Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 10, 2017 3:56 pm 
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Poison friends

The first feature by Kei Ishikawa is from a screenplay adapted by Kôsuke Mukai from a novel by Tôkuro Nukui that explores the background of a cold case murder of a seemingly privileged young family. Tanaka (Satoshi Tsumabuki) is a journalist for a publication called Terrace Weekly who conducts interviews into the case for articles he hopes the Terrace will publish on the one-year anniversary of the (unsolved) case, the bloody murder of an upper class couple and their child. The interviews lead to flashbacks drawn from the series of depositions presented in Nukui's novel. These depict the world of Insiders the family belonged to and their ways of toying with and exploiting people they consider their inferiors, a generally ugly picture of some of Japan's social elite. Meanwhile we know from the first that Tanaka's sister Mitsuko (Hikari Mitsushima) is in jail for endangerment of a child, and eventually he begins telling a psychiatrist (Mitsuru Hirata), involved with his sister's case the ugly story of Mitsuko's abuse by their father when she was young. Eventually links between the two stories, of the Takou family Insiders and of Mitsuko, will emerge.

The murdered husband Takou (Keisuke Koide), as one of a Japanese elite, was thought to have led a kind of charmed life. Tanaka's explorations reveal a nasty manipulator and betrayer and his world's way of using, but always in the end excluding, any of the less privileged at school or university who seek to enter their privileged confines.

The main interest here is on class and in social networks (but not the internet kind), and This could just as well have been cast as a tale of love betrayal and ambition. But the murder mystery is an ever-popular glue to hold together all tales, and this does end with revelations - and additional shocks. Nonetheless it made me think at first of Emmanuel Bourdieu's Poison Friends, an intriguing French film I saw in the 2006 NYFF. That is, arguably, a better story, because it's not a cold case but a hot one - only a series of events that, after the fact, reveal to have involved a deceiving central figure; and the elite was one not of fixed class but of competitive young Paris intellectuals.

Director Ishikawa has commented that because he grew up in the country, the stratification and elitism he encountered when he came to Tokyo seemed strange to him. And so here he seeks to examine it. He had also encountered a different world by studying filmmaking in Lodz, Poland - and his cinematographer here, Piotr Niemyjski, who is Polish, may also look on things with a different eye. Can one detect hints of Krzysztof Kieślowski? Ishikawa had thought of doing comedies: he hasn't done one here. In fact this film is humorless and dry, with an edge of cruel tragedy. But it has an intensity that holds the attention. The string music composed by Takashi Ohmama, has a nice resonance.

Traces of Sin 愚行録 (Gukôroku, "Record of Folly "), 120 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 2016, produced by Office Kitano; also Warsaw, Gothenberg, Nippon Collection Festival Germany, Hong Kong; theatrical release in Japan Feb. 2017, Taiwan June 2017. Reviewed as part of NYAFF 2017, where it's showing Mon., July 10, 6 pm, at the Walter Reade Theater.

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