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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Think Myself So Much Better than I Am
by Donald Levit

Briefly introduced before the U.S. première of Monsters Club/Monsutazu Kurabu, then responding post-film through a translator, Toshiaki Toyoda concluded, in this film “I actually left the conflict up to you.” Thus, take it as you will, does Ryoichi Kakiuchi (Eita) return to civilization and younger sister and sole other survivor of their ill-fated family, Mikana (Mayuu Kusakari)? Or does he go on with bomb-making and –mailing in anarchist protest of his consumer country’s empty, greedy, corporate-run society that embraces a citizen suicide every quarter-hour?

The young man’s actions -- sending exploding MC (Monsters Club) boxes targeted at misguided professionals and politicians -- derive from Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and his rambling Manifesto mirrored in Ryo’s journal entries. The director indicated that, despite rumor to the contrary, the fortnight shoot worked from a script, albeit with encouraged input in actors’ spontaneous contributions and dialogue.

Interior “monologue” is more precise, for much is the disturbed man’s voiceover thought, and, only two characters flesh-and-blood alive, his male sibling “visitors” exist inside his head: motorcycle fatality Kenta (Ken Ken) and the elder one, suicide Yuki (Yosuke Kubozuka). At times, one or the other morphs into, or from, a figure draped in bloody animal innards; while at others, into a white-covered male with smeary red mouth and blue-rimmed eyes (drag artist Pyuupiru). When the protagonist snaps near the end and flees, he similarly coats his own face with what resembles Crisco and color. But then no one notices him as he mixes with city throngs and acquires voice “reality” only when he telephones his waitress sister to caution her, with love, to tread the straight and narrow.

The setting is chiaroscuro snowy forested mountains through which a fire lane leads to the wooden cabin built by poetic man of action Yuki and now reinforced by Ryo. Presumably a post office and general store must be close enough to the dwelling empty of amenities beyond a well-used gramophone.

Title and signature MC carved into the black package bombs are in the plural, so by inference he considers that “monsters” designates, not his individual vigilante self, but those many who render social life unacceptable. His self-imposed holier-than-thou isolation is interrupted, however, by the snowshoe visit of Mikana, uncertain what personal path to take and seeking love, direction or at worst mere reassurance from her brother.

SPOILER ALERT

Responding with neither surprise, anger nor warmth, he at once sends her away but not before she comes across a family snapshot from happier times. He burns this physical reminder, only to be “visited” by the dead brothers. Yuki uses batteries to illustrate some cockamamie parable about those at the top and their proximity to hell. He accuses Ryo of being the same wimp as always, invites him to join the blessed family dead and later, with his hunting rifle, again blows his head off to splatter the snow red.

Whether the rebuffed woman informs on her brother or not, is unclear and immaterial. And whether his backpack should be ominous or not in the midst of an urban crowd which does not see or acknowledge him, is also suggested but unanswered. Inherited financial security does not allow man to remain forever isolated in the pristine, possibly hostile woods; but neither can individual dignity be maintained among the swarming mindless masses.

The ending of this seventy-one minutes is a comedown, as though Toyoda cut it short and declined to take a stance. One hopes for at least a few steps more.

During the Q&A at the overlapping Japan Society’s Japan Cuts Festival of Contemporary Japanese Cinema and the New York Asian Film Festival, Toyoda insisted that Monsters Club is intended as an affirmation for his floundering, misdirected nation. But as in his year-before-last NYAFF entry, The Blood of Rebirth -- a return from a near career-ending 2005 drug bust -- the Hungry Ghost suggests and tantalizes but cannot be pinned down or bear the load of implications.

(Released by Open Sesame Company; not rated by MPAA.)


                                                                                                                                                                               
 
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