Friday, June 26, 2009

REVIEW: Last Quarter

下弦の月~ラスト・クォーター (Kagen no Tsuki ~Rasuto Kuōtā)

Released: 2004

Ken Nakai

Chiaki Kuriyama
Hiroki Narimiya
Tomoka Kurokawa

Motoki Ochiai

Running time: 112 min.

Reviewed by Marc Saint-Cyr

Based on the manga of the same name by Ai Yazawa, "Last Quarter" was one of the films Chiaki Kuriyama worked on between her iconic turn as Gogo Yubari in "Kill Bill" and her role in Takashi Miike’s "The Great Yokai War". Mixing supernatural elements with teen melodrama, it begins with Mizuki (Kuriyama) celebrating her 19th birthday. Her celebration is soon ruined, however, when she finds out her boyfriend Tomoki has been cheating on her. She throws her shoe at Tomoki and storms off, emotionally stressed not only by his betrayal, but also her painful memories of her mother’s suicide and resentment towards her stepmother and half-sister. She finds a decadent yet spooky-looking mansion where she meets Adam, a brooding, deep-voiced, long-haired young man who strums a certain tune on his guitar – one which Mizuki has heard all of her life. After spending several nights at the house with Adam, he tells her to meet him at a certain street crossing. She races there only to get hit by a car, landing her physical self in a coma while her spirit remains trapped in the house (which reverts to a dilapidated estate). Determined to redeem himself, Tomoki joins two young students named Masaki and Hotaru in an attempt to free Mizuki from the strange forces that keep her imprisoned.

As the film progresses, we learn that Mizuki (who, while in her ghostly form in the mansion, has no recollection of who she is) shares a link with Sayaka, another girl who used to live in the mansion before dying at the age of 19. Also, it turns out Adam is the lead singer of a band called Evil Eye who was very much in love with Sayaka, to the point that, after she died, he killed himself to follow her into the afterlife – without realizing that she would in fact be reincarnated as Mizuki.

Glamorizing undying love and laced with horror/fantasy ingredients such as a haunted house, ghosts, billowing fog, a spooky forest and magic, this film is sure to remind many of the current phenomenon "Twilight" – as it should, for this is the same kind of story aimed at the same teen-based audience. While such fluff doesn’t really appeal to someone like me (nor is it meant to), I fully recognize it for what it is, and for what it is, "Last Quarter" isn’t bad. Kuriyama trades in the viciousness she displayed so well in "Battle Royale" and "Kill Bill" for wide-eyed innocence and confusion, doing a solid if unremarkable job as the Alice in Wonderland-like Mizuki. However, more fun is to be had in watching her three friends unravel the mystery of Sayaka and Adam à la such youth sleuths as the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. Best of all is a strange yet interesting little sequence in which Masaki explains the various lunar cycles in monochrome with creatively illustrated slides.

However, such flourishes are altogether scarce within "Last Quarter", and cinematic style is truly beside the point – as is cultural heritage. Though Japanese, the film takes a very Western approach to its ghost story narrative, seemingly oblivious to the rich tradition of the genre it is a part of. When Mizuki is kept in the mansion, she doesn’t wear a white kimono, but a blue Renaissance-style dress, and the house and decorated sets look like they came straight from an American Halloween TV special. Sure enough, there are no homages to Mizoguchi’s "Ugetsu" to be found here.

But along the lines of what I said before, you don’t walk into a tofu shop looking for a steak. While sometimes bland, "Last Quarter" for the most part holds up as a decently made, fun and fleeting distraction from humdrum life.

Read more by Marc Saint-Cyr at his blog.

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