Thursday, April 06, 2017

Beyond Godzilla: Blue Christmas

We often hear clichés like “it’s what’s inside that counts” as a bland way to advocate tolerance. Unfortunately, the governments of the near future will pervert such sentiments to exploit fear and uncertainty. It seems those who experience close encounters with UFOs have had their blood turned blue. As a result, their loyalty and very humanity is now questioned in the highest government offices. The combination of fear and power yields harrowing results in Kihachi Okamoto’s Blue Christmas (trailer here), which screens during the Japan Society’s film series, Beyond Godzilla: Alternative Futures & Fantasies in Japanese Cinema.

This might just be the worst Christmas ever. There has been a rash of UFO sightings, but only maverick scientist Dr. Teruhiko Hyodo is sufficiently impolitic to discuss them in public. In a likely case of cause and effect, the researcher is abducted immediately following his controversial conference address. Experienced muckraker Kazuya Minami is assigned the story, but it is unclear whether the top executives at his media conglomerate really want him to find the truth-talking doctor.

Minami will have good reason to doubt the good faith of his superiors. Before he leaves to pursue leads in New York, he passes along a strange bit of gossip to his editor. Apparently, Yuko Takamatsu, the newly discovered star of an upcoming network historical epic has blue blood (and not in the colloquial English sense). Minami’s source is none other than her entertainment journalist lover. Quite suspiciously, Takamatsu is framed for drug possession and forced out of the production shortly thereafter, while Minami is on assignment.

Meanwhile, the taciturn military intelligence officer Taisuke Oki is clearly planning for something unpleasant. Currently in hurry-up-and-wait mood, he often frequents a barbershop near the base, because of his hard crush on Saeko Nishida a shy junior barber employed there. He too has strange experiences with disappearing colleagues.

Much like the way Fassbinder’s World on a Wire prefigured the themes and narrative elements of The Matrix decades earlier, the post-Watergate Blue Christmas eerily foreshadows the conspiracy mythology of The X-Files. However, Blue Christmas is even more paranoid with respects to political institutions and far more brutal in its depiction of the ultimate machinations.

Perhaps most significantly, Blue Christmas features the legendary Tatsuya Nakadai playing Minami, who might just be the classic movie journalist of all time. Sure, he is a virtuous crusader for truth, but he also understands the necessity of discretion with respects to valor. Furthering heightening the tragedy, Hiroshi Katsuno and Keiko Takeshita develop some exquisitely awkward but poignant chemistry together as Oki and Nishida, respectively.

Perhaps because screenwriter Sô Kuramoto was forced to edit his acclaimed script (originally published in a film journal), the loop doesn’t always get closed for every subplot. This is particularly true of “The Humanoids,” a Beatles like western band, whose hit song is ubiquitous throughout the film. Whether they are tools or victims of the shadowy cabal remains open to debate. However, one thing is for sure—any Tatsuya Nakadai is worth seeing—and he’s terrific in this one. Somehow, it feels both perfectly of and ahead of its time. Highly recommended for fans of UFO conspiracy theory science fiction, Blue Christmas screens this Saturday (4/8) at the Japan Society, as part of Beyond Godzilla.