An unusual pink hue is one of the shades that Melbourne is seen through in Melodrama / Random / Melbourne!, the film by VCA alum and emerging Australian-Fillipino director Mathew Victor Pastor.
Melodrama / Random / Melbourne! is the second part in the up-and-coming practitioner’s Filipino-Australian trilogy following I am JUPITER I am the BIGGEST PLANET (15 mins) – a thriller about a mother in the red light district of the Philippines.
Co-written and starring Celina Yuen, MRM! screened at the 2018 Adelaide Film Festival, and follows various disparate characters around the metropolitan Melbourne melting pot.
In this vast milieu, we are introduced to an assortment of personalities: amongst them a Filipino-Australian feminist documentarian, a pickup artist, and a virgin – all of whom are disparate characters removed from each other; all trying to go about their lives and all crossing paths.
It is a lens we nary see through, especially in Australian films. The perspective of those living on the margins and fringes, who never would have met each other.
The narrative is told by filmmaker Aries Santos (Bridget O’Brien), who is struggling to complete her new film.
In this mix, sheaths of pink, red and various others are just a few of the colours employed in Pastor’s movie.
As various individuals tussle and interlace – the internet, toxic masculinity, racism and xenophobia are but a few of the topics that the 80 minute feature touches on.
This is a tale that wavers between experimental and narrative, and takes on several characters and storylines.
Despite this, or perhaps because of it, there are a few issues with the piece. Some characters, such as the virgin come across at times as not fully sketched, not entirely multi-dimensional.
Several stories feel unsatisfactorily closed, occasionally pre-emptively or arbitrarily introduced or finished.
This may be due to a larger question of the film taking on too many strands and disparate beats, in the end confusing viewers.
What does it all add up to? What Pastor is trying to say, or not say, in this jungle, ultimately becomes clouded amidst the range of styles, POV, place, character.
Effort, vivacious colours and zaniness are there, albeit inconsistently – though one gets the sense that this relentless image-maker will refine this.
Having won this year’s Palme d’Or, Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s Shoplifters is looking to take a running jump at our collective feelings.
In its opening scene, we meet Osamu (Lily Franky) and his son Shota (Jyo Kairi) setting out to do a morning’s grocery shopping. A fist bump and several sneaky manoeuvres later, and it’s quickly evident that Osamu and Shota are fans of the five fingered discount. They don’t rob the shop blind, however, merely getting enough noodles and accompaniments to feed their family back at home, each of whom have their own way of wheeling and dealing.
Mother Nobuyo (Sakura Ando) steals from work, eldest daughter Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) works at a peep show, and Grandma (Kirin Kiki) hits her dead ex-husband’s family up for cash on a regular basis. Into this morally dubious tribe comes the cute as a button infant, Yuri (Miyu Sasaki). Having been found on a doorstep, apparently locked out by her abusive parents, Osamu offers the fragile child a place to stay and offer up some missing love along the way.
Shoplifters utterly disarms you with its charm from frame one. Whilst it’s fairly light in plot, particularly when stacked up against its two-hour running time, Kore-Eda lovingly runs off with the old adage of ‘you can’t choose your family’, repackaging it into a heart-warming exploration of this little tribe tucked away in Japan. They rarely fight and never seem to want anyone to get hurt out of their actions. Justifying their shoplifting tendencies, Nobuyo admits that they don’t want their victims to go bankrupt and she seems to mean it.
And then trouble hits and Kore-Eda unpacks everyone’s backstory, offering the pieces up for re-evaluation in light of new information. In hindsight, he does leave his audience crumbs to follow before then, but the final effect is never less than a gut punch.
Little Yuri isn’t the catalyst, but her arrival does coincide with Osamu’s family questioning their positions within the home. Aki sees a new life, Osamu and Nobuyo reignite their sexual attraction for each other, and Grandma contemplates the lives she’ll leave behind should she one day pass away.
There’s no point trying to single out one performance that mirrors the whole. Each actor brings their best to the table, whilst the film takes a breather from the overall ensemble to focus on the plot thread of one or two of its members. Kore-Eda’s direction is rarely flashy, choosing to sit us alongside the family, whilst they wolf down their regular evening meals of noodles and gluten cake, as if we were always meant to be there. His love for his characters is evident and a warmth runs throughout. It’s rather telling that he keeps any tragedy that’s thrown at his protagonists throughout the film firmly off screen.
Humorous, poignant and often bittersweet, Shoplifters is a family drama with a heavy emphasis on family.
Japanese Office worker Setsuko (Shinobu Terajima) leaves her tiny flat – where she appears to live as a hoarder – and makes her way to work. Whilst she avoids her overbearing sister, Ayako (Kaho Minami), she loves her niece Mika Ogawa (Australian born Shioli Kutsuna, who recently appeared in Deadpool 2) even though both see her as a doormat. Standing at the train station, Setsuko witnesses a man throw himself in front of a train. In another film, witnessing such an event would spur on our hero to seek out excitement, but in writer-director Atsuko Hirayanagi’s Oh Lucy! it just means Setsuko is late for work.
It’s not until our downtrodden protagonist is encouraged to take an English class that things take a turn. There, Setsuko meets John (Josh Hartnett), an English tutor who knows very little Japanese and encourages his students to wear wigs and use western names in class. As an EAL gateway, he’s a bit of a flop, but to Setsuko he’s a chance for change. In a tacky blonde wig and using the name Lucy, Setsuka starts digging deep into herself to find something new.
Hirayanagi defies her audience’s expectations almost immediately. Rather than embracing life, Setsuko merely gets drunk and badmouths her colleagues at a leaving party. However, when Mika runs off with John to America, Setsuko takes Ayako to find her, even though it’s obvious she’s doing it for her own interests rather than that of her sibling.
Based on her own short, Hirayanagi has constructed a protagonist who, initially, breaks the stereotypical mould of someone who sets off to rediscover themselves ala Eat Pray Love or Shirley Valentine. No, in her dogged pursuit of John, Setsuko comes across as somewhat manipulative. Not that the audience isn’t made to feel sympathetic towards her. Knowing that her sister once stole her boyfriend from her, it’s understandable that Setsuko would look for love in all the wrong places. Hirayanagi is quick to prove that her hero is only human.
Once things move to the US though, Oh Lucy! loses something and it’s not just Hartnett’s foppish English teacher being exposed as a sad sack once he’s back on his home turf. Having originally kept the aforementioned rediscovery tropes at arm’s length, Setsuko’s world view is broadened by clichés of alcohol, drugs and sex. And as she explores America, she comes across as more naïve than you would expect. She’s not Eddie Murphy in Coming to America, but her actions don’t ring true. None of which gels with what we’ve seen of her previously. Though admittedly, this could be a byproduct of Setsuko reinventing herself.
That aside, there’s strength to be found in her interactions. As sisters, Minami and Terjima are wonderfully bitter to each other, sniping at any given chance. A highlight sees them bickering in broken English over the head of a fellow passenger, played by Megan Mullaly (Will and Grace).
Sombre with broad strokes of humour, Oh Lucy! may not do much with its fish out of water second half, but with strong performances by all the cast, Hirayanagi has assembled a testament to self-discovery that is happy to admit that we can’t make changes wholesale.
Whenever a new anime feature film makes waves with a sense of whimsy, fantasy and bold storytelling the inevitable appraisals as ‘The New Hayao Miyazaki’ or questions as to whether a new ‘Studio Ghibli’ has emerged often accompanies the film’s immediate success. When in fact what we are seeing is the emergence of filmmakers having grown up on the works of previous masters such as Miyazaki, Otomo, Oshii and Takahata. Young bold filmmakers with unique visions and their own stories to tell.
Filmmakers such as Mamoru Hosoda of Summer Wars fame, Makoto Shinkai whose Your Name remains Japan’s top earning anime, and with the debut of Penguin Highway, independent filmmaker and animator Hiroyasu Ishida is likely to join the ranks of anime’s new avant-garde, having already drawn the above-mentioned comparisons.
Produced under Ishida’s own Studio Colorido banner, and based on the award winning novel by Tomihiko Morimi, Penguin Highway is an impressively paced boys-own-adventure story that begins as a light hearted character study of a precocious fourth grader which unexpectedly escalates into a wild end-of-the-world escapade, complete with metaphysical mysteries, strange jabberwocky monstrosities and, as the title suggests, plenty, and we do mean plenty, of penguins.
During its opening monologue, the film introduces us to Aoyama, an overtly confident, if somewhat socially awkward student who views the world as one large scientific experiment. Urged on by his father, Aoyama documents everything around him, from weather patterns to the behaviour of bullies. But when a rookery of penguin suddenly appears in a field, his curiosity is put to task in figuring out the how and why.
Turning to his friend and chess instructor, a young woman who works at the local dentist clinic, Aoyama soon discovers a number of peculiar incidents around his home town that seem to share an elusive common thread, the least of which include the fact that the dental nurse can manifest penguins from random objects, and that one of his fellow classmates has discovered a giant orb of water floating in a field hidden deep within the woods.
Without question Aoyama is the heart of Penguin Highway, and director Ishida handles the character beautifully as a guide to help his audience navigate the turbulent, and at times perplexing narrative. Coupled with the film’s gorgeous art design and a nostalgic undercurrent, reminiscent of films such as The Goonies or Monster Club, Penguin Highway undoubtedly warrants the inevitable comparisons it will receive, but remains far more deserving of praise as a unique, beautifully entertaining and wholly original film.
Hyun Bin and director Kim Sung-hoon teamed up last year for the South Korean buddy cop actioner Confidential Assignment, which showcased Kim Sung-hoon’s keen eye for action filmmaking. Rampant sees them teaming up again, though this time it’s for a zombie extravaganza set in feudal Korea, in the kingdom of Joseon.
The setup is convoluted but in a nutshell: Crown Prince Lee Young (Kim Tae-woo) summons his carousing, roguish brother Lee Chung (Hyun Bin) back to the kingdom after years spent away (for reasons unknown). The cause for the Crown Prince’s invitation is that his kingdom is besieged by a zombie infestation that he hopes his estranged brother (who’s also a renowned sword fighter) can assist in quelling.
Sumptuously photographed and with lavish production design, this fusion of historical epic and zombie gore-fest largely works on the level of spectacle and for the most part, it chugs along with percussive momentum, setting up and executing terrifically enjoyable set-pieces.
The performances are curiously unengaging in terms of characterisation, which is not to say they’re unenjoyable, it’s only that they lack any semblance of irreverent humour or a knowing wink at the audience but Oldboy writer Hwang Jo-yoon and director Kim Sung-hoon are playing this for its drama, the only issue being that the drama is deeply ordinary and devoid of emotional heft.
There is enjoyably gruesome zombie imagery and when it does kick into high gear during the many set-pieces, it never seems to fall headlong into being a satisfying all-out zombie actioner, which would sate the horror crowd; it instead prefers to maintain a statelier period tone and try to play to a wider audience.
For fans of the undead genre and the frenzied spilling of arcing jets of claret, this is an entertaining ride through a juxtaposition of genre tropes; for the horror uninitiated, it may be too much of a gory punch to the face that lacks the ‘feels’ to pull you through the story.