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An unknown future. A boy confesses to the murder of another in an all-boy juvenile detention facility. More an exercise in style than storytelling, the story follows two detectives trying to uncover the case. Homosexual tension and explosive violence drives the story which delivers some weird and fascinating visuals. Written by
by anyone else it would be the strangest prison movie ever made; for Miike, it's... almost business as usual
According to director Takashi Miike, the one in charge of Big Bang Love, Juvenile A among dozens of other films, this is a work that should be taken in almost when "absent-minded", and might even work if one is nodding off during the running time. I found that an intriguing remark as I did nearly nod off during the film, which maybe isn't so much a discredit to the film's work as much as my attention span on a late weekday night. But then this is no ordinary prison drama with a slight Rashomon spin - this is the work of someone so in touch with his craft and artistry with his crew that... you almost don't know what's going on half the time! An irony, perhaps, yet for Miike this is how he usually runs the show, and it's not something you can take your eyes easily off from. There is, as Miike also points out, a tranquility to the picture, almost in spite of its truly abhorrent elements of human nature.
How can I form a premise to tell you about? Most of the actors didn't even know (and, apparently, were comfortable with this after a short while): two inmates, Ariyoshi and Kazuki, are both brought in to prison on separate murder charges. Ariyoshi is more shy, wide-eyed, a little on the side that makes him out to seem like a 'fresh fish' behind the prison walls, while Kazuki won't have any BS as he beats the crap out of anyone who comes near him or makes him do anything. We see these two character brought out in what seems to be very logical means by the actors, even when they're not placed in any sort of reality. By the time we see the two characters truly connecting, they're out by some pyramid or other in the desert talking about where they'd 'rather be.' This is balanced by the actors, both superb in how they look as characters and how they internalize the parts, alongside the drama that unfolds, where a murder has taken place and an investigation follows of everyone in the prison.
But who *really* did it? Miike doesn't provide any easy answers, but then the questions are hard to figure, too. This isn't some Shawshank deal, but a tale told with mood and lighting, color, surrealistic moments, exposition in a stream of consciousness flow, and a sense of the tragic that comes with no way out. As with some of Miike's other films, I didn't even mind I couldn't sometimes follow where the story was going, or what path it would lean toward in its non-linear style (the first half hour appears to be straightforward, but it really wasn't, and isn't, for much of the rest of the show).
But what's most impressive is the use of metaphors and symbols in an intuitive presentation, at least in terms of the themes, whatever they may be, in the wrappings of a beautifully designed and shot and edited film. The colors come off as vibrantly as in Kurosawa, with purple and orange hues folding in, and then some quintessential horrific imagery (i.e. the dead woman curled up like some spider), the solace of the butterfly, and the harsh yellows and bright, over-head yellow lighting of the prison cells. No longer is this simply the cinema verite Miike but someone very comfortable, and Godardian in experimentation, in a studio environment.
While the subject matter isn't easy to take sometimes, and the violence is about to par with one expects from the director (not even so much showing people beaten, though there are, or people committing suicide, which there are, but the impact around it, what isn't shown), it's still a strong effort. Some will just right out hate it or be too bored to care, but for those who give in to its sorrowful corners and impressionist flights of fancy, Big Bang Love has the edge of artistic intent amplified like few others in the past several years.
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