Sunday, August 7, 2011

REVIEW: German + Rain

ジャーマン+雨 (German + Ame)

Released: 2007

Satoko Yokohama

Yoshimi Nozaki

Suzune Fujioka
Michio Hisauchi
Tatsunori Honda
Peter Hyman

Running time: 71 min.

Reviewed by Nicholas Vroman

Satoko Yokohama hit the scene in 2006, winning 50,000 yen from the Cineastes Organization Osaka (CO2) for her Tokyo Film School graduation short “Chiemi and Kokkunpatcho.” She quickly plowed the money into her next production, “German + Rain.” The result was a quirky and uneven film that looked very much like a primer for her equally quirky hit, “Bare Essence of Life / Ultra Miracle Love Story.” Both films front and center barely functional characters. “Ultra Miracle Love Story” features Kenichi Matsuyama in one of his more memorable and award winning roles as the self-insecticide-medicating autistic savant, Akito. Yoshiko, the heroine of “German + Rain” is a tantrum-riven, small-town musical wannabe, derisively nicknamed “gorilla-face” by her abusive boss. The chips are stacked against her, but she perseveres, like Akito, with crazy abandon, if only to prove her basic humanity.

Yoshimi Nozaki, with a brutal helmet of a haircut and thrift store wardrobe that only the developmentally disabled could love, makes the role of Yoshiko simultaneously appalling and strangely sympathetic. She’s the kind of character whose short fused temper would drive most friends away – her main stalwarts stick with her – whose obstinacy crosses into obsessiveness and whose craziness is not always of the endearing nature.

We’re introduced to her through the eyes of her friend, Maki (Suzune Fujioka), a pretty and rather normal high schooler. While all the other high school girls ogle at the young German (Peter Hyman) who works with Yoshiko, Maki keeps her eye on Yoshiko. Though most of the world seems put off by Yoshiko’s behavior, Maki is nonplussed. They’re friends in this one horse town. With mom passed on – we see her picture hanging on the wall – and dad in the hospital, Yoshiko gets by with her shit job with a landscaping crew. She aspires to be singer/songwriter, scrawling songs and doodles in a notebook. As the abuse from her boss continues, she hangs up a shingle offering recorder lessons. A trio of boys, one a bully, one your basic brat, one a sensitive aspiring cross-dresser, becomes her charges. Among her tribulations are the maltreatment from her boss, which opens the door to a friendship with the German - a literal outsider with a complementary back-story, and a miscalculated effort to audition for a singing contract by misrepresenting herself as Maki because she thinks herself too ugly. Then there’s the subplot of Ogawa-san (Michio Hisauchi), the prosthetic-legged septic tank cleaner, who always seems to be working outside her door, and his sexual proclivity toward kids. When Yoshiko gets wind of this from one of her boys, she shames him and shakes him down for hush money, only to go on a spree of giving it away. By the time she’s brought the kids and Maki to visit her dying dad, only to end up pinching and poking him and pulling the plug, the internal logic of the film has set the viewer up for nearly anything. But Yoshiko’s final freakout, an attempt at joukasoutobiarijisatsu (OK, I made this word up, but what it means is death by jumping into a septic tank), is simultaneously jaw-dropping funny, maudlin and tragic. A coda finds Yoshiko comatose in the hospital, her dead (?) father crawling to her bedside attempting to bring her back to consciousness. A slightest flutter of her eyelid cuts to a blackout.

The pleasures of Yokohama’s films lie in the way she builds a sturdy internal logic where nearly anything can happen. Characters coming back to life, no sweat! The surrealism of her endeavors doesn’t stop at the dream logic of images, it also taps into childish and primal desires. Her main characters are not only childlike, but relate to children better than adults. In fact, adults in her films, tend to be at very least absent, and the few in “German + Ame,” predatory or abusive. Like in Jean Vigo’s “Zero de conduit,” the three boys channel an unstoppable energy that’s at once creative and destructive. One brilliant set piece highlights Yoshiko’s desperate attempt to get back to get back to a more juvenile state. She walks into a dodge ball game, the contenders half her age. It becomes a monumental battle, she picking off opponents one by one. But the last boy turns out to be too much for her. Bonked on the head she loses not only the match, but any remainder of some imagined innocence. In a later scene, she gives up on teaching the boys music. The boys hang out as she reads a manga. They end up scrawling randomly on the genkan wall, coloring in manga books and generally doing meaningless kid things. She awakes from a nap, ignoring the kids and walks into a fantasy room, the walls spattered with bright colors. In this child-like wonderland, it’s one of the few moments in the film where she smiles.

Yokohama smartly mixes it up with unscripted footage (the scenes with the kids), interview sessions, an oddball script and truly wonderful and appalling performances. “German + Rain” pulls from a deep well of cinematic influences and a profound tapping into infantile dreams and desires. It allowed Yokohama to follow her strange muse to an end at once satisfying and also pointed to new directions. She leapt even further with “Ultra Miracle Love Story” and her most recent short, “Mayonaka kara tobiutsure” shows her exploring even newer directions in a more symbolic surrealist mode. “German + Ame” is where she laid the groundwork for these explorations.

Read more by Nicholas Vroman at his blog

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