Media Mix, April 10, 2021

Kensei Mizote

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about various theories on why former justice minister Katsuyuki Kawai changed his plea in the middle of his trial for buying votes for his wife, Anri, during the 2019 Upper House election. The journalists and others I mention are knowledgeable and serious, but there were other theories floating around from less reputable sources, the most interesting one being that of Asahi Geino, a weekly magazine known for its salacious content, especially with regard to celebrity sex scandals. In the April 1 issue the magazine interviewed a former “executive” of a yakuza organization who said that prior to the election campaign for the Hiroshima seat in question, he was asked to dig up dirt on Anri’s main opponent, Kensei Mizote, who, like her, belongs to the Liberal Democratic Party. Mizote has often been touted as the main reason for the alleged vote-buying spree, since former prime minister Shinzo Abe reportedly hates his guts owing to some unflattering things Mizote said about Abe in the past. The ex-gangster interviewed by Asahi Geino, Tokihide Hirota, didn’t mind revealing his own name but he wouldn’t reveal that of the person who asked the favor. However, he did say this person was the chairman of a powerful “corporate group” in Hiroshima Prefecture. Also, Hirota got the impression that this chairman himself had been asked to find some compromising intelligence about Mizote. Hirota boldly speculates that it was probably a sitting member of the prefectural assembly and that this person was probably solicited to carry out the dirty work by none other than LDP secretary-general Toshihiro Nikai, since Anri belongs to Nikai’s faction in the party. 

Hirota couldn’t resist throwing his own two yen into the discussion, saying that it’s all about the enmity between Abe and Mizote and “factional in-fighting within the LDP.” The fact that this intramural donnybrook has been “exported” to the Hiroshima electorate shows just how “shameful” Japanese politics has become. “It’s terrible for the local citizens,” he said, thus reminding us that yakuza are citizens, too.

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Review: Ammonite

It’s difficult to imagine Francis Lee’s romanticized reimagining of 19th century paleontologist Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) being produced without the precedent of Mike Leigh. Though Leigh is best known for his modernist take on working class British everypersons, in more recent years he’s addressed British history that, even when it focuses on “great men” (Gilbert & Sullivan, Turner), tells their stories from a “peoples’ history” perspective. Though the hook of Ammonite is Anning’s romance with a would-be acolyte, Charlotte Murchison (Saoirse Ronan), the overarching theme is class friction that even scientific notoriety can’t transcend. The most fascinating parts of the movie are those scenes that simply show Anning going about her work, combing the beaches of the coastal town of Lyme for fossils, occasionally squatting to take a piss in the sand, and then hauling her spoils back to her dark shop where she attempts to sell them as either genuine artifacts to like-minded aficionados of geology, or tourists with a bit of cash to spend on odd conversation pieces. 

Anning’s main claim to fame is a large prehistoric fish exhibited in the British Museum, but it seems only insiders know that a woman actually found it. One of these insiders, a man of means and amateur paleontologist, Roderick Murchison (James McArdle), understands Anning’s place in the annals of British naturalists and endeavors to pick her brain on all things fossilized. Though put off by the man’s airs and preternaturally averse to company, Anning grudgingly accepts his request to look after his young wife, Charlotte, whom he has installed in the seaside town under advice that it might cure her “melancholia.” Of course, Charlotte’s affliction is nothing more than depression brought on by the stifling British patriarchy, something that Anning knows too well but manages to keep at bay with her work, which includes taking care of her ailing mother (Gemma Jones). Anning only takes on the task because of money, and Charlotte, who tags along on her expeditions, is at first an annoyance, but there is a mutual need that either woman soon realizes the other could fill.

The sex scenes are powerful but undermine the movie’s tone of forbearance. Lee, perhaps because he’s a man, seems to feel that when the social bonds that keep these women in their place are released through the passion of their feelings for each other, naturally the release will be explosive, but for the most part the lovemaking feels incidental to the class-marking plot development and Anning’s inner story, both of which are more interesting. Reportedly, the actual descendants of Mary Anning have objected to the movie because there is nothing in her available biography that said she had an affair with Charlotte Murchison. That’s hardly a valid criticism when Lee has said his movie is speculative. For sure, he understands Anning’s peculiar place in her time and explores that aspect with great sensitivity and imagination, but why does every such story have to be constructed around a core of tragic, everlasting love?

Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Chanter Hibiya (050-6868-5001), Bunkamura Le Cinema Shibuya (03-3477-9264).

Ammonite home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2020 The British Film Institute, British Broadcasting Corporation and Fossil Films Limited

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Review: House in the Fields

There’s probably no more momentous development in the practice of filmmaking since the dawn of the millennium than the expansion of the documentary genre beyond its classic parameters. At one time the idea that the documentary filmmaker is a kind of anthropologist, in that they should have as little impact on their subject as possible, was sacrosanct, but current filmmakers have taken greater liberties in their interactions without expressing any misgivings. Often, in fact, the interaction is the point of the film.

Tala Hadid’s House in the Fields is almost anthropological by definition. The British filmmaker, whose mother is Moroccan, spent a good deal of time in a village in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco getting to know the people there, particularly two teenage sisters, in hopes of finding out what they wanted from life. Reportedly, she didn’t even show her camera to her subjects until weeks into her stay. This was a vital consideration because although the village was along a path that was destined to be developed by the state, the development never came, thus leaving the village to its unchanging cycle of seasons. But the village was not inured to change, and that’s what fascinated her.

The two girls, 16-year-old Khadija and her older sister Fatima, are the focus, and many of their scenes are so intimately shot that the viewer can’t help but wonder if they were staged. In this village, the men play and the women work, and though the sisters do attend school, most of the time we see them weaving. According to custom, they are the targets of matchmakers who try to set them up with eligible men, many of whom are not that young. Hadid illustrates the psychological effect these customs have on teenage girls by focusing on their affection for one another. They can only really talk openly with other girls and women, a notion that is hardly surprising but nevertheless quite fascinating when placed in relief against the daily doings of the village. Khadija and Fatima lay in bed together laughing about their teacher and the smell of his feet, but they also talk about their freedom as women, not so much because of their exposure to outside ideas (which is available), but simply because they are sentient creatures who inevitably regret their restrictions by a social order. 

Matters come to a head during a marriage ritual where conflicting feelings come to the fore. There’s a sadness to the bride’s demeanor that is reflected in the conversations among other girls as to whether they really want to get married, and it’s difficult to tell if Hadid prompted these conversations or if they emerged organically. For much of the second half of the film, which is, incidentally, profoundly beautiful in its merging of nature and human activity, the viewer may be frustrated trying to decide how much the filmmaker brought about what is shown on screen. And yet, it still feels like real life. 

In Berber. Now playing in Tokyo at Uplink Shibuya (03-6825-5503).

House in the Fields home page in Japanese

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Review: 21 Bridges

Though it wasn’t the last film he made, the police action thriller, 21 Bridges, is being released in Japan just as the late Chadwick Boseman has been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar that most bookies say he’s going to win. Boseman stars in and produces the movie, which doesn’t add much to his repertoire and feels like something he took on in the hopes of broadening his appeal among the general public. But after playing Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and Black Panther, his trigger-happy NYPD detective feels a bit generic even if he does inject the role with a canny blend of intensity and mystery. More to the point, the movie’s own generic bona fides feel a little out-of-line given the way American black people and the police, especially the New York City police, have been interacting for the past several years.

Thus the opening scene comes off as an inadvertent blast of cognitive dissonance. A child sits in church at the funeral of his policeman father, who was killed by drug addicts, probably during that period in the 80s when crack swept the city and destroyed a lot of black families. The fact that the child and his father are black is enough of a head-scratcher in terms of launching a plot, but the minister’s sermon, which celebrates the fact that the policeman killed two of his attackers before he himself was killed, is chilling in its implications. And then the child grows up to be Andre Davis (Boseman), a detective with a reputation for shooting first and asking questions later.

Davis’s reason to exist as a movie protagonist is tested by two seemingly small-time thieves who attempt to heist a shipment of cocaine and find that it’s three times as big as they had originally thought. Not only that, but they are met with an army of policemen that results in a massacre of said law enforcement. The two fugitives are now the target of Davis, who closes down the whole island of Manhattan in the belief that they are still there and sends pretty much the whole force out to track them down. It doesn’t take a David Simon to figure out that at least a few of the cops had something to do with the coke shipment in the first place, and none of them are Davis. The viewer develops this realization at the same time Davis does, and most of the movie involves the detective manuevering around his colleagues while hunting down the fugitives, all the while wondering who is crooked and who isn’t. 

Meanwhile, director Brian Kirk crowds the frame with multiple shootouts and car chases that make the time pass pleasantly enough, and in the end you have to hand it to everyone involved that the movie is as entertaining as it is given the subtext. It should be pointed out that the equal-opportunity fugitives, one white, one black, are given a sympathetic back story, and the movie is at least partialy redeemed by the notion that the black cop is punishing his white co-workers for their double-edged privilege. But that’s not what the movie is mainly about. It’s about one cop doing what’s right in a manichean world that doesn’t really exist. 

Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Shibuya Humax Cinema (03-3462-2539), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).

21 Bridges home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2019 STX Financing, LLC

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Media Mix, April 3, 2021

Here’s this week’s Media Mix about two recent court rulings related to same-sex marriage, which remains illegal in Japan. One of the premises of the column is that marriage is mainly a social or cultural construct and that the legal protections guaranteed by state-sanctioned matrimony can easily be provided through other legislation. That’s why my friend in California didn’t really care much about getting married because the state already guaranteed the same kinds of rights that married couples enjoy for registered domestic partnerships. In Japan, many local governments have set up systems recognizing domestic partnerships for LGBTQ couples, but, unlike states in the U.S., they can’t guarantee certain rights, which remains the purview of the central government, and that means only marriages recognized by the central government receive such guarantees.

The ruling by the Sapporo District Court that found the denial of same-sex marriage to be a violation of the Constitution is significant because Sapporo was the first “designated” city in Japan to provide recognition of LGBTQ couples back in 2017. But all this recognition can do is provide guidelines. It has no legal force, which can only be provided by the central government. That means, unlike for married couples, same-sex partnerships cannot apply for dependent status for medical insurance or co-custody of children or spousal status for tax purposes or inheritances. According to the Asahi Shimbun, the certificate of recognition can be used to “demand” that public officials and businesses “treat” the partnership as they would a married couple, but the city has no power to penalize any organization or company for discrimination. What Sapporo hoped to do with the certificate is provide “family status” for same-sex couples looking to rent public housing or support for victims of crimes (for instance, if one of the partners is murdered, the other is eligible for compensation the way a spouse would be). But just saying so doesn’t make it true without the central government allowing for it. That’s why the presiding judge in the case said that regardless of her ruling about constitutionality, nothing could be done until the state changed the law. Ideally, a court declaring something unconstitutional would force a reckoning of the offending law, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in Japan, or, at least, not consistently. As always, the main culprit is the Civil Code, specifically the family registration system (koseki), which defines family relationships and gender and is considered fundamental with regard to family law in Japan. 

Here’s an earlier column about same-sex marriage that covers similar ground.

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Review: The Reason I Jump

Since I haven’t read David Mitchell’s translation of Naoki Hagishida’s 2007 memoir of autism I can’t rightly say how faithful Jerry Rothwell’s semi-documentary movie version is, though much of the voiceover narration, by Jordan O’Donegan, is taken straight from the book. Higashida was a nonverbal autistic Japanese child, and he reportedly wrote the book when he was only 13. Rothwell makes it seem as if much of the book was written in an impressionistic style, and the visual and aural decisions often try to convey this style with synthesized sounds and odd camera angles. Naturally, trying to replicate what an autistic child feels in a medium with its own technical limitations has its problems and often the movie seems intent on aestheticizing the autistic experience, if such a thing is possible; and yet the movie is often very powerful in spite of these questionable ambitions.

Higashida’s own experiences are illustrated with a Japanese-British autistic boy (Jim Fujiwara), but Rothwell also brings in the stories of five other mostly nonverbal autistic teens from various corners of the world. Generally, these stories elaborate on the frustrations that autistic youths go through trying to navigate a world that relies on clear communication of feelings and intentions. A girl from India can only really express herself through drawings, and eventually the empathy that she elicits with those drawings result in an art show. A boy and girl from Virginia use their friendship to show non-autistic acquaintances how to communicate feelings that only they feel. In the most disturbing sequence, autistic individuals in Sierra Leone are ostracized as evil beings, forcing them either underground or away from people in general. What Rothwell really wants to put across, and what Higashida’s book implicitly states, is that autism, as explained by its more clinical term “the spectrum,” is a varied and nuanced condition that requires not just empathy but acceptance. What Higashida accomplished with his book is that he showed that autistic children were no different from other children in terms of how they feel about the world. There was no diminution of what we would call intelligence, just a different means of processing stimuli and making sense of it. Ben, one of the Virginia teens, even expresses to his teacher the idea that he feels his human rights have been violated by conventional education structures. 

This more straightforward documentary approach actually does a better job of giving the viewer a feeling for autism than does the pointedly “poetic” passages that replicate the book and which often feel obligatory. The Reason I Jump was a worldwide bestseller, and it’s the reason Rothwell made the movie, but he could have produced a more potent one had he relied more openly on finding stories other than Higashida’s. 

In English and some German. Now playing in Tokyo at Kadokawa Cinema Yurakucho (03-6268-0015), Shinjuku Piccadilly (050-6861-3011).

The Reason I Jump home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2020 The Reason I Jump Limited, Vulcan Productions, Inc. The British Film Institute

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Media Mix, March 28, 2021

Tepco headquarters

Here’s this week’s Media Mix, which is about the huge amount of money spent to clean up the area surrounding the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, and the graft that has resulted. At one point in the column I use the term “public funds,” which should probably be explained further. According to the NHK Special I cite, tax money was used mainly for mid-term storage of irradiated materials. Everything else related to the cleanup is supposed to be paid for by capital gains made from the government selling Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) stock. NHK says that the government bought ¥1 trillion worth of Tepco stock at ¥300 per share, and estimates that in order to pay off the cleanup costs they would need to sell that stock at ¥1,500 per share. Unfortunately, the stock hasn’t gone up in price since the government bought it. As of February 20, the price is about one-fourth what it needs to be, so they have simply put off sale of the shares. One expert NHK talked to, a scholar who has done extensive research into nuclear accidents, said that if the stock doesn’t go up in price, then the government will end up using tax money anyway to pay for the cleanup; either that, or Tepco is going to have to cover more of the cost, which means utility bills will go up again. So the public—more specifically, future generations—pays for it either way. 

This interesting pay structure was built into the law, and quite recently. Tepco was legally responsible for cleaning up any situations caused by an accident at their facilities, and thus were expected to pay for the Fukushima disaster, but since the job is so huge the government borrowed money and paid for the operations on behalf of Tepco. In turn, all of Japan’s electric power companies are supposed to reimburse the government. But in March 2013, Tepco talked the government into changing the pay structure, convincing it to shoulder more of the burden by saying that making utilities pay for everything is unfair to their stockholders, since nuclear power is a “national policy.” A letter that NHK uncovered from Tepco to METI said that Tepco would not be able to “revive” itself if the government didn’t take more responsibility for the cleanup. Nine months later, the Cabinet decided on the capital gains strategy. According to various officials interviewed by NHK, the government knew that the capital gains plan wouldn’t be able to cover the costs of the cleanup, even before it ballooned out of proportion, but that they had to come up with something quickly “on paper.” As one METI official said, the plan puts the government in a double bind, since in order for the stock to go up appreciably, it has to guarantee not only Tepco’s survival, but its success as a private corporation in the short run. And that, presumably, means getting nuclear power plants back online as soon as possible, a task that has run up against a wall of public opposition. 

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Review: Tesla

Michael Almereyda’s biopic of Serbian-American inventor Nikolai Tesla (Ethan Hawke) is a welcome corrective — or maybe “antidote” is a better word — to The Current War, which attempted to make an entertainment out of the rivalry between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse over the future of the electrification of the U.S. Tesla was a marginal character in that movie, essentially an idea-rich shuttlecock batted back-and-forth between the two powerful men. The movie, however, could never find a satisfying common ground between science porn and personal tragedy (both principals had their traumatic back stories), and as a result it descended into self-important muddle. 

Tesla, in fact, is less of a biopic than a moody meditation on the nexus of ego and genius, especially as it was applied to that period in Western civilization when technology had at last conquered the world, or, at least, the common imagination. Both Almereyda and Hawke portray Tesla as a stone professional. There’s none of the psychological probing that marred The Current War, and yet the man comes across as almost punishingly complex in both his approach to science and his misunderstanding of capitalism. The movie doesn’t attempt to explain Tesla but rather revels in his mystery. He was religiously devoted to the applications of alternating current. An early scene has Tesla meeting with an extremely hard-assed Edison (Kyle MacLachlan), who dismisses the young immigrant’s thesis (Edison calls him a “Transylvanian”) about AC, which he considers “a waste of time.” At that point, Tesla had already given up on the great inventor, and takes his idea elsewhere. This view of Tesla, as a studious iconoclast who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, even those as successful as Thomas Edison, becomes the movie’s theme, and Almereyda uses it to probe a kind of alternative history of the time and of the man’s life, which ended in poverty and ignominy. 

Almereyda’s device is Anne Morgan (Eve Hewson), at one time Tesla’s lover and the daughter of J.P. Morgan (Donnie Keshawarz), maybe the richest man alive at the time. Anne is the film’s narrator, but she has access to our 21st century view of Tesla as more than just a name for an electric car. She wonders why Google searches for Edison outstrip those for Tesla by several degrees when Tesla was so obviously the greater mind. After all, the technology we take for granted today has probably as much to do with Tesla’s AC developments as anything Edison invented, but she reasons that Tesla was, by dint of his dour personality, unknowable. 

Almereyda also dispenses with normal biopic narrative development, pinning the script to thematic elements rather than temporal ones. All the greatest hits are here: the Chicago Exposition of 1893 when Edison and Westinghouse (Jim Gaffigan), to whom Tesla was now allied, squared off to decide who would control the circuit breakers; the invention of the Tesla coil; the fortuitous connection with the actress Sarah Bernhardt (Rebecca Dayan); the adaptation of the new technology in the service of capital punishment. All these episodes happened, but Anne points out they probably didn’t happen the way they are depicted. By confounding the tenets of biography and contaminating the whole process with Brechtian touches, such as musical interludes and purposely anachronistic dialogue (“you live too much in your head”), Almereyda attempts to interrogate Tesla’s influence on the culture that came after him while showing how his stubborn adherence to real science eventually relegated him to digging ditches after he was swindled by investors and then died, unknown and heirless. Almereyda’s vision has been derided for its reliance on surrealism, but given Tesla’s bizarre life, it seems the only way to address it. 

Now playing in Tokyo at Human Trust Cinema Yurakucho (03-6259-8608), Shinjuku Cinema Qualite (03-3352-5645), Shibuya Cine Quinto (03-3477-5905).

Tesla home page in Japanese

photo (c) Nikola Productions, Inc. 2020

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Review: Monster Hunter

Expected to meet expectations like the pro he is, director Paul W.S. Anderson is charged with adapting the popular Capcom video game to the Imax screen in much the same way he adapted the Resident Evil game to…how many sequels did they get away with? And he brings along his wife, Milla Jovovich, to star in order to make the Resident Evil connection complete. Consequently, there was a lot of buzz preceding the opening, which had to be delayed and recalibrated due to the pandemic. Since there’s a ton of Chinese money behind the movie, the international distribution potential was formidable, and Jovovich gets to share most of her screen time with Thai martial arts superstar Tony Jaa, thus broadening that potential even more. 

Apparently, an unfortunate bit of subtitle translation bolloxed the movie’s appeal in its biggest potential market, China, but Japan shouldn’t be a problem, since Capcom is a national treasure and the Resident Evil franchise was a huge hit over the 14 years it lasted. Monster Hunter probably will be a hit here as well based solely on momentum, but for the rest of us who aren’t susceptible to such bait (meaning, people who don’t play video games) it’s odd even for a big budget fantasy blockbuster. Much of it feels like disparate ideas from other, similar blockbusters patched together in a haphazard way. The framing idea of an American military patrol headed by Jovovich’s Captain Artemis caught in a desert sand storm and somehow deposited in an alternative dimension lorded over by huge insects and burrowing creatures immediately brings to mind Starship Troopers and Dune, and when Artemis cauterizes a gaping wound with ignited gunpowder you wonder which macho military porn Anderson was watching. Jaa shows up as the titular hunter who happens to inhabit this dimension full-time and does nothing but kill monsters for no stated reason except as sport it would seem. After some good-natured one-one-one battles to the near death between these two alpha types, they form a kind of alliance for the sake of pure survival and eventually catch up with guy called the Admiral (Ron Perlman), who makes them an offer they can’t refuse and one that displaces them back in Artemis’s dimension for the big apocalyptic battle. 

Which is to say that the movie’s narrative focus is always a bit on the blurry side, and while that’s what you get for trying to adapt a game, Anderson did a pretty good job of turning Resident Evil into a story-directed romp that never lost track of its various plot threads, no matter how frayed they had become. Monster Hunter is mainly a set of eye-popping CGI set pieces strung together with jokey exposition that doesn’t bear much scrutiny (and which resulted in the aforementioned subtitle faux pas). Apparently, the thing to do is not concentrate on motivation or character development, but rather on the outlandish weapons, which are central to the playing of the game. I mean, that sabre-toothed sword is so ridiculous you can’t keep your eyes off it. 

In subtitled English version and dubbed Japanese version. Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024), Toho Cinemas Shibuya (050-6868-5002), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955), Shinjuku Piccadilly (050-6861-3011).

Monster Hunter home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2020 Constantin Film Verleih GmbH

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Review: Lords of Chaos

It may seem petty to start this review with the observation that it sure feels odd that a movie which concerns itself, albeit in a tongue-in-cheek expressionistic sort of way, with a true life crime is in a language that is not native to the country it depicts. Of course, Hollywood has been Anglicizing stories since its inception, but Lords of Chaos presents a Norwegian director helming a Norwegian production set in Norway that tackles a story which took place in Bergen and Oslo in the early 90s, and yet all the dialogue is in English and most of the cast is American speaking in typical American vernacular. Of course, since Vice is one of the backers, there was probably international distribution considerations behind the decision, but whatever prompted that decision has resulted in a movie that takes the piss every which way but up.

First of all, the lead is played by Rory Culkin, who has recently been catapulted to international fame as the snarkiest of the rich brood of media capitalists in the HBO series Succession. To his credit, that character does not rear his head at all in his portrayal of Euronymous, the self-styled inventor of Norwegian black metal, a hard rock sub-genre that would require a flow chart and an expert to distinguish it from, say, death metal, speed metal, etc. In the opening voiceover, director Jonas Akerlund juxtaposes Euronymous’s iconoclastic but humorously self-aware world view (“people are supposed to hate what I do”) with his passive middle class existence. When he mentions that life in Norway is horrifically boring, he hits on Akerlund’s theme, which is that black metal, a musical expression of nihilism, sprang from Norway’s storied social cohesion. When the government makes it possible for you to live your life without economic anxiety, you have to make your own tension, and Euronymous’s is to seek succor in death, though, to be honest, his response is cynical rather than nihilistic. He advances black metal as a means of thumbing his nose at society and sees his mission as more of a marketer of outrageous content than as a prophet of the dark arts. 

Basically, the movie’s dramatic arc follows this mission to its inevitable tragic end. Euronymous plays lead guitar in a bad metal band called Mayhem, and an ad for a lead singer produces Pelle (Jack Kilmer, son of Val, in case you were wondering), who nicknames himself Dead and likes to open his veins onstage during performances. However, his suicidal rage is not an act, and eventually he kills himself in a spectacular manner, but rather than be disturbed Euronymous, at least outwardly, sees Pelle’s death as a PR opportunity since in death Pelle manifests the central thesis of black metal. Mayhem attracts a more dedicated fan base, including a young “poser” named Christian (Emory Cohen), whom Euronymous takes on first as an acolyte and then as a bandmate, though Christian, after adopting the moniker Varg, starts his own musical project called Burzum, which quickly outstrips Mayhem in terms of dedication to the tenets of black metal. Varg is a true believer in a way that Euronymous isn’t, and burns down a church to prove it. Euronymous and his “black circle” of followers approves, but Varg quickly realizes it is Euronymous who is the poser, since he seems set on following the conventional road to rock stardom, an ambition Varg thinks is antithetical to black metal dogma. 

For the most part, this is a well thought-out explication of the true story behind Burzum and Mayhem that resulted in a string of arsons and murders which shocked Norway, but Akerlund doesn’t really know how to direct it. Genre-wise, the movie slots as a horror film—the scenes involving actual death are drawn out beyond their acceptable limits and, set against the almost Spinal Tap level of self-parody that rules the rest of the scenes, verge on the sickening. There is one brilliant scene in which Varg invites a journalist to hear his confessions of criminality. The journalist, unimpressed and incredulous, catches Varg out on his ignorance of religion and paganism, but understands a sensational story when he hears it. Unfortunately, Akerlund can’t maintain this ironic tone, and the movie descends into slasher territory without much in the way of insight into a sub-culture it can only address superficially. Caveat: if you plan to come for the music, be warned there isn’t really much of it. 

Opens March 26 in Tokyo at Cinemart Shinjuku (03-5369-2831).

Lords of Chaos home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2018 Fox Vice Film Holdings, LLC and Vice Media LLC

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