Saturday, May 23, 2009

My Trip to the Grand Lumière

The day started early for me this morning, at roughly 4AM, or at least, that's what it must have felt like to my body, which still has an internal clock set to the East Coast of the United States. That being said, I've done pretty well thus far with handling this time difference. (Speaking of which, next time I come to Europe without a working cell phone, be sure to get a WRIST WATCH.)

Today brought two exciting screenings. The first was my triumphant march up the red carpet into the Grand Lumière to see Isabel Coixet's film "Map of the Sounds of Tokyo." The second was a full screening of the nine selected shorts in competition this year. Very enlightening to a filmmaker who specializes in shorts (thus far.)

The Grand Lumiere is massive. With 2300 seats, it's easily the largest stage of the festival, and for good reason. This is where the Premieres take place, so don't be surprised to see actors, directors, producers, and other celebrities show up to walk the red carpet. So there I was bumping elbows with the true movie making elite!

Well, maybe not.

Did I happen to mention my screening was at noon? For the early screenings at the Lumière, men aren't even required to wear tuxes. So, in a black jacket, tie, and slacks, I presented myself as more dressed up than most there. I might have even felt a little overdressed.

But I digress.

My invitation put me in the balcony, but that was fine as the screen is quite large. The film featured the story of Ryu, a fragile woman who works nights in the Tokyo fishmarket when not taking jobs as a hit-woman. She falls in love with a man by the name of David, who happens to be her next target. David's love in life, Midori, has recently committed suicide, and her father blames David for her death. For this, her father wants to see David dead.

Another layer is added in the form of a narrator. The entire story is narrated from the perspective of a sound engineer Ryu meets and befriends before she is contracted to kill David. He tells the tale, which only happens to be as much as Ryu allowed him to know. The audience is privy to both his side of the story and the way it actually happened, making it a strange structure to choose as I'm not entirely sure it really enriched it or not.

I don't believe my knowledge of Japanese cinema is well-versed enough to truly tackle this film, so I'll rely on my gut instincts. The film seems to be concentrate on two major issues: 1) the role of women in Japanese society, and 2) what is and is not permitted in Japanese culture.

(Again, I will try to keep this a spoiler free review, but keep in mind that some things are more or less already known going into this film.)

The two major female characters in the film, Ryu and Midori, are miserable in their lives. Midori's suicide is never truly explained, though her father, Mr. Nagaro, blames her lover. It is also known that Mr. Nagaro's business employee, Ishida, may be to blame, as he also secretly loved Midori and she knew it. Midori's only answer to all of this seemed to be to kill herself. Ryu, on the other hand, is a killer who faces those she's killed everyday. With bouts of insomnia, she can't force the spirits from her mind, and cleans their gravestones (literally) every Sunday. For some reason, she sees herself only as an instrument, a weapon, not allowing herself the luxury of love, friendship, or true happiness.

At least, not until she meets David.

With this new relationship, Ryu discovers things about her that she has seemingly never known before. Throughout a number of sexual sequences that take place in a seedy hotel made up of pleasure rooms, we see Ryu wake up out of her state of despair as she and David share experiences that some would probably not be so comfortable watching. Personally, I had no problem with it, but there were a number of gasps from the audience during these scenes.

It is through these two contrasting female characters that we develop an understanding of what the director is hoping to achieve, all the while taking on Japanese stereotypes. For example, Mr Nagara, an aging Japanese business man, grows very emotional about the death of his daughter as the film progresses, instead of remaining stoic, which is generally more acceptable in the society.

Overall, the film wasn't my favorite, but that's not to say I didn't enjoy the pacing and the editing. I had hoped that we would have been treated to more audio treats (with the film being narrated by a sound engineer), but sadly, we learn more about wines and less about audio throughout the telling (David is a wine seller.) I do commend Rinko Kikuchi's portrayal of Ryu, but Sergi Lopez (David) never drew my compassion, which sadly makes him a somewhat unlikeable character though I do believe we're meant to feel for him.

Phew! I wrote a lot more on that than I thought I would. Chew on that for a while and I'll prep my thoughts on the nine short films in my next blog coming later tonight!

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