Os­car shocker: Grim di­rec­tor nom­i­nated

The Washington Post Sunday - - MOVIES - by Grady Hen­drix

For 20 years, the Academy Awards for “ best for­eign lan­guage film” have be­come the baby food shelf of global cin­ema: It’s where you find movies that are bland, safe and un­am­bi­tious. Which is why it’s down­right shock­ing that this year’s short­list fea­tures “Con­fes­sions” by Ja­pan’s Tet­suya Nakashima, the dark­est and most in­tense di­rec­tor work­ing to­day.

Nakashima had two ob­scure fea­tures un­der his belt be­fore he ar­rived on the in­ter­na­tional scene with “ Kamikaze

Girls” in 2004. The first 15 min­utes fea­ture a mo­tor­bike ac­ci­dent, a de­fense of 18th-cen­tury Ro­coco art, an ad for Jusco depart­ment stores, a vagina cam, a top-to­bot­tom anal­y­sis of the counterfeit fashion econ­omy and a sum­mary of the main char­ac­ter’s en­tire life. The re­main­ing time was de­voted to an un­easy friend­ship be­tween two teenage girls trapped in a hick town, one of whom be­longs to the Lolita sub­cul­ture (ded­i­cated to all things adorable) and the other duty-bound to live and die as a Yanki ( ju­ve­nile delin­quents ob­sessed with ’50s greaser style).

“Kamikaze Girls,” a crit­i­cal and com­mer­cial hit, was fol­lowed with a seven-minute short, “Rolling Bomber Spe­cial,” star­ring mem­bers of the Ja­panese pop su­per­groupSMAP. It’s Power Rangers-es­que su­per­heroes against their great­est vil­lain: an aim­less slacker. With these two films, Nakashima showed him­self to be flu­ent in pop cul­ture, cut­ting to­gether movies that were cin­e­matic tor­na­does of an­i­ma­tion, freaky dig­i­tal ef­fects, sight gags, ra­dioac­tive col­ors, su­per-stupid hair­styles and bizarre nar­ra­tive tan­gents. But no one was pre­pared for what came next.

“Mem­o­ries ofMat­suko” (2006) was a par­a­digm shift. A mu­si­cal ver­sion of “Cit­i­zen Kane” ex­cept cen­tered on a dead bag lady. Mat­suko is a young teacher with a beau­ti­ful voice who al­ways dreamed big, but never caught a break and fi­nally fell from grace and into squalor. Nakashima fol­lows her all the way down, us­ing the big mu­si­cal num­bers nor­mally re­served for cin­ema’s win­ners to tell the story of an or­di­nary woman who fol­lowed her heart into a blind al­ley where life was wait­ing for her with a lead pipe.

“Mem­o­ries ofMat­suko” was a huge hit that gar­nered an avalanche of ac­claim. It’s around this time that the Ja­panese press be­gan re­fer­ring toNakashima as “a ge­nius.” They al­most changed their minds with his next film, “Paco and theMag­i­cal Pic­ture Book” (2008), a fairy tale about a young girl with a trau­matic brain in­jury that fea­tured a cast of Ja­pan’s best ac­tors, mug­ging grue­somely.

Nakashima re­deemed his rep­u­ta­tion quickly, how­ever, writ­ing and pro­duc­ing “Lala Pipo” (2009), which was helmed by one of his as­sis­tant di­rec­tors, but it clearly bore his stamp. An­other kalei­do­scopic “whatzit,” the movie in­ter­weaves the sto­ries of five peo­ple work­ing in Tokyo’s porn in­dus­try, us­ing pup­pets, cos­tumed su­per­heroes, dream se­quences and elab­o­rate fan­tasies to give hu­man­ity to the losers who nor­mally serve as mo­tion pic­ture punch lines.

Next, there’s “Con­fes­sions” (2010), which ex­changed eye­pop­ping color and a manic sound­track for a re­strained grayand-white color pal­ette, and Ra­dio­head’s melan­choly “ Last

Flow­ers.” Cast­ingMatsu Takako (sort of a Ja­panese Jen­nifer Anis­ton) as a teacher named Yuko, the be­gin­ning of the movie is a tour de force, in which Yuko gives an un­bro­ken 20-minute mono­logue to her class on her last day of work. She in­forms them that not only did two of them murder her 4-year-old daugh­ter but that she knows who they are and she’s al­ready taken steps to avenge her child. But by the halfhour mark the mur­der­ers are re­vealed and ret­ri­bu­tion ex­acted. That’s when “Con­fes­sions” truly takes off.

Nakashima has a lot to say about vic­tims, vi­o­lence, re­venge, liv­ing a worth­while life, par­ents and their chil­dren, and he says it all while never point­ing fin­gers. In­stead, he wants to il­lus­trate how far we can go, and how much dam­agewe can do, when we’re con­vinced thatwe’re right.

Tet­suya Nakashima

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.