Like Someone in Love

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もったいない (mottanai) in Japanese basically means “what a waste!” and that’s how I felt once I was 70% through Like Somone in Love. I’d seen the film on the shelf at the library and was intrigued. When I watched the trailer on YouTube I was duped. I thought the film would be interesting. ちがいます(chigaimasu). Translation: wrong.

Directed by the Iranian director who made Certified Copy, which I did enjoy, though I have to say that film has an unusual and at times mystifying or weird narrative, Like Someone in Love deliberately leaves the audience in the dark about what’s going on or who the characters actually are. The director likes to string people along or make them wonder. We first hear, but don’t see Akiko, a young prostitute, lie to her fiancée. Then her fatherly boss advises her to drop the boyfriend before he insists she go to a new client’s apartment. Akiko is pouty and stupid and that never changes.

Her new client Prof. Watanabe is old enough to be her grandpa and is very kind. It seems he just wants a companion rather than a sex partner. At first Akiko is withdrawn, but soon flips the switch and is talkative and bubbly. She knows how to do her job, how to create interest and warmth, which seems to have se rved her well. She chatters on about her youth and how various people have praised her looks. I thought she was very sly in adopting this “little girl” persona. It’s common in Japan for women to adopt a baby-ish voice to flirt.

Before we know it Akiko pulls poor Watanabe into her violent relationship with a mechanic. At one point, after seeing the mechanic man-handle Akiko, the retired professor tries to advise the fiancé on marriage, but this kid’s a know-it-all.

The best thing about the film is the actor who played Watanabe. Evidently, Tanashi Okuno has been an extra for 30+ years and this is the first film in which he speaks.

I feared that Akiko and the mechanic were total liars and would beat up the old man at the end, but that’s not exactly what happens. In fact, the end is left to viewers’ imagination, which I felt was cheating.

This slice of life film wasn’t worth the time. It’s the mirror opposite of a Doris Day film like Lucky Me. The director aims to avoid Hollywood clichés and as far as that goes, he succeeds. If you want to see a film set in Japan, try Kurosawa, Naruse or Ozu. Skip Like Someone in Love.

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Lucky Me

As Doris Day just passed away at the age of 97, I figured watching some of her films would be a good memorial. My library displayed their DVDs with Day and I chose Lucky Day at random.

In Lucky Me, Day plays Candy Williams an aspiring singer and dancer who’s very superstitious and won’t walk by a black cat or step on a crack. Any superstition you’ve heard of in America, she won’t test. Williams is part of a struggling troupe of performers led by Phil Silvers, who’s perfect for his part. Candy gets duped by a well-meaning composer and romantic comedy ensues.

Though Lucky Me isn’t Day’s finest film and there are no great classic songs I recognized, the film entertains. It’s a cheerful story which showcases Day’s optimistic style. It’s sure to make you smile. The supporting cast includes Nancy Walker, who I remember from the sitcom Rhoda. Walker’s dancing skill was a nice surprise and Silver was a wonderful father figure in this tale of old showbiz.

Chef Flynn

A patron recommended the documentary Chef Flynn about Flynn McGarry, a boy who’s been creating fine dining experiences since he was in middle school. Flynn’s mom, a filmmaker who repeatedly laments putting her own career on the back burner, has supported Flynn’s cooking since he was a toddler and was probably eating organic baby food.

While watching a prodigy teach himself the fine points of gourmet cooking was interesting, I found the stage mom’s hovering hard to watch. It’s great to see a parent promote a child’s interests and talent development, but this “support” can cross a line into control and vicarious living. In Chef Flynn I saw that misstep from the mother who continues to film her kids even when they ask her to stop and when she inserts close ups of her business card into the documentary. Sometimes the mom offered solid common sense, but often she made me cringe when she asked Flynn how many “Likes” he’d received or when she got up in the middle of the night to see if The New York Times story was published online and then worried that it wasn’t online at the minute it was promised. Of course, a mom would buy the paper featuring her son, That’s normal, but getting up before the sun and refreshing a page compulsively because the article wasn’t yet posted was fanatic. And all that hovering as well as the self-imposed pressure for Flynn to make it big as a world class chef as a teen was painful to watch.

I also wish the father had been able to speak in the film. What does he think about the family, about Flynn’s talent and success? We get all our information and the analysis of her divorce from the mom. Again, painful to watch since it’s clear to the audience what’s missing.

Choose Me

Sultry and jazzy, Choose Me offers an intriguing story with Keith Carradine as Micky, a pathological liar, who escapes from a mental hospital and makes his way to Eve’s bar in an unnamed city.

Geneviève Bujold plays Dr. Nancy Love, aka Anne, enters the bar to meet with Eve, her new roommate. All the characters’ lives are interwoven and they don’t realize it. Eve calls into Dr Nancy Love’s popular radio show to get wisdom and clarity about her relationships. Dawn Rae Chung, plays a young wanna-be poet, who keeps her eye on Eve because she knows that Eve’s fooling around with her husband, who keeps getting infuriated with Mikey after he loses to him at a poker game.

The look of the film honors film noir, while the theme examines psychology and broken people in broken relationships pushing on in spite of their struggles.

I saw the film when it came out in 1984 and again now. I still appreciated the structure and dialog, but this time I around I noticed how the darkness of the film and the jaded approach to marriage and relationships doomed the characters. I felt sorry for them both times I watched, but this time I also felt sorry for the filmmaker for needing to make such a skeptical film.

Nonetheless, Choose Me offers great performances and a wonderful soundtrack. It’s worth a look, though it’s not in the “must-see” category.

Death by Hanging

Oshima’s Death by Hanging has masterful cinematography and great acting. Loosely based on a real crime, Death by Hanging attempts to argue against capital punishment and prejudice against Koreans.

The director directly states statistics of Japanese approval of capital punishment, before introducing the story. Oshima believes if he shows his audience an execution they’ll come to oppose punishing murderers with death. The story begins with all the protocol of an execution. The criminal named R has been convicted of raping and murdering two school girls. R has a champlain, gets a last meal as the officials in charge go through the usual procedures.

However, when R is hanged, he doesn’t die. Now what?

The doctor finds that R is still alive and soon he comes too. But R insists he isn’t R, which means they can’t hang him again. (Evidently, in Japan if there’s a botched execution, they could try again.) Now begins the long process, mainly led by the Education Chief (not sure why someone with this title is part of this process — it seems he has to make sure the felon has understood why he’s getting punished and agrees that he’s guilty). The black farce is turned up to “high” as the film proceeds. It’s full of dark humor as well as the logic behind ending capital punishment or it’s meant to be.

The film goes down some bizarre rabbit holes, which are pulled off by an outstanding cast. The Korean-Japanese actor who played R should have won an award. It’s amazing how he maintains this impassive presence amidst madness.The story drifts back and forth between fantasy and reality and the plot twists and turns and is full of surprises till the last second. I sure did not expect the ending.

I applaud Oshima for presenting the injustice against Koreans living in Japan so directly and thoroughly. Usually such cultural faults are well hidden.

However, the film felt long and was confusing at time. When R’s sister appears from no where and her relationship with her brother takes an incestuous turn, Oshima lost me. The arguments that followed against capital punishment weren’t convincing and in fact made me think, perhaps execution is acceptable since these arguments are the weakest I’ve heard. So in that respect Death by Hanging, while an example of dark humor and powerful imagery, fails. Because it’s incredibly original, I do recommend the film, but I imagine some people will have problems with some of the foolishness of the officials, the sister or the logic. It is a film you’d want to discuss afterwards.

 

Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday

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After watching Jacques Tati’s comedic classic Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, I was surprised to find out it was made in 1956. I’d have guessed during the 1930s. The film uses little sound, but the sound  is used to maximum effect. The sublime, recurring tune keeps playing in my head. Since it’s a happy melody, that’s just fine.

Awkward and unlucky, but well-meaning and kind, Mr. Hulot goes on vacation to a seaside French town. Wherever Mr. Hulot goes, minor disaster follows upsetting the quiet card players or the well-dressed ladies. More often than not, Mr. Hulot is his own worst enemy, but the consequence is usually small–some bruises, embarrassment or car trouble. It’s cool to see an old style vacation

The film is big on gags and short on plot. The characters are nameless stereotypes, but they do make an impression and each one is bound to remind you of someone you know or love.

Mr. Hulot’s Holiday is a delight, but probably isn’t for everyone. The film is slow-paced, a trip to the old days. It’s the first Tati film I’ve seen and folks like Roger Ebert assert it’s his best. I’m glad I saw it because Tati is a master in French film, but I can’t recommend it highly because I think a lot of people want more plot, which they can get from Chaplin, Keaton or Lloyd.

Cat’s Paw

Harold Lloyd’s talking Cat’s Paw (1934) satirizes dirty politics. Lloyd plays Ezekiel Cobb, the son of a missionary who grew up in rural China. Cobb comes to California to find a wife. He’s supposed to stay with a minister, who for years has run for mayor against a corrupt machine politician. The minister is a puppet who doesn’t realize he’s simply used   to make it look like there’s democracy in this town.

When the minister suddenly dies, his corrupt campaign manager needs a chump to run in his stead. He decides this naive newbie Cobb is just the man for the job.

Cobb’s an endearing character. He’s a fish out of water in America. Though he looks like he belongs here, China is his home. So he’s constantly bowing and has no idea what our slang means. He’s often mistaken for a “native” and this often gets him into all kinds of scraps. He lacks the street smarts and skepticism frequently found in corrupt cities.

Yet while the film never directly says as much, God helps the innocents and through a hilarious series of mishaps, Cobb is photographed punching the corrupt mayor and becomes a sensation. He’s swept into office. He’s as upset as anyone. He wants to return to China where everyone understands his references to the revered Ling Po, who’s wisdom he frequently imparts.

Cobb accepts his office and brings his innocent honesty into practice. He outfoxes the foxes and it’s a delight to see.

Lloyd is delightful. It offers satire with a clever story that still entertains. There are times when supporting characters use words like “Chink” which are derogatory and wouldn’t be used in a film today, but the characters who use such terms are portraying prejudiced people in contrast to the hero who respects and understands Chinese culture.

Cobb does search for a wife and looks for an idealistically innocent, poised woman. Pet Pratt, a woman in his boarding house is a worldly woman who tricks him by taking him to a nightclub with 1930s adult entertainment. She’s just the woman to help Cobb govern. It’s an added twist to the film, especially since Harold Lloyd films usually feature American sweethearts. Pet Pratt does not fit that mold and is fun to watch.

I was amazed by Cobb’s plan to clean up the city. He wasn’t the goody-two-shoes he seemed at the start.

Cat’s Paw was a fun film, which shows 1930s views of China.