Saturday, April 30, 2011
NIPPON CONNECTION '11 REVIEW: Milocrorze: A Love Story
Running time: 90 mins.
Reviewed by Chris MaGee
27-year-old actor Takayuki Yamada has had quite the career at a very young age. He started out as a TV actor until, at the age of 22, he burst onto the big screen, and the international scene, as the lead character in Shosuke Murakami's "Densha Otoko (Train Man)". That film, which told the story of an Akihabara otaku who saves a beautiful woman on the subway from a drunk and subsequently falls in love with her, was a decidedly quirky, but still straight ahead romance. Still it demanded that Yamada use whatever comedic chops he had to leaven his character's doe-eyed innocence. He did a wonderful job, but in the end it was Yamada the heartthrob, and not Yamada the comedian, that would eventually win him more big screen roles in films such as "Crows Zero", "Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit" and "MW". Sure Yamada managed to work in a few laughs into his roles in these films, as well as show off his considerable screen charisma, but he has never really been able to grow into what I have always felt has been his full comedic potential... that is until now and Yoshimasa Ishibashi's feature film "Milocrorze: A Love Story".
It's in this film, that could be described as an omnibus film if it wasn't being helmed by a single director, that Yamada is given the task of playing not two but three different roles, all of them tied together by the consistent thread of love and relationships. First there is a little bob-haired boy who meets the beautiful Great Milocrorze (played by model-turned-actress Maiko). At first this boy is in fact played by a boy, but as their relationship grows and eventually sours he comes to be portrayed by Yamada, now with a pot lid covering the hole in his chest where his heart used to be. Next up is a manic and often downright surly relationship counselor who spits, growls, and rages at his poorly socialized clients about how to play macho and win the girl everytime. Finally Yamada gets to play a samurai, one in search of a beautiful woman who is captured by bandits and sold into a house of prostitution. Throughout these various incarnations we in the audience try our best to maintain our vertigo amongst a collection of zany backdrops and effects, as well as one laugh piled on another.
The laughs and craziness come from another artist who, with "Milocrorze" I feel is just coming into his full potential. That would be director and video artist Yoshimasa Ishibashi. Not heard of Ishibashi? Maybe you haven't, but if you've wandered the back alleys of YouTube and seen clips from the TV Tokyo series "Vermilion Pleasure Nights", especially the mannequin family "The Fuccons" then you already know Ishibashi's work. originally the Kyoto native got his start as the video/ film-maker and production designer for avant-pop arts collective Kyupi Kyupi. In 1997 he strayed from the Kyupi Kyupi fold to make his directorial debut with the surreal comedy "I Wanna Drive You Insane" which eventually led him to create and direct "Vermilion Pleasure Night". Zombie families, mannequin families, cannibalistic cooking shows and dirty English lessons -- "Vermilion Pleasure Night" revelled in the absurd and the taboo. That same sense of obtuse humour and hallucinatory visual aesthetic has finally been boiled down to a potent brew in "Milocrorze". From the wild TV set ups for Yamada's relationship counselor to the breathtaking slow motion swordfight that forms the film's climax, Ishibashi has created a magical and maverick piece of work. It helps that he enlisted the acting talent of 86-year-old film-making maverick Seijun Suzuki who makes a cameo appearance as a senile tattoo artist.
Still despite the combination of Yamada's perfect comic timing and Ishibashi's wild imagination "Milocrorze" may not be for everyone. I only mention this as I've talked to a couple colleagues and read a couple of reviews that stress the narrative weakness of the film. Fair enough, but when we see the outpouring of love showered on the early films of Katsuhito Ishii and Gen Sakaguchi's "Survive Style 5+" very few people tend to mention a lack of narrative cohesion. What fans of these films remember and continually reference are the ingenious vidual gags and pathological glee that Ishii and Sakaguchi took with their comedic set-ups. It's kind of like saying that Monty Python could have used a little more time to smooth out and narratively connect the dead parrot sketch with the Ministry of Funny Walks sketch. For those of you who miss the punch line of "Milocrorze: A Love Story"... well, I doubt you'll ever get it; but for those of you, like me, who think that Takayuki Yamada and Yoshimasa Ishibashi have come into their own by working on this film, well I applaud you. In the end this is a film that fans will give life to as a cult classic. It's critic proof.