Saturday, October 18, 2008

[TIFF 2008 Review] Kill (斬) (World Premiere)


The brainchild of director Mamoru Oshii, Kill is an omnibus movie concept where four directors each contribute their own segments based on the blade action concept as supervised by Oshii himself. The synopsis would have led you to believe that the film contains only the last act of an action movie, which almost always features an action sequence to top all action sequences that went before it. Conceptually, this means cutting down the crap (of a plot and character development) and giving the audience what they want - unadulterated, stylized violence with good battling evil.

But this concept seemed to have been lost in the other filmmakers except for Oshii himself, as it became more like watching complete short stories, not that they were all bad, but naturally felt a little too rushed, and they could have been decent feature films in their own right. So for all those out there who think that it's action sequence after action sequence, the reality of it is some still had room for needless villains lapsing into gloating soliloquy, or worse, repetitive and dragged out scenes trying to make walking cautiously along a corridor look cool.

Kilico by Takanori Tsujimoto has an office lady boring down some faceless goons (in masks ala The Banquet) in order to rescue her sister, and it looks as if we're in for one rip-roaring time with fake blood aplenty, though with execution a little bit wanting. Nonetheless, it was B-grade cheesy fun, until you start to realize the lapsing into over-the-top speeches by the chief villain, and that there is another half of this movie involving fighting by a school girl in uniform. There's a twist that you're likely to see coming from a mile away, but flaws aside, this was still rather enjoyable.

Kodomo Zamurai by Kenta Fukasaku was a charming self-contained tale, all involving kid actors in grown up roles, with school playground politics and filmed in sepia-toned silent movie format, with narration and intertitles. It's about a kid samurai who refuses to draw his sword because of an oath sworn to his father, until circumstances force his hand otherwise of course. But you're really made to wait for the big fight, which did draw a few unexpected surprises in the baying for more blood, only for punches to be pulled because of the lessons learnt from the essence of being a samurai, as well as this being a kid's film, you can't really go all out with explicit gore like the other segments.

I didn't enjoy Minoru Tahara's segment unfortunately, because it was really slow to begin with (whatever happened to the skipping of needless development?) and I didn't find joy in having to watch characters proceed at snail's pace along long corridors. The background to the story though had plenty of potential, telling of two swords, one completely evil, being cast in stone during the end of the Meiji era, until it was taken and used for evil. But it morphed into Final Fantasy jurisdiction with the combination of guns and swords, ala "zan-gun", and out goes the swordfighting through the window, and it becomes a hybrid of gun play instead, not that there was anything interesting in that to begin with.

And of course, the best being saved for the last, Mamoru Oshii's Assault Girl 2 was the one that fronted the project in its posters and trailers, though the end result was that there's nothing much more that what you already know, or have seen. Sound is kept simple with no dialogue, but is filled with an impressive and expressive soundtrack. Special effects were top notch, and on the whole, it was beautifully designed to have Rinko Kikuchi and Yoko Fujita in fantastical costumes battle it out in an open field. It encapsulates all that is in the concept about the perennial battle between good and evil, and as much as everyone would like this to continue forever, it ended quite surprisingly as it began.

All in all, a decent effort, but found strength in its individual parts than the sum of its whole. Audiences will likely respond favourably to Oshii's segment, while the others might be found a little bit wanting since they've veered somewhat off course (guns?), or come with stories that hardly intrigue any more.

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