Saturday, April 2, 2011

REVIEW: Gelatin Silver, Love

ゼラチンシルバーLOVE (Zerachin Shiruba LOVE)

Released: 2009

Kazumi Kurigami

Masatoshi Nagase
Rie Miyazawa
Koji Yakusho
Erina Mizuno
Yuki Amami

Running time: 87 mins.

Reviewed by Chris MaGee

An unnamed photographer (Masatoshi Nagase) is obsessed with photographing and videotaping an unnamed woman (Rie Miyazawa). We watch him in his darkroom, in front of the shaving mirror and making the occasional trip to the local movie theatre to see Teruo Ishii's "A Man from Abashiri Prison". We also watch him watching the woman through a zoom lens as she eats hard-boiled eggs, stares pensively into the middle distance and does impromptu yoga-inspired dances in her living room. And she changes her clothes a lot (pretty snazzy outfits to boot). Eventually we learn that this woman may be involved in a series of unsolved murders... well, we learn she's the murderer because the unnamed man (Koji Yakusho) who hired the unnamed photographer to film the unnamed woman admits as much, saying that is why he wants her filmed 24 hours a day. And... I could basically end my review of the directorial debut of veteran photographer, "Gelatin Silver, Love" right there. The film never gets more complex than that. Still there are film-makers that have built careers on cinematic minimalism -- Béla Tarr, Tsai Ming Liang, Abbas Kiarostami -- all of whose work has the ability to mesmerize an audience using only razor thin narrative and simple camera set-ups. Kazumi Kurigami isn't one of those film-makers though, and "Gelatin Sulver, Love" is far from being one of these rare kind of films.

The common advice for any newbie writer or film-maker is to write (or shoot) what you know. With a nearly five decade career shooting some of Japans best known and most beautiful celebrities it's understandable that Kurigami would chose a photographer as his protagonist. It also makes sense that he would cast the stunningly beautiful Rie Miyazawa as his heroine, or anti-heroine as the case may be. With all those years of experience Kurigami's "Gelatin Silver, Love" is certainly one of the most visually polished films I've seen in a very long time, so beautiful, in fact, that you are tempted to forgive it its narrative shortcomings and just luxuriate in its world of colour and form and texture. It's easier said than done though especially when the film's 87-minute running time is a case study in pretentiousness. There is nothing wrong with a film that waits a half hour before we get any dialogue. There's nothing wrong with a film that uses repeated visual motifs or symbolism. It is even possible, although difficult, to tell a compelling story using only images, sounds and colour, but all of these things take experience to pull off. Looking through Kazumi Kurigami's portfolio shows that he is a master of the still image, but all that "Gelatin Silver, Love" ends up being is a series of nearly still images strung together with a tired neo-noir theme and a blues soundtrack that could only appeal to, sorry for the derogatory term, but an old oyaji.

Nagase, who has proven himself again and again to be a more than competent actor, is required to act at all. The range of his performance is to look bored (or drugged, or dead) and then only occasional begin manically clicking his camera at moldy fruit, egg shells, and of course Rie Miyazawa. As I said before, looking the way she does in "Gelatin Silver, Love" it would be easy to eat up roll after roll of film on the 37-year-old star. Kurigami has the knack of capturing Miyazawa at her most alluring, but he eventually makes her laughable, not just with umpteenth different wardrobe changes, but with endless scenes of her lovingly eating hard-boiled eggs. Is this symbolizing the lives that Miyazawa's hitwoman character takes, or is she just on a particularly harsh Atkins diet? The only person that was either allowed to act, or simply took a chance with the slim material provided, is Koji Yakusho. As always he brings the screen to life; although I had to ask myself throughout Kurigami's film if he, Nagase and Miyazawa didn't ask themselves what this whole project was about.

If "Gelatin Silver, Love" had been made by a 22-year-old film student I think I'd be a lot more forgiving of its cinematic pretensions, but it wasn't. It was created by a seasoned artist, but one who has mashed together an uncomfortable mix of gorgeous images and half-baked narrative. There are self-indulgent art films and then there are film noir mysteries, but it's damn near impossible to combine the two. In the end "Gelatin Silver, Love" makes the compromise by becoming a commercial for a yet unnamed perfume: Nagase paces and photographs Miyazawa on a TV screen as she slowly gobbles hard-boiled eggs, her bright red painted lips contrast with the whiteness of the egg... and then the camera pans over to an egg-shaped perfume bottle with some name like "Intensity" or "Passion" etched into it. That's the only way I could see "Gelatin Silver, Love" making any sense.

1 comment:

leckmich said...

I fully understand that people have issues with this movie, as it is a typical "love it or hate it" movie. As all the ridiculing remarks point out, you've found yourself on the "hate"-side. I find that a real pity. The movie obviously has its weaknesses, you've pointed out several of them. But why do you get so worked up about trivial stuff like a female lead character changing her clothes? For all I know about women (and especially very beautiful ones), that's actually pretty normal behavior.

Your hating of the film not only leads you to overreacting on such minor issues. Worse, it makes you not noticing (or ignoring) what the film is about: Obsession. And as a study of and in obsession, i find it to work quite nicely on several levels.