Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Dead End Indeed




With my recent paring down to only one job, I'm finding myself with a lot more free time on my hands than I used to have. With a young daughter at home, I'd find myself working all day and then trying to stay awake for an hour or two a night to spend time with my family. But now, without that second, hideous job, I'm home all day, every day(my remaining job is at night). Most of that time is spent doing parental stuff with the little one, but there's a few hours a day, during nap time, mainly, where I find myself with no real obligations, and a large stack of DVDs. I'm averaging a movie a day, which is nowhere near my pre-child average of 2-3, but still more than I've viewed in 3 years. The thing is, during that 3 years of minimal movie watching, I still collected DVDs left and right. Some were movies I loved theatrically, others were films I remembered from pre-DVD days, and some were just gifts or impulse purchases. The common thread was that I rarely got a chance to watch them. I believe I stated once that I'm a consumer.
One of these movies was Dead End Run, a Japanese film I was given by a friend who had it double shipped in an Internet order(the site he ordered from told him not to worry about returning it, for you goody-too-shoes out there) about a year ago. This makes it a fairly recent addition to the stack. The film was an official release, but the Japanese version, so I had no idea what it was about, since I can't read very much Japanese. Still, it boasted a starring role by Tadanobu Asano, who was the bright point of the very dark Ichi The Killer, and great in the little seen Survive Style 5+(PLEASE someone import this movie NOW!!!), so I popped it into the DVD player.

The movie turned out to be an anthology of three short films, all centered around people running, eventually into a dead end. Not a metaphorical dead end, mind you, a literal dead end. The problem -as I've noticed in every Japanese anthology film I've seen- is that the shortened running time means all traces of back story gets excised. In all but one of the shorts there is no explanation as to who, or what, the person is running from. This makes it very hard to care about the proceedings. Unfortunately that wasn't the only flaw.

The first film, entitled The Last Song, starts with nearly ten minutes of an unnamed man running. Running down streets, near train tracks, down alleys, and down more streets. The camera work is all handheld and shaky to the point of nausea. After this excruciating scene, the man runs into a dead end and hides, apparently from whoever is chasing him. A woman walks down the dead end, and he kills her before he can realize she isn't a threat. Then we're subjected to about 3 minutes of him wordlessly staring at the body. As he's about to leave, she begins to move, and it appears that this will be the start of an atypical Japanese horror movie, but then she breaks into a musical number(!) and it turns into a weird love story. But, like I said, these are short films, and there really isn't a lot of time left to explore whatever concepts the filmmaker had in mind, so it all falls flat, even though the woman singing has a nice voice and the music isn't bad. That's saying a lot if your familiar with the horribly translated songs used in most Japanese films.

The second film, Shadows, is one of the more torturous 20 minutes you'll see on film. There's not one line of dialogue, and the 10 minutes of pointless running used in the first segment are again trotted out here, but the real offense is the following 10 minutes, in which the chaser and the chased face off(in the same dead end from the first film) for 10 wordless, motionless minutes. Sogo Ishii(who directed all three segments) seems to think that quick MTV edits and shaky camera work will provide the kinetic energy needed to keep the audience interested, and boy is he wrong. The characters never move, and it's absolutely god-awful, which I know is very judgemental of me, considering my open views on most films, but this really is one of the most annoying things I've seen. There's some weird hocus pocus in which the actors change inexplicably a couple of times, and then a 'twist' ending that's supposed to make it all mean something, but again, we aren't given a reason for these events(what few of them there are), so why care?

The final film, and the one starring the above-mentioned Tadanobu Asano, is probably the most technically adequate film, but it's still fairly pointless. Asano, for some reason, is deemed worthy of an actual story, as he plays a criminal running from a trio of cops hot on his trail. The dead end, this time, is a rooftop-which is a nice change of scenery-where in an act of desperation he takes hostage a suicidal young woman. The film is over too quickly, since this one had the most potential to actually go somewhere, but compared to the first two segments it's pretty inoffensive and really not that bad, although not as interesting as the first segment.

I've since read a few reviews of this movie on IMDB where it's compared to the films of David Lynch due to it's long moments of inactivity and silence, but that claim comes from someone who must not have ever SEEN a David Lynch film. In this case(and I say this not as an insult but as an objective fact), the film's 60 minute run-time should have been trimmed by AT LEAST 20 minutes. The films wouldn't have been great, but the flaws wouldn't be as noticeable.

1 comment:

Rik Tod said...

So, did the filmmakers run into a similar dead end, or is there the inevitable "Dead End Run II"?

Or would that be ", Too"?