The Year in Movies

Japanophilia
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 7 2004 9:19 AM

The Year in Movies

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Mes amis,

A short, early post today, given how long I went on yesterday. First of all, Manohla, my apologies for disclosing the contents of your e-mail on my review of In The Cut. And next time I dismiss one of your favorite directors (which I don't think I did, by the way), I will try to do so in a more obscure venue. (Also, David, this is my fourth Movie Club. Time flies. We're all getting old.)

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Yesterday I went to my first screening of the New Year, Tokyo Godfathers, an anime feature directed by Satoshi Kon, whose astonishing Millennium Actress nearly edged out Triplets of Belleville for the foreign animated slot on my 10-best list (see below). The subject of this picture, which seems to have been inspired by John Ford's 3 Godfathers, is—wouldn't you know it—an abandoned child, who is very nearly thrown from a skyscraper roof. The last words from Sarah's post were ringing in my ears as I watched the Tokyo skyline swaying to the beat of a techno-disco Japanese-language version of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." I think Kon might qualify as one of our leading filmmakers, and Godfathers certainly flirts with the melodramatic tropes you identify as Situation Tragedy. On the other hand, it's hard to say that his cinematic imagination, every bit as prodigious and strange as Sylvain Chomet's and twice as much as Pixar's, has diminished over the course of three movies.

The movie also reminded me of the electrifying and bloody anime sequence in Kill Bill, and of the mini-wave of Japanophilia (or –phobia, or just general slightly freaked-out fascination) that appears to be sweeping through Western movies from Lost in Translation and Last Samurai to demonlover and the Australian Japanese Story, which opened in L.A. last week and arrives in New York on the 16th. As you say, Jim, what is going on does not so much involve representations of the other (yawn) as an excitingly other style of representation. The three movies discussed in Motoko Rich's "Arts and Leisure" piece don't only depict Japan, they quite consciously and deliberately appropriate Japanese cinematic styles, from Ozu and Naruse and more recent studies in urban anomie (Coppola) to Kurosawa (Zwick) to yakuza and samurai B-pictures (Tarantino). I've never been to Japan, but I think part of its allure for Americans lies in the sense that its culture seems so completely alien and yet at the same time so modern—in some ways even more modern than our own.

But back (briefly and a little obliquely) to politics. I found 2003 to be a year of especially polarized opinions, with more movies than usual provoking ardently divided responses. My list of the most hotly contested movies of the year would include Irreversible, Elephant, 21 Grams, Capturing the Friedmans, Johnny English (but that's between me and Dan Savage) and, of course, Mystic River, Sarah's eloquent and thoughtful dismantling—or, rather, diminishing—of which just arrived in my in-box. Television, you say? Law & Order, you say? Frank Gorshin doing Kirk Douglas, you say (I admit that made me laugh out loud)? Them's fighting words! I will try to respond later in the day. In the meantime, let's you and Manohla fight.

Sayonara for now,
Tony

P.S.: I notice that readers wishing to read my list on the Times Web site must now pay to do so. In the "show me yours and I'll show you mine" spirit, here it is:

1. Master and Commander
2. Mystic River
3. The Son
4. Spellbound
5. Barbarian Invasions
6. Man Without a Past
7. TheTriplets of Belleville
8. Finding Nemo
9. Bus 174
10. A Mighty Wind

Each year, film critics gather in the "Movie Club" to chew on the year in film. This year's group includes Manohla Dargis from the Los Angeles Times, David Edelstein from Slate, J. Hoberman from the Village Voice, Sarah Kerr from Vogue, and A.O. Scott from the New York Times. Hoberman is the author, most recently, of The Dream Life: Movies, Media, and the Mythology of the Sixties.