Archive | October, 2015

ISLAND IN THE SUN (1957) dir. Robert Rossen

21 Oct

“Oh my island in the sun” the song goes. It pops into my head on occasions when homesickness swells in my veins. As soon as the island way of perceiving the environment was adopted, the song reminded of the falsity of calling it an island, no matter how island-like a place might be. ‘The island’ – as it was known by locals – is a place that calls out to my instincts. Even though in a busier environment, in Harajuku, in the middle of a vast city like Tokyo where there are many things to do, many activities to enjoy, if I’m honest – as much as I love it in the city – I do miss certain things about the island lifestyle.
A lifestyle where winter evenings were spent cosy next to a hearth with roaring embers, while sipping gin. And summers were filled with swimming, working hard, lounging on terraces enjoying great food. It was idyllic. I miss the bonds with nature. I miss the emphasis on the sea. I miss the importance of the weather. I miss the pressures of community spirit. I miss the obtund gossip. I miss the gorgeous environment – subtropical – where it could’ve been a Caribbean island with palms and azure waters if it wasn’t for the murky fish that swam beneath the waves.
Island in the Sun was a good movie choice for a Sunday afternoon with this lusty mindset. It stars Joan Collins (swoon). Colours and sets are opulent in technicolour. Costumes are exquisite. The island location and historical period make race relations the main topic of the movie. A few white men govern a 90% majority of black people. It was a movie of two halves. At more or less exactly half way through, a crime was committed. The crime didn’t add a lot to the plot, though it changed the pace. What brought more drama to the fictitious island was the following sentence printed in a newspaper article:

The article went on to reveal the true parentage of Mr. Fleury. The shame! The main family in the story – a prestigious white family – had a secret black ancestor. Joan Collins is 1/32 black! Her brother, running in an election, could persuade the black natives with ‘I’m one of you now!’ to charm their vote from them. It was that ridiculous.
Of course, it was ridiculous and so David Boyeur, an ‘upstart’ (haven’t heard that said about anyone since the village days, in fact haven’t heard a lot said since village days, things that are still influential in my thought patterns, perhaps what is causing this spate of longing), stood up for his people – the island people – by telling Joan Collins’ brother, in a public meeting, that he was delusional. David Boyeur: a man rumored to have powers. We had a glimpse of these when he stopped the crowd’s merry-making just by telling them to be quiet. He’s in an inter-racial relationship with a white woman. He’s a well-respected member of the community, someone who commands the trust of others, no matter what background or race.
At the end of the movie, Joan Collins is a black woman, in an ‘inter-racial’ relationship and starting a new life in England (though the dramatic irony, which kicks in during the second half of the movie, gives the viewer an advantage that the islanders don’t have). Plus the beautiful black checkout assistant (Dorothy Dandridge) from the pharmacy is moving to England to start a new life with the island governor’s white assistant, who was forced to resign due to his inter-racial relationship with her.
In the final scene, David Boyeur’s white girlfriend asked him if they can get married and start a new life together. He then went on a bit of a rant about the importance of the island and the importance of him being on the island – where he is powerful and black – not miles away talking about the island in a place where he is still black but not powerful. And that’s how it ended: David Boyeur ranting to a beautiful blonde against a backdrop of pristine coastline and tempestuous, ravaging seas.
This movie ticked several boxes in my missing rural-coastal isolation checklist:
1. The wonderful scenery and property sets.
2. The great colours and costumes of the 1957 movie world.
3. Watching people living under the silent pressure of community entertain themselves. These kicks aren’t to be found by visiting neighborhood cafes. Even the people I see everyday in the neighborhood – their struggles are imperceivable. The transparency of characters in this movie added something to my day!
As a movie known for its opening song, there’s little singing. It’s not South Sea Pacific and it doesn’t star Elvis. It’s been strange having to draw attention to character’s skin tone when writing this, in life it’s not something that I notice much, not centering around human skin. Overall the sleepy first half followed by the melodramatic conclusion – in a historical window – was just my cup of tea on a quiet, non-eventful Sunday in suburban Harajuku, with its tranquil evening yet to come.


UNDER THE SKIN (2014) dir. Jonathan Glazer

21 Oct

Movies in Japan are a few months behind the latest release. At the moment Under the Skin is playing. Last night I was lying in bed pretty sure that the day was over when I decided to take Joe and Jonny up on an invitation to go on a midnight venture to the movie theatre. It’s been almost half a year since I saw them last. Many days. For posterity I should like to mention that for the first hour, while we waited for Joe, Jonny spent most of the time projectile vomiting in MacDonalds or a 7 Eleven. It was more fun than walking to the 24 hour post office in Shinjuku to find that passbook cash withdrawals are unavailable after 9pm, which was the other thing we did before meeting Joe at Shinjuku station East exit. When Jonny was in the toilet, I read Snow by Orhan Pamuk. It worked out well.

Joe had to lend me the ¥1800 it cost to go to the theatre. Don’t ask why it’s not possible to withdraw on Sunday nights after 9pm. I once made the mistake of researching it and it’s something mindbogglingly dull like there’s nobody to man the desk at the ATM headquarters. Walking through ni-chome to the movie theater, Joe enlightened us about the true nature of closing Yoyogi park. The government and the media have made a big fuss about dengue fever. The gates to Yoyogi are still currently shut. But this means that there’s no platform readily available to the nuclear protesters. Yoyogi is a great space for a large number of people to meet easily to demonstrate. Without it, there isn’t really anywhere for demonstrators to meet and be taken seriously. If they got together outside a station, they would be sneered at for inconveniencing commuters. Joe’s theory makes sense: it is weird that the park continues to remain fenced off now the mozzies are hibernating.

We chose three seats together in the middle of the almost empty auditorium. Jonny had sent a link to the trailer that I didn’t watch. All I knew is that when I asked if it was a period drama, they laughed and said, “no, it’s a sci-fi, kind of”. The opening sequence caught my attention. It seemed to be taking place in space. Something was emerging or focusing. Then the image became an eye – light brown amber eye – with the pupil retracted. A river flowed: a dark channel in a snow covered backdrop. A man on a motorbike collects the body of a woman from the undergrowth and places her in a van. Scarlett Johansson strips the woman and wears the clothes. Even the underwear. From there the story begins.

Scarlett’s character steps out of a building, goes to a shopping mall, selects a fur coat and pink sweater to wear, which seemed to make wearing the dead woman’s attire pointless. Wasn’t she supposed to be pretending to be her? The shopping mall wasn’t one of those fancy spacious American ones. This was clearly the U.K.. It felt crowded. The inhabitants were over-weight. Everything was under loved. Cheap grey or black fabric wrapped around almost every body. Shops displayed their tacky glamour with an inward sense of pride. Their garish products were just there to be bought. The manner in which they were loved was unfathomable to Johansson. It made me a little homesick.

Next Johansson began to drive around the city of Glasgow, talking to young men, asking for directions, taking some in the van. Her utterly heartless behaviour can be seen when she murders a swimmer who has failed to rescue a drowning couple. Their toddler child is alone on the beach crying while she drags the body to the van. Later, to great effect, the man on the motorbike returns to the scene to destroy evidence of the swimmer’s existence. The child still weeps, alone on the shore in the dark. The man walks away unflinchingly.

We learn that Johansson takes the men to empty buildings. She undresses in a room with a black mirrored floor. The men undress and follow her across the room. She continues to walk backwards on the floor as they begin to submerge into it. Very strange indeed. At one point, we’re underneath the floor with one of the victims. Something weird is happening to him. His body creaks. Is he suspended in a fluid? He appears to be able to breathe. Something is going on with his forehead. He spots another man and reaches out to touch him. The other man explodes. A lifeless skin flaps about in the fluid as though a burst balloon. We see a red fluid conveyed through a vent.

At the end of the movie I still didn’t understand this scene at all. Jonny said, “It’s simple. She was murdering the men for their skin for the man on the bike to wear. When they got taken to that place under the floor, their insides were being removed. She began to become too human and experience sympathy so she ran away. The man was looking for her.” She is, of course, an alien. We can be sure of this at the end. The certainty alone made me want to watch this movie again. As we spoke about what we’d each noticed, the conclusion drawn was that there was so much silent detail in this movie it can only end up being a cult classic. Initially though, I’m not sure that I liked it. It felt mysterious in the same way as an amateur short does. Hashed together.

One day later, I feel that I love it. There’s so much to see another time round. Things that made little sense will be clearer with the knowledge she’s not of Earth. She can’t eat human food. She’s worried that her skin has torn after she has sex. Is the man on the motorbike wearing the skin of the previous men she seduced? Do they need the skins for more aliens to wear? Are more coming? The black and white colour scheme was pretty revealing. What more can be seen through that? Did I know one of the extras talking on her phone in a doorway? Gemma from Chester, was that you? Were there scenes near the end filmed ten minutes from where my parents live? (Update – Yes, there were). The questions have kept coming all day, today, another rotation of the Earth.

Later, when were drinking on the street in the vice-laden area of Kabukicho, the thought of comparing this movie to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey made more sense than it did before we’d left the cinema. Today, after reading many reviews that say a wide range of things, I’m impressed. My favorite review is this one from The Guardian newspaper. How is it possible for every critic to say something entirely different? There’s almost no dialogue. Imagery is paramount. There’s so much always-already there. Not to leave out Micachu, who has done a splendid job of producing a soundtrack that instantly transports to other points in time.

We often feel like we’re living on a different planet by being in Japan. It was a fun evening out watching the grotesque show of humanity, people watching at first on screen, watching an alien try to comprehend Glasgow. Then in the street surrounded by strange liquids that splashed up my bare legs, vomit, urine and endless bright caricatures lit by neon signs, chatting, staring, possessing what they see with their eyes.