Sunday, June 12, 2011

Kill (2008)

Original title: Kiru

This Mamoru Oshii produced and financed omnibus movie contains four unconnected shorts by four directors.

The first one is called "Kilico" and directed by Takanori Tsujimoto (him of the pretty swell Hard Revenge Milly movies). Professional assassin Kilina (Miki Mizuno - Milly herself) has had some sort of falling out with her boss, who reacts by kidnapping her sailor suit school uniform wearing sister Kilico (Ayaka Morita). Kilina comes to the rescue, but both she and her sister end up horribly wounded and are left for dead by their enemies. Some friendly (or is he?) mad scientist makes the best out of a problematic situation and puts Kilina's brain in Kilico's body - probably to create the ultimate in sword-swinging schoolgirls.

Not surprisingly, the still quite lethal Kilina goes back to her boss to take her vengeance on him for the murder of her sister, but that's more difficult than you'd expect in a brain-swapping world.

I'm still quite impressed by director Tsujimoto's ability to get quite a bit of entertainment value out of some properly good fighting even though it takes place in the usual drab corridors, car parking lots and warehouse locations his generation of Japanese exploitation filmmakers has to work with. "Kilico" is no great shakes, but it has verve and a certain amount of style. Furthermore, Tsujimoto has obvious fun with the small amount of (very Japanese) freakishness his (even smaller) small budget allows, which is just the sort of thing to make me happy.

The second short film is called "Kodomo-Zamurai" and directed by Kinji Fukasaku's son Kenta, who is something of a hit-or-miss director with me. In this case, it's more of a hit. 6th grader Ryutaro is the earnest modern heir of a samurai clan but has - to the dismay of his family - sworn never to draw his sword. That's a promise no child can keep when an evil bully terrorizes his new school, his love interest, his comical sidekick and his little sister, so carnage ensues. The whole story is told in form of a silent movie, complete with a fake 1920s film look, and narrated (after all, that's how Japanese silent movies were shown in their time, being not all that silent) by Vanilla Yamazaki. Yamazaki is really pretty fantastic, with comical timing and an enthusiasm so great it's even obvious to a non-speaker of Japanese like me.

Fukasaku has quite a bit of fun playing with the form, using it to produce merry twenty minutes of children doing - on paper - terrible things to each other and make fun of films earnestly praising the samurai ethos.

After these fine efforts by Tsujimoto and Fukasaku, Kill gets dragged down by the last two parts.

In Minoru Tahara's (of whom I know nothing at all) "Zan-Gun", an evil sword possesses a soldier and merges with his gun into a sword-gun/gun-sword with which he becomes a successful serial killer. Another guy becomes possessed by the sword's arch enemy dagger, so they fight until one of them wins. The end. Yeah, well, this is basically one barely decent fight scene (in a drab corridor) that doesn't evoke any reaction beyond a shrug in me.

Last and possibly least is Mamoru Oshii's own entry, "Assault Girl 2". A nameless woman with a sword (Yoko Fujita) sits in a field, looks at the sky, and then looks at the sky some more. The camera stares at her face (understandable but not exciting) and shows some metaphorically loaded animals. Then our heroine stands up, slices a tank in two and fights another, SM chic-wearing woman (Rinko Kikuchi). Both grow wings and fly away. The end. As much as I love and admire Oshii's anime work (and I really do), all of his live action work I've ever encountered has rubbed me completely the wrong way.

The pacing drags, what is supposed to be beautiful and symbolic is mostly kitschy and Oshii's metaphors are about as subtle and ambiguous as sledgehammers. Especially the latter is always a bit of a surprise to me - Oshii's anime do after all show an artist quite capable of doing complex and ambiguous work instead of hollow pretentiousness. On the positive side, Oshii does at least include pretty women doing violence in everything he does.


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