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The movie starts out with a long shot of a nun meditating at a temple and a voice-over: "A good Buddhist would be willing to jump into hell to save just one other person." Then it cuts to a picture of a Southern California town with a big caption: "HELL".
I thought this movie was going to be an amusing comedy about a boor who gets his expectations of a submissive, doll-like mail-order bride turned upside down. He does, but rather than being comedic this movie is dramatic and touching. Maxwell Bright starts out as a guy who is self-destructing and losing everything in life - his business, his friends, his house, his self-image. He thinks he can buy a "geisha girl" who will prop up his ego, but what he gets is a quietly strong woman who both makes him realize what humiliating depths he's sunk to, and pulls him out of them.
It seems like a low-budget production because the camera work is a bit choppy and the pacing is terrible - slow bits should be fast and fast bits should be slow - but the writing and acting are great.
Ginga-tetsudo no yoru (1985)
The best thing about this movie is the dreamlike quality of it. Lots of fiction texts--novels, comicbooks, movies, whatever--take place in the world of dreams, but this is the first movie I've seen that really felt like it. Things happen one after the other in a drifting, diffuse pilgrimage on a train that goes to the end of the universe: migrating herons that fall to the earth and turn into candy, apples that reproduce themselves, an Italian village populated by cats. Being that they're passing through the night sky, some of the stations are named after constellations, and some are just...places. It's like reading The Old Man and the Sea--you feel like you're there for days and wake up to find that it was only a few hours. To me, that's a measure of a really good story.
One of the funnier bits was when the human characters appeared and didn't bat an eye at sitting next to anthropomorphic, pastel-coloured cats.
If you enjoy picking apart movie texts, you can always have a fun argument with your friends about the religious motifs that pop up in an oddball way throughout the story. Were the filmmakers taking stabs at Christianity, or just appropriating its symbols for the story's own kind of mysticism (a la Neon Genesis Evangelion, maybe)?