold invisible threads of fate connecting their lives.
Thoughts: As the closing film of NYAFF 2012, Chips has an obligation to send the festival off with a bang. And although nothing about Chips is particularly explosive, it's nonetheless a fascinating character study. All of the actors have wonderfully malleable faces, which makes their actions and reactions all the more enjoyable to watch. It's even shorter than Monsters Club, running only 68 minutes, and I wish it had been a bit longer, but I'd rather it end too soon than overstay its welcome. And make sure to stay after the credits. Those are the moments that officially signal the ending of NYAFF and the beginning of Japan Cuts as Japan Cuts. It's not quite a bang, but it's still a damn good sendoff.
Verdict: See it. [Read the full review]
From other sites around the web