Saturday, October 16, 2004

The Bottled Fool (Gusha no bindume)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 15 October 2004 at the Brattle Theater (Boston Fantastic Film Festival; projected video)

There's a line of thought that says expensive special effects and production values are bad for movies, because they make directors lazy or distract from what's really important. I don't think that's true, although it's on the right track. A better explanation might be that a good filmmaker, like Hiroki Yamaguchi, can make a good movie with scant resources, while the Stephen Sommerses of the world probably can't.

The Bottled Fool is just such a movie. It looks like it cost about $1.95 to produce. Okay, maybe a little more, but it's a clear throwback to making movies with available materials. From what we were told in the BFFF program, Yamaguchi made this movie on digital video with a crew of volunteers, a cast of unknowns, and sets constructed out of scrap metal. The guy's got skills, though, and he manages to squeeze a good movie out of that.

Luchino (Luchino Fujisaki) is returning to school after some time away. She lives on Level 138 of some futuristic megalopolis, and her school is way up on level 4, with each level being considered a town. Before reaching the elevator, though, a quick cigarette causes a major disaster, and though that's an accident, what happens on the elevator is something else. Luchino is telepathic, in a way, and what she sees in the minds of some of her fellow passengers (especially the transported prisoners who board at level 99) is disturbing.

It's not until the elevator malfunctions, and the prisoners are able to get loose, that things get really out of hand.

The design of the movie is nifty - it's a post-apocalyptic type of design, with anachronistic technology being held together with bailing wire and tape, but it does make for some striking imagery. The movie suggests its science-fictional world, doing a lot of telling-versus-showing, but manages to work telepathy, pervasive surveillance, a stratified world, and bio-engineering in. It certainly feels a lot more fleshed-out than sometihng like Fortress or Screamers (or, dare I say it, The Matrix) that seems to stop at the end of the main characters' perceptions.

It's also a pretty darn good horror/action deal - you're gonna get some blood with this. And since it's primarily set in an elevator, there's no walking away from the bloodstains and dead bodies; the evidence of violence is pervasive, so that even after the ranks of the villains have been thinned, the cast of characters is still on edge, still perfectly capable of freaking out and lashing out against each other. The suspense is there, built on what Luchino has been through before, and the action is well choreographed and shot. Say what you want about the pervasiveness of bullet-time homage/parodies/rip-offs in the past five years, but the one Yamaguchi pulls off is impressive not just because it looks good despite the film's low budget, but because it does a great job in elongating a suspenseful moment.

Hiroki Yamaguchi is apparently considered some kind of wunderkind, having directed featurettes at the age of 19. He's 26 now, and if The Bottled Fool is any indication, he's got a bright future ahead of him.

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