I’m tired of seeing that negative review at the top of the blog. So here are some quick, positive reviews. Two films and one graphic novel.
• House. If you’ve never seen a weird Japanese commercial, then look some up on YouTube. Once you’ve done that, imagine that same kind of style– the sudden earnestness, the cheesy music– applied to a haunted house story. Then you might have some idea of what Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House is like. As it turns out, Obayashi actually did direct commercials in Japan after doing art house flicks. The melding of that sensibility with horror makes for a discordant yet fresh movie. House is like no other film you’ve ever seen or ever will see. Anyone attempting to make a movie like it would most likely produce self-parodying camp. This movie is sui generis. The bizarreness of the filming is only enhanced by Obayashi’s need to do every in-camera special effect that he can think of. The result is a movie that you don’t know whether to laugh at or be frightened of, and in the end you find yourself having both reactions. At the same time. But beneath the oddness, there are some other forces at work, without which the film would simply be an oddity. One is the post war theme running through it. It’s not heavy-handed (thankfully), but the aunt who lives in the house lost her fiance in the war and is still awaiting his return. She has lived all these years with the pain of war. The seven young women who enter the house are innocent. The have grown up after the war and are oblivious to its pain. And so the house’s treatment of them comes across as a kind of jealousy or perhaps a desire to show the girls a suffering that they have never known. Tied with this is the theme of young women coming of age. The seven girls are balanced between still being children and being self-directed adults. And the terrors of the house itself are the terrors of a child’s imagination. In fact, this is literally true. Apparently, Obayashi approached his ten-year-old daughter and asked her what scared her. She recounted the heavy futons, the scary clock, and the well of her grandfather’s house. These frights appear in the film. And I think this birth in a young girl’s mind gives them some of their power and connects to the previous theme I mentioned. Basically, I ended up really liking this movie even though I was really doubtful I would in the beginning. Once I gave over to its style, I found myself being charmed by it, as well as disturbed.
• Ristorante Paradiso, by Natsume Ono. I bought Ono’s not simple some time ago, because I liked the art. It was so different than any other manga’s style. It was more like stuff I’d seen from alt comics artists in the U.S. Yet I didn’t like not simple. The story felt forced. It read like an earnest young person wrote it. But I just read Ristorante Paradiso and I enjoyed it. It’s not a great book, but I found it charming. Others, such as Johanna Draper Carlson, didn’t like it, finding it sappy and limp. I can understand that reaction, but for whatever reason the book worked for me. Basically, it’s about a young woman finding her estranged mother whose new husband owns a restaurant in Italy. The restaurant is staffed entirely by attractive older men and the young woman finds herself becoming enamored of one, despite her desire not to. Some readers couldn’t see the cuteness in the men, but I could. And I also understood the lack of drama in the book. All the characters are too damaged or reserved to push any tension to a breaking point. So many growing conflicts in the book peter out or get avoided. Again, for some this is a letdown, but for me it fit the characters. And I saw the restaurant as a kind of heaven where all wounds were healed. Yes, this is a bit sappy, but maybe that’s what I needed, because it worked for me.
•The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes. I just got done watching this and I think I need to see it again. Many times. I’ve loved the Brothers Quay work for a very long time. Since high school, I think. This is a live action movie for the most part, the story of which is very reminiscent of Angela Carter’s The Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman with its mad, yet sinister inventor and animated tableaux. Describing this movie is perhaps the wrong thing to do, but it unfolds a bit like a dream. While the story makes sense in a way, the appeal of the movie is not to your logical sense, but to your aesthetic ones. When I say I want to see this movie many times again, I do. That’s not only to piece together more of the plot and themes, but also to enjoy its sumptuous visuals. Like all Brothers Quay films, it’s best to watch The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes late at night when you are not fully awake, but too conscious to be asleep. Like the work of Andrei Tarkovsky, this film explores what film can do. I really think this is a must see film for anyone who loves film.