Due to ticket-buying mistakes (my own, not the festival’s) and the second typhoon in a week, I’ll likely only be able to see three films at TIFF this year instead of the six I’d planned to see. Here are thoughts on two of those films (the third, the brilliant Hikaru Toda documentary Of Love & Law, will get its own post).
The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl （夜は短し、歩けよ乙女）
I really wanted to like Masaaki Yuasa’s offbeat, After Hours-style story of one wild night in Kyoto, an animated film drawn in a delightfully simple, old-school style, but it annoyed me from beginning to end. Granted, as someone who isn’t incredibly familiar with long-running, episodic anime series like One Piece and Crayon Shin-Chan, or with Yuasa’s other work, I probably wasn’t part of the target audience. It’s telling that the film annoyed me for reasons that might make it endearing to others: it’s full of toilet humor, it contains the tired ‘old men groping women is hilarious’ anime trope, it dials the emotion up to eleven and almost never lets up, and it exists in a realistic universe where people nonetheless constantly say and do things that rational human beings would never say or do. It also contains ridiculously over-the-top declarations of love, which connects to yet another anime / “youth film” trope that I loathe–the idea that falling in love must always be a theatrical production, with the young man orchestrating wildly improbable stunts to get the attention of his female love interest.
There’s clearly an audience for this kind of film (the older woman sitting next to me seemed to thoroughly enjoy it). For me, though, it was a perfect example of why I’ve never embraced a huge chunk of Japan’s most popular anime output.
Ambiguous Places (うろんなところ)
During the post-screening Q&A for Akira Ikeda’s Ambiguous Places, cinematographer Mizuki Osada admitted that at one point during shooting the cast and crew had essentially “gotten lost” (they’d shot the scenes out of order and had lost track of what they were supposed to be shooting). This seems entirely appropriate, given that Ambiguous Places is essentially a sequence of dream-like vignettes held together by the thinnest of plots. The director admitted that most of those vignettes were based on his own dreams, which is usually the kind of description that I dread hearing, but this film won me over almost immediately.
It definitely isn’t for everyone, and it’s unlikely that it’ll find any success outside the festival circuit. Still, I found myself charmed by its unabashedly absurdist tone. It has a dry, dark sense of humor that was genuinely funny. The casting is superb–everyone has the same slightly dead-eyed look and manner. There is no attempt at closure, moralization, or rationalization. And yet even though the narrative is as nonsensical as a dream, there is a logic and reason to various characters’ actions (revealed in the second half of the film), which elevates it above the level of typical “collection of random scenes” experimental films.
Some scenes are just actors speaking meaningless phrases to each other repeatedly, which seemed to be poking fun at Japanese society’s tendency toward long conversations consisting almost entirely of platitudes. It also made me think of Ozu’s Ohayo and the children’s complaint that adults never say anything of substance. (Because he shot almost every scene with a stationary camera, the director said that he often gets the Ozu comparison.) The setting has a delightfully otherworldly feel that still manages to ground itself in Japan, with plenty of funky old buildings and interiors.
Ambiguous Places could have been pretentious and pointless viewing (and some people will certainly label it as such). But it worked for me, mostly because I’m always happy to see Japanese films that are willing to take risks and fully embrace their weirdness.