"Cut" follows an independent filmmaker's quest to repay $140,000 (non- inflated rate, 100yen = $1) in just 2 weeks when he was told by a yakuza group that his brother, who was working as a member, was killed when he was caught selling the group's turf to a Chinese gang in order to repay the debt he borrowed to fund the protagonist's films.
Shuuji, the protagonist is an avid activist who takes his megaphone to preach for a change, screaming things like "film is dead" and "film is not a whore". He also holds his own screenings of the classic movies.
With no hope for repayment, he resorts to earning back the money from yakuza themselves by becoming a human punching bag, charging anywhere between $50 to $600 a hit. Perhaps as a method of self-torture to atone for his sins towards his brother, Shuuji insists that the beatings occur at the restroom where his brother was killed. The protagonist is true to his belief that films are meant to be works of art rather than just for entertainment, and continues his routine film activities even during the 2 weeks of physical abuse.
It was a provocation from a relatively high-ranking yakuza member that started it all. The man told Shuuji to hold a gun to his mouth and pull the trigger for $1,400. It's remarkable what people are willing to do when they're desperate, as is the case here.
People usually cling on to religion at hard times. Shuuji, on the other hand, goes to the graves of deceased Japanese film master directors such as Kurosawa, Ozu, and Mizoguchi for salvation. Film is his religion, and he basks on projections of classic films every night to heal his inner wounds. His anger toward so-called "shit movies" also drives him to stay alive and change the film industry.
Nishijima Hidetoshi's performance was solid in the film, although I could no longer recognize his face by the end of the movie. It was Tokiwa Takako who blew me away, though. She's still as beautiful as she was in her '20s despite approaching 40 now. I usually see her playing the role of a fragile or innocent girl, but she convincingly portrayed yakuza office's tough yet caring bartender.
Too many Japanese B-movies these days seem to use violence simply as a shock effect, but the violence had a meaning in this movie. "It's not about money," he says, perfectly reflecting his belief in movie production. Each blow to his stomach or face only seems to strengthen his belief.
However, "100 movies in 100 punches" was where it got too far. I already felt there were far too many footages from classic "masterpieces" throughout this film that I have never seen, but this is when my patience ran out. I understand it's the director's movie and he can do whatever he wants to, but seriously, this is not the place for blogging. I did like the way each film mentioned builds up the suspense, but the same effect can be done with the protagonist just muttering those titles. I even asked Amir Naderi during the Q&A, and as I had suspected, it was his personal list plus "the Japanese tastes", which I will assume as inputs from his assistant directors and staff. This kind of narcissistic presentation further alienates the intended audience (if this film if it really was meant to change the film industry), which is the mainstream viewers.
Admittedly, I'm not an old film fan so I may be missing the point here, but I do enjoy "meaningful", even artsy films. The problem is, it's not the industry nor the multiplexes (I found it ironic that this movie was aired in AMC) preventing people from watching "pure films". The industry makes them because people want to watch movies for entertainment in this days and age, plus not all blockbusters are "shit movies". Ultimately, the main character came off too pretentious for the mainstream tastes.
A film does not have to be artsy to be "good", and film is still very much alive. With events like TIFF where I saw this film, there are still opportunities for aspiring filmmakers. I found this movie to be very enjoyable and I support the cause, but I feel the wrong approach was taken to "save" the art in movies.
On a side note, the subtitle for this film was among the worst film festival subtitles (or official R2 DVDs with English subtitles) I've ever encountered in Japanese films. I don't know what kind of amateur would translate 「無」 on Ozu's grave as "nothing" in context when it should clearly be "nothingness", "void", or "emptiness". Also, it translated "true film" in one scene as "classic film". Non-Japanese speakers should be wary of what you read.