My initial reaction was, this sure is one strange movie. Set in the late 19th century and after the end of the American Civil War, three slaves decided to make their way back to Africa, but en route, found themselves on the shores of Japan after a shipwreck. From then on, it's a weird mix of Japanese shogun intrigue and jazz music fused into a somewhat nonsensical end.
The introduction needed a little getting used to, since the Americans were clearly speaking in English, but had their speech dubbed over with voices speaking Japanese. Subtitles and intertitles became Japanese at certain points of the story, although English subtitles were used when they had their voices dubbed. So it's listening to two concurrent language tracks, and reading the English subtitles.
The storyline and its characters were peculiar as well. Essentially, it's about the chancing upon a group of gaijins who bring along their musical instruments and talent for jazz (well, actually not quite. They only know one song, and it's played ad nausem after plenty of practice), and sharing their passion for music with the native Japanese. And it all turned out to be one huge STOMP-like ensemble performance and a trance like rave party, which seemed pretty out of place given the development of the storyline.
Actually, what storyline? The "intrigue in the palace" styled story isn't inspiring, and for most parts it just bores. There are some characters which had potential to be something more, like the martial arts skilled princess, but given its runtime of less than 90 minutes, it's already hard pressed to get any more character development.
So that leaves the finale, which looks like an extended music video. But what I thought was interesting, was the way how the portrayal of "leaving society" was handled, with the jazz performance, and the depiction of turmoil and inevitable changes happening above their performing grounds. There were murmurings around me about how absurd it all is, but I thought it was quite neatly done, and brought its own message across in a very non-conventional way.
Today's session marks the end of the free screenings from the Japanese Film Fest, and the end of the use of the 166mm film projector. From tomorrow, the sessions are the paid ones, so am curious to see what's the turnout gonna be like. In any case, the highlight will be director Ogigami Naoko gracing the screenings of Yoshino's Barber Shop and Kamome Diner on Saturday, and I'm really looking forward to Linda Linda Linda.
The coverage continues. More to come!