Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 16, 2021 12:12 pm 
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A manga tale collaboration

No, manga isn't all cute spiky-haired boys and girls like we see in Takahiro Horie's Sensei, Would You Sit Beside Me?, also in this year's NYAFF. This manga adaptation shows a far darker, gnarlier world with a whole panoply of people who aren't pretty like Horie's manga power couple.

Aki Kaurismäki comes to mind in this seamless anthology film blending two books by a celebrated manga artist in which humor teeters on the edge of drear. It is a comedy based on Hiroyuki Ohashi's manga Zokki A and Zokki B directed with different actors by three of Japan's leading actors and filmmakers. They blend together, but they don't. There are no clear-cut chapter divisions, and sometimes characters from one story briefly run into characters from another, all encountering each other in Ohashi's "obscure corner of the world" (an unbeautiful rural-urban part of Japan). But does it all blend together into some kind of unified whole? Not really. The project is the narrative equivalent of a surrealist "exquisite corpse," where artists connect their drawings to other artists' without seeing them. The title "Zokki" allegedly refers to the way paperbacks are bundled for sale in used bookshops. There you go.

And there is one young man - he looks too young to be working around porno - who repeatedly clocks in and out of a video rental shop, where there is a porn film featuring Mayumi Yusuda,,a star admiringly mentioned in segments, her tape first held by a nondescript guy who leaves home on his bike for points unknown in the film's first sustained scene. Later this gentleman is invited by an old fisherman to his shack, where he (the fisherman) gets a surprise birthday celebration. Later a friend of the fisherman turns up at the party hitherto unseen for some years, who has been in jail and can't go to his wife because they've had a fight. The fisherman begs the wandering cyclist, who's from the same town, to stop by some time and make peace with the ex-con's wife. Someone is moving the post-it notes to himself the video story boy is leaving overnight. Who is it?

These are the kinds of connections and threads the film works with. The most intense and memorable segment concerns two uniformed middle school boys. Makita, an ordinary, lonely boy and Ban, a tall, eccentric, shaven-headed, bespectacled one are the only friends each other has. As their friendship grows, Ban stops writing "I want to die" everywhere when that bent is replaced by an obsession with Makita's elder sister, whom he can never see because she doesn't exist; Makita has invented her to make himself more interesting to Ban. Makita uses a photo of Honda, a girl he was keen on in lower school as an object of worship for his crazy pal Ban. Later Ban seeks out the real Honda and asks her for a date. She rejects him but he is so persistent they eventually get married. Things go well he says, except she gets angry sometimes. The message of this seems to be that people who seem unbalanced when they are young may turn out to have normal lives.

Another sequence that gains some traction for a while focuses on a man and his little boy. The boy begs to be taken to an amusement park but his father refuses; he hasn't the money. Interchanges between father and son are vivid and amusing. The father instead takes his little boy on a jaunt where he breaks into his old school and steals a large punching bag from the boys locker room. The boy is well aware of the wrongness and danger of this exploit and is frightened, all the more so when his father temporarily runs off and the boy is approached by a mannequin that comes to life. Later the boy asks his father if she was a good or a bad spirit, and he says "That's a very good question." The story picks things up years later when the boy is grown up and the father, who still has the punching bag in his backyard, apologizes for his irresponsible parenting.

Makita, the nondescript schoolboy whose only friend is a deranged depressive; the numb, silent man who leaves home on a bike with nowhere to go; and the youthful drone working at the dreary job in the video store; even, though he has some flair, the irresponsible father, together build a sense that men are unimpressive and life contains little hope. This theme is alluded to also by a brief scene that opens the film between a girl and her aging grandfather, who declares that in life the happy moments are immediately followed by sad ones, and that the cycle grows closer and closer together with age so at last you cannot tell them apart.

This is a fascinating project, the three directors obviously have talent and the casting is excellent. The beauty is not in the generalizations but in the details. If it doesn't all hang together, perhaps that is the point. This would not be appealing to the more conventional moviegoer, of course. One wonders, if Hiroyuki Ohashi, the manga artist, had sset out to design his own film, from scratch, how he would have done it differently. Another filmmaker, also Scandinavian with whom this has much in common is Roy Andersson, of [url=""]About Endlessness[/url]. But this doesn't reach for the sweet irony of Kaurismäki or the beauty and poetry of Andersson.

Zokki, 113 mins., premiered at Tokyo, also featured at Taipei (Golden Horse), both Nov. 2020; Shanghai Jun. 2021; screened for this review as shown on the internet as part of the NY Asian Film Festival Aug. 16, 2021.


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