Friday, August 20, 2010

[Japanese Film Festival] Good For Nothing (Rokudenashi)


Unfortunately I had missed Boy, the opening film of this year's Japanese Film Festival focused on the theme of Youth because I had to prioritize the Singapore film Sandcastle over it, so my jump point into the festival proper over the next one week is Yoshishige Yoshida's very first film Good for Nothing, made for the Shochiku studio. For a 1960 film and a debut feature at that, it boasts of very solidly defined framing, composition and camera movement that underlines the adage that they don't make things like they used to.

The storyline, on themes such as emptiness and boredom these days get lazily translated on screen into dallying, lingering shots by cameras that do not move, or have it just gaze into long shots of nothing under the hands of wannabes. Yoshida had a very defined way of allowing space for the characters to live and breathe while tackling such ideas, that nothing on scene rings out as an iota of waste. Character development also got weaved admirably as we follow the lives and times of four detestable characters and see how most of them change over the course of the film.

Yoshida's tale involves a pack of four idle youths who do nothing but to leech off the success of some of their wealthy dads, cruising around in an American made car, and constantly building sandcastles in the air when not monkeying around in the rooms of one of their homes. Fun means to play around with the feelings of others, to stage mock robberies, or party at a swanky hotel club. As the weather turns for the worst in Summer with a heat wave of sorts, it means jetting off to the beach and soaking it up in the cool ocean waters.

Not bad a life, if you ask me, with nary a care in the world. However, not all animals, as they are labelled wolves here, are created equal, and while two of the four friends come from wealthy families that can fuel their shenanigans and escapades, the other two are working class who struggle and are willing to seize opportunities that come their way, which sets up the destination and finale of the film, about how those who don't and looking for a quick shortcut have to resort to some form of crime to fuel their addiction of a richer lifestyle.

What's interesting here is the romantic subplot involving that of one of their victims, the secretary of a friend's rich dad who's quite the fearless female type, having to fall for one of the four who had rescued her from a socially embarrassing situation plotted by the team. It's like forsaking his mates for the flower amongst the thorns, and like what I think some girls do when they fall for bad boys – they fantasize about being able to transform their character for the better through love. I'd say it doesn't work all the time, otherwise we'll never get to know how a leopard fails to change its spots. But it makes for an engaging distraction aside from the usual laidback stuff that we see the four friends get themselves into.

The opening credits will scream for your attention through its beautiful arty design and jazz music that will pepper the soundtrack, and I can't stress enough of how I dig the film's look and feel through its excellent cinematography right up to the frenetic pacing of the final scene that to a modern audience, ends abruptly. Yoshishige Yoshida has his second film lined up in this year's festival as well, and I'm quietly eager to see how his technique will evolve or change.

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