Against The Hype

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Archive for September, 2009

Review: Tokyo Sonata

September 22, 2009 By: Colin Low Category: Capsuled Thoughts

Still: Tokyo Sonata

Like last year’s Oscar-winning Departures, Tokyo Sonata kicks off with its leading man’s abrupt dismissal from his job. The recession has clearly gotten worse since then: where the earlier movie proceeded to thrust him into the bewildering reaches of the embalming business, Tokyo Sonata offers up nothing to leaven its protagonist’s similar desperation to keep up appearances to his housewife. Well-shot, well-rehearsed images of the jobless’ indignities (stuffy unemployment lines, merciless interviewers, grubby leftover jobs, etc.) are the stock of this technically proficient study of one dysfunctional family as a microcosm of urban malaise in modern Japan.

In its screenwriting, the movie resembles an Eastern take on both Little Miss Sunshine, with each character seeming to embody his respective cue card (the long-suffering wife, the iconoclastic elder son, the ambitious younger son); and a Paul Haggis film, in which every ambient event contrives to reflect its protagonist’s troubles. In a more benign instance, as the newly unemployed Ryûhei Sasaki (Teruyuki Kagawa) ambles into a plaza, a passing couple amp up their conversation about visiting the “Hello Work” career centre before it is too late. At its weirdest, a desperate robber breaks into Sasaki’s house and holds his wife Megumi (Kyôko Koizumi) hostage, a late-arriving twist that threatens to derail the movie altogether.

Near the film’s midpoint, though, the movie almost promises to liberate Megumi from cliché, shifting our perspective of her to that of an adept, resilient woman who accommodates each of her family members’ dreams and insecurities better than her husband can. But the screenwriters prefer to leave redemption to the hands of fate—their hands, to be exact—and so each member has to push themselves to the end of their respective tethers, before chance mercies can show them that home is where they belong. Aww. The movie’s last scene is a literal sonata, kept in a mercifully gimmick-free long shot, until the lingering on the empty stage and awed full-house audience hammers in exactly how the movie wants us to view it as well.

Tokyo Sonata | 2008 | Japan | Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa| Screenplay: Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Max Mannix, Sachiko Tanaka| Cast: Teruyuki Kagawa, Kyôko Koizumi, Yû Koyanagi, Inowaki Kai, Haruka Igawa, Kanji Tsuda, Kazuya Kojima, Kôji Yakusho


Trailers: A Serious/Single Man

September 13, 2009 By: Colin Low Category: Trailer Analyses

What do the two best trailers of the year (so far) have in common, other than that both movies are entitled “A S___ Man”?

  • A dorky protagonist in thick, black-rimmed spectacles…
  • … and an unhealthy bout of midlife crisis
  • Rhythmic thuds overlaying the trailer’s montage…
  • … which, incidentally, doesn’t give away much of the plot

Due to these superficial similarities, I initially thought both trailers were for the same movie, and wondered what sort of gonzo film and even more gonzo marketing team could have produced such tonally disparate trailers. (And boy, would I have lapped up that alternate-universe movie as well.) But once I differentiated the two movies, their notable differences became even more tantalising.

Once you learn that A Serious Man was authored by the Coen brothers (Fargo, Burn After Reading), the absurdist humour of its desperate protagonist grows recognisably familiar. It is set to open here in Singapore next year, on Jan 7:

Meanwhile, A Single Man is the debut effort of director Tom Ford, renowned fashion designer. Hopefully, it will soon find a distributor; it’s a hard wait to see Colin Firth as a dumpy mid-lifer in personal crisis, an unhinged Julianne Moore, and the rest of Eduard Grau’s luscious cinematography:

Edit: It’s been picked up by Harvey Weinstein! Now, hopefully, it’ll open on May 12 next year without any cuts, and thus become my inaugural R21 movie experience (because you know a movie with GLBT content is going to be slapped with that rating, risqué or not).

Alexis and Nika, a Love Story

September 12, 2009 By: Colin Low Category: Link Roundups

alexisnika2Like many others, I had not heard of Alexis Tioseco and Nika Bohinc just more than two weeks ago. He, a Filipino movie critic; she, a Slovenian film journalist. In 2007, they met at the International Film Festival Rotterdam and fell in love.

A year and a half later, he wrote her “The Letter I Would Love to Read to You in Person“, explaining why he loved her and his national cinema, and why he could not leave one for the other:

I know sometimes you may think that it was the fact that we worked in the same field that attracted me to you, but I must tell you that this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Why? Because one of the greatest joys I believe one can feel is to share that which they find beautiful with someone who otherwise wouldn’t have noticed it, and to see it appreciated. This is the main reason why I love teaching and why I refuse to show Lord of the Rings to my students (no matter how fervently my co-teachers insist). It is also the evidence that cinema isn’t what brings us nearer to each other: because in this regard, we are on equal footing, and I must instead find other things in me to share with you. For anyone who knows me, they know how difficult that is…

My dear Nika,
If there has been a single cause of strain that has stuck out in our relationship it is this: the idea of my attachment to the Philippines, the strong desire you see that I have to live and work here, and the way that, perhaps, you see this as a matter of misappropriate priorities. Does a place mean more than a person? Does my work in the Philippines mean more than the possibility of a life with you, somewhere, anywhere else? Must it be you that moves, makes the (I know you hate the word, but let us use it) sacrifice of moving? And what, if anything, does that say about us—that the scales of our love weigh more heavily on your chalice?

I know you’ve come to terms with the idea of moving here, hopefully next year, we discuss—but I still feel the need to talk a bit more about some of my reasons for wanting to stay, at the very least for the meantime. I’m not attempting to compare my affection for Manila with yours for Slovenia, but only to explain the thoughts that go through my head, the things I feel I must do, things that, perhaps, we can do together.


She moved to the Phillippines to live with him, and they shared a home in Quezon City, Manila. But it was to be short-lived. On September 1, 2009, they were shot and killed by robbers who broke into their home.


Alexis Tioseco (1981 – 2009) | Nika Bohinc (1979 – 2009)

It’s an upsetting story, one that I could not come to terms with quickly enough to write last week’s Links Roundup instalment, and not just because they were young, in love, shared a passion for the movies, and had been full of promise; but all the more because I am awestruck by Alexis’ undying love for his countrymen’s movies. (I am guilty, having been bred in an America-centric film blogosphere, to be concerned largely with the movies therein.) I hope it is worthy of his memory that thanks to him, I am now inspired to dig deeper into Singapore’s cinema for the riches I may find there, and champion them where I can. Indeed, Alexis was the editor of Criticine, which I have discovered is probably the foremost resource on Southeast Asian cinema.

May their legacy live on.

(More tributes to Alexis and Nika can be found at The Auteurs Daily.)

Trailer: It's Complicated

September 06, 2009 By: Colin Low Category: Trailer Analyses

The first movie named after a Facebook status?

—Nathaniel Rogers, The Film Experience

Evidently, this Nancy Myers-directed rom-com—set for a Christmas Day release, if you know what I mean—is about how Alec Baldwin thought he was over Meryl Streep – but whoops, isn’t. Sort of like moviegoers around the world.

— David Hudson, The Auteurs Daily

Based on the trailer, doesn’t it look like Meryl’s trying to rehabilitate her Mamma Mia character into an actual human being? Not to jinx it, of course (grin), but as a relatively young fan who discovered her wondrous gifts only three years ago in The Devil Wears Prada, I’m still not used to her newfound attempts at playing a self-confessed slut. (Sex-minded, yes—as she was in Silkwood, The Bridges of Madison County and A Prairie Home Companion—but even those characters were rather monogamous; her star persona’s always seemed too wholesome for outright “slutty”.)