Japan Cuts 2015 Retrospective part 2

Yesterday I shared thoughts on 3 of the movies I saw during Japan Society’s annual Japan Cuts Film Festival for 2015: Makeup Room, Strayer’s Chronicle, and 100 Yen Love. Here’s a look at the other 3.

The Voice of Water

This movie has haunted me for days and I still don’t know quite what I think of it. A charismatic charlatan acting as head priestess of a manufactured, business-like cult starts to crack from the pressure of continued success, and things get worse from there despite her attempts to be more genuine. The carefully constructed plot progression and pacing build tension and an increasingly desperate atmosphere masterfully, but I found some of the story choices unsettling beyond what I think was needed. There’s a lot to process in every layer of the movie: the characters’ actions and their results, the motivations behind those actions, and the thematic statements and criticisms the story is making about society. Strong performances from the central cast and key supporting characters keep it all anchored. I can’t say for certain I liked it, but The Voice of Water is a powerful film that’s well worth watching for all it has to say, whether you end up agreeing or not.

The Light Shines Only There

This was my second favorite film in a festival packed with fantastic movies (just a tiny bit behind Makeup Room). It’s a love story about two thoroughly broken people reeling from unfortunate and disturbing events out of their control. All of the characters are struggling with some sort of personal demons, with varying levels of success. It’s the pitch perfect performances of everyone in the cast that keeps it all relatable and engrossing. Themes and events get quite dark and are hard to watch in parts, but it all fit the story and nothing felt out of place or gratuitous (no matter how much I wanted to yell at the screen sometimes). A unique, phenomenal film overall.

Sanchu Uprising: Voices at Dawn

The closing film of this year’s festival had been highly recommended to me, but I didn’t really know anything about it going into the screening. It centers on a farmer uprising in 1726 in the face of impossible taxes. It turns into the bloodiest such uprising in history. But the focus of the movie is more on the pressure and difficult choices of the individuals caught up in the uprising, particularly a coward who isn’t sure it’s worth the risk. Besides the interesting choice of scope and subject within the premise, Sanchu Uprising distinguishes itself with several stylistic choices unusual for its genre, including jazz touches to the soundtrack and an animated sequence.

It’s an interesting movie and while I had some doubts along the way I think it came together extremely well by the end. It wasn’t an unanimous opinion though, as several audience members had rather pointed (but valid) questions for the director during the q&a after the film about his choices. The director was thoughtful with his answers and open to criticism, which made the discussion fascinating. A perfect way to end the festival.

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So this completes my thoughts on the 6 films I saw during Japan Cuts. I will have one more blog entry on the festival, covering the other event I attended – the Experimental Shorts Showcase.

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