7 October 2006 | rooprect
Do you ever dislike a film but you don't know why?
This is one of those films that went wrong, but it's hard to pinpoint exactly why. As best as I can sum up, I'd say it suffers from an "identity crisis". This means that it gives you glimpses of some powerful themes, but it never follows through enough to satisfy. It flirts with comedy, with drama, with philosophy, but only as a dilettante would; it never jumps boldly into any of those veins.
Several scenes border on profound. The characters introduce some very insightful concepts, but the scenes always seem to cut short before the concepts truly materialize in the dialogue.
For example in one (otherwise great) scene, the girl describes how she has been brought up from the depths of her isolation. Then she injects, something like, "But even if I must return there, then that'll be OK." End scene. WHY? Is it because she has become a stronger person? Or is it because she prefers isolation? Or is it because she is apathetic? Like a fortune cookie with no context, it never gives us a hint how to apply this compelling statement. It's left as an unfinished whimsy.
I suppose this is the same technique used in Impressionism (painting) like the works of Monet where we are shown vague spots & outlines, and it is up to us to fill in the gaps with our imagination. If you like Impressionism, the you may like this film. But if you are more a fan of Classicism (Da Vinci, Rembrandt, even Dali) with its bold strokes and lucid representations, then you'll probably be left as unfulfilled as I was.
Visually, it was nice. The pacing was perfect. It was everything I've come to expect from modern Japanese cinema, but as I said above, it doesn't have the substance to back it up (despite its rich plot). I suggest you check out some of these films if you want to know what I'm talking about: Dolls (2002), Shiki-jitsu (2000), Cha no aji (2004), Warai no daigaku (2004), Shimotsuma monogatari (2004), Swing Girls (2004).
Those are examples of modern Japanese films that dive right into theme (be it drama, philosophy, romance or comedy) and they give you a lot to sink your teeth into. Ever since the days of Kurosawa, I believe this has been the tradition--perhaps the obligation--of Japanese cinema.
I wouldn't call Josee bad, but it's not quite as powerful as its contemporaries.
AFTERTHOUGHT: There's an 11-part Japanese docudrama called "1 Litre of Tears" which I believe handles this subject matter much more powerfully. The music is a little sappy, but the show is worth checking out if you can find it!