Friday, May 29, 2009

Why Asano Tadanobu doesn't work in television

From a recent interview with Nagata Tetsuya for Nikkei Trendy Net:

Nagata: You stopped acting on television about ten years ago. Why?

Asano: At first I worked in television quite a bit, but I fought with my manager a lot and at one point I considered giving up acting. And this is just the way I feel, but with television it's as though you're bound by a system when you're making it, and that cycle of shooting then going on air, then shooting again and going on air not long after just wasn't for me. Visually speaking as well, it's a bit mechanical.

On the other hand, with films you get a strong impression that they're made with passion. The shoots are really tough, working through the night then getting up early the next morning. Even so, you have people who are old enough to know better sometimes fighting with each other while working hard towards the same goal, and within myself I realised that's the way it should be. Of the films I was involved in when I was young, there were quite a few where I had no idea whether they'd be released or not, but despite that it was clear to me that everyone kept working their arses off to make them, and so I came to the conclusion that this was the only place I wanted to work.  

When I actually began working exclusively in film, some of the crew members would say to me affectionately "From now on you've got to stick to films!" They really take care of you, and when I hear things like that, I think by now there's probably no point in me working in television [laughs].

Nagata: So are you happier to be called a film actor, rather than just an actor?

Asano: Yes, I'm grateful for that. I got where I am today thanks to the many veteran actors I worked with in my twenties who'd say "Asano, make a go of being a film actor". When someone's kind enough to call me a film actor, it shows that I can get by just sticking to films.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Thoughts on "Goemon"

In the space of only two movies, Kiriya Kazuaki (real name Iwashita Kazuhiro) has become arguably one of the most divisive filmmakers in Japan today. Both he and his work are either lauded as visionary or derided as incompetent; the former usually originating mostly from his producers and staff, and the latter from film critics, both amateur and professional. The vitriol levelled at him is often so vehement as to (almost) generate sympathy for him.

It's a bit of a mystery as to why Kiriya, who started out in photography and music video and isn't the scion of a filmmaking dynasty, has been given such free creative and financial reign with his first two features when other more respected, experienced - and some might say talented - directors are unable to get their own projects off the ground. Perhaps his backers believe his brand of visually elaborate CG-reliant action is one way of taking on Hollywood at its own game, at a fraction of the price.

As with Tsukamoto Shinya's "Nightmare Detective" films, story-wise "Goemon" is more accessible than his (single) previous work but it still bears all the hallmarks of a Kiriya project, so much so that it's virtually the same film as "Casshern". A conflicted outsider hero whose recklessness has irreversible repercussions for his loved ones. Superhuman leaps into the sky before plunging back down to earth to deliver shattering blows to ineffectual and identical enemies. Virtual cameras that travel impossible speeds and distances. Impressively ornate sets and costumes. An obsessive attachment to colour manipulation. Fuzzy live-action elements unconvincingly composited against digital backgrounds that sometimes provide much-needed depth, and at other times are laughably unrealistic. A doomed love story that ends in tragedy. A lavish cast of well-known names with some employed luxuriously in brief bit parts. A muddled anti-war/violence message. An apparent lack of regard for his own country's filmmaking traditions as well as the integrity of his source material.

If you've read my “Casshern” review for Midnight Eye you might have got the impression I'd been drooling at the chance to dump all over Kiriya and his work again, but I honestly went into the theatre really wanting to like “Goemon”. Despite a lukewarm reception domestically, “Casshern” still went on to generate an impressive fanbase for itself and its director overseas and it would be safe to assume that Kiriya's latest will be greeted enthusiastically by those same people, especially considering that it deviates very little from his previous effort. However, the flipside is that it shows little in the way of progression or maturity as a filmmaker, both technically and as a storyteller. He still can't shoot even the most serene of scenes without adding unnecessary cuts from different angles, and still relies on choppy editing to provide movement instead of allowing his actors do so in takes of adequate duration. Maybe its done to compensate for his cast's lack of athleticism and action chops; Eguchi Yosuke might possess a more impressive physique than stars from past eras such as Wakayama Tomisaburo, but he can't wield a sword with anywhere near the same degree of finely-honed elegance and authority. That's not Kiriya's fault. But I'm convinced he'd enjoy far more success (and a hell of a lot less ridicule) if he just left the writing and direction to someone better qualified and concentrated solely on art direction, a discipline in which he's shown far more aptitude and enthusiasm to date.

By the way, despite what the Yomiuri says, Kiriya doesn't 'act under the name Akechi Mitsuhide', he appears in a cameo as the treacherous general who turned on his lord Oda Nobunaga, and is clearly listed in the credits as Kiriya Kazuaki. Proof that their reporter wasn't able to sit through the whole film?

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Thoughts on "Rain Fall"

The best thing I can say about Max Mannix's "Rain Fall" is that its acting and direction are a slight notch above the average Japanese commercial thriller. There are no minor celebs in incongruous cameo roles, no shouting-while-crying histrionics and no embarrassingly implausible Japanese FBI agents. Shiina Kippei's English is passable (albeit hardly fluent enough to convincingly portray a Japanese-American), and Gary Oldman and Emoto Akira add their slightly phoned-in gravitas to the proceedings. The only truly inadequate performance is provided by the gorgeous but floundering Hasegawa Kyoko, who displays an inability to evolve past the kind of gaspy staccato line readings and superficial emoting favoured by local television dramas (and to be fair, these days that's about as rare as liver spots on a prime minister).

What's sadly lacking is a script that sustains suspense and gives its characters something to do apart from flapping their gums. Especially its globetrotting assassin hero, who's only required to perform a couple of blink-and-they're-over action scenes without even breaking into a sweat and the rest is all sleepy-eyed yap yap yap. In fact that's all most of the characters do apart from Oldman, who just shouts a lot instead.

Inoffensively competent but fatally anticlimactic, its central flaw is exemplified by the macguffin of a Memory StickTM (it's a Sony Pictures production after all, hence the proudly displayed Vaio logo on Oldman's laptop) containing evidence that could bring down the government. One character inadvertently encapsulates the redundancy of its contents in one line: "How are we supposed to blackmail people if the information they're meant to fear is public knowledge?" Especially when that info could be used to force Japan into becoming... what it pretty much is already. It's little ado about not much really.

That being said, for a film not entirely Japanese but mostly cast and shot in Japan and with obvious designs on the international market, it's no cringeworthy embarrassment. And at least the John Legend song that plays over the end credits doesn't stand out like a turd in a punchbowl as with Oasis in "K-20" or Dani bloody California in "Death Note".