Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 28, 2020 2:30 pm 
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A world of converging menace and violence

Roar is the strange, disturbing writing and directing debut (with an enigmatic lead performance thrown in) by Ryô Katayama, who arrives with twelve years of film, TV, and video acting credits. Set in the somewhat desolate-seeming Fukui City, on Japan's north central coast, this pursues two unrelated narratives that converge briefly and violently at the end. There is repetitive violence, menace, emotional disconnection here, and it's underlined by shaky camera, some sudden extreme closeups and a series of initial attention-grabbing POV shots; and with a judicious use of ambient sound, with not much music. The noises and earthquake-like shaking in early scenes excite one and get one's attention. The initial effect is delicious, a nice palate cleanser after mild, correct Japan Cuts films like Extro, Voices in the Wind, or Fukushima 50. What follows is somewhat repetitive, taking us to the world not of noir but modern alienation, corruption of money, the act gratuite. The action remains edgy and menacing enough to hold one's attention, and everything moves toward increasing tension and the final climax.

The first of the two parallel storylines follows a lost, disturbed young man, the other a popular local radio announcer bothered by her sexually predatory boss. The second storyline is a slow burner; the first is chaotic and disturbing from the start. Reacting to a horrendous crime committed by his older brother Tadashi (who goes to jail for murder), Makoto (Ryo Anraku) is about to commit suicide himself but then finds another solution: he throws away his phone, ringing with a call from his mom, and runs away. He needs to get away from this family. Through odd, violent circumstances, aimlessly wandering back alleys of the downtown, Makoto begins shadowing a silent, shaggy-haired vagrant, Manabu (Katayama himself). They sleep together on the tatami mat floor of a storage room where brown paper bags mount up, and live off of packaged sandwiches. Katayama underlines the animalistic situation. When they wake up, they tear open a wrapped sandwich or pastry and wolf it down. Manabu does muggings for hire. They're assigned by the same man, who shows Manubu a photo, then a uniform envelope. Manubu goes and beats up the guy, with the client watching, who usually has to call Manobu off.

There is terrible unspecified sorrow lurking here: in one scene, Manubu prays and sets out flowers neatly on an elaborate grave. Always, always, Makoto is standing in the background; eventually he starts trying to find out why Manubu pursues this life of violence and to stop him, but he never succeeds..

In the other storyline, Hiromi (Mie Ota does her thing as a youngish, single, popular radio talk show person whose admirers regularly call in with inane fan questions. She is trapped in a lackluster affair with her unattractive, married boss at the station, Nomura (Shoji Omiya) whom she doesn't like, but seems unable to ward off. When Hitomi's girlfriend and former assistant Miyuko (Mari Kishi) comes visiting from Tokyo she arranges for Hitomi to meet a guy who's nice, handsome, and a fan - and he doesn't have to be imported: he lives right here in Fukui City. Following scenes pursue this tentative, restrained courtship as Hiromi and Kentaro (Takuya Nakayama) date and in a very restrained manner, get close. Nomura's boorish intrusions continue. Eventually, he finds out she is seeing this handsome younger man.

And this alternates with the continuously strange life of the boy, Makoto, and the lean, sad-looking professional strongman, Manabu. In one strangely intimate scene Makoto watches as Manabu tries to cut his own hair without a mirror, and moves over and begins to pull off tufts of it and cut them for him. Once Makoto apologizes for eating Manabu's pastry. He will only speak to him in the climactic final moments. Cross-cutting brings together two violent final scenes when Hiromi strikes back just as Manabu's latest attack is taken over by Madoto, who has been begging him to stop, but in helplessness joins in with a vengeance.

This can be seen as a kind of anonymous revenge flick, since most of the men paying to have somebody beaten up by Manabu must want revenge. Hiromi, had she known, might have arranged to have Manabu beat up Nomura. Unfortunately, Nomura beats her to it at a fatal time. This does not end well. I don't think Katayama is telling a very good story. A pointless subplot involving Mayuko belonged on the cutting room floor. He may intend, as online critic John Berra says, to "challenge deeply entrenched cultural codes or rigid power structures," but this seems too pulpy and extreme to communicate to the audience for such editorializing. What he is clearly good at is manipulating the material in a way that's experimental and at times so deliciously cinematic one doesn't care, as one doesn't with a pulpy B-movie, whether the material is tasteful - or even makes sense.

Roar 轟音k 99 mins., Limited release Feb. 2020 in Japan. Screened for this review as part of Japan Cuts 2020 (NYC).
The festival is entirely online this year. Anyone in the US can watch it, paying a small fee for each individual film, from July 17-30, 2020. Go HERE to access the films

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