Shabondama Elegy (1999)

Unrated   |    |  Romance, Thriller

Shabondama Elegy (1999) Poster

A man condemned to death and on the run has a last intense sexual relationship with a porn actress.



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2 February 2008 | ekeby
| Interesting, Worthwhile, and I'd Say "Must See" for Film Students
I say "must see" for film students because this movie uses every trick in the book, yet it looks fresh and inventive.

I came upon this work solely from an interest in Thom Hoffman, whose performance in Black Book I admired. (One thing leading to another.) Hoffman is good in this as well, though the films couldn't be more different.

The other review here (and at the time I write this, there's only one) mentions having to see the movie multiple times to understand it. I would if I could. It's just that there is so much graphic sex. I'm not a prude. I'm gay. Believe it or not, some gay men have a hard time looking at straight sex, just as straight men are uncomfortable watching man on man sex.

And then again, I did not consider the plot--at least as much of it as I understood--as interesting or important as the way it was presented.

Primarily this is a story of an obsessive love affair. "Lust affair" might also describe what's going on. The lovers' intimacy is shown without reservation, and it is in many of those scenes--one with f**king and one with cunnilingus, for example--where camera work and post production effects are especially inventive. Those kinds of scenes are digitally enhanced, sometimes in the style of Linklater's Waking Life (which was made two years after this movie), sometimes reminiscent of Avedon's psychedelic Beatles' portraits.

Many times multiple images are overlaid. Sometimes scenes are shot from wildly different angles. Editing lingers or is rapid fire. Generally I'm wary when techniques like these are employed, but in this instance they are the essence of the film. This is a film that does not make compromises to facilitate comprehension. Information is provided poetically, albeit graphically. It is a graphic poem.

A couple other observations. The soundtrack consists primarily of gritty, minimalistic '50s style jazz, not exactly atonal but certainly edgy. I usually hate that kind of music but this I liked. I thought it served the story. And I was amused to note that even the seamy-side of Tokyo looked spotless.

If I were straight, I probably would watch Elegy a couple more times. But not to see the sex. It would be to have the total experience.

(An aside: I found the digital censoring typical of Japanese films distracting. The realism of the sex is utterly convincing--for all I know it may be actual sex. To have genitals obscured seems petty in light of how raw everything else is about the film. If there isn't an uncensored version, there should be.)

Critic Reviews


Release Date:

9 September 1999


Dutch, Japanese, English

Country of Origin

Netherlands, Japan

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