My introduction to Japanese artist and director Katsuhito Ishii was, oddly enough, at the 2005 Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival. I had no idea what I was getting into at a screening of The Taste Of Tea — a hilarious, quiet, outrageous, sensitive, violent, magical and sob-provoking tale of a multi-generational family.
I had never seen anything like Taste before in Japanese cinema. Think of the simple elegance of Yasujiro Ozu meshed a bit with the modern (bonkers) sensibilities of Takashi Miike. There is nothing like it either in American cinema, or any where else, really. It is one of my favorite movies, and I try to spread it around to others as often as I can.
Ishii is best known to American audiences for his direction of the lurid and ultra-violent anime sequence in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill BIll Vol. 1, which is and isn’t surprising when watching any of his mostly wholesome, live-action work.
I jumped at the chance to see Ishii’s latest movie, Hello! Junichi, when I found it was part of this year’s festival. And I was not surprised at how enchanted and entertained I was for the whole 90-some minutes. Junichi is slight in many ways compared to the epic qualities of Taste, but that doesn’t make it any less special.
Junichi is a 9-year-old boy who spends his time hanging with his third-grade chums, ruminating on the girl he has a major crush on, enjoying some after-school bonding time with his eccentric, dancing grandfather (Tatsuya Gashuin, who also plays the wonderfully-eccentric grandpa in Taste), hiding from his quarreling parents and trying to become less of a wimp.
There’s also a sweet subplot about Junichi’s sad, middle-aged teacher (played by the great character actor Yoshiyuki Morishita — who plays the poor sap at the business end of Gogo’s sword in the aforementioned Tarantino blood opus) and his crush on his alluring-yet-secretly-impish teaching assistant.
There is nothing remotely like Ishii’s delightful meditations on childhood in American popular culture, which is quite a shame. Seek this nugget out, and, seriously, don’t let your life pass by without seeing The Taste of Tea.
Hello! Junichi is playing at 12:20 p.m., and also on Thursday, April 23 at 10 p.m.
~ Stephen Swanson
Other Highlights For Friday, April 17
Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock And Roll (John Pirozzi: USA, Cambodia, France) Young Cambodian musicians in the 60s created a singular style of rock and roll music. But the rise of the Khmer Rouge in the 70s effectively silenced the movement, and led to the deaths of two million citizens. Surviving artists tell their tales with the help the era’s wonderful music and rare footage. (4:45 p.m.)
The Russian Woodpecker (Chad Garcia: USA, UK, Ukraine) The winner of the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival comes to MSPIFF, along with its director and the fearless Ukrainian artist who inspired it all. Filled with conspiracy theories surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, Woodpecker (pictured above) warns of Vladimir Putin’s aggressive intentions toward former Soviet satellites. (7:30 p.m.)
Black Coal, Thin Ice (Diao Yinan: China) Speaking of award winners, this Chinese crime mystery won the Golden Bear at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival. Stylish, shocking and, at times, pretty funny, Dark Coal is about a disgraced, alcoholic cop who has an unusual suspect pegged for a spree of gruesome murders. (9:30 p.m.)
Throughout the entirety of the 2015 Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival, WCCO.com will be spotlighting one notable movie each day, along with other notable screenings. To see WCCO.com’s complete coverage on the MSPIFF, click here.