19 May 2011

"Buongiorno Principessa!" - [film] La vita e bella [1997]

I just watched "la vita e bella" an Italian film from 1997. It's a so called "Holocaust-Drama", though I believe that it's more than that. It's also a tragicomedy.
To be honest, I haven't laughed so much, like when I watched this picture, in a while. However, I also haven't cried so much in a while.
Roberto Benigni managed to get his message across.

It's basically about a jewish guy,called Guido who is portrayed to be a very easy-going person. He has great sense of humour but also is very intelligent. Guido can realise situations pretty fast and understands what is happening, but usually always finds a way to get out of trouble or inconvenient situations (the egg incident e.g.). La vita e bella is parted in two parts you could say. And that's how this post will look like. Separated in two parts.

Part I about Guido and how he met his wife Dora, part II about his time in Auschwitz. 
Part I: An introduction of Guido, his lifestyle and how he met the love of his life.

Guido and his friend are both on their way to Rome to open a book store when their car breaks down (hilarious scene!) and the young man meets beautiful Dora - an elementary school teacher. He immediately falls in love with her. They meet several times before she finally kisses him and get together. 
It's 1939 when Guido gets a job as a waiter for his uncle's hotel. The political situation is not yet that hard for him, but posters of angry looking Mussolini who established the race laws in Italy could be seen on walls already. 
He first meets Dora while on a day trip with his friend when she fell down from a roof with Guido catching her as she falls. He calls her Principessa (princess) and introduces himself as a prince. Dora is immediately amused by his humour. They meet two more times, both meetings connected to funny incidents which caused me to laugh extremely much. His personality is really revitalising.

However, the symbolism of the growing racism in Italy at that time was also shown extra-ordinarily well when Guido's uncle's horse was painted in green and a message saying "a Jew's horse" was seen on it. Eliseo told Guido that it will happen to him, too, but Guido laughed it off telling "What should they do to me? Saying "A Jewish waiter?".
This happened on the day Dora and the prefect of Arezzo were about to announce her marriage plans. 
They had their dinner at Eliseo's (the uncle) hotel and that's also when Dora kissed Guido. Before she listened to the headmistress of her school calculating the costs of cripples and sick people per day. Dora was rightly shocked when the headmistress recommended to kill all those people to save money. She first spoke about this as a mathematical equation for third graders in Germany at that time. Dora was also shocked that no one else was shocked about kids studying the economics of genocide. 

However those are just minor details in the first part. It mostly focuses on Guido's life and all the funny things he experiences. I really don't want to spoil all those parts of the film, but they are really really funny. Roberto Begnini is a tremendous actor and director. A very charming person.
His intelligence in the picture is shown through his ability to speak in a poetical way. He can speak well in general. When he meets Dr. Lessing as a guest in Eliseo's hotel he solves his riddles (Lessing is obsessed wtih riddles) easily and  makes up his own riddles spontaneously. 
I think Dora gets interested in Guido mostly because of his humour and his light and positive character. Whenever she meets him you can see her smiling, while in moments without him she is sometimes quite unhappy, especially during that dinner when she is faced with her fiancés' ignorance towards racism and his brother, a sympathiser of the German regime.  This is why she decided to leave her old life and go with Guido.
The scene when Guido is taking her away from dinner with the green painted horse is priceless. When they  reach Eliseo's house (where Guido is staying) the first part of this film ends. A part which is characterised by humour, fantasy and lightness. 

Part II: tragedy and 1000 points to finally win a tank

Guido and Dora got married and have a son. Giosué (Joshua) is 5 and his favourite toy is the toy of a tank. It is now 1944. Italy is sieged by Germany and anti-Semitism reached its peak.
It is shown how Guido and Giosué are walking down the street when Giosué sees a sign in a shop saying "No dogs or Jews allowed". He asked why it is like that and Guido answers, trying to keep the humour and shielding off all this anti-Semitism from his son, that it's normal. Every person doesn't like something and he jokes by saying he will put up a sign in his shop's window, as well.
Guido is being discriminated already, as when he closes his store a writing "Jewish store" is seen on the shutter. 
Soon afterwards he gets taken away with his son from the Nazis. Dora lets herself be deported voluntarily after she found out her husband and son are being deported.
The score of the film was really positive until now and showed a happy mood, while now it gets darker and darker. Also this second half of La vita e bella sets on a totally different course than the first half. Now is shown how Guido,Giosué and Dora live in a concentration camp. Eliseo gets deported, as well, and he is being brought to "shower" (I think people know what I mean by this) immediately as he is already relatively old and so was not useful to the Nazis. One day also all the kids are about to get "showered", but Giosué manages to hide in the barrack where all the inmates sleep. Guido the so care-free, positive, light and happy man faces hard labour, depression and death now. However he is still as humorous and tries to laugh off several situations. He does this especially to protect his son. He tries to shield off all this tragedies and the whole situation by making up a game they all (inmates and guards) play. He can explain everything his son is asking (the clothes, the strictness, the yelling, the hard labour, etc) with the rules of this game and his son eventually believes it playing the game in order to win a new tank. This price was selected smartly by Guido, as the tank is Giosué's favourite toy (as mentioned above). The goal of this game is to earn 1000 points, then they could leave with a brand-new tank. 
A very humorous scene is when guards came in to explain the situation to the inmates in Guido's barrack and ask if anybody of the inmates was able to speak German. Guido speaks up and translates (speaks and understands no word of German) the serious context of what the guards are saying in terms of the game he and his son are "playing". The other inmates look suspicious, but Giosué can hardly hide his laugh. 
He often risks his life just to show Giosué that everything really is just a game. People tell Giosué the truth and he slowly realises the tragedy he is in, but Guido always manages to convince him that it's just a game.

Guido also meets Dr. Lessing again who is doctor in the concentration camp. He hopes that Lessing could help him to get out when Lessing saves him from the hard labour and lets him be a waiter for the SS officers. Unfortunately Lessing can't do much and mostly cares about his riddles. He looks helpless when Guido told him that his wife is in the camp, as well.

Life in camp continues and when the war is about to end it all seems to turn out well. Giosué eventually "wins the price" and gets his tank. But the price is high...

I really enjoyed watching this picture. As I explained before I laughed a lot, but also cried a lot. The score won an Oscar, as well as Begnini and I think both are deserved. The soundtrack manages to consume you in the whole world of La vita e bella, whether it's its positive and light side or its dark and sad side. The song I posted above is the end theme and one of my favourite tunes of the score. The acting is so brilliant. Begnini especially, but also the actors of his wife, his son, his uncle or even the guards acted so well. Everything seems so authentic and seems as it was real. Not just a film, but an unordinary tale life tells.
Which brings me to my final statement. Life is really something that cannot be categorised. A bad life or a good life is equally unreal. Sadness always follows happiness and happiness follows sadness, same goes for bad periods of life and good periods. That's just the regular cycle.

22 April 2011

[film] Laundry (ランドリー) (2002)

Can you imagine how long 1 year is? 1 year alone. I guess not.

Today I write about one of my favourite films ever. It's called Laundry and was made in 2002. It featured one of the most promising actors at that time, Kubozuka Yosuke . He became big when he played in "Great Teacher Onizuka" from 1998. Afterwards he acted in great movies like "Go" from (2001) and "Ping Pong" (2002). He also played in "Long Love Letter" a really popular tv drama. He was a big star in the early years of the new century. He, however couldn't deal very well with it and attempted to commit suicide, as he jumped off his 9th floor apartment and fell 26 metres. He survived and tried to be a writer after that ,with however not so much success. His acting career was kind of dead as he admitted to the usage of Marijuana. He then tried to be a reggae dancehall musician with mediocre success. In recent times he focussees more on acting again, but only plays minor roles.

I could have reviewed "Go" or "Ping Pong", as well, as they are equally great, however I chose "Laundry", because it deals with a very serious topic. It's about trust and reliance.

This flick is about Teru. Simply Teru. Teru and Mizue.
Teru is brain-impaired, due to an accident when he was younger. He works at his grandma's coin laundry. The character of Teru explains every customer's characteristics at the beginning. It's striking that no customer is really normal. For me there is not really a definition for what's normal and what not anyway. In a sense everyone has a certain quirk, so no one is really normal.
What I like about this film so much is that the Director Junichi Mori focussed so much on the details. It comes off like a documentary sometimes, as the focus stays on a certain scene and view for seconds without moving. You could say that most of those cuts are Teru's vision. It's a very attentive picture. You can, for example, see how a new customer (she seems so normal) visits the laundry and the camera focusses on her calmly smoking a cigarette. She is Mizue. Mizue forgets a piece of clothes.
When Teru follows her and tries to deliver the forgotten piece of clothes those two meet each other and start to talk.
You can see that Mizue seems lonely, so she invites him in for a cup of tea (mostly to show him gratitude). Due to his mental disability he talks like a young boy. He seems naive and innocent. The boy sometimes asks the most banal and mundane questions. For example, one customer (the boxer) talks happily about how he would have knocked out his opponent and gets very excited as he explains all the little details, when suddenly Teru interrupts him and asks him "Say, are ambulances fast?".
The young boy left Mizue's place pretty soon and they didn't talk much, however it seemed she felt comfortable around him.

we are shown Mizue as she attempts to commits suicide one day. She survives.
On the day Mizue leaves, she asks Teru to come see her off. On the way to the bus station they come across a huge puddle. She tells Teru that she believes she can get her life back on track if she can jump over it.

When Teru returns to the coin laundry he notices the beautiful girl left another piece of clothes, this time blood stained. Teru in this sense is not naive, though he talks naively. He earlier noticed the taped wrist of Mizue and gave it a doubtful look. He cleans this green shirt until there is no trace of blood any more and decides to deliver it to her when the place at which the coin laundry was got on sale.
On his naive but resolute journey he meets a strange but direct guy who helps him reach his destination. After being able to deliver this piece of clothes to a lonely and lost Mizue she decides to stay with Teru. She gets the feeling Teru needs her and that he can't live alone. 

However as soon as the unorthodox couple move together with Sally (the guy Teru met - he offered Teru help whenever he needed some) the beautiful girl realises that she needs Teru more than he needs her. After Sally goes on a trip to the USA to find a buxom American wife the two have to take over Sally's business and live at his house. They are a happy couple, until Mizue's demons begin to haunt her again....

Laundry is a sweet, but well-balanced romance without all the kitsch we are used to from other romances. What I love so much about this film is its intense symbolism. As the story unfolds you can notice a lot of subtle metaphors being shown. I can't really pick a favourite scene because there are so many.
Kubozuka Yosuke plays the role of Teru so well. There is a lot of irony, but also lots of emotions on his side. Koyuki who plays Mizue, gives her character a lot of depth and makes her really special. Also all the other characters are kind of special. If you love this flick as much as I do, you will be able to remember most characters in the film as they are so significant in the way they live and the way they act and behave.

The soundtrack (as you can hear above) is very melodic and calm. The music is rather easy listening and doesn't expect too much from the viewer which adds perfectly to the cinematographic of Junichi Mori.
He managed to deliver a lot of messages with this film.
You can say that there is a bit of Teru and Mizue in all of us. Especially when it comes to love and our daily life. However, with that being said, Laundry is a very uplifting motion picture and experiencing it made my life richer. It touched me a lot.
I hope you felt or will feel the same after seeing it. 

So long! :)

1 April 2011

[film] Gojira vs. King Ghidhora (1991)

This post contains massive spoilers. Don't read if you haven't seen the mentioned film and still want to see it.
Also I'd like to point out that written content applies only in this film's universe and is not comparable to other flicks. So statements given here might sound ridiculous to fans of the mainstream and blockbuster film.

Gojira (or Godzilla) vs. King Ghidhora from 1991 is one of the greatest Godzilla films, I think.
You might think that the 18th instalment of the series must be worse than all 17 prequels and I'm not saying that it is the best of all (the original film from 1954 is still the best), but it definitely ranks in my top 5 of Godzilla films. It's the second directed by Kazuki Omori. He already directed Godzilla vs. Biollante, which already had an interesting set up for a Godzilla flick. Unfortunately it wasn't very good in my opinion.
However Godzilla vs. King Ghidhora did a few things right. First of all it gave Godzilla finally some background story and history.
Godzilla fans all over the world must have wondered where Godzilla even came from in the first place. Godzilla used to be a dinosaur who lived on the Bikini Islands in 1944 and as the USA tested the H-Bomb there the dinosaur became Godzilla (you should know that Godzilla's source of power is radiation and nuclear energy so this is a rather consequent back story (I'm not going to discuss the dinosaur in 1944 thing, or else wise I'd need to discuss the whole monsters thing in post modern times...).


The second and most important reason why this film is good is because it made Godzilla return as a villain again. Previously (except for the first few instalments) he was famous for saving Japan and even being "friendly" with kids. He was a hero. This time he is the havoc and destruction triggering monster that he used to be in 1954. Kazuki Omori did explain this quite smartly.
Godzilla was still weakened from the anti nuclear bacteria used on him in the previous film and so Japan's government felt quite safe until an UFO from the future appeared over Japan and people from the 23rd century explained to the prime minister that Japan will be no more in 200 years. They said Godzilla would destroy nuclear power plants and radiation leaks and forces Japanese people to leave their country. They came to save Japan and change its history that's why they wanted to travel back to 1944 and teleport the dinosaur to another island so it won't be exposed to radiation and can never transform into Godzilla.
After they did so and left three little cute dragons on Bikini Islands, the people from the future revealed their true intentions. The three cute little dragons became Ghidhora and as one monster it plans to destroy Japan. Fortunately (rather unfortunately though) Japan's government discovered the dinosaur on the island it was teleported to sending a submarine with nuclear missiles to "create" a new Godzilla. Not knowing it was hit by a sunken submarine which carried nuclear weapons a few years ago already it finally caused Godzilla to be even bigger and more vicious.

The previous Godzilla films lacked suspense and thrill, because when Godzilla the hero entered the fight everything usually turned out well. It used to be the typical wrestling procedure. The face (good guy) beats up the heel (bad guy) pretty well in the beginning but gets serious beating in the middle of the fight nearly enduring till the end when the face suddenly regains his will to win and then eventually wins.
In this film everything turned out different. Godzilla defeated Ghidhora relatively fast (yes - the centre head gets torn off once again haha) but continued destroying Japan. People were frightened of him again.
In the end it even needed Cyborg Ghidhora from the future to step in and help.

I also liked the effects of this one. It is visible that they had a lot more budget for this one. Of course the goofy fights and cheap looking monster dresses are still the same, but that's just a trademark of the Godzilla films (CGI effects as for example in Emmerich's Godzilla from 1998 destroyed this. This is by the way (imo) one of the worst films ever made). Also this time the film title doesn't exactly reveal who the villain is (though by reading this you would already know.)

In conclusion there is to say that I highly recommend this flick to anybody who is interested in cool monster films. They are actually rare these days.