Thursday, April 28, 2011
Perfect Education: 40 Days of Love (2001)
Yoichi Nishiyama, Director.
Psychologist Akai sees a depressed young woman by a bridge outside his office every day. Curious, he approaches her and she propositions him. He politely declines but offers her treatment to help her cope with what is bothering her. She accepts and he soon elects to use hypnosis as a treatment. Through this hypnosis it is revealed that several years earlier she was abducted by a teacher named Tatsuaki Sumikawa and held captive for forty days. From this revelation, the rest of the film takes place in a series of flashbacks, as Haruka explains the circumstances of her time in captivity.
Perfect Education 40 Days of Love is the second film in a series of seven films in total, (if I have my information correct) that are unrelated to each other beyond the title. I haven't seen any of the other films in the series, myself, but this one works fine as a stand alone film. It was the debut film from director Yoichi Nishiyama, who also directed such films as Trouble Maker Lucy, Fateful, and Gurozuka. It is also the film debut performance of Japanese model Rie Rukami, who plays the role of kidnapped girl Haruka Tsumura. The kidnapper, Tatsuaki Sumikawa is played by Yasuhito Hida who may be known to readers from his role as Bad Ronin Kuroiwa in Samurai Fiction among other performances. (I also maintain that Hida looks like a Japanese John Cazale in this.) Rounding out the primary cast of the film is veteran character actor Naoto Takenaka, playing the role of the psychologist, Akai.
One of the things that I think that the film handles really well is that Sumikawa never feels like a one note character. Right from the beginning, he seems at odds with himself about the actions he's taking. For example, in his one attempt to force himself on her sexually, he stops as soon as she starts to struggle and begins apologizing for his actions. In a standard exploitation style film, which is what this one looks like it would be on the surface, you might expect the Sumikawa character to be aggressive and forcing himself violently on Haruka throughout the film. But this isn't just a basic exploitation film, coated in the typical gratuitous sexualized violence. Instead, he comes across as a lonely and conflicted man, having taken this extreme step of abducting a woman out of desperation for companionship and wanting to teach her to become the perfect lover for him. Although it certainly doesn't excuse the character's actions, it does help to humanize him.
Another element of the film that I found to be a really interesting touch is that we spend the majority of the time with Haruka in the small apartment, sealed off from the outside world. It is not until she is allowed to venture out one evening with Sumikawa that we find out the degree of effort being put forth to find her by her family and the police. We only see her perception of things, which is limited to a single television news segment near the beginning of her abduction.
The film never really goes to the kinds of extremes that one might expect from it, and that is to its benefit, I think. It elevates the film from being simply exploitation and turns out to be something of a meditation on loneliness and the desire for love. Although unconventional of course, it is made abundantly clear that Sumikawa truly does love Haruka, and does care about her happiness in his own, very flawed way. Also in a flawed sort of way, Haruka comes to love Sumikawa as well, and eventually starts to refer to him as 'Dad'. This rather disturbing moniker is chosen by Sumikawa simply because, as he puts it, he couldn't come up with any better idea.
This is not to say that the film is void of exploitative elements, it certainly has it's share. For a good portion of the film, Haruka is topless, bound with rope or chain, and gagged. Often treated like a pet, she spends her days bound up on the bed with a TV and food to occupy her until Sumikawa returns home from work. Every night he bathes her, takes a polaroid photo of her and writes the date and her weight on it. These pictures are posted on the wall, presumably to track the progression of her time with him. It is during one of the first of these baths, in what I thought was a particularly odd move, he leans over and licks her soap covered shoulder. Getting a tongue coated in bath soap doesn't seem like a desirable choice to me, but that's just one person's opinion.
Rie Rukami represents the weakest link of the film for me. She does a decent job in her role, but is clearly outranked by her cast mates. Having not seen any of her other films, it's kind of unclear to me if she has difficulty expressing emotions as an actress or if it is the character that she is playing. We learn early on that her character grew up without a father and is a rather quiet and lonely girl who doesn't feel particularly close to her friends. This sense of detachment that she carries could be argued as being portrayed in the occasionally wooden looking performance that she gives for the first two thirds of the film.
While it is not without its flaws, all in all, I think Perfect Education 40 Days of Love is certainly worth a look for fans of the genre. It can be found for rent or purchase at Japanflix.com. They also have other interesting looking Japanese films available that I've never seen.
Would you like to read a second opinion? Check out this review by my friend Coffin Jon, of VCinema Podcast. =)
You can view the trailer for Perfect Education: 40 Days of Love below:
Comments are always welcome!
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Trapped , 1973.
(AKA Doberman Patrol)
Frank De Felitta, Director.
This made for television film from 1973 certainly has an inviting premise. Divorced father Chuck Brenner, played by James Brolin, is at a department store buying a doll as a going away present for his daughter. Her recently remarried mother is taking her to a new home in Mexico City that very night. The specific doll that his daughter wants has to be brought up from the warehouse, so Chuck has to wait around for a while. Poor Chuck gets mugged while visiting the store's bathroom to have a smoke (sign of the times, eh?) and is knocked unconscious. He is overlooked by the store staff when they lock up for the night and left behind. This is particularly bad news for Chuck, as the store uses some exceptionally aggressive guard dogs to patrol the store at night.
For the full length of the film, Chuck is stuck in this department store dealing with these dogs. And when I say that these dogs are exceptionally aggressive, I'm not kidding. The security team wears face guards and padding when dealing with the dogs and put up temporary barricades between areas of the store so that the dogs don't attack each other during the night. On the couple of occasions that two of the dobermans are in the same space as each other, sure enough, they start fighting. All of the writings on this film that I was able to dig up mention that he's having to deal with dobermans, but there are at were at least three German shepards involved as well. Chuck is wounded in his first encounter with the dogs, one of the German shepards actually, and his movement is slowed down right from the start. (Somewhat amusingly, he feels the need to tourniquet the dog bite on his calf even though it clearly doesn't look very life threatening.)
Frank De Felitta had a moment of sheer genius, either intentional or not when he wrote this film. He gives viewers this amazing scapegoat that allows them to throw logic out the window when dealing with a big part of this story. You may be asking yourself what this genius idea was, right? He gives the protagonist a head injury. During the mugging, Chuck gets his head cracked on the tile floor in the bathroom, which presumably gives him a concussion or something. James Brolin does a decent job of portraying this in the film by staggering around a lot holding his head as he navigates through the department store. It provides a great way for the writer to avoid using logical solutions to situations that arise in the store. Why doesn't he just pull a fire alarm and wait for rescue? He didn't think of it, he's got a head injury. Why does he insist on continuing to fight his way out of the department store when he's got himself in a safe place that he could just hang out and wait for the store to open after the weekend? He has to get out to get help because his head injury is getting worse. Why does he wander around the department store making a huge mess everywhere he goes even when the dogs aren't around? Is he just a prick? No, he's got a head injury, he can't think straight.
But we don't spend the entire film only seeing Chuck deal with his plight. There is also a side plot involving his ex-wife, played by Susan Clark, and her new husband as they attempt to find Chuck so that he can say goodbye to his daughter since their flight has been conveniently delayed. We learn that Chuck likes to drink, and his ex-wife Elaine expresses her cynicism about him throughout the film. In a wonderful moment of irony she delivers one of my favorite lines of the film. In this scene, she talks about how he's likely in any bar in the city and her new husband David, played by Earl Holliman tells her that Chuck is likely to be in a bar near the department store. Elaine looks at him and says “Terrific! Now that you've solved the mystery, can I have another drink?” I chuckled. There is also an unnecessary subplot about the tension that Chuck's disappearance brings into Elaine and David's relationship.
There are several tender scenes involving the daughter Carrie, played by Tammy Harrington, a child actress who appeared in only seven things between 1973 and 1976. She continues to hope that her father will show up to say goodbye and this is what spurs David to try to find Chuck regardless of what his wife Elaine says about Chuck's irresponsible nature. This is an interesting aspect of the film to me because it touches on the difficulty of being a stepfather, and how their actions are perceived by the children involved. David does not want to be perceived by the little girl as the man who took her away from her father.
There are lots of great little details about this film that make it an interesting watch. For one thing, the people look like real people. They don't look like the “brand name” big star people who populate so many American Hollywood productions these days. Like many films from the 1970s, these actors look like your neighbors, the folks from the grocery store, the kid you see waiting for the school bus in the morning. Except for the questionable hair styles, and clothing, of course. This one of the things that I really like about films from the 1970s.
Other interesting details that pop up come from interactions between characters. In one scene a stewardess at an airport is talking to the little girl and asks if she'd like to go lay down in the back for a little while instead of sitting out in the noisy waiting room because her flight is delayed. When have you seen that happen? In today litigious world, no employee of any business would invite a child to go lay down in the back room. Ever. Well, a particularly brave pervert may try such a move, but certainly not a well meaning upstanding employee of a business who doesn't want to be fired or sued when the child gets into mischief.
Frank De Felitta has directed six films, according to IMDb, and all but one of them were made for TV films, including one of the ones that haunted my memories as a child in the form of Dark Night of the Scarecrow. (Yeah, I know, in retrospect, even I think I was a little wuss. Let's move on, eh?) He also wrote the screenplay for 1982's The Entity, starring Barbara Hershey and Ron Silver. A strange looking little tidbit I found on his IMDb page is that he also wrote a film in 1974 called The Savage Is Loose starring George C. Scott about a father, wife, and son that find themselves stranded on a remote island together and the situations that arise as the son begins to mature sexually and wants the only woman that's around. Yeah, that looks like it could be a strange and controversial piece of film.
It's no secret that I'm a big fan of animal attack films. Jaws rip-offs are my favorite sub-variety. Something about the man versus some creature (that really exists) larger and more ferocious than he out in the wilderness just appeals to me. Horror film fans are a masochistic lot. We sit through bad horror film after bad horror film, hoping for that gem that will rock our world the way some classic piece of cinema did when we were kids. (In my case, this would be Jaws and Dawn of the Dead.) The animal attack sub-genre is no different. Let's be honest, a lot of animal attack movies, especially the shark films, are really, really bad films. I've even ranted about how awful and lazy some of these films can be in the past. While not perfect, this is a pretty good made for TV thriller, and certainly worth taking a look at. I know I enjoyed it quite a bit more than I expected to. Sadly, this film isn't on DVD yet. Special thanks to Rupert, who helped me find this film. Check out his blog at http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.blogspot.com.
I couldn't find a trailer for this one, sorry guys.
Comments are always welcome! =)
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Kongkiat Khomsiri, Director. 99 Minutes.
On the surface, the plot of Slice is a fairly straight forward one. A serial killer is murdering people around Thailand, mutilating their bodies and dumping them in red suitcases around the country. Public pressure is mounting and when the Prime Minister's son becomes a victim, it is ordered that drastic actions be taken to catch the killer. Papa Chin, the lead police officer in charge of the case is given 15 days to solve the case or else. Frustrated, and having no leads of his own, he follows the advice of a police psychiatrist who reminds him about an inmate who claims that the murders sound exactly like the work of someone the inmate knew from his childhood. The inmate, a tattooed hitman named Tai, is granted a conditional release: If he can find the killer before the deadline, he gets to keep release and have his prison record wiped clean. Tai then sets out to find what has become of his childhood friend and gain his freedom. As Tai begins to learn more about the victims in the course of his investigation and how they relate to his friend, the story gets deeper, darker, and more twisted.
The story told in Slice can basically be divided into two parts. The primary part being about Tai pursuing the killer, while being monitored by the police. The second part focuses more on Tai's childhood and that of the kids he grew up with. This added dimension of story takes us deeper into Tai's world and explains a lot of the motivations behind the killer's brutal behavior. In this regard, the film shifts from being a straight forward thriller to being a touching story about friendship, betrayal, guilt, and the harsh trials of childhood in a very unkind world.
There is a lot of moral ambiguity in the characters portrayed in the film. From the onset, the protagonist character of Tai is shown to murder another inmate in prison who considers him a friend. Tai does not enjoy this and is clearly remorseful, but is acting on orders from his boss sending word from outside the prison. The lack of a clear definition of who is good and who is bad, morally speaking, permeates throughout most of the characters in the film. I wouldn't consider the film to be bitterly nihilistic, but there are a lot of selfish characters in it working towards their own goals.
This film is certainly disturbing at times and not for everyone. It takes viewers to some dark places, and lets us know right from the beginning that it is going to. The first victim that we see is an English speaking scumbag who keeps a nude Thai boy on a leash in his hotel room. Although the film does not portray things as graphically as, say a certain notorious film named after a country in Eastern Europe, it is graphic enough to disturb some viewers. While it keeps a sleazy atmosphere for most of the film, thankfully, Slice exercises a little bit more restraint, to its benefit, but I would be remiss not to give a bit of warning in that regard.
I really enjoyed the use of color in this film. One of the first things to catch the viewer's eye is the bright red raincoat worn by the killer in the opening scene and the vicious murder that takes place after. Whenever we see the killer, the world is always very brightly colored, in blues and reds. This immediately brings to mind images of Dario Argento's Inferno. I can't possibly imagine that the director, Kongkiat Khomsiri isn't a fan of Inferno after seeing this film. In fact, parts of the film sometimes have a giallo feel to them, even though I wouldn't consider the film itself to be one.
Slice is the fourth film directed by Kongkiat Khomsiri, who has previously directed Art of the Devil 2, Chaiya, and Long Khong 2. He has written another three films as well. I have seen none of his previous work and have been only vaguely curious to see the Art of the Devil films. After seeing this film, I definitely want to seek out more of his work. It is, by far, the best film from Thailand that I personally have seen. (I should note that I haven't seen but a handful of Thai films, I'm not trying to make the statement here that this is the best film that Thailand has ever produced.)
The performances in the film are solid, even those of the children that we see in the flashbacks to Tai's childhood. From what little information I could find on IMDb, none of the actors in the film have had much experience except for Chatchai Plengpanich, who plays the police officer, Papa Chin. Plengpanich has been in a lot of Thai soap operas and films, including Hit Man File, and Bangkok Robbery. The character of Tai, is competently portrayed by Arak Amornsupasiri, who has only been in two other films prior to this, Body and Best of Times.
I highly recommend this film to those who aren't offended by the disturbing aspects of it. It's an enjoyable watch with some major twists that really got my attention. I'd like for others to see it and I'd like to know what they thought of it. I do want to give a word of warning about spoilers. I tried very hard not to post spoilers in this review beyond what's shown in the first five minutes of film, but I have seen other reviews online, particularly at IMDb and a few blogs that hint at or blatantly give away major spoilers that I would be angry if they had been ruined for me. I don't want be so arrogant as to say that my review is the only one that you should read before watching, but I would like readers to have the best viewing experience possible when watching it and not have it spoiled for them.
You can view the Slice trailer: (Sorry, no subs)
Thanks for reading, and comments are always welcome! =)
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
J is for Joint Security Area
K is for King Of Kong
M is for Memories of Murder
N is for No Mercy For The Rude
O is for Outlaw Josey Wales