Friday, March 21, 2008

Jason goes to Asianfest--Day 7

Two more movies on Wednesday.

First up was the controversial documentary from China born but Japanese-based director Li Ying. "Yasukuni" is about the Yasukuni shrine where the spirits of the Japanese soldiers who fought for the emperor in WWII are enshrined. This includes several indicted and convicted war criminals, and the existence of the shrine (and especially the visit by Prime Minister Koizumi) are a matter of great tension between China and Japan (so, of course, it's important that a Chinese-Japanese filmmaker made this). The movie is very much cinema-verite, making almost no direct judgment on the shrine. The one behind-the-scenes person interviewed is a sword maker (and a very interesting man), who has made the Yasukuni swords which were used by officers in the war and in which spirits are enshrined. He's very proud of his work, but he's old and the only Yasukuni sword maker left. Other than him, the movie mostly shows people at the shrine, worshiping, and talking about the politics. He did catch on tape one American guy who supports Koizumi and was at the shrine with a sign of support (well received) and an American flag (not well received). He also caught a group of protesters and the ensuing altercation. He uses sparse newspaper clippings to highlight the controversy, but mostly the movie steps back and lets you think. In that regard, it's less like a movie and almost like visiting a shrine--your inner thoughts and feelings are more important than what's presented. Fascinating.

And then I saw what might be my favorite film of the festival so far. It's at least the one I've had the hardest time getting out of my head. "Option 3" is by the same team (Richard Wong and H.P. Mendoza) who made "Colma: the Musical", but it's a very, very different movie. It's a genre-bending thriller with video game logic (to the point of 'get the red key, open the door, get the green key, etc.), dream logic, and bitter heartbroken guy logic. It opens with Ken and Jessica at a restaurant. Jessica asks him what he thinks of what she said (presumably some annoying relationship question). Ken excuses himself to go to the bathroom. When he gets back she's gone, and only a cell phone remains. It rings, he answers, a voice tells him to obey or he'll never see Jessica again, and so the game is on. The thing that makes it so strange (other than the mixing of genres) is that almost everyone involved was apparently going through horrible relationship stuff at the time. They set out to make the movie as maybe some sort of therapy (and in the Q&A, they admitted it totally failed as therapy). But they initially wrote a wacky screwball thriller/comedy. A lot of the comic setups remain, but in shooting and editing they made it much darker and took out all the jokes (or at least don't present them as jokes). So the end result is a wacky adventure/comedy made be people who don't find anything funny anymore. And that might explain why I've met people who didn't like it, but I love it. In fact, the more people I meet who don't like, I know I'm going to like it more.

director Richard Wong, writer H.P. Mendoza, actor Preston Conner (Ken) and actress Theresa Navarro (Jessica):

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