30 November 2013

Movie Review: Love Diagnosis, Throb of Fate (Renai Shindan, Unmei no Kodou / 恋愛診断, 運命のコドウ)

I didn't know going into this that these movies are "made for TV" movies, that they are split up like a mini-series, and that, in the end, there are several stories in one season. Although the set up was a little bit adolescent in terms of how these guys fell in love, I thought the story was excellent, although terribly sad. Kei Katsuragi (right, leaning forward) is a doctor in a hospital and feels life is meaningless and seems to have a bad work environment. He somehow ends up drowning in the pool he regularly swims in. Lifeguard Kanade Maki (left, leaning against) is a lifeguard and gym attendant. He gives Katsuragi mouth to mouth and Katsuragi comes back to life. They keep running into each other coincidentally and this eventually turns into a super intense love affair.

The plot keeps twisting and turning and from Katsuragi's perspective, it seems like destiny or fate is operating. It's hard to say much more without revealing important and surprising twists in the plot. But watching this, one will not be disappointed. But keep in mind, this is a tragedy.

29 November 2013

Movie Review: A Frozen Flower (쌍화점 / Ssanghwajeom)

I'm frankly surprised that I did not watch this film sooner. I did get a trip from someone to watch it and put it on a list but was skipped. The movie is based upon the life of the 31st king of the Goryeo dynasty. In real life, it is claimed that after the death of his first wife due to childbearing complications (after a very long period of failing to get pregnant), King Gongmin turned to pederasty for sex and affection. Eventually, one of his young bodyguards, Hong impregnated one of Gongmin's concubines and the concucine and Hong eventually killed Gongmin. The son of the two went on to become King U, the 32nd king of the Goryeo dynasty.

While there is a thread of the pederasty issue, the romance/sex part of the story between Gongmin and Hong doesn't pick up until Hong is a beautiful adult man. In the movie, Hong is the "chief" of a special King's guard made up of young men selected before puberty to be in this special King's guard. Hong is their chief and Gongmin's lover. The age difference in the movie, it is suggested is 7-14 years. Gongmin looks like a teenager when he invites a prepubescent Hong to join the guard.

If you know anything about Asian history, Gongmin served at the end of the Yuan Mongol-Chinese dynasty in the fourteenth century. The Goryeo had submitted to the Yuan -- they had no choice. But the Ming were ascending in China and would shortly end Mongol rule. This struggle between Mongol and Ming spilled over into all the tributary states, like the Goryeo state.

In the movie, this tension is used to add instability to a king who has no interest in his queen (or getting an heir to the throne). He can't get it up and doesn't want to get it up. His queen is a daughter of the Yuan emperor and so getting an heir is important to the Yuan. The Goryeo court is divided about the heir issue but a pro-Yuan noble has been recommended by the Yuan emperor to be crown prince to insure proper succession.

Gongmin asks Hong to attempt to impregnate the queen as the only person he could trust to do the job with discretion. It appears Hong's only sexual or intimate relationship has been with Gongmin. When Hong does it, it turns out both he and the Queen like it and fall in love. Oops!

This complicates Gongmin's plans and the rest of the movie works out how the three of these individuals attempt to work out their own inner conflicts within the realm of their apparent ability to do anything. There is much here that seems anachronistic but I thought it was a well done movie overall. I enjoy listening to music from the geomungo sanjo so I though the soundtrack was also nice.

The lesson, I think, has to do with taking responsibility for one's actions and the failure of revenge to take account of one's own responsibility. This is definitely a must see movie, in my mind.

28 November 2013

Movie Review: Like Grains of Sand (Nagisa no Shindobaddo / 渚のシンドバッド)

Strangely I did not see this movie 20 years ago when it came out and I frankly can't tell why. My only guess is that it didn't make it immediately onto VHS and so I didn't have the opportunity.

It's very disorienting. The severe conformism that I expect to see in a lower middle class Japanese high school was present. But what I didn't expect what how homosexuality in a teenager is handled. The film does an excellent job of capturing teenage angst and awkwardness.

Ito (pictured above, right) is gay and has a huge crush on his best friend Yoshida (left in picture). Kanbara another friend of the two, is jealous at the intimacy between Ito and Yoshida and well tries to bully Ito. In the process of finding ways to torture him, he decides to spread "gay" rumors. To my own surprise, Ito refuses to deny (and even more mildly to avoid and ignore). His father caught him posting a gay ad for older men in the classified ads and sends him to a psychiatrist to be be "cured." Anyways, back to Kanbara and Ito. So Yoshida comes to Ito defense when the bullying gets a little intense. Alone, Ito confesses his intense crush on Yoshida. Then follows a strange and awkard hugging and kissing scene with Yoshida as ambivalent? Anyways, Ito befriends crazy-girl-in-the-class Aihara, who is a transfer student. Somehow Yoshida falls in love with her and a strange triangle is created that ends on the sandy shoreline of Aihara's ancestral village.

This is another one of the movies that would have been to have watched when I was in high school. It also reminded me that youth is wasted on the young. Much of the dramatic emotional expression was so foreign to me that I ended up dwelling on that separately in many scenes. The reactions I expected of characters was lacking. I didn't exactly like the ending, but like my discussion in Fujimi Orchestra, there is this thing in the Japanese psyche of romance/sexuality that is confusing.

26 November 2013

Movie Review: Fujimi Orchestra (富士見二丁目交響楽団 Fujimi Nichōme Kōkyō Gakudan)

This is a psychologically complex movie. We have Tonoin (left) and Morimura (right). Morimura is the head musician in a neighborhood volunteer orchestra. Tonoin appears one day to be the conductor of the group. He has a great resume and his decision to conduct this neighborhood orchestra is considered a tremendous boon to the group. Morimura however can't stand Tonoin. Tonoin takes Morimura violin back to his flat to further discuss their disagreement where Tonoin then rapes Morimura (with Wagner's Tannhauser blasting in the background). Tonoin is supposedly madly in love with Morimura who is self-identified as straight and is majorly introverted (and emo). For reasons that are somewhat opaque to me, Morimura and Tonoin come to some kind of compromise regarding both of them continuing with the neighborhood orchestra although Tonoin continues to try to flirt with Morimura.

The Rapist Embraces His Victim 
In the Victim's Own Dream

I'm somewhat shy to discuss my problems with the rape scene. You see. It wasn't like Uncle Jonbert and Tong in Lihim ni Antonio where Uncle Jonbert has Tong pinned to the table with his strong muscular body while reaching over with his free hand to the butter plate to lube up. Here, the two seem to be of equal strength and a number of shots show positions that are inconsistent with rape - like Morimura being on all fours receiving Tonoin "doggy style." So, the direction and cinematography made the rape scene more of in the style of Japanese porn that selectively uses elements of coercion to titillate. I will never listen to Wagner's Tannhäuser ever again the same way.

Tonoin definitely plays the rapist character well throughout the movie. He lacks boundaries. What he wants he impulsively gets, et.c,. But the Morimura character is someone conflicting. You almost get the sense that what he is rejecting is not the idea of being with Tonoin but his personality. The problem is that the rape, his boyish crush on the female lead flautist, etc., make it all so confusing. I can only guess the director and/or writer were confused and just jumbled together two different characters into one. Morimura even has a long wet dream sequence of kissing and cuddling with Tonoin only to "wake up" in the dream and the tone turns suddenly to nightmare. Everything except the words Morimura speak seem to point to Morimura being gay, but then it just tiptoes at the threshold of consciousness -- even after he's been raped.

That all being said. I think the production was excellent. The soundtrack is great. And overall, I think its worth watching. Just keep in mind the rape issues.

25 November 2013

Movie Review: Gymnasium Baby (Taiikunan Baby / 体育館ベイビー)

 Now there come points in every creative persons life where  they realize that something quite obvious and directly in front of them has been invisible until those points where the point slaps you in the face. Intuitively, I have been watching these yaoi films and I'm like, "why didn't they have these when I was a teenager?" But the more I watched, the more situations I would consider "gay" seemed to recede deeper and deeper into the background until, like a homeopathic remedy, it was no longer discoverable.

But you see, this is the point. I have watched almost ten thousand full length feature films in my life. Most of them involved characters who were heterosexual and the heterosexuality was not in issue and so, was unnoticed (at least in non-misogynistic films, otherwise the compulsory heterosexuality was really revved up and obvious). So how is it that I can watch a series of films with main characters who are gay and stumble wondering what is gay about these films because there is no man-on-man action? The yaoi films I have been reviewing recently are like the opposite of most Philippine gay films. I would say they are like two extremes in a range of romantic-sexual expression.

In Gymnasium Baby, we have Jun Shibahara. He is the product of the school swim coach and a former student (Jun's late mother). Jun is a competitive swimmer who loses to Naoki Murai during a summer invitational. Naoki is his rival which makes the whole thing even more of a loss for Jun. Jun also has a best friend/childhood friend Shouichi Katou.

Meet Yuichi Nakamura as Jun Shibahara

At some point Jun and Naoki are talking late at night at the pool (which happens for some reason to be without water) when Naoki gets up on the short diving platform and dives in backward. Jun catches him where Naoki tells him he knows he's safe with Jun and then kisses him. This sets the stage for Jun to ask Shouichi if he ever thought of being in a romantic relationship with another man. This complicates the whole thing because although Shouichi has a terminally ill "female" friend, he is in love with Jun and dreams of the two of them going to some famous university together -- they study together for the exams and take the exams together. Naoki, on the other hand, is like this ghost that keeps haunting Jun. So its Naoki v. Shouichi and although Naoki is honest about how he feels and Shouichi isn't, it seems like Naoki is the bad guy. The ending is totally unexpected which makes it a great ending.

So, in sum, this is a movie with gay characters and a gay plot with absolutely no gay sex or hint of gay sex. If you have been indoctrinated by a homophobic, patriarchal upbringing, it may be difficult to fully register the value of this film and films like it. But so long as they are available on youtube, I will review them. lol

Movie Review: Kizumomo (キズモモ)

This movie, under certain definitions, is not a gay, yaoi or "boy love" movie. Some consider it just to be "slice of life" Japanese guy movie. There's no hand-holding, no kissing, no play wrestling. I will withhold judgment regarding whether it is or not because I think the overall point has to do with intimacy and the struggle to it that involves two guys (with ambiguous sexual orientations).

The story is simple. Aki is a furita (freeter -- a young Japanese person who chooses part-time work over a salaried position). When he decided to ride his bike through the Japanese countryside, he quits his job and goes. Along the way, he helps a woman who almost loses her 32kg luggage down a pedestrian fly-over when his bike suffers some minor problem. She invites him to come to her house for the evening. There lives "Grampa", a master watchermaker and Masaya, the watchermaker's apprentice.

Aki and Masaya's relations get off to a somewhat mysterious rocky start -- although Masaya is prissy. We then come to learn through a wristwatch Aki wears that doesn't work, that Aki had a childhood friend/love of his life named Hayato who looks exactly like Masaya. The Aki-Masaya tension increases and we learn what has happened between Aki and Hayato.

Because I was expecting an awkward kiss, hand-holding moment, or similar, my mind had to recalibrate a few times to fully accept the narrative drama unfolding in the movie. Nevertheless, it's a G rated movie that you can cuddle with your partner on a date.

24 November 2013

Movie Review: Almost Gay (itsuka no kimi e / いつかの君へ)

I have decided not to stop my continuing examination of Japanese "boy love" genre of films, by private request. I have to say that this movie can't get any more G-rated. Really. Even the MTCRB would have a hard time giving this movie anything by a G rating.

In short, Noboru (left) is an transfer student and/or outcast at a college for fine arts. Hayase is a student that's part of an "in" barkada. Noboru does his own thing with his photography assignments and the photography professors spends a couple of scenes humiliating him in front of his class. After a slow start, Hayase goes kayaking with Sayuki (his obnxious, loud female friend who clearly has a major crush on him). I still don't understand it but somehow Hayase flips his kayak and then drowns. I assume the water was so cold that he went numb before he could react or he went kayaking and didn't know how to swim.

Anyways, Noboru just happens to be sketching, contemplating, taking photos near shore when this happens. Some people drag Hayase to shore and watch his lifeless body and do nothing. Noboru comes to him and gives him mouth to mouth resuscitation which works. Hayase opens his eyes and says Noboru's family name "Fukami?" This sets the stage for the movie. Hayase is overwhelmed by a now conscious set of conflicting feelings about well, Noboru. Hayase stalking Noboru's neighborhood sees someone that looks like Noboru enter a pub. Hayase discovers Noboru has a twin brother (with bleached blonde hair), named Ryu, who is super extroverted and very social adept -- in contrast to Noboru who has been presented as a super introverted and extremely socially awkward guy.

Hayase then starts this bromance with Ryu at night at the pub while developing a weird friendship with Noboru -- after Noboru warns Hayase to have nothing to do with him. This moves the story along quite nice, frankly. Hayase invites Noboru over for dinner although it turns out he doesn't know how to cook. Noboru volunteers and then insists on doing the cooking since he knows what to do. In the process, Noboru cuts his finger and before you can blink, Hayase has Noboru's finger in his mouth.

Okay, I'll leave the plot summary there to avoid any spoilage although let me leave it with a cliff hanger. Sayuki sees Hayase light on in his flat and goes up and knocks on the door and goes hysterical that Hayase has Noboru over for dinner. Then the plot really thickens.

In looking for a picture for this post, I read some of the reviews, in English, about this and there is a big debate that rages over whether this movie is appropriate a yaoi movie. I don't know since although I understand the broad categorical limitations for yaoi, I don't really understand the subtleties about how this is or isn't yaoi. What I can say is that I loved the ending and had it ended any other way, I would have been very disappointed with the movie. It's a slow movie and could probably have been done in a 54 minute TV hour format but its okay.

At 70 minutes, the world does not end. It would have been nice to have movies like this available to me as a teenager. There was so much high school awkwardness in the movie although the homophobia wasn't the main power-struggle -- a nice change. I know everyone claims that yaoi is written by heterosexual women for heterosexual women but I'm certain that young Japanese gay teens access this content which I think is refreshing to the flood of coming out stories produced in the US and Europe.

22 November 2013

Movie Review: Hello my love (헬로우 마이 러브)

The soundtrack and cinematography of this film are just great. It's everything one would expect from a Korean romantic melodrama and so much more. And the character Dong-wha reminded me of Dennis Trillo throughout the movie.

This is the story: Ho-jeon is a popular disc jockey/radio personality dishing out love advice. She is about to be promoted and her childhood sweetheart is returning from a two year stint in Paris. Upon his return, she expects to be proposed to. Won-jae doesn't return alone, though. He returns with Dong-wha, his roommate in Paris, who are set to open a restaurant together. Dong-wha never seems to leave Won-jae's side to the impatience of Ho-jeon. Ho-jeon drops in, unannounced, at the "under construction" restaurant site to find the above scene (turn into a full on make out session). After some drama, Ho-jeon demands Won-jae give her a month, of dates, before fully committing to Dong-wha. The movie then works through (at some level) Ho-jeon's ability to accept that Won-jae and her will not be getting together.

If I didn't know anything about Korean society or Korean gay cinema, I would have been sorely disappointed with the ending. But having forerunners like Bungee Jumping of their Own and No Regret as context, I find the movie to be a "draw" with respect to what I would consider a happy ending for the characters or Korean society in general. Having Trenet's La Mer as one of the many fabulous songs as a soundtrack helped me orient this narrative in the over-all trajectory of capitalism smashing feudal social practices and understandings of the world.

21 November 2013

Movie Review: Forbidden Love (Kindan no Koi/禁断の恋)

Again, I had really no idea what I was going to be seeing with this movie -- its another yaoi themed drama. As the movie progresses, I figured out the overall character relations and narrative but they weren't immediately self-evident. Let me give a plot summary before launching into my marginally relevant tangent:
Sho and Ritsu are in love. Ritsu is an orphan in the charge of Sho's father and there is a few years age difference (maybe 4 to 5). Ritsu is sent off to New York to train to be a fashion designer for a year. Sho and Ritsu promise to be faithful to their intense love for one another although Sho is not in favor of the separation. Ritsu returns and is hired by Sho's father's company and requested to live with Sho and his younger brother Ryu.
Sho is completely depressed and despondent to Ritsu -- he even eats his meals in his room. It finally is discovered that Sho was given an obviously Photoshopped picture of Ritsu and Sho's father embracing in the nude! Ritsu and Sho make up which infuriates Ryu who has -- during the course of the film tried to come on to Ritsu numerous times. Ryu tattles on Ritsu and Sho who wake up to find Sho's father discovering them lying together on a futon in the living room sleeping together. Sho's father forbids any further contact and expels Ritsu. Sho and Ritsu pine for each other and devise a way to reunite. Ryu reveals his incestuously motivated intentions of wanting to be with Sho forever. Sho rejects the unwanted and otherwise repugnant desire. Sho ends up dead (not clear if its suicide or murder).
Now, as the movie progressed I got this image of Kathy Bates as "Nurse" Annie Wilkes in Stephen King's Misery  (i.e. "Shh, darling, trust me -- It's for the best." as she takes the sledgehammer to Paul's ankle) There are a few other twists and turns in the movie but overall, the entire tragedy revolves around Ryu's incestuous desire for his older brother, Sho. The underlying psychological disturbance seems to be one of total possession of his brother but because this is yaoi-drama, it is eroticized. I'm not sure why they chose Forbidden Love as the title because Ryu's incestuous desire is not love, but an eroticized will to power. Maybe they are referring to the ultimately unrequited love between Ritsu and Sho. It kept my attention for the 70 minute run so it wasn't that bad.

20 November 2013

Movie Review: Junjou (Pure Heart) 純情

What exactly did I get myself into? I am quite familiar (in an abstract and theoretical way) with the wildly popular female anime called yaoi which is a female-oriented homoerotic cartoons. And while I have reviewed a movie or two here (like Schoolboy Crush) where the film has been seemingly categorized as yaoi, this is the first yaoi movie that I can say, definitely, is yaoi as to a gay themed movie. This would have been a great movie to watch as a teenager -- oh well. But as an adult, there was something a little too adolescent for me. I have always enjoyed stories about unrequited love, fate, etc.,. But this movie was like walking into the head of a female Japanese high school student where she plays the role of a fem bottom gay in her made up gay world.

The soundtrack was good and the actors did an excellent job. Rakuto Tochihara was convincingly an age-inappropriate naive fem bottom. While the character is supposed to be in his twenties in this movie, you keep forgetting that because he performs so well as a 13 year old with the puppy-dog eyes. Actually Yuta Takahashi also did quite well also. When I think of socially awkward, geeky Japanese boys who are highly conflicted about sexual feelings that they and their society cannot accept, I think of someone that Takahashi acted. Takahashi internally performed the homophobia that was otherwise absent from the film but is wholly pervasive in Japanese culture.

I am also shocked that the underlying complex of themes that make up this narrative is a more adolescent drama version of the happy short story I wrote for the Emo Blogger's Happy Blogging Challenge, entitled Anonymity, almost two years ago.

I will give some major thought to whether I will watch more yaoi movies. Any suggestions are welcome.

19 November 2013

Movie Review: The Depths

I had no information, not even a misleading plot summary, before watching this movie. Unfortunately for me, the first 15 minutes are slow and almost impossible to devise a coherent narrative via thematic apperception. However slow the story unfolds, it unfolds and then picks up speed.

When I was just leaving my adolescence, this half-Japanese, half-Taiwanese young man (from a filthy rich family) was foisted upon me. He was apparently an applicant to be an older professional's "kept boy" and when he didn't make the shortlist, the old man recommended that he become friends with me to get an idea of how to make intelligent conversation, etc., -- at least this is what he told me. I always found that hard to believe because I couldn't imagine my anarchism with Marxist characteristics being the kind of finishing school for "kept boys" of the neoliberal elite. In any event, we were wildly attracted to one another and, I think, spent more time naked, cuddling and making out, in my dorm bed for the week we spent together than anything else. In fact, if I recall correctly, my roommate athlete must have gotten some ideas from this -- when he'd come in and out -- because I recall we started our own relationship shortly after this.

What I took from that -- and which has little to do with this movie -- was that the Japanese style porn where the "school girl" or the bottom gay guy whines/cries has 0% turn on for me. In fact, its a negative because even if he was super attractive and pleasant to touch, that whining turned beauty into revulsion. I could understand his neurotic need to "just wanting to please" me. I fully understood that. But ultimately I think the fact that the whining/rape-theme didn't please me was where he drew his boundary and that, in the end, was that. Maybe it was my criticisms of his luxury-type sports car that also had an effect.

Anyways, as you can see, the movie has this kind of meandering frayed-edges type of narrative, that got triggered in me for me to recount the above. But the threads eventually weave into a highly charged, violently Korean, cathartic story of how our own complexes and general cultural propriety can really fuck up the lives of so many people and where it seems obvious that love should rule, the will to power does. The movie was so brilliant in its subtlety that by the final 1/3rd of the movie, you've almost forgotten the slow beginning.

This movie is definitely an ode to the married gay guy phenomenon and although tragic as that narrative is, but unlike Bungee Jumping of their Own, the story leaves open a future. I look forward to a trajectory of Korean married-gay-guy-cinema that is neither tragedy nor farce.