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Perfect Days

Director – Wim Wenders – 2023 – Germany, Japan – Cert. PG – 123m

*****

A cleaner for The Tokyo Toilet Company takes great pleasure in his everyday routineout on UK Blu-ray and DVD from Monday, June 10th

There is a pecking order in society. Right at the lowest level is anything to do with human waste. Nowhere is this more evident than towards the end of this film when his sister, who drives a large, impressive looking car and is making a rare visit to her sibling, asks, incredulously, “are you really cleaning toilets?”

In this remarkable film, Wenders turns this notion on its head. Welcome to the world of Hirayama (Koji Yakusho), employee of The Tokyo Toilet Company, who has been doing the job for five or six years and takes great pride in it. He is part of a two-person detail, however his young co-worker Takashi (Tokio Emoto) doesn’t share his enthusiasm, often arriving late for his shift and looking at his mobile phone on the job.

Hirayama drives a small van and has invested in various tools to help him carry out the job; Takashi rides a motor scooter. Hirayama takes great pleasure in his audio cassette collection (The Animals, Lou Reed, Patti Smith) which he listens to on his van’s cassette player driving to and from work.… Read the rest

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Concrete Utopia
(Konkeuriteu Yutopia,
콘크리트 유토피아)

Director – Eom Tae-hwa – 2023 – South Korea – Cert. 15 – 130m

****1/2

A massive earthquake makes the residents of the sole Seoul apartment block still standing close their doors to survivors outside – out on UK digital platforms on Monday, April 1st

Concrete: a structural material made of aggregate, cement, and water. (Definition from Encyclopedia Britannica.) Harsh. Unyielding. Impenetrable. Opaque. Not alive. Commonly used in today’s world in the manufacture of buildings, and associated with Brutalist architecture.

Utopia: an ideal community whose inhabitants exist under seemingly perfect conditions. (Definition from Encyclopedia Britannica.) The English word derives from two Greek words, the compound meaning of which is nowhere. Hence, “seemingly”. Utopias tend to have some fatal flaw. If they didn’t, any story about them would lack dramatic conflict. Thus, the word carries within it a degree of irony.

The eponymous montage of these two words pits them against each other: an unyielding, dead physicality confronts the optimism of a better world. The title evokes JG Ballard’s novels Concrete Island (1974) and High-Rise (1975), the former about a stranded motorist struggling to survive on a spaghetti junction after a car accident, the latter about a newly built block of flats in which the residents descend through social breakdown towards a new order.… Read the rest

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2023

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2021

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Animation Features Live Action Movies

Snow Leopard
(Xue Bao,
雪豹)

Director – Pema Tseden – 2023 – Tibet – LEAFF Cert. 12 – 109m

*****

A monk invites a filmmaker friend to a remote farm in the Tibetan mountain region where a snow leopard trapped in a sheep pen has killed nine sheep –the late Pema Tseden’s final completed film plays in the Official Selection at the 2023 London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF) which ran from Wednesday, October 18th to Sunday, October 29th

Film maker Dradul (Genden Phuntsok) has been informed by his friend Nyima the Snow Leopard Monk (Tseten Tashi) of an incident and so sets out for the region of the Tibetan Mountains with a small crew in his car. Following roads in the freezing wilderness, the car arrives at a remote farm which consists basically of a stone farmhouse and a sheep pen where the Snow Leopard Monk awaits them, along with the old farmer and his family.

The sheep pen has been breached by a snow leopard, a rare animal that’s a protected species in Tibet, and the old farmer’s adult son Jinpa (Jinpa) is furious that it has killed nine sheep. Confronted with the camera, he argues vociferously that man must live with the snow leopard, and that a small number of kills would be acceptable, but an amount as large as nine is most definitely not okay.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

#Manhole
(#マンホール)

Director – Kazuyoshi Kumakiri – 2023 – Japan – LEAFF Cert.15 – 99m

***

A man falls down a manhole following his stag night and turns to social media to get help and, hopefully, escapeplays in the Official Selection at the 2023 London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF) which runs from Wednesday, October 18th to Sunday, October 29th.

The opening minutes of #Manhole resemble any number of Japanese movies you can think of as Shunsuke Kawamura (Yuto Nakajima) attends a surprise party put on by work colleagues at his local watering hole. It’s a good night, suggesting he’s well loved (albeit on a fairly superficial level) and he leaves extremely drunk, briefly saying goodbye to best mate Etsuro Kase (Kento Nagayama from Love Life Koji Fukada, 2022; Villain, Lee Sang-il, 2010) whose well-intentioned present – a lighter – may not be so much use to Kawamura now that he’s given up smoking. Or so it would seem at that point in the proceedings.

Kawamura must have drunk a good deal more than he realised because as he staggers home, he falls down a manhole off of which someone, by accident or design, has left the cover. His upper leg is badly cut.… Read the rest

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National Security
(Namyeong-dong 1985,
남영동 1985)

Director – Chung Ji-Young – 2012 – South Korea – LEAFF Cert. 15 – 106m

*****

An activist is arrested and tortured into making a confession, although it’s unclear whether his torturers have any interest in getting him to spout truth rather than lies – plays as part of a strand showcasing director Chung Ji-Young at the 2023 London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF) which runs from Wednesday, October 18th to Sunday, October 29th

In 1985, South Korea was a right-wing military dictatorship (in contrast to North Korea, which was then and remains today a left-wing military dictatorship). Determined to build a prosperous economy, the authorities would stop at nothing to quell any form of dissent, and this repression included torture. Activists fighting for a more liberal society were considered to be in league with North Korea, and thus any means of suppressing them could be used.

The film is based on the experiences of later Minister of Health and Welfare Kim Geum-tae (here played by Park Won-sang), who as a pro-democracy activist in 1985 complied with a request to visit the local police station only to find himself bundled into a car and driven to a torture facility (later revealed to be the eponymous Namyeong-dong) where he would spend the best part of a month.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Nambugun:
North Korean Partisan
In South Korea
(Nambugun,
南部軍 / 남부군)

Director – Chung Ji-Young – 1990 – South Korea – LEAFF Cert. 15 – 157m

*****

Gritty account of the Korean War based on the memoirs of a North Korean soldier – plays as part of a strand showcasing director Chung Ji-Young at the 2023 London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF) which runs from Wednesday, October 18th to Sunday, October 29th

Based on the Korean War memoirs of Lee Tae (Ahn Sung-ki), a former North Korean news agency correspondent who fought for the North Korean partisans, this is a long and gruelling account of the Korean War, a South Korean production exploring a North Korean perspective. We rarely see inside the ranks of the South Korean forces. The partisans are all ‘comrades’ and women as well as men number among their ranks.

Inevitably, romantic attachments occur, although these are frowned upon and quickly quashed by superior officers. Which leaves separated parties desperate for news of their transferred objects of affection.

One particularly arresting sequence has Northern partisans shooting at Southern soldiers across an area of farmland until a child, seemingly oblivious to the very concept of warfare, wanders into the crossfire area. Both sides halt their shooting and come to a recognition of the humanity of the other.… Read the rest