海外では DOMAN SEMAN として認知されております『堀川中立売』。
Japan’s Gô Shibata outdoes his 2004 creepfest, Late Bloomer, by jettisoning narrative altogether and going for a stream-of-consciousness assault: Slackers and yakuza bigwigs battle witches, pretty-boy students beat up homeless bums, and Hello Kitty–cute media pundits regurgitate white noise. Entire scenes are replayed with different actors, and everything falls apart. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the 2010 fest’s candidate for MVP mind-melter. Damnations of modern society are rarely so full of free-form rage, nor this fantastically fucked up. July 5 at 8:30pm, July 7 at 5:45pm; Film Society of Lincoln Center
- David Fear
Movie Review> Doman Seman: A Love Letter to Japanese Indie Rock
What do wizards, homeless people, possessed children, gangs of hot boys, and serial killers have in common? Well for one thing, they’re all in this movie.
Indie/comedy/strange/action/alternate reality/fiction apocalypse film Doman Seman is Director/Writer Gô Shibata’s esoteric homage to his adopted hometown of Kyoto. The Japanese title, 堀川中立売 / Horikawa Nakatachiuri, is the name of a neighborhood in Kyoto.
As explained in a prologue, the action centers around an ancient bridge, which according to legend serves as a crossroad between worlds. Shibata stumbled upon this bridge while exploring Kyoto, admittedly while drinking, and subsequently Doman Seman was born.
The movie is set in modern day Japan but there are supernatural forces on the loose wreaking havoc on the world.
In one corner we have the good guys, Mr. Abe, a legendary onmyōji magician (kind of like a Japanese Merlin) and his young daughter/assistant. In the other corner we have evil Kato the Catwalk, leader of the Human Enslavement Project, and Terada, a troubled young man who murdered an entire personal loan company as a teen.
Unable to patrol the galaxy all on his own, Mr. Abe enlists the help of funemployed pants-hater Shinsuke and magic mushroom enthusiast Tsutomu to fight evil forces in the Kyoto.
It’s at this point the many um….disparate pieces upon which the story is built, begin to fall apart. Granted the spirit of the movie is experimental, but the weird plot devices hijack the narrative running it so far off the tracks at the end you have no idea where you are and have to call a friend to Mapquest© your location and have a cab pick you up. And you don’t even want to know how much that’s gonna cost.
In an effort to clear things up, Shibata, an indie music lover, compares the film to Boredoms, Japan’s feted indie psychedelic noise-rock-percussion quartet, which after listening to puts things into perspective.
Doman Seman is purposely tied very closely to underground music. Not only did Shibata cast several musicians (Lead actor Motako Ishii plays in Oshiri Penpenz and Sae Shimiz in Hatena Taxi), he tapped into Kyoto’s indie music scene to provide all the music for the film including: roots dub jams by Ratville, Killa Sista, and Arakajime; alongside thrash anthems by Abraham Cross and Elektro Humangel.
All in all it’s hard to say whether Doman Seman should be classified as a successful experiment in film-making, but it was definitely fun to watch.
NYAFF 2010: DOMAN SEMAN Review
By Peter Gutierrez
For fans of out-there cinema, especially of the anything-goes Asian variety, Gô Shibata’s new film presents something of a conundrum: it’s wild, wacky, subversive-minded, undeniably experimental, and often innovative… yet feels, paradoxically, excruciatingly conventional. In short, I’ve rarely seen a film with such radical aesthetics, not to mention politics, that’s nonetheless so humdrum. How did this happen?
Expectations run high for Doman Seman largely on the strength of Shibata’s stunning alt-serial killer film Late Bloomer, which featured a disabled protagonist but managed to be anything but gimmicky. Walking a fine line between chilly objectivity and intimate subjectivity, Late Bloomer used a wide range of filmmaking devices opportunistically in order to underscore its central question: can we ever really understand what drives someone like this?
Doman Seman takes a similar kitchen-sink approach to the stylistic tropes it’s willing to employ but the results never provide a sense of the form-follows-function elegance of the earlier film. Rather, Doman Seman ends up feeling like a grab bag of tricks and obsessions from the film world’s most notable mavericks as we get intentionally goofy martial arts sequences à la Minoru Kawasaki, a Haneke-like interest in surveillance and video as metaphors for both cinema and social dysfunction, a Lynchian penchant for creating portentous menace out of simple ingredients, a Godardian disregard for some of commercial film’s storytelling techniques, and the off-handed transgression of Takashi Miike, especially when it comes to positioning sex dangerously close to violence.
If one had to pare down this laundry list of influences and echoes, one could focus on the last two items and decide that the phrase “diluted Godard meets diluted Miike” might suffice in summing of Doman Seman. Of course this description might still sound enticing to many cinephiles (myself included), but in the end they’re apt to be disappointed by how we never get a solid sense of Shibata-the-artist, let alone a compelling narrative. It’s the kind of movie that critics might find diverting as they struggle to note all the conceptual bells-and-whistles on hand, but if your goal is to sit there happily munching popcorn while being entranced by fearless creativity and memorable characters, well, think again. My advice: go and rewatch Sion Sono’s Love Exposure instead for an example of an ambitious but offbeat work whose reach doesn’t exceed its grasp.
Which is all really too bad because it’s not as if Shibata has eschewed a sense of fun in crafting this arthouse-cum-midnight movie; he just seems to have gotten the proportions wrong and chosen ingredients that aren’t exactly fresh. Things start promisingly, as we encounter an intriguing couple in the person of layabout Shinsuke and his nymphomaniac lover. When Shinsuke finally finds gainful employment, it’s in the service of the mystical yet streetwise Abe, who eventually teams him homeless free thinker Enoki. Their mission? Um, well, that’s where the narrative starts to get hazy, with an agenda that seems to include overthrowing both capitalism’s excesses and the mass media’s stranglehold on human relationships.
Amusing in fits and starts, the film fashions a semi-dystopian world in which attacking the homeless is a national form of recreation and where everyone seems to be in insurmountable debt to shady moneylenders. At the apex of this shaky social pyramid is “Kato the Catwalk Doman Seman,” the powerful head of a modeling agency but also a behind-the-scenes player in the money-lending industry. With a lack of both screentime and sharp dialogue or motivation, Doman Seman (also the name of a tower, by the way, in case you want bonus symbolism) doesn’t prove to be an effective counterpart to Shinsuke, our presumptive point-of-view character. Instead, this role is taken on by anti-hero Terada, who in his youth committed a one-man massacre of moneylenders and is now struggling to find his path in life. This plotline is arguably Doman Seman’s greatest narrative asset as Terada stands accused of a new series of similar murders.
The problem is, this strong mystery-thriller element seems either to bore Shibata after he has played with it for a spell or, worse still, strikes him as a form of selling out the film’s pronounced anarchistic themes by providing something as old-fashioned as “genre” to the audience. “Why be a slave to standard notions of story?” the film seems to assert, thus offering the promise of liberating viewers from the chains of standard capitalist entertainment. The problem is, it doesn’t offer us much by way of an alternative. Total anarchy can certainly be fun when on the big screen, but I prefer my doses to be via short film rather than two-hour-plus features.
To be sure, Shibata’s sheer talent is on display in nearly every minute of the too-long runtime. We’re treated to slo-mo, fast-mo, long takes, kooky montage, multiple exposures, handheld lyricism, and occasionally astounding effects (sometimes astounding in their blatant cheapness)… but the end result is the proverbial “flashes of brilliance” experience rather than one that’s really satisfying. It’s the kind of movie that looks awesome in a trailer but then you realize that’s because the trailer coheres much better than the actual movie.
We want to root for Doman Seman the entire time we’re watching it, such is Shibata’s virtuosity and creative energy. And one respects his commitment to trying to shock us in addition to making us laugh and think. Unfortunately, on all these levels he’s only around 50% successful.
NYAFF 2010: Review of Gô Shibata’s DOMAN SEMAN
Directors: Gô Shibata
Writers: Gô Shibata
Review by: Bob Doto
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Go Shibata makes strange films based on challenging premises filled with incredible (read: inspired) music and we love him for it. In 2004 (2009 in the States) we got LATE BLOOMER, which told the story of a serial killer with cerebral palsey. The movie became a cult sensation all while it’s disturbing self languished in distribution red tape. Thankfully, Shibata’s most recent film, DOMAN SEMAN, carries the torch of where he left off, although possibly a little lower than before. It’s hard to say, however, because frankly, and I must admit cheerfully, I’m still not sure just what DOMAN SEMAN is!
Here’s what I do know: DOMAN SEMAN is a punk cluster funk of knotted tones and obliterated semiotic conventions, and is one of the weirder narrative experiences I’ve had to sit through in my day. The “story” as told by the NYAFF speaks for itself:
“Behold, the Apocalypse! Souls are destroyed by greed, the global economic crisis and the Human Enslavement Project run by the evil Kato the Catwalk (in a rubber Halloween mask) who encourages gangs of Hot Boys to beat up the homeless while cruising around Kyoto in her luxury hearse. Opposing her is Mr. Abe, a yakuza magician who leads an army of psychic children as they protect Kyoto with mystical amulets made of garbage. Enter Shinsuke, a deadbeat who supports himself by mooching off his girlfriend, and Tsutomu, a homeless bum constantly tripping on Day Glo Imperial Mushrooms. Conscripted by Mr. Abe, they’re forced to monitor the whereabouts of Terada, an adult who slaughtered the staff of a personal loan company when he was 16 and who has grown into a lightning rod for dark mystical energies.”
Let’s take a look closer, shall we?
1. “The Human Enslavement Project run by the evil Kato the Catwalk (in a rubber Halloween mask)”
Kato the Catwalk is one of the more “interesting” “female” characters I’ve met in film. Played by the singularly named male juggling performance artist Monchi (whom we got to see in action before the show), Kato is a bumbling mess of a nemesis crippled by her own face make-up. She’s a baddie and will go out of her way to continue being as such.
2. “Gangs of Hot Boys”
These young lads show up every so often while out on a homeless beating rampage. Fear not, there’s no gore or real depictions of violence, but when the news lavishes praise on one young buck caught in the act, you might cringe just a touch.
3. “Mr. Abe, a yakuza magician who leads an army of psychic children as they protect Kyoto with mystical amulets made of garbage.”
I’m not sure if it was the language barrier, but I would have never guessed our yakuza savior (read: mob boss) was anything occult, save for the star he used as his symbol. He is, however, easily recognized as a likeable, if stern, character who gets our two dim-wit protagonists to fight for the good side.
4. Shinsuke, a deadbeat who supports himself by mooching off his girlfriend, and Tsutomu, a homeless bum constantly tripping on Day Glo Imperial Mushrooms.
Speaking of deadbeats, Shinsuke is “our guy.” He along with his faux-hobo friend Tsutomu is who we’re rooting for through this cacophony of mystery. Both get into a world of trouble and destroy or kill (I’m still not sure which best describes the act) people by ripping the tops of their heads off, after which a sea of what can only be described as “animated semen” comes shooting skyward.
5. “Terada, an adult who slaughtered the staff of a personal loan company when he was 16 and who has grown into a lightning rod for dark mystical energies.”
Terada is where all things thematic get a bit tricky (as if they weren’t already). While the rest of the characters are pretty one-dimensional, serving mostly to freak us out or push along the story, Terada comes as a breath of fresh air. He’s a developed person and ultimately gives a right tear jerker of a performance as his shirt becomes drenched in his own blood. The guy just wants to be left alone, people!
Overall, I thought the film was gooooood, though not great. Although I’m willing to admit that some of my reaction has to do with the way the film was marketed. Everyone is talking about how psychedelic this is, how far out the story stretches into the realms of the occult. Truth be told, there ain’t that much occult going on here. Yeah, a couple of stars (not in circles), a couple of sigils floating around in the form of recycled plastic bottles. And, yes, there’s the occasional transportation of physical matter, but all in all, the film, even if totally f-ed up, is pretty tame. Nevertheless, as an object in and of itself, I’d have to say this film is kinda dope. See it and appreciate it as another example of how easily Asian filmmakers handle disjunction. They’ve got that stuff on lock down.
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