Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Eiga Fest LA 2012: Helter Skelter and Thermae Romae

Helter Skelter had director Mika Ninagawa and actress from the film Kaori Momoi in attendance. They stayed for a Q and A afterward and explained how few female directors are in Japan. The playful  Kaori also explained how she was on set for only five day for the actual shoot, but director Mika expalined it took seven years to get the movie made. Issues such a with the rights and then getting the right cast made it take a long time to get it finished.

Helter Skelter is a beautiful film that shows a Japanese model/idol fall from grace and how strange and bitter the world of celebrity can be. The film is strikingly dark, but in no way of its color sense as the city of Tokyo and the Japanese fashion world consumes the screen with a strong bright palette.

Lilico played by Erika Sawajiri gives off a powerful performance of her character who ruins her life the more beautiful she becomes and the more press she gains. Adultery, sex, drugs, addiction and a painful process to become beautiful compliment today's standards of what is asked of being celebrity. Watching someone so big fall apart whose already empty must be a sick pleasure we keep enjoying seeing in cinema.

Director Mika Ninagawa ends this film year for LA with some of the most beautiful shots of the worst ways a person call fall. There is some disgusting moments that she made oddly beautiful. Illusory drug scenes were also a treat as the world became littered with butterflies and eyeballs is some moments.  A conversation taking place at an aquarium was stunning. A press conference in the final act will always haunt you after seeing it. The only problem was the length of the film, it could have been shortened, because three hours was just too much.

 After a short break the festival night ended with the comedy Thermae Romae. This film is about a ancient Roman transported to modern day Japan via bathtubs or bathing. Lucious, played by Hiroshi Abe is an architect who designs baths in ancient Rome and when he needs help he magically gets transported to the future via baths. In a modern day Japan bathhouse, which he first mistakes as slave quarters, he is amazed at the ingenuity of the Japanese bath. He keeps appearing in front of Mami, played by Aya Ueto, a struggling manga artist. There fate seems connected. What starts off as a simple comedy about perfecting Roman baths becomes a time travel tale that will greatly effect Roman history and the fate of Lucius.

The audience and I laughed so much at this great comedy that perfectly pulls of the concept of time travel via bathing. If you want your children to take a bath, this might be the perfect film to get them to not smell anymore. It really makes you want to take a nice hot bath afterward. Most of the jokes are universal as you see Lucious discover a toilet or a bottle of cold milk for the first time. It brings him to tears to see such innovation. The jokes are simple, but don't come off corny. There are some fun cracks at Japanese culture,but you see a great love of bathing that isn't represented here in the West.

Both of these films were also based on manga just like Rurouni Kenshin, which was also part of the festival. Based on manga each were strongly adapted by their directors to the big screen and pulled off laughs, gasps and claps throughout their premieres. Once again, I hope they get wider distribution here in the US. I'd like to thank the Eiga Fest for making it possible for fans out here in LA to enjoy such great films from Japan. I hope to see a bigger festival next year with even more movies... maybe some Sentai or Kamen Rider films.