Sunday, July 4, 2010

NYAFF 2010: "Symbol" + "Castaway on the Moon" + "The Ancient Dogoo Girl: Special Movie Edition"

* Symbol (dir. Hitoshi Matsumoto, 2009, Japan). Going into this screening, I was convinced Matsumoto-san had his work cut out for him. The teaser and subsequent trailer for Symbol were some of the most beguilingly opaque, trippy bits of film I'd ever witnessed. And how the director would tie together the two baldly disparate storylines — the washed up luchador Escargot Man in rustic Mexico (feat. an extremely Tarentino-esque chain-smoking, expletive-spitting nun as the wrestler's grown daughter) vs. Matsumoto himself in a stark white room, save for cherubic penis protuberances lining the walls, and when Matsumoto presses said protuberances (to the accompaniment of a choral "AH!") something weird and pop-hued falls into the room, from a toothbrush to a lounge chair to an exit door — that feat seemed impossible. And yet he did it, rather tidily too, to the point where this switched from a druggy trip to a feel-good film. It's visually incredible, and Matsumoto (who has much screen-time to himself) is a strong comedic actor, but I never thought I'd be writing how "grounded" Symbol is. Think of the phrase "for every action there is a consequence", or more like "for every action there is a reaction". That may give you a hint what's at play here.
Next Screening: July 7, 3:40p (Walter Reade Theatre)

* Castaway on the Moon (dir. Lee Hey-jun, 2009, Korea). I do love a good Korean rom-com. The NYAFF selections, like Crush & Blush last year, defy categorization as "just" a romance, or at least they're light-years beyond Hollywood's interpretation. Here, the tidy girl-meets-boy story arc presents two intriguing barriers: the boy (Jung Jae-Yeong) is a down-and-out salary-man who tried to kill himself by jumping off a bridge into the Han River, only to survive and wash up on a city island, and he can't swim; and the girl (Jung Rye-Won) is a major agoraphobe, living as others on the internet while conversing in text messages to her mom. Yet our girl photographs the night sky and just happens upon our boy, growingly pleased w/ his back-to-nature existence, and it's love at first sight. They converse in English, he in notes scratched in the sand, she in messages in bottles (venturing out late at night, in a helmet and track-suit). He pines for black-bean noodles after discovering a lone seasoning packet so she sends him some, forcing a deliveryman to paddle a duck-boat out to the city island, but he grows the corn anyway to hand-make his noodles. She photographs his tears as he finally succeeds. It is as incredibly emotional as it is corny. Both Jungs have nearly solo screentime and they are magnetic actors, particularly Mr. Jung in his growingly hippieish look, the longer he spends on the island. And we wonder: how will they ever meet, he unable to reach Seoul's shore like several hundred meters away, she unwilling to leave her flat for an extended period of time. But these would-be lovers are insatiable and the wrap-up is canned but totally necessary. So maybe it's a bit typical rom-com in the end after all.
Next screening: July 7, 8:45p (Walter Reade Theatre)

* The Ancient Dogoo Girl: Special Movie Edition (dirs. Noboru Iguchi + Yoshihiro Nishimura, 2010, Japan). An incredible slice of cinematic mayhem: Iguchi-san's Kansai-area midnight broadcast TV program The Ancient Dogoo Girl, about a large-breasted young goddess in a clay bikini killing monsters, a somehow family-friendly program too, recut as a 90-minute DVD w/ a special 30-minute gore-soaked promo by Nishimura. EVERYTHING IS RIGHT ABOUT THIS. Each director's portions are their signature worlds. Iguchi's portion is your sugary high-school romance, w/ "oppai" gravure idol Erika Yazawa as the cutie Dogoo-chan, uttering every single cute-Japanese euphemism besides "pin-pon!!", breaking into a dance routine when attempting to allay her budding feelings for loserish Masataka Kubota, her human helper, and after vanquishing a beastie (like a killer crab or a bicycle) by emitting like a heat-ray/tractor-beam out her chest, says "my breasts are full!" w/ the sweetest smiles you've ever seen. Every five minutes there is a closeup of her chest, or a slo-mo of her running so we can bask in her buoyancy. Nishimura's bit could've begun during the bondage club sequence of Tokyo Gore Police, as the 1st two characters we see are Tsugumi Nagasawa (croc-girl from the previous film) and her victim Yukihide Benny (the lecherous Tokyo PD commander who loses a leg and his genitalia to her wrath in that film, before becoming a mutant himself). Only this time, in sequence w/ panty- and breast-shots of Nagasawa, she sucks at his neck to kill him. This time the loserish guy is Yuya Ishikawa and like in his mid-30s, Dogoo-chan's helper 'bot is a Fabio-ish Takumi Saitoh and our heroine is the badass, Kansai-spitting Asami. Her 1st line, and I'm paraphrasing but this is pretty close, goes "hey shithead, kiss my ass" to Ishikawa. The villains, like Nagasawa, are vampire pole-dancers, seriously, led by Cay Izumi and there is a five-minute, extremely hypnotic dance sequence where these barely-clothed mutant girls bump and grind to the chorus "kimo ga sui" (or "we're gut-suckers"), before Asami busts in and kills all of them. And I'm left w/ a serious conundrum: I hate TV, I don't own one. But if/when I live in Japan, esp. if I move to the Kansai area, I'll need one to catch the second season of the absurdly good Ancient Dogoo Girl.