There are many names that come to mind when one …
Delivering a brisk and fast-paced action comedy about the nature of reality, Sion Sono’s Tag stands out as among the best films so far this year. Sion Sono has never been a stranger to pushing boundaries – his films have consistently tackled taboo subjects through the gauze of the unreal. His most famous works operate on the tone of hysteria, as emotions and actions are amplified to create a surreal and fantastical landscape.
In some ways, the Japanese director Masaharu Take’s 100 Yen Love feels about as old-hat as the 12/8, bluesy guitar music which makes up the bulk of the film’s score: it’s yet another boxing drama about an outcast who finds herself in the ring. There’s nothing in the story we haven’t heard before, and, like the music, its willingness to rehash cliches makes it risk self-parody. But conveying art through established traditions can have a certain nostalgic charm, and both the music and the film it provides the soundtrack for play off tropes to create a crowd-pleaser which oozes appeal.
Alright-ness continues at this year’s festival with the Un Certain Regard opening film An (“Sweet Red Bean Paste”) by Cannes regular Naomi Kawase. The film stars Masatoshi Nagase as Sen, a middle-aged dorayaki pastry maker with alcohol issues and Kirin Kiki as Tokue, an elderly woman eager to work as Sen’s assistant in the pastry shop. The youthful touch is provided by Kyara Uchida as a shy schoolgirl having a hard time getting along with her single mother. Reluctant at first, Sen ends up admiring Tokue’s unique bean paste making talent and employs her to the displeasure of the pastry shop’s owner. Gradually, the three generations forge an intimate friendship as their respective traumas are revealed.
Set on the Japanese tropical island Amami, Still the Water is a Zen-infused coming of age drama, exploring the personal revelations that come with life, death and love. Directed by the Caméra d’Or winner Naomi Kawase and selected to compete for last year’s Palme, it is a serene, contemplative film that comes alive in moments of harmony and rupture. Shot using primarily handheld cameras, Kawase casts a documentarian’s gaze over what develops into a quietly forceful narrative, allowing the exquisite setting to provide much of the visual flair.
Naomi Kawase’s particular brand of spiritual filmmaking reaches its most explicit in Still the Water, a coming-of-age tale mixed with themes of love, death, and nature. Though it comes across as a story still interested in exploration of big ideas through a humble sort of filmmaking, this wears Kawase’s pet themes on its sleeves and doesn’t hold back from finding ways to promptly shoving them in the audience’s faces. Because of this evident literalization, the film solely rides upon the execution of actions: dances, songs, and tears. Like the waves of its local beach, Still the Water rises and recedes, leaving it an enjoyable but infuriating mess.
Taking many of its features from Studio Ghibli mainstays, Isao Takahata’s latest film The Tale of Princess Kaguya tackles an age-old folktale from Japan, bringing the studio’s warmth and childhood imagination to a mythic scale. It’s based upon The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter with a visual style imitating children’s storybooks or perhaps the scroll of the tale itself. It’s an act of wonderment to be in the presence of fluid, beautiful hand-drawn animation in a time clamoring for more and more computers at play, but the nostalgic value only barely supersedes its rough-and-tumble approach to adapting the anti-fairy-tale to the big screen.
Shot with remarkable assurance on 35mm film, Tetsuichirô Tsuta’s second feature The Tale of Iya instantly has the feel of a classic. It opens with a scene of serene and organic beauty, starting with a flurry of snow falling from the half-lit sky. A man in traditional rural dress walks out of a humble wooden shrine and stumbles through the drifts, simultaneously battling with and assimilating the hostile conditions. He comes across a car accident; the driver is flung through the windscreen and both passengers are obviously dead. Moving on, he notices a flash of pink on the frozen river, a baby girl in a snowsuit crawling on the ice. He watches her for a moment, then walks over and picks her up, as the snow continues to fall around them.