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Monday, October 20, 2008

[Tokyo International Film Festival] Kill 斬, an omnibus film by Takanori Tsujimoto, Kenta Fukasaku, Minoru Tahara and Mamoru Oshii

[Tokyo International Film Festival] Poster of the Mamoru Oshii-supervised KILL
poster of KILL

I saw two films at the TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL today, the much-anticipated KILL (official site), and THE CLONE RETURNS TO THE HOMELAND, both Japanese films having their world premieres, I couldn't resist. Normally, I have a personal rule NOT to review films from film festivals I'm invited to (that's why I didn't review a single thing I saw at the SANTIAGO or HONG KONG film fests). I don't want to diss films that my own production is competing against because it'll make me look classless.

However, while both Ming Jin and I are guests for this year's TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FEST, we're only involved in the TIFFCOM2008 ~ Asia-Pacific Entertainment Market (more on that later), and not because we have a film in competition. So I'll get to write my thoughts on the films I saw in this fest.

KILL (official site) is an omnibus film supervised by famed animation guru Mamoru Oshii. I've been looking forward to this since TWITCH first mentioned the film.

What intrigued me most initially was its concept, based on TWITCH's description, the directors (Oshii and three other much younger directors whose age range from 32 to 37 years old) of the four-part anthology are to present climatic battle scenes of films that don't really exist, so we don't have the 'tedious plot or character development'. Hell yes! I was desperate for some non-stop chop-socky action!

Unfortunately, the concept mentioned above was inaccurate. Each segment isn't only a major action sequence, but are actually standalone 20-minute short stories (of varying quality) that end with, yes, a climatic action scene. Therefore, the tedious plot and character development remains. :( It wasn't what I was expecting, but I wouldn't have had any problems with that, unfortunately, I ended up walking out of the cinema feeling quite underwhelmed.

Maybe my expectations were too high.

Maybe my seat wasn't that good (I was sitting third row from the screen, so limitations of the digitally-shot film, along with its pixels, were gloriously apparent to me), but at least I got to snap some photos of the directors (all 3 except Oshii, who didn't come) and the cast members (Rinko Kikuchi didn't come either).

[Tokyo International Film Festival] Directors and cast members at the world premiere of KILL

[Tokyo International Film Festival] Ayako Morita 森田彩華 speaks during world premiere of KILL
Ayako Morita, main actress of KIRIKO, speaking. She's standing between Yoko Fujita, (main actress of ASSAULT 2) and Yuma Ishigaki (main actor of YOTO SHATEI)

[Tokyo International Film Festival] Directors and cast members at the world premiere of KILL 2
The blonde lady in kimono whose name I missed (help?) is a voice actress who narrated and did all the voices for KODOMO SAMURAI (translated as Kid Samurai, or Child Samurai)

Here are my thoughts on each segment:

KIRIKO キリコ(directed by Takanori Tsujimoto)

The film started with a bang. I enjoyed this segment because it's like a cheap chop-socky B-movie in the vein of the recent THE MACHINE GIRL (but with less gore). We have a cute girl in high school sailor uniform (Ayako Morita), carrying a big katana, crossing the familiar streets of SHIBUYA to find the killer of her sister, and not a single other pedestrian around her batted an eyelid. Overwrought and melodramatic without taking itself too seriously, it also tries to throw in a shocking plot twist that I saw from miles away, but it didn't matter, since the segment spends most of its time only on the swordsfighting, I was already looking forward to more campy goodness after this segment ended.

KODOMO SAMURAI こども侍(directed by Kenta Fukasaku

This segment is quite interesting at first because it is done like a silent movie. Imagine BRICK, but instead of a film noir in high school, we have a samurai story set in a normal primary school. The Year 6 hero carries a katana to the classroom but never draws it because of an oath to his late father. Things become complicated when he has to deal with the class bully.

As it's supposedly a silent movie, the segment is narrated entirely by the lady below, and she also, amazingly, did the voices for everyone. Amusing at first, with its play of the conventions from the samurai film genre, and the interesting execution, the director of the much-maligned BATTLE ROYALE 2 repeats his previous mistake with pacing problems. It is also uneven in tone, and the material isn't as witty and campy as I hoped. The segment gradually wore out its welcome shortly before it ended.

YOTO SHATEI (romanized title) 妖刀射程 (directed by Minoru Tahara)

This reminds me of an early Ryuhei Kitamura film, but without the giggle-inducing outrageous violence and audacity, and thus it's unable to hold my attention for long even though this one is entirely devoted in the fighting. Two guys managed to inherit the spiritual power of ancient katanas, and thus their guns could morph into swords. It's also like the gunblades in Final Fantasy 8 (... but less cool) where the combatants get to, er, pull the triggers when they fight. Maybe it had been a long day, and I wasn't sustained by caffeine. I found myself struggling to keep awake throughout this segment.

ASSAULT GIRL 2 (directed by Mamoru Oshii)

For most people, this is probably the 'main event' of the film, the one segment everyone's waiting for. After all, the film poster IS of Rinko Kikuchi and Yoko Fujita battling it out. Even I myself was a little excited when this segment started. Quietly, I prayed for this to be the mind-blowingly awesome segment that makes the entire film worth watching. The one that can make me go around and say "well, yeah, the last segment of KILL redeems the entire film AND MORE!!!!"

Unfortunately, this film, while somewhat entertaining, also collapsed under the colossal weight of my expectations. The film, in a nutshell... (skip the next para if you want to avoid spoilers)

A montage of nice images: Clouds moving in fast mo, swaying flowers and grasses, a lady dressed in white (Fujita) lying on the ground watching the sky. Then more poetic images of nature, then there's rain, and then Fujita is crouching position, holding her sword. Rain stops, Fujita unleashes some powerful energy wave thing with her sword. A black tank appears, charges at her, Fujita cuts the tank into pieces. Then a figure in sexy black outfit appears. International star Rinko Kikuchi making her 2-3 minute appearance (she has no lines, the entire segment has no dialogue). Chick in white and chick in black start to fight for a (really) short while... towards the end, camera swirls around them when they are leaning back to back against each other. One again, it's just like a scene from Ryuhei Kitamura's VERSUS. Lady in white seems to have won. Lady in black sprouts out black wings and flies off. Lady in white sprouts out white wings too. The end.

Yeah, that's it.

Visually, it looks similar to Oshii's live-action flick, AVALON. With the sepia tone and all. And the two stars look good in it, especially Fujita's soulful eyes. Veteran composer and frequent Oshii collaborator Kawai Kenji's music here is pretty good too.

Other than that, I really find it difficult to recommend this to others. Maybe I need to watch ASSAULT GIRL 1 or something.

Here's the trailer:

GRINDHOUSE this ain't. And no, it's not even as entertaining as those faux trailers too. Toronto J-Film Pow Wow's Chris MaGee's hunch after viewing KILL's trailer was correct. There aren't a lot of positive things I can say about this film (mmmm.... oh yeah, Mell's songs are good), I wish there really was an anthology that really deliver what most of us had thought KILL was going to deliver. If you want Mamoru Oshii's, go watch his animated film, SKY CRAWLERS instead. (I reviewed back in August)

Anyway, I can answer questions if you have anything to ask about the film.