Being the knight in shining armour who will fight for the fair maiden`s honour before taking her to a â€œcastle far away was cheesy when Peter Cetera sang about it in 1986, and it`s only cheesier now. Soft, sanitized and romanticised medieval fantasy has since been usurped by the likes of Game of Thrones, or has had the mickey taken out of it with comedies like The Princess Bride. Spanish animated film Justin and the Knights of Valour does nothing to make old-timey fantasy adventure cool again.
On the surface, Girl In The Sunny Place - with its non-descript and oddly-phrased title - looks like just about every other Japanese romantic drama out there. Boy meets girl in a terribly cute fashion. Boy courts girl in a sigh-inducing way, and they fall head over heels in love. But boy and girl must inevitably be separated, either by (a) a terminal disease, (b) disapproving parents, (c) a deep, dark secret or (d) other. In the case of Girl In The Sunny Place, it's all of the above, kind of, which sets it apart from the rest of the pack - but also makes it an unusually complicated film to pull off.
Salesman Kosuke Okuda (Jun Matsumoto) leads a boring, normal life, with no girl or happily ever after in sight. The last thing he expects is to run into Mao Watarai (Juri Ueno), a friend from his junior high school days, at a work meeting. As it turns out, Kosuke and Mao have a history together: she was the misfit new girl, awkward and slow, and he was the guy who stood up for her whenever she was bullied. Almost ten years later, they finally have the chance to fall in love. But, just as they're blissfully settling into their new lives together, they start to feel the consequences of a fateful decision made by Mao many years ago.
There's a twist to this love story - one by which viewers might be puzzled, amused, fascinated or repulsed, occasionally at the same time. The revelation shouldn't really come as a big shock; in fact, clues to its nature are so obviously scattered throughout (there's a big clue in Mao's name) that it can sometimes feel as if the film takes an unnecessarily long time to get to its point. But it's so odd and fantastical that audience members might find themselves fretting over the metaphysics, biology and logic of the situation rather than really giving in to the love story.
Twist aside, Girl In The Sunny Place is a solidly-crafted, if slightly plodding, romantic drama. Clocking in at 129 minutes, the film runs a little too long to support its rather slight story. At least the relationship between Kosuke and Mao is lovingly developed, and benefits from the sweet chemistry shared by Matsumoto and Ueno. It's largely due to their doe-eyed efforts that the film comes to pack the emotional punch that it does. The ending may be predictable but - if you give in to its sun-drenched, bittersweet charm - it can also be pretty darn heartrending.
Summary: Sweet, odd and fantastical - albeit a little slow-moving.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Teenage angst. Hamlet. Chatrooms. Homosexuality. Parental neglect. Suicide. Opera. Bullying. Peer pressure.
Those are just a few of the many themes crammed into writer-director Jan Komasa's Suicide Room, a critically-acclaimed Polish film that will receive its Singapore premiere in the 23rd European Union Film Festival in May. For the most part, Komasa does a commendable job of juggling all these elements, aided by incredible performances from his cast and surreal animated sequences set in the virtual world. But, for all its questions about life and death, this dark, potent brew of a film doesn't really make the kind of visceral emotional connection it's clearly going for.
Dominik (GierszaÅ‚) is a spoilt, handsome boy whose mom (Kulesza) and dad (PieczyÅ"ski) express their love for him not in hugs or time spent together, but in the form of money and a personal chauffeur. In other words, they have no clue what happens when his fragile high-school life comes crashing down around him. Scared to death at the thought that his erstwhile friends are teasing him for being gay, Dominik retreats online, where he meets Sylwia (GÄsiorowska) in the Suicide Room - a virtual chatroom devoted to discussions of death, mortality and suicide.
As an examination of the tortured teen psyche, Komasa's film is a powerful achievement. Some might argue that the cyber-bullying Dominik experiences is pretty trivial, but it's a subtle, effective way of demonstrating how setbacks can be magnified a hundredfold in the minds of sensitive, hormonally-charged teenagers. As he descends ever further into the anime-inspired virtual reality of avatars and screen-names, Dominik's growing emotional attachment to Sylwia is also artfully developed. He finds her at a particularly vulnerable point in his life, and to him, everything she says - however misguided - is all that matters in the world.
GierszaÅ‚ is absolutely riveting in the part. He smoulders, broods and shudders apart in moments both horrifying and heartbreaking, as Dominik is dragged into a downward spiral from which it seems no one and nothing can extricate him. His final moments onscreen - a farewell frozen in loss and time - are incredibly difficult to watch. In the roles of his parents, Kulesza and PieczyÅ"ski also do truly great work, scraping away the surface layer of professional ambition to reveal parents whose love for their child is as desperate as it is powerful.
Suicide Room, however, is merely good, not great. For some reason, the emotional travails of Dominik and his parents never really leap off the screen. For all its camera tricks and stylistic flourishes, parts of the film feel almost as clinical as a documentary. It also lingers too long in telling Dominik's tale, its emotional climax arriving only after the audience has had plenty of time to grow inured to his plight.
It should go without saying that Suicide Room is not for the faint of heart. There are, after all, many potentially troubling ideas and notions folded into Dominik's story. But, for those brave enough to give the film a try, they'll be rewarded with a searing look at a world where the Internet's virtual reality makes it even easier to lose track of the ones you love.
Summary: Shattering in an oddly detached fashion, this treatise on teen angst and suicide is a tough but worthwhile watch.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Synopsis: Homecoming is a series of stories about family and what it means to go home. The characters are (or become) interlinked, either through blood, friendship or geography. For this Chinese New Year, the movie will capture the essence of the warmth and the sense of tradition for people celebrating the idea of coming together for a once a year reunion.
In the past couple of decades, DNA profiling and analysis has become the new gold standard in solving criminal cases. In this crime thriller, director Keishi Ohtomo (of Rurouni Kenshin fame) argues that it will very soon become the platinum standard: apparently, by 2017, the tiniest scrap of DNA will be able to tell us the length of someone's toes and whether they're secretly insane. There's a great dystopian premise in there somewhere, but Platinum Data is a puzzling conundrum that winds up getting lost in its own myriad twists.
Four years in the future, arrogant genius Ryuhei Kagura (Kazunari Ninomiya) has created Platinum Data, a DNA analysis system that allows him to draw an eerily accurate picture of someone using the tiniest bit of DNA. To the consternation of old-school police detective Reiji Asama (Etsushi Toyokawa), the powers that be leap upon Kagura's invention and begin cataloguing their population. Kagura refuses to even consider the moral implications of Platinum Data until two scientists who were helping him code his system are found dead... and his DNA is all over their murder scene. Thereafter, with Asama hot on his trail, Kagura is in a race against time to prove his innocence.
That's pretty much all that can be said about the plot before one heads irrevocably into spoiler territory, wherein dwell the film's increasingly weird twists. This is the kind of story in which the main character discovers that there's a great deal - metaphorically and literally - that he never knew about himself. Some of those secrets are more outlandish than others, and it's a testament to Ninomiya's skill that he manages to keep a firm handle on all the different aspects of Kagura's character.
The same can't be said of Platinum Data as a whole - it drifts in a self-consciously arthouse haze from political conspiracy to criminal thriller and back again, without ever really effectively tying all the loose ends together. Even stranger is the fact that, amidst all its twists, it can't seem to keep secrets when it matters the most. The real antagonist of the entire saga is evident from his or her first few moments onscreen, after which Ohtomo spends the rest of the film filling in the blanks in increasingly incredulous ways.
Platinum Data is frustrating precisely because it's hard to shake the feeling that it could've been so much more. An entire movie franchise could have been created around its gritty, worrying vision of a world in which people quite literally live and die by their very DNA. Instead, the film gets buried under its convoluted plot and fails to live up to the efforts of its leading men.
Summary: Well-acted but questionably plotted.
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars