Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 29, 2020 11:30 am 
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Enthusiastic salaryman

Early this year the Harvard Library's film collection featured a series on Mariko Tetsuya called "Self Destruction Cinema" and that may be the best place to begin in describing the latest of his two more high-profile films (he has been active as a writer and maker of movies and TV mini-series since 2003). The previous film is called Destruction Babies (and that's the title, transliterated in Japanese characters, Disutorakushon beibîzu) and features someone more sadistic and more masochistic than young Hiroshi Miyamoto. (The full title this time is From Miyamoto to You and there was a miniseries, with the same actors and director, based on the manga series "Miyamoto kara Kimi e" by Hideki Arai.) Sôsuke Ikematsu plays the role in both and he owns the role; there are several other actors from the miniseries also here. Ikematsu is awesome as the baby-faced young salaryman who goes for broke in feelings and commitment, no reserves, no good sense, no physical fear.

Cinema of extremes, also. Miyamoto is some kind of madcap hero, but no role model. He takes it on himself to rid a pretty young woman, Yasuko (Yû Aoi) of an unwanted ex-boyfriend. Then she takes to him and they have sex and get involved. Next thing you know, he's meeting her parents, the Nakano family, who own a company. The mother loves that he drinks like a fish. (In some parts of Japanese society it's considered a good social trait to be able to drink a lot.) There is a sequence of extreme beer drinking. Miyamoto drinks so much he later passes out in a comatose sleep while with Yasuko. A member of the Nakano family is a ruby player and has giant bruiser-type rugby player friends. One of them comes and rapes Yasuko, right in front of Miyamoto, stretched out sleeping like a baby. He's so out Yasuko's screams never wake him. The rape is the hardest of a series of violent, hard-to-watch sequences in this movie of gonzo interpersonal violence and scream-fests that sometimes seem grating and at others, purgative.

When Miyamoto finds out what has happened to his girlfriend (he has to guess, which makes the sequence more painful), he becomes determined to take revenge against the giant rugby player rapist. He is also more than ever determined to marry Yasuko. Only what has happened has made Yasuko unable not to loathe him. She called on him for help again and again and he did not budge. Her revulsion will change, somewhat inexplicably. The storytelling provides no clear logical explanation of Yasuko's change of feelings toward Miyamoto.

In many scenes Miyamoto is missing three front teeth, because in his first of several violent encounters with the rapist, he gets a giant fist in the mouth ("like a bowling ball," he recounts afterward) and loses them Later he gets more damaged, but in a final encounter between the two high up on an apartment building balcony, Miyamoto manages to reverse roles by doing damage where it hurts most and capitalizing on the advantage inflicting excruciating pain gives him over his huge adversary.

The dialogue is at two levels in this movie, low and high, with nothing in between. People are either talking calmly, under their breath (with some voice-over narration) or, when it gets intense, shouting at the top of their voices, possibly spouting blood or foaming at the mouth as they do so. Particularly memorable in this vein is a scene where Miyamoto comes to propose marriage at the top of his lungs to Yasuko in the middle of her place of work. There is scattered applause, but Yasuko screams back in front of everybody her absolute refusal and desire never to set eyes on Miyamoto again.

Everyone (in the English language comments I've found) talks about how cringe-inducing and hard to watch a lof ot the action is in this movie. Japanese fans of the mang seem to have been delighted by the film. "You are in a comic book world," one says, and that sums it up. The Japanese are not as offended by or judgmental about fictional violence or extremes as Americans are. Even if you're shocked, this is also compulsive watching, except for the rape, when I wanted to look away. This is not a Cinema of Cruelty a la Antonin Artaud or spatter action a la Grand Guignol. Many blockbuster action of thriller films have more violence, cruelty, and blood. Here, it's mitigated by Miyamoto's good-heartedness and sincerity. His courage is foolhardy, but his determination and loyalty are worthy of the tales of courtly love. In its warped, hysterical way, Miyamoto is a rom-com. Wait for the Judd Apatow-produced Hollywood remake.

Miyamoto 宮本から君へ, 129 mins., opened in Japan Sept. 2019 and Hong Kong Nov., 2019; featured at Chicago Oct. 2019. Screened for this review as part of the virtual 2020 New York Asian Film Festival.

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