In an effort to raise money for earthquake and tsunami relief, CinemaFanatic has started a blogathon. Basically all you have to do is contribute a post about some aspect of Japanese film, all while spreading a little extra attention to this nifty PayPal account where you can donate money. There’s been tons of contributions so far. Probably my favorite is this one about women in Japanese film.
The week is almost over, so I’m whipping up my contribution as quickly as I can. I didn’t want to focus on anyone too obvious (there are countless Miyazaki and Kurosawa entries already), so instead I decided to do a quick spotlight on one of my new, favorite recent directors, Tetsuya Nakashima.
Kamikaze Girls (2004)
Nakashima is still a semi-new director on the scene with only about four (notable) films under his belt. His first successful film was Kamikaze Girls (2004), a hyper, colorful fast-paced film with lots of humor and cheeky charm. Based on a popular cult novel, the film is about a “lolita” and a punk-rock motorcyclist who conquer their differences to become friends (and it’s not nearly as cheesy as it sounds). Despite the cartoonish world Nakashima builds for its two leads, the characters are still interesting, fully dimensional characters who show true emotion, and not always just for the laughs.
Memories of Matsuko (2006)
Although Kamikaze Girls was fun and cute, I never found it brilliant. I didn’t even take note of the director’s name until I watched Memories of Matsuko (2006). Now this was the film that truly blew me away, and it showed the kind of strengths Nakashima has as a director. Memories of Matsuko is a tragic comedy/musical that’s part soap opera and part music video. Some people might not like Nakashima’s over-stylized camera work, but the crazy colors and fast cuts really help create the world he’s bringing to the screen. I can’t think of any other director who can so seamlessly combine tragic, depressing scenes with dance numbers without it looking like a complete mess (I’m looking at you Takashi Miike, Happiness of the Katakuris). But Nakashima manages to do it without it being trite or too jokey or just flat-out cheesy. His most recent film, Confessions is an even starker example of this.
While Kamikaze Girls and Memories of Matsuko were promoted as comedies, Confessions was his first “serious” film. The film, about a school teacher who takes revenge on her students after the murder of her daughter, takes on the dark, gloomy atmosphere of typical revenge films, but Chan Wook-Park this isn’t. Instead of a typical revenge film of a teacher violently taking down misbehaving students one by one as she checks their name off a list, Confessions starts off with the teacher already having her revenge. The rest of the film shows how the “revenge” affects the students, and as the story evolves it becomes even more interesting.
Despite this being billed as Nakashima’s serious film, he still manages to squeeze in at least one dance sequence (how does he do that?). But what Confessions show is how well Nakashima can create dark humor without losing its realism or emotion. Everything still feels real, and no matter how bizarre the plot gets you still get a sense that these are real, believable people. He manages to say so much even in just the first five minutes of the film. The opening shot of a classroom full of middle school kids perfectly capture the spirit of naivety, boredom and mischief. It’s no wonder these are the children from hell, or are they?
Once again, don’t forget to donate money to tsunami relief.