Thursday, June 04, 2009

"Goemon": the future of Japanese film?

You can always rely on producer Ichise Taka to come up with some unvarnished comment every so often about the state of the Japanese film industry, but this time he's come out swinging against the detractors of his collaboration with Kiriya Kazuaki, "Goemon":

Thanks to everyone who came to the see the film.

"Goemon" broke the 1 million attendance barrier [on May 25th]. I've received lots of emails praising it from friends and acquaintances who are usually tough to please, but I've been amazed at how obtuse the response has been from film critics and the media.

Adventurous works that divide opinion are exactly what's needed in Japanese film right now, so why don't they understand how much this challenge means for the future of cinematic entertainment in Japan? Criticism should be left up to those with the requisite insight and intellect, and should be a means of nurturing talent and potential. At a time when outlets for proper film criticism have virtually died out, every man and his dog is excreting infantile scribblings of their impressions.

I was dumbfounded by one article in a certain weekly magazine written for the purpose of bashing Kiriya. It conveniently collected the kind of comments from self-appointed film critics (nothing like actual film criticism) that are perfect for such a biased piece of writing, as well as picking up on snide remarks from film websites, denigrating the film. It's careless and truly irresponsible. I'm appalled to no end.

Does Ichise have a point about the quality of Japanese film criticism? Many foreign film scholars share the same pessimistic view, as seen in the continuing debate on the Kinejapan mailing list. There aren't many film sites and magazines out there worth subscribing to, especially when commercial imperatives and the threat of getting blacklisted by film companies and talent agencies require writers to tippy-toe around stars and directors in insipid reviews and interviews that read like advertising copy. At the other extreme, less-inhibited venues for film discussion such as blogs and bulletin boards, user-generated review sites like Yahoo! Eiga, and Eiga Hiho magazine's devastating "Hang 'Em High" column can be great sources of cathartically sadistic entertainment, but do they serve any other purpose?

As I mentioned in my 'review', Kiriya has become a target of derision from both professional and amateur movie pundits, and not just because of his films. He's the ex-husband of J-pop star Utada Hikaru; the son of a wealthy family that owns a chain of pachinko parlours (an industry often associated with Zainichi Koreans, which hardly endears him to bigoted netizens); and has a reputation as being 'passionate', which for some translates as airheaded and arrogant.

Personally I think there are enough problems with Kiriya's style of filmmaking to justify targeted criticism, especially concerning the gap between his ambitions and his accomplishments, not to mention the failure of veteran producers like Ichise to guide an inexperienced feature filmmaker away from superfluous indulgences and to set more realistic goals. But hey, what the hell do I know? I'm just some nobody who paid 1800 yen to sit through your grand experiment.


  1. I usually end up liking what Ichise says more than what he does. He's an interesting character in the J-film world.

  2. I agree with ya 'JG.' :-) But, Ichise's comments ignore the fact that a) the film might just be bad and b) appears to have been made largely with Hollywood in mind. Which is to say, there were folks over at the now defunct Fox Atomic that were very interested in hiring Kiriya for directing work. What they wanted was a Japanese director with extensive green screen experience and a flare for action and style. When Goemon was first announced, this lined up perfectly... At any rate, for what it's worth, I've heard that Kiriya is an incredibly nice guy.

  3. Not taking this seriously until he actually lists the review sources he finds acceptable. That being said, I love how he sticks up for his directors. Whether he's protecting them from reviewers or arrogant Hollywood producers, he's pretty consistent in his bluntness. Probably better suited as a go-between/advocate than an actual idea man.

  4. If you read Ichise's book「ハリウッドで勝て!」he started off as movie-crazed teen who filmed his own 29th episode of Ultra Q and a 1 hour SF movie -- that's why he's protective of directors. Some of the good ideas in the films he's produced are his, too.

    If Goemon had been realized as the most ambitious Japanese game ever made it probably would've made more money and retained all the elements it currently has anyway.

  5. Oh and Nick, we were just talking about Fox Atomic before it went under! Wonder if ZK has landed on his feet...

  6. Thanks for everyone's comments so far.


    Your first comment sums up exactly how I feel about Ichise. So you've seen "Goemon"?


    I guess you've seen "Casshern" - what was your take on it? Kiriya could have an illustrious career as a production designer, but he hasn't yet shown that he can shoot a coherent action scene. Mind you, neither can a lot of directors working in Hollywood, so in that sense he'd fit right in.


    I can't understand why Ichise didn't name the magazine that riled him so much - I'd like to see if it was as bad as he says. He doesn't look or sound like the kind of guy to back away from a fight, but I guess the businessman in him won out.

  7. Not yet so I'll reserve judgement, but the vidgame nature seemed pretty obvious. No more 1200 yen late shows for Goemon at my local -- damn!

  8. One snarky comment made by a couple of reviewers unfortunately wasn't too far off: "finally, a film that fully harnesses the graphics technology of the Playstation 2".

    "Goemon" probably would have looked a lot better (well, sharper) if it had been projected digitally. Maybe the Blu-ray will be an improvement?