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February 2009

Speed Racing on the Cultural Silk Road


The much-ballyhooed world premiere of Takashi Miike’s designated Japanese box-office hitter, “Yatterman,” drew a crowd in New York City that well exceeded the capacity of the Directors Guild of America Theater, and many found themselves literally left out in the cold. The inside of the house was a study in contrasts. The majority represented Mr. Miike’s blood-thirsty, guts-hungry cult following, whose conversion likely occurred after Film Forum imported the monumental mindfuck that was “Audition” in 2001. Also present in remarkable numbers and even more impressive vocal volume were screaming teenage girls with homemade signs who turned out for Sho Sakurai, the star of “Yatterman” who is also a member of Japan’s chart-topping boy band Arashi.

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Taking the Short Route to an Oscar Nomination

2009 Oscar-Nominated Shorts


Shorts International continues the annual pre-Oscar tradition by releasing the entire staple of Academy Award nominated shorts in two separate programs, namely live-action and animated. This is a valuable service for two reasons: First, it’s a great way to experience a form of filmmaking typically exclusive to festivals, special screenings and the Internet. Second, it’ll help you get a leg up on your competitors in this year’s Oscar pool. The days of randomly selecting the most awards-worthy sounding title as your pick in both short film categories are now over.

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Young Men Risk All to Go West

Chosyu Five (2006)


Japan – a country which fiercely guarded its international isolation until 1852 – has, 160 years later, become a member of the G8, at the top table of nations worldwide. Its genius with software technology, cars and entertainment is feted globally, with products from Walkmans to Game Boys now ubiquitous in Western culture. This success is all the more amazing when we consider modernity was only introduced to Japan sporadically after 1852, with more rapid technological expansion only arriving after 1945. To be alive at this time in Japan was to live through a whirlwind of change, and not just in how Japan managed the outside world. The feudal system was still in place in the 1860s, with clans of samurai controlling different regions similar to Italy’s city-states, and local conflicts breaking out all the time.

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Permanent House Arrest With No Conviction

Now, I... (2009)


In Japan, these young men are called hikikomori. They barricade themselves in their rooms, forbidding other family members from entering, leaving only late at night to use the bathroom or raid food from the fridge. Perhaps they’ll go outside, but only at a time when they’ll run into as few people as possible. The word means “acute social withdrawal” and is a trend that seems to be on the recent increase across Asian Pacific. It seems to affect mostly young men who are disinterested in the pressure cooker of the educational system, but too intelligent to be happy working the unskilled jobs left over for the dropouts. In Britain, such young people are called NEETs (not in education, employment or training), but this doesn’t imply being a shut-in as well. Yasutomo Chikuma certainly has tapped the zeitgeist by choosing this as the topic for his first film, "Now, I..."

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As the Other World Turns

Coraline (2009)

LAIKA Entertainment

In “Coraline,” writer-director Henry Selick achieves the impossible. He’s made a PG-rated picture that’s genuinely dark and scary, and he and his team at LAIKA Studios have perfected the art of 3-D animation. Sit through enough middling family-film fare and superfluous extravaganzas put forth in the third dimension, and it becomes hard to be too optimistic about anything that fits into those categories – even a project with the literary pedigree of Neil Gaiman. But Mr. Selick’s film, drenched in an unsettling atmosphere and given the feel of a fairy tale gone perilously wrong greatly expands the potential of both worlds.

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It Ain't Cool News

Fanboys (2009)

John Estes/The Weinstein Company

The Force is most certainly not with “Fanboys.” It is a flick made by fans, for fans and about fans of the Star Wars franchise. What the film lacks in quality it makes up for in gimmick, shtick and numerous references to the iconic franchise. Even a committed fan will struggle with this juvenile effort. The filmgoer who enjoys “Fanboys” is probably the same one still defending the creation of Jar Jar Binks on his Facebook profile.

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Life's But a Walking Shadow

Shadows (2008)

# 11 Borce Nacev in Milcho Manchevkis Shadows
Mitropoulos Films

Critics should generally avoid grandiose pronouncements, particularly this early in the year. But here goes: Milcho Manchevski’s “Shadows” will be the best Macedonian supernatural erotic thriller of 2009. It’s a quality entertainment that stands apart from the recent work of Mr. Manchevski’s countrymen like Ivo Trajkov by being more fully invested in Hollywood genre conventions than anything specific to life in the former Yugoslav republic. In its blending of haunted spirits, naked flesh and operatically shadowed locales it affectionately pays tribute to the work of Roman Polanski and Adrian Lyne.

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New York (Love) Stories

Two Lovers (2008)

Magnolia Pictures

“Two Lovers” continues James Gray’s love affair with the outer boroughs of New York City. It’s also the first to render that boundless affection with something other than a thriller aesthetic. Here he transforms working class Brighton Beach and the crowded, homely apartment of the Kraditor family into an idealized setting for a poignant, beautifully told romantic chamber piece. Filled with old-world tchotchkes, ancient framed photographs and a tight-knit assortment of other furnishings, the apartment symbolizes the community as a whole and conveys the underpinnings of the love triangle that unfolds.

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