Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 (1976)

22 11 2008

So it seems it was a pretty big mistake on my part to make Middle of the World my first Tanner film. While I definitely enjoyed the unrushed, gentle character study element of that film, this one is a much more accurate example of what I expected from Tanner. This is not completely unlike Godard’s films from the 1970s, but with a much more natural and less political stance. There are still plenty of sequences of characters talking about big issues in a far too eloquent manner, but Tanner meshes it into a very natural story revolving around several young adults facing a series of emotional and social obstacles.

It is sort of ironic that the Middle of the World (the only other Tanner film I’ve seen) seems to be a very obvious attempt at creating a very intimate type of cinema, in which the focus lies solely on two lovers. The scope here is the exact opposite and revolves around eight people that face a series of events that, in retrospect, are rather undramatic. Even though Tanner’s other film is very simplistic in its setup, it does have a very emotionally obvious drive to it, but this film, on the other hand, is more bizarre than anything. The first comparison that popped into my head was Rivette, especially his films from the exact same time period, but I don’t want to sell Tanner’s formally unique presentation short.

Tanner’s visuals are, unfortunately, still on the rather dull side of things, but he certainly tries to avoid this. In all honesty, it may just be the state that the film itself is physically in that prevents it from being visually appealing. Actually, the occasional black and white cinematography looks fantastic and blends together seamlessly with Tanner’s use of old riot footage and still photographs. Such elements aren’t really necessary or make sense in this case, but I really like them anyway. They don’t spark the same type of poignancy as the similar flourishes in Gummo, regardless, they are nice additions.

The acting in a film like this needs to be pretty great, and it is. Tanner seems to have an extremely close relationship with his performers, which is another thing that reminds me of Rivette. The scene where Marie reacts a knifefight with her father that he participated in many years ago is right out of Rivette’s playbook. The dinner conversations, in which the subjects range from how ticks are born to what recession is, are playfully executed but with an indescribable sense of realism. Again, much like Rivette. The only problem I have here is that the film seems to run out of steam within the final half hour or so. It’s still good at that point, but that’s a downgrade from the completely amazing opening 80 minutes. An incredibly exciting experience in any case. I can’t wait to see more from Tanner.

A Star Athlete (1937)

22 11 2008

A very minor film in Hiroshi Shimizu’s filmography, but still a fairly good film none the less. It gets a lot of watchability points for being interesting, as opposed to legitimately great. Any film that has a young Chishu Ryu as a soldier in training is almost inherently entertaining, at least to me. There’s plenty of the usual Shimizu formal goodness to go around as well, but it never comes together than being an exceptional formal exercise for one of cinema’s most under appreciated geniuses. It’s probably a bit too light-hearted for its own good, though. Shimizu’s work tends to be extremely likable, but I think this was a bit uneventful, even for his standards.

The little dramatic tones that are present are mostly build around a seemingly non-violent rivalry between Ryu and Shuji Sano. This rivalry is fueled by Ryu’s own desire to be the faster runner of the two. Towards the end, things get a bit more complicated when Sano begins spending time with a woman who may or may not be a prostitute, but in the end, everything works out and the two rivals seem to have a more friendly relationship. It’s a very Shimizu sort of story: there’s a conflict, a very undramatic one, and he somehow manages to create wonderful moments within something so devoid of typical storytelling elements.

Watching this did remind me how much of a “comedic” director Shimizu really is, and how he is probably my favorite type of filmmaker. This may be underselling his technical brilliance but I think he deserves to be mentioned alongside Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. Placing him with Jacques Tati is a little more accurate, though Shimizu was far more prolific than Tati and probably not nearly as meticulous. Whatever the case, this film is really quite funny and it is so in a way that is so unique to Shimizu’s type of cinema. His gags are rather difficult to explain and I don’t really feel like giving them away for a film that is only 64 minutes long, but they are really quite memorable.

Adding another dimension of comedy is the fact that this film was actually Shimizu’s response to Shochiku’s demand for a propaganda film. There are many films that were made as “propaganda” but were obviously intended to be the exact opposite. Such films make one think “how did the studio not notice this was not at all what they were looking for?” but part of this film’s charm is how slyly Shimizu masks his jokes as pro-government sentiments. It’s subversive, but it is still easy to see how it was mistakened as a government-approved depiction of military life.