As the New York Asian Film Festival winds down over the weekend, with closing film The Rooftop on Monday at the Asia Society, the Japan Cuts festival at the Japan Society is just getting started in earnest, with lots of good stuff coming up between now and the 21st.
Shion Sono’s latest opus, Bad Film, screens tonight, along with the perverted super hero story Hentai Kamen. Also playing is Helter Skelter (see review here), one of the highlights of the festival so far, and the tragicomic Dreams for Sale – an increasingly dark film about a couple scamming lonely-hearts out of money to fund their restaurant.
While Rurouni Kenshin will draw in blockbuster crowds with its pretty-boy casting and manga crossover appeal, frankly it is way too conventional to be memorable (though the fight scenes are unexpectedly solid). Better and weirder is The Warped Forest, by Shunichiro Miki, one-third of the troika who directed CSB favorite Funky Forest: The First Contact. Warped Forest is more fitfully amusing, rarely reaching the sublime peaks of Funky Forest, but it is a pleasant fever-dream of a movie and you are unlikely to find a director more obsessed with navels.
For my money, though, you’d do even better to catch It’s Me It’s Me, the latest from Satoshi Miki (director of another CSB favorite, Adrift in Tokyo), about a young man whose life becomes a recursive identity crisis spiral after he tries to scam another man’s mother for some quick bucks. Miki’s films always have a shaggy-dog charm and It’s Me is no exception, with the internal logic of the situation playing out as more and more doppelgangers of the protagonist start to pop up.
Or if baths and craziness are your thing, don’t miss out on Thermae Romae, a surprisingly entertaining time-hopping epic about an ancient Roman bath designer who draws inspiration from modern Japanese baths in order to save the Empire. Thermae Romae is tremendously silly, occasionally a teeny bit schmaltzy, but overall charming and laugh out loud funny. The star, Hiroshi Abe, a former model, is one of those actors you know you’ve seen before, but can’t recall exactly where. A quick look at his resume shows why: he has appeared in dozens of memorable films and shows– everything from Godzilla 2000, to Hana and Alice, to Tetsujin 28, to Survive Style 5+, to I Wish – without ever really standing out (well, maybe in Survive Style). Thermae Romae, however, gives him a real opportunity to shine as a Roman chauvinist stunned by modern Japanese conveniences. Abe plays it perfectly straight, never cracking a smile and is the best thing about the film, which also features some great sets from Nikkatsu and the legendary Cinecitta. Catch it now – a sequel is already in the works.
© David Austin
Filed under: Movie Reviews and Movie Reviews: Japan and Contributors: David and Venues: The Japan Society and People: Shion Sono and Film Festivals: New York Asian Film Festival 2013 and Film Festivals: Japan Cuts 2013