[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.]
The oldest Japanese movie I have seen is Yasujiro Ozu's 1932 film I Was Born, But... (大人の見る絵本 生れてはみたけれど). It's an interesting film, but it's far too long. Even though it's only about an hour and a half, it seemed to go on forever. I am ashamed to admit that I still haven't seen Tokyo Story, which came 21 years later, but I imagine Ozu had figured out a better sense of pacing by then.
The movie we've got to tell you about tonight has nothing to do with Ozu or his films, so why am I telling you this? I'm not quite sure.
Smuggler (Sumagura | スマグラー おまえの未来を運べ)
Synopsis: Struggling actor Kinuta gets in way over his head, borrowing money all over the place as he pursues his thespian dreams. His debts are sold to a company which agrees to forgive them if he agrees to work them off, and when he's told that the work is a moving job he's more than a little relieved. He shouldn't be. He's just been made a "smuggler," one of the debt slaves who do dirty work for the yakuza. Black market sharecroppers, he and his crew lug dead bodies to shallow graves, bag body parts and drag them to the incinerator when hits go wrong. Then, however, things take a really bad turn. But what doesn't kill Kinuta makes him stronger and he discovers that he's changing from a spineless actor into a man with a mission.
Thoughts: Smuggler is a movie that has no idea what it wants to be. Is it funny and zany? Sometimes. Is it dark and horribly disturbing? Certainly can be. How about batshit insane? Yep, got some of that too. Problem is, they don't fit together at all. The story goes from one to the next to the next without any warning. One minute you're laughing at someone spilling their Udon, and the next you're cringing at the sight of a burning hot needle about to be stuck between someone's toes. Smuggler starts with a bang, slows down for far too long, picks up a bit, and then goes completely off the rails. There were definitely things I liked, but by the end, I had no idea what I had just watched. I just knew that I wasn't really happy about it.
Verdict: Consider renting it. [Read the full review]
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