Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Secrets of Cinema

Secret Cinema is a Chinese bittorrent tracker website, which has a nebulous relationship with copyright law but also specializes in VHS|DVD rips of otherwise obscure movies, such as the Taking of Pelham One Two Three and today's latest addition, The Cowboys (1972) featuring the pivotal downer moment in the cinema of the Western, when longhair Bruce Dern shoots John Wayne in the back. It is in this sam outlaw spirit that I would like to highlight films which not many people get to see, wither because of market inavailability or just because they aren't aware of it.

Foreign films fall into this category far too easily for American audiences. Every year brilliant fims languish outside of their home countries becuase the biggest spending market refuses to read subtitles. Something like Densha Otoko, a thoughtful and buoyant romantic comedy as ever in the digital age will kiekly never be noticed in the US. Why and how is that so? It concerns a very shy animation maniac who overcomes his social awkwardness by getting advice from online chat forum members. The best part is how they integrate the people in the chatroom, who are personified by a chorus of about six and in the end, fill a train station. A key exchange is punctuated by one of the chat room participants opening the door to another as he is writing a reply. The respondents are like those in the Truman Show, with the considerable gift of more interactivity, as they give him notes on wines and conversation topics. At one point, the protagonist explains excitedly about the connection of The Matrix to Ghost in the Shell. This movie also takes a page from the ninth episode of the first season of GITS: Stand-Alone Complex series. That episode is one of the best virtualizations of a chatroom in animation, both in how chats proceed and are moderated to how participants enter and exit and form private audiences. Densha Otoko captures that the best in real-action that I've seen, even including the dramatic soliloquoy at the end. Another story complaint is why, if this is a true story, did they need the ambiguous ending? or is that a flashback?

It also shows me a very vivid picture of a specific real world locale, namely the Akihibara neighborhood of Toyko, an electronics mecca I had heard about via William Gibson but could never fully picture, unlike Ginza, which itself is pretty well photographed. Still, I have seen so many movies which have a scene in Times Square, and when I was there in fall of 2004, it seems very different then those prior snapshots had led me to believe, both in current advertising and general layout. I suppose Akihibara is really the same way too. Still even a horrible movie like Lie Down With Dogs can, by shooting on location, totally paint an accurate portrait. For a refreshing look at love in modern Japan, seek a copy of Train Man (Densha Otoko).

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