I’ll never understand why Shunji Iwai’s films never caught on in the States. He’s been immensely popular in Japan since the 1990s, repeatedly scoring a string of dreamy, moody hits that includes Love Letter (1995), Picnic (1996), and All About Lily Chou-Chou (2001). Iwai’s movies are the cinematic equivalent of shoegaze and dream pop: quiet, sentimental puzzles that build their powerfully cathartic effects through the combination of atmospheric music, dramatic and unabashedly sentimental plots, and Norobu Shinoda’s peerless cinematography, an endless swirl of handheld camerawork, diffuse light, and backlighting. They give the impression of being emotion made manifest, the very essence of “haunting” and “bittersweet.” I have to believe that Sofia Coppola was thinking of them when she made Lost in Translation (2003); these films would also appeal, I think, to fans of Wong Kar-Wai, Krzysztof Kieslowski, or Andrei Tarkovsky. (Do you know any?)
I can never decide which of Iwai’s films is my favorite. All About Lily Chou-Chou is a long, complex tale—half soap opera, half manga—of a middle school class and their vacation and their relationship to an extremely ethereal pop star. (She comes across like a Japanese Björk.) It took me about three viewings to even begin to understand the plot, which is presented a-chronologically and with few clues as to which scenes are happening when. It also periodically interrupts itself to insert shots of the central characters standing in a field, listening to a discman:
I plan to steal that idea for one of my own films, someway.
Love Letter is much simpler in comparison, though still audaciously intricate. A woman who’s recently buried her fiance writes him a final love letter, then receives a reply. No, it’s not a ghost movie, although it teases us for a while that it might be. The woman continues the correspondence, leading to the telling of a fairly complex story within the main story. It’s kinda like … if Jacques Rivette adapted Nick Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine Trilogy? (Also somewhat related: Lovers of the Arctic Circle, and Sans soleil.)
The full movie appears to be online (see below). If nothing else, I encourage you to watch the amazing opening scene. (And the trailer.)
What a surprise to find this up at YouTube! Although less and less surprises me these days.
How to describe Celine and Julie Go Boating, other than “one of the greatest films ever made”?
Two women, Celine and Julie, a magician and a librarian, bond over a shared interest in magic and the occult. Together they discover one of the weirdest haunted houses in all of cinema, a mansion in which a Henry James novel is being eternally reenacted. Celine and Julie can enter the house, which will expel them after a few hours with no memory of what’s going on inside. But when they eat a magic candy, they start to remember what they witnessed…
It’s funny and cool and sexy and more than a little spooky.
It’s inspired in part by Lewis Carroll, and was partial inspiration for Desperately Seeking Susan (1985).
Also, it’s one of the greatest films ever made.
John recently stripped this site of its “Features” tab, where I was steadily and secretly stockpiling links to feature films that are up in their entirety at YouTube. So maybe I’ll just start embedding them on the main page? One every Friday?
This week’s film will be:
I finally got around to seeing it, last night, and felt compelled for some reason to record my impressions. Which lie, for you should you care, right after the jump.
[You want to read the earlier installments, and we want to help you: Part 1, Part 2]
[Drumming our fingers on the tabletop, humming along to Debbie Gibson, we contemplated just walking out on our waitress, when Jeremy remembered a Payday he had in his pocket. Passing it back and forth, we resumed our conversation.]
Jeremy: All this work, and still no appetizers. So we might as well talk about Kenneth Branagh, as this feeling of weary emptiness reminds me so much of his films …
A D: I remember adoring his Dead Again. I saw it on VHS, not too long after it came out. I had to pause it halfway through, I got so excited. I was, I think, all of sixteen.
Jeremy M. Davies, flexing en route to the cineplex
In two days, I’ll be posting the first installment of a new ongoing series at Big Other: conversations I’ve had with my good friend Jeremy M. Davies about movies, new and old, both popular and obscure. It will be called “A D & Jeremy Talk about Movies” (unless we can think of a better title).
This Monday, and on the following two Mondays (the posts will be in clusters of three), we’ll discuss Source Code, Thor, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, and many other films (including Sucker Punch, The Man from London, Tron, Tron Legacy, Willow, and Zardoz). In the weeks after that we plan to talk about Captain America, Green Lantern, X-Men: First Class, as well as movies by lesser-known directors like Jacques Rivette, Eugène Green, Agnès Varda, and Jean-Marie Straub and Danièlle Huillet (Jeremy really likes foreign films). And the new Woody Allen film. We’ll also probably talk endlessly about Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, because we both love it just so much. And throughout we’ll discuss the current state of the film industry. And comic books, which are synonymous with cinema these days.
Vanity Fair, August 2008 (cover).
I’ve outlined some of the following in my Looking at Movements series of posts (more of which are forthcoming), but here I want to examine the New Wave tradition exclusively, and from a different direction. I’m increasingly fascinated by how that simple two-word term has been used over the past 50 years to describe so many different trends and styles, some of which have been fairly disparate. It’s a label that’s really traveled, and hasn’t finished moving yet.