Thursday, July 12, 2012

Japan Cuts ’12 & NYAFF ’12: Monster’s Club

Not content with the sarin gas cult and the United Red Amy, transgressive auteur Toshiaki Toyoda has also relocated Ted Kaczynski to Japan.  He’s welcome to him.  Toyoda’s takes the audience inside the cabin of Ryoichi Kakiuchi, as he is called in this context, if not necessarily his soul in Monster’s Club (trailer here), which screens as a joint presentation of the 2012 Japan Cuts and New York Asian film festivals.

Kakiuchi likes to send bombs to prominent members of the economic establishment.  Everyone should have a hobby.  If you are wondering why, he’d be happy to explain.  His Henry George-ish ideas on labor and production are the whole point of his terrorism.  He was not always a psychopathic loner.  Viewers will come to suspect his evil evolution was initiated by some profound family trauma, most notably involving the radical brother he idolized, when the mad bomber is visited by either ghosts from the past or hallucinations.

While not exactly soliciting sympathy for Kakiuchi, Toyoda expects viewers to appreciate his complexity.  However, the soul-deadened fanatic seems a rather simplistic, emotionally frozen character.  After a few setbacks in life, suddenly everyone is either an exploiter or an unenlightened slave in his judgment and therefore fair game for devices that go boom.

Frankly, patrons are well within their rights if they decide they are disinclined to identify with someone who kills people to serve his extremist ideology right from the outset.  To make matters more daunting, the severe reserve of Eita’s performance and the chilly detachment of Toyoda’s approach do little to pull in the reluctant, in spite of themselves.

A bold stylist, Toyoda creates some striking visuals in Club.  Yet, the epic catharsis of his last film, Blood of Rebirth, is conspicuously missing here.  A metaphysical allegory largely considered a veiled commentary on his much publicized legal trouble, Toyoda dragged the archetypal Buddhist hero Oguri Hangan Daisukeshige through the dark recesses of his soul, ultimately embracing life on the other side.   Conversely, Kakiuchi withdraws from life, while rhetorically berating those who live an unexamined existence.  Rebirth also had some monster drum breaks.  Still, Mayuu Kusakari, who was so devastating in Toyoda’s prior film, again has some finely turned moments in a smaller role, Kakiuchi’s sister, who is alive and well and beginning to understand her brother is out of his mind.

If you are looking for whizbang plotting, this is not the film for you.  If your aesthetic sensibility leans more towards the austere, then maybe.  It is certainly a challenging cinematic statement by any measure, but at least it clocks in at a manageable seventy-two minutes.  Toyoda is a filmmaker who always merits attention and his work has a tendency to appreciate in the viewers’ subconscious.  In retrospect, Rebirth has become one of my most vivid cinematic memories of 2010, so who knows how Club will ferment over time.  Narrowly recommended for hardy and slightly unkempt cineastes, rather than us tragically unhip bourgeoisie, Monster’s Club screens Sunday (7/15) as a co-selection of this year’s Japan Cuts: The New York Festival of Contemporary Japanese Cinema and the 2012 New York Asian Film Festival.