Saturday, April 21, 2007

Tres Mas Quckies

Bubble Fiction: Boom or Bust (Japan, 2007), Directed by Baba Yasuo

This is another happy pill from the folks at Fuji Television to take away all your worries for at least 2 hours. Fuji specializes in these types of feel good films that manage to appeal to both your funny bone as well as that soft spot in your emotional center. Think of Bayside Shakedown, Swing Girls, Leave it to the Nurses and Udon as points of reference. No doubt inspired by Back to the Future (with a reference to a DeLorean included), a young woman has to return to the past to not only save her mom but Japan’s economy as well. It’s 2007 and Japan’s famous economic bubble of the 1990’s has popped badly and the country is now on the verge of total economic collapse with everyone hocked up to their eye lids with debt and a nasty looking collector on their doorstep. Finance Ministry official Shimokawaji (Hiroshi Abe) has determined that the genesis of this bubble and the ensuing trouble can be pinpointed to a misguided law that Japan passed in 1990. When he finds out that an old friend, Mariko (the legendary Hiroko Yakushimaru), has accidentally discovered a time machine while trying to build a new and improved washing machine, he sends her back to that year to try and stop the law from passing in the legislature. But she has now dropped from sight and so he turns to her bar hostess daughter Mayumi (Ryoko Hirosue) to follow her mother back into the past. So Mayumi dons a wet suit, climbs into the sudsy washing machine and finds herself back in 1990 where the bubble is swelling with good times and disco is still going strong. There she manages to run into Shimokawaji as a young man – who wants very much to seduce her – her younger mom, herself and various future Japanese celebrities that she gives career advice to. It is great fun leading up to a crazy Pink Pantheresque finale (with Bond music) as she comes across a conspiracy to topple Japan by outside forces. Not exactly brain surgery but a good time for most.

Viewed on a screener

Lost in Tokyo (Japan, 2006), Directed by Kotaro Ikewa

This is vaguely reminiscent of a low budget small cast indie version of The Big Chill that leaves its punches until near the very end. Two friends, Takkun (Takuya Fukushima) and Takachan (Takahiro Iwasaki) have just been to the funeral of one of their friends from their university days. Dressed in mourning clothes they proceed to go on a two day drinking binge that takes them all over Tokyo from bars to saunas to pool halls to karaoke. Both are in their early thirties and neither seems particularly successful – Takkun is still trying to make it as a musician and Takkun has become a dull salaryman. Over the two days they talk intermittently about noodles, drinking and women but can’t seem to approach the subject that is stabbing them in the heart – the death of their friend and their youthful dreams that haven’t materialized and likely never will. The film drifts along for much of its running time in a near haze of drinks and fractured conversations that leaves the viewer a bit puzzled at their behavior and where the film is heading – until it all clicks finally as the two friends face their sorrow and say goodbye to their dead comrade. The herky-jerky camera work and lack of cinematic sophistication gives the film an echo of cinéma vérité that draws you into their lives for this brief period of time.

Viewed on a screener

Trouble Makers (China, 2006), Directed by Cao Baoping

This is a fast moving satiric look at present day corruption in small town China that barely slows down to catch its breath. The town of Black Well is run by the four Xiong brothers, tough hoodlums who have their dirty fingers in everything from rape to kickbacks and run the town like a little fiefdom. The townspeople hate them but have no idea what they can do about it until Ye Guangrong is appointed to the position of Party Secretary. The Xiong brothers expect him to tow their line and so he pretends to while secretly enlisting riled up locals to help him overthrow them. Much of the film takes place on one long frenzied night when Guanggrong thinks he has evidence of the crimes of the brothers and organizes raids on their residences, but nearly everything goes wrong in the chaos that follows. The film starts a bit slow but builds steam as it moves along to a frantic finale that feels like a three ring circus gone haywire. Totally bereft of romance (or women for the most part) or characterization, it is just a fierce funny straight line into the black heart of a China going through dramatic change resulting in a power vacuum and the corruption that has rushed to fill it.

Viewed on a screener

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