Saturday, February 19, 2011

REVIEW: The Primitchibu World

プリミ恥部な世界 (Purimichiba na sekai)

Released: 2009

Kasumi Hiraoka
Takeshi Shirai

Hanaka Kiki
Kanji Masuyama
Takeshi Shirai

Running time: 70 min.

Reviewed by Chris MaGee

Chi (Hanaka Kiki) and Poh (Evaryu) have a very simple, but ultimately crucial decision to make - to love or to fight. The world of this wide-eyed pair is one of Japan's many covered shopping arcades, and when they're not frolicking under its awning Chi and Poh play in an elaborate suite in a love hotel. Don't look for any sweaty pinku eiga action in Kasumi Hiraoka and Takeshi Shirai's "The Primitchibu World" though. When Chi and Poh are at home at the love hotel they really just play, sliding down a water slide into a jacuzzi tub, shouting "vroom!" and "beep" as they pretend to drive a car and playing creative games of dress-up. Yes, Chi and Poh love each other dearly, but these two are the epitome of adult children. What a better pair of young people to explore the aimlessness and apathy of today's Japanese 20-somethings?

You see there are dark clouds massing on the edges of Chi and Poh's consumer paradise. It's not just bad enough that the various shop keepers and vendors of the shopping arcade are letting minor quibbles separate them. The green grocer thinks that the boutique owner doesn't have any fashion sense so they no longer speak, while the bonito flake salesman got into a fight with the okonomiyaki chef, so the okonomiyaki now don't have any bonito flakes on top of them anymore. The cracks is Chi and Poh's world are tiny but growing. What is really tearing this couple apart though is that Poh is certain that a war is about to break out. When Chi asks what lies beyond the end of the shopping arcade Poh tells her a military base, one that if "you are born there you have to work their all your life." Everything around Poh is an indicator of a coming apocalypse. The street lights are sensors, the grocery store windows hold provisions and the passersby are lumped into three groups - allies, enemies and victims. The fact that Chi has a secret hiding place where a god lives doesn't stave off Poh's paranoia. Ominous grim reaper-esque figures stalk the couple and a mysterious woman shouts at the pair from their bedroom mirror that war will start tomorrow.

Gods in secret hiding places? Women shouting from mirrors? Yes, the world of "The Primitchibu World" takes major liberties with reality in the same way that the output of Seijun Suzuki in the past three decades has splintered stories into a thousand beautiful puzzle pieces. Kasumi Hiraoka, a film-maker, musician and pole-dancer, and Takeshi Shirai, a massage therapist by day, have a decidedly surreal view of the world that makes "The Primitchibu World" a wondrous visual experience. Colours are super-saturated and Hanaka Kiki and Evaryu as Chi and Poh sport wild and ingenious outfits - disco glitter ball are used as hats and frills and fabrics clash. The world of Chi and Poh doesn't hold up as well once the coming conflict eventually splits the pair apart though. Chi heads out into the world to discover it is made up of an abandoned amusement park, while Poh is trapped in the shopping arcade by his father... a man in a panda bear suit.

With it's wild street party vibe and it's constant obsession with war, it's hard not to think of films like Shuji Terayama's "Throw Away Your Books and Rally in the Streets" or Nagisa Oshima's "Diary of a Shinjuku Thief". Both of these used avant-garde imagery to show us the world of Japan in the late 60's and early 70's, a time when leftist groups had splintered due to ideological arguments concerning the ANPO Treaty and the Vietnam War and young people were caught in the middle of the conflict. War, both societal at home in Japan and actual in Southeast Asia was an everyday fact and the hallucinatory and somehow damaged visions of Terayama and Oshima perfectly reflected that. Chi and Poh, for all their talk of war (and Chi selling flowers to strangers like some latter day hippie peace protester) aren't the youth of 50 years ago and Hiraoka and Shirai aren't Terayama or Oshima, or Seijun Suzuki for that matter. That's not a bad thing though. Chi and Poh are revolutionaries (in a way) of a very different age. Today's Japanese youth face a whole other kind of existence fuel by rampant unemployment and a country in economic decline. Many end up living pay cheque to pay cheque working part-time jobs and living at home with their parents in a kind of forever childhood. Come to think of it, many young people (and not so young people) in the West are caught in the same limbo. "The Primitchibu World" as seen from this angle turns its cultivated strangeness and malaise into a dream journey into today's stagnant Japan.

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