Beyond~en~Scène

be·yond
first and foremost a filmmaker. often a photographer. usually a writer. always a music enthusiast.

“I wonder,” he said, “whether the stars are set alight in heaven so that one day each one of us may find his own again… Look at my planet. It is right there above us. But how far away it is!”
It has taken me 27 years to find this beautiful story. Better now than never. The stars shall never appear quite the same again.

“I wonder,” he said, “whether the stars are set alight in heaven so that one day each one of us may find his own again… Look at my planet. It is right there above us. But how far away it is!”

It has taken me 27 years to find this beautiful story. Better now than never. The stars shall never appear quite the same again.

Finally watched Looper, the latest film from one of the most exciting recent American filmmakers - Rian Johnson. Johnson is a classically influenced filmmaker. Meaning he writes his films in 3 act structures, with well thought-out setups and payoffs. And therein lies his strength and weakness.
I liked parts of Looper a lot, but overall, I found it a little disappointing. I had to sit on the film for a few days to figure out exactly what my problem with it was: HAA it’s the whole “TK” phenomenon. I know why he had it in the film, I can think of 4 reasons from the top of my head, but it basically comes down to: so that he can set ideas up and then pay them off and allow the movie to “make sense”. Encourageable good writing practice, but in doing so, he made it too obvious (at least to me) that this was a story someone had made up and carefully laid out for me, as opposed to a story I stumbled upon and got hooked in myself (Actually, this is a problem I’m facing with my own screenplay at the moment. Making a plot-heavy story unfold in an organic and uncontrived manner is no piece of cake).  It’s an element that isn’t essential to the story, but by having it, the plot unfolds more “logically”.
One of the golden rules of classical filmmaking is that you have to give the audience everything so that they won’t walk away scratching their heads. The downside of this is the audience will walk away feeling 100% satisfied, and therefore less likely to think or talk about the film after the lights come on. Thus, less impact. Imagine if he wrote “TK” out of the story. He could have easily done so with some tweaking, and the story would have been fine without it, and perhaps seem less “written”. It might or might not have left a few strings untied, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Truth: no film that requires analysis has ever been left unanalyzed. Most importantly, had he chucked “TK”, he would’ve also gotten rid of the scene that bugged me the most: supernatural kid make things levitate. I’d be okay if I never seen that on film ever again.
Bad news! Johnson has recently just signed up to direct one of the new Star Wars trilogy sequels in 2017. I pray he’ll strike back with something better before then.

Finally watched Looper, the latest film from one of the most exciting recent American filmmakers - Rian Johnson. Johnson is a classically influenced filmmaker. Meaning he writes his films in 3 act structures, with well thought-out setups and payoffs. And therein lies his strength and weakness.

I liked parts of Looper a lot, but overall, I found it a little disappointing. I had to sit on the film for a few days to figure out exactly what my problem with it was: HAA it’s the whole “TK” phenomenon. I know why he had it in the film, I can think of 4 reasons from the top of my head, but it basically comes down to: so that he can set ideas up and then pay them off and allow the movie to “make sense”. Encourageable good writing practice, but in doing so, he made it too obvious (at least to me) that this was a story someone had made up and carefully laid out for me, as opposed to a story I stumbled upon and got hooked in myself (Actually, this is a problem I’m facing with my own screenplay at the moment. Making a plot-heavy story unfold in an organic and uncontrived manner is no piece of cake).  It’s an element that isn’t essential to the story, but by having it, the plot unfolds more “logically”.

One of the golden rules of classical filmmaking is that you have to give the audience everything so that they won’t walk away scratching their heads. The downside of this is the audience will walk away feeling 100% satisfied, and therefore less likely to think or talk about the film after the lights come on. Thus, less impact. Imagine if he wrote “TK” out of the story. He could have easily done so with some tweaking, and the story would have been fine without it, and perhaps seem less “written”. It might or might not have left a few strings untied, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Truth: no film that requires analysis has ever been left unanalyzed. Most importantly, had he chucked “TK”, he would’ve also gotten rid of the scene that bugged me the most: supernatural kid make things levitate. I’d be okay if I never seen that on film ever again.

Bad news! Johnson has recently just signed up to direct one of the new Star Wars trilogy sequels in 2017. I pray he’ll strike back with something better before then.

Lessons from What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

1. At the moment when you feel like you can run/write more, stop. Let the exhilaration you feel carry over to the next day, and the next day’s work will go amazingly smooth.
2. Seek approval from yourself, not from others.
3. If you want to be unique, then the pain from being different is necessary.
4. When critized unjustly or misunderstood, running a little longer will help exhaust that portion of discontent. It makes you realize how limited you physically are, and makes you that much stronger.
5. Set your lifestyle to suit the kind of person you need to be. A novelist and a socialite won’t have the same lifestyle.
6. Set at least one routine and stick with it.
7. Take naps.
8. Muscles have short term memories. Rest for two days, and they’ll forget everything.
9. The three things it take to be a novelist (and probably a filmmaker too): talent, focus, endurance.
10. I can never be as great as some other people. They are them, and I am me. That’s the way it is.
11. To deal with something unhealthy (i.e. writing) for an extended period of time, one need to be as healthy as possible.
12. Don’t over do it and burn yourself out. But if you do, remember that time heals all things.
I’m finally done with Kurosagi. If this is how all Japanese dramas are, then maybe it’s a good thing that I haven’t seen many of them.
My biggest problem is how much potential the show has. I like the premise a lot. A foray into the underworld of swindlers and grifters, who wouldn’t want to see that? But the execution here is so bad that I wish the premise wasn’t so promising. What a waste.
The most interesting aspect of the genre i.e. the details of how the swindles play out are glossed over so roughly, that I almost raise my eye brow at every one of Kurosaki’s successes. Is it really THAT simple? Instead, we spend so much time on the melodramatic “emotional” moments, that at mere eleven 20 minute long episodes, the show felt longer than a season of Law and Order. The directing: tacky. The music: plain bad. Do we really need a bad incidental music EVERYTIME something happens? The show is in such poor taste that I wonder why I stuck with it till the end. It couldn’t purely be because of Horikita Maki, could it? Could it? I guess I powered through mostly because I was watching to learn Japanese. I haven’t read the manga, but I’m guessing that’d be a better alternative.

"I gotta see about a girl."

Remembering Robin Williams.

On a Coen Brothers high, I decided to finally watch their debut feature Blood Simple.
It’s so weird how films from the 80s have such a distinct sheen about them. It’s as if there’s something in the film stock from the decade that just glows with tackiness. Even the Coen Brothers couldn’t avoid that. Having seen their sophomore film Raising Arizona and thoroughly enjoyed it, it’s remarkable to see how much the brothers grew in their craft from this film to that one. This is probably the only film by them that you can point at certain scenes and genuinely say “that looks amateurish”. With that said, the film still had some beautifully composed sequences, and it kept me on the edge of my seat right till the very end. 
While the brothers were still in the process of discovering their visual aesthetics, their plotting was already master-like. I mean, this story is seriously simple, I would’ve had trouble believing it could be stretched out into a 90 minute movie. However, the plot unfolds with such complication and suspense, taking its time, with the most thrilling scenes being often the longest and most quiet. And oh how the film ends, with the audience knowing much more than any of the characters. Brilliant. Their comedies and dramas are fantastic, but for me, the brothers are at their best when they’re doing their thrillers.

daisy--molina said: Sorry, I may have cheated in writing this ask, since I found no "Ask" button. Just wanted to say that I like your writing, particularly for its mix subjects of Japanese films, writing about writing, writing about film making, and that Bukowski poem. I am writer, too, who naturally loves film. Horror is my favorite. Miike's Audition did not unsettle you?

Hi, thank you for that message. I’m hardly a writer, I do think I write okay screenplays, but this blog here is merely a way of keeping track of the films I see and some of my own thoughts. But I’m glad you found it interesting. I remember it being very unsettling the first time I watched Audition. I think from the moment that sack moved, my heart never stopped pounding. I don’t share your love for the horror genre, so it was a rare sensation for me :)

After being a Coen Brothers fan for well over a decade, I finally felt it was the right time to watch one of their most acclaimed films - Barton Fink. The 1991 film made an unprecedented and never repeated sweep at the Cannes Film Festival, taking home the Palm d’Or, Best Director and Best Actor awards.
It was the first official day of restarting work on my feature film script PROPERLY, and I had trouble getting into the zone. For whatever reason, the image of Barton Fink came to mind. Years ago, I had actually read the entire screenplay of the film, but I was too young, and didn’t retain a whole lot of it. I just remembered this image of the struggling writer looking up at the ceiling of his hotel room, unable to conjure up a single idea. With that image in mind, I decided it was time.
The film left a very deep impression on me. For two whole days, I couldn’t get it out of my head. What did it all mean? The picture of the girl by the beach especially kept displaying on my mind. After doing some reading and drawing my own mind map, I finally came up with an analysis of the film that I can make peace with. The Coens are truly brilliant filmmakers. They made a seemingly thinly-plotted atmospheric film that is in fact laden with effective sound design and haunting subtexts that when deciphered, one cannot help but to applaud the brothers’ true ingenuity. I want to make films like they do.

After being a Coen Brothers fan for well over a decade, I finally felt it was the right time to watch one of their most acclaimed films - Barton Fink. The 1991 film made an unprecedented and never repeated sweep at the Cannes Film Festival, taking home the Palm d’Or, Best Director and Best Actor awards.

It was the first official day of restarting work on my feature film script PROPERLY, and I had trouble getting into the zone. For whatever reason, the image of Barton Fink came to mind. Years ago, I had actually read the entire screenplay of the film, but I was too young, and didn’t retain a whole lot of it. I just remembered this image of the struggling writer looking up at the ceiling of his hotel room, unable to conjure up a single idea. With that image in mind, I decided it was time.

The film left a very deep impression on me. For two whole days, I couldn’t get it out of my head. What did it all mean? The picture of the girl by the beach especially kept displaying on my mind. After doing some reading and drawing my own mind map, I finally came up with an analysis of the film that I can make peace with. The Coens are truly brilliant filmmakers. They made a seemingly thinly-plotted atmospheric film that is in fact laden with effective sound design and haunting subtexts that when deciphered, one cannot help but to applaud the brothers’ true ingenuity. I want to make films like they do.

He made me laugh, made me cry, and sometimes made me feel genuinely creeped out. A chameleon of an actor. What a great loss for comedy, for cinema, and for humanity.
Rest in Peace, Robin Williams.

He made me laugh, made me cry, and sometimes made me feel genuinely creeped out.
A chameleon of an actor. What a great loss for comedy, for cinema, and for humanity.

Rest in Peace, Robin Williams.

I love it when characters in movies sing obscure pop songs. This featured quite prominently in Typhoon Club. I’ve been humming it all day.

もしも明日が (Moshimo Ashita Ga) by わらべ (Warabe)

So the storm today delayed the screening of 13 Assassins with a special presentation talk by Takashi Miike himself. Luckily, the event has been moved to the end of the month when I’m also free, so no biggie. 

At the 2010 Cannes press conference for Outrage, Takeshi Kitano made a sly comment saying “I think Miike-san makes too many movies”, a comment I have to agree with. Miike is one of the most prolific directors in the history of cinema. When you’re churning out an average of 5 films a year, its inevitable that the quality of those films will suffer. And because of this, Miike has been known as a hit or miss filmmaker. However, out of his heap of mess, you can pick out a handful of genuinely great films to confirm that he actually has some skills. For me, Audition was his absolute masterpiece, a film that skillfully toys with the audience’s expectation. The film remained in my mind long after it finished. After watching it for the first time 7 or 8 years ago, I revisited the film yesterday. Somehow, the “crazy” sequence felt much longer than I remembered and the ending more ambiguous. I spend awhile thinking and reading about it, my mind is now finally at ease again. It remains my favourite film by him. If I never saw Audition, I wouldn’ve given up all hope on him long ago.

In recent years however, Miike has somewhat reinvented himself. His output decreased to only 1 or 2 a year and many of them being selected at prestigious film festivals around the world. He also started collaborating with renowned artists like Ryuichi Sakamoto, Ebizo and Koji Yakusho. Did Miike finally after having directed over 90 productions of various formats decide to make quality (not necessarily good) films for a change? I’m not too sure. But if it’s true, then world cinema has something to rejoice about.

Afraid that I wouldn’t able to the understand the film without English subtitles, I decided to watch 13 Assassins once with subtitles prior to the screening. After all, my main purpose in attending is to meet Miike himself. I’m glad to say, the film was quite brilliant. It got a lot of press for it’s bloody second hour, but I personally loved the first hour. The building up of the hatred for the shogun’s brother and the assembling of the samurais played out with such brooding intensity. The scene of the limbless girl was especially powerful. For me, the battle that came later was still great, but it was merely the Tabasco on the burger.

After 2 great films from Miike, I’m almost tempted to fit one more in before the screening in 3 weeks time. I wonder what that should be…

An enormous typhoon has taken over Mie Prefecture this weekend. So, I decided to mark the occasion by watching Typhoon Club, a Japanese film from 1985 that I discovered while browsing youtube. The film is about a group of junior high students that goes a bit crazy as a typhoon takes over their weekend, and stars a few big stars of the time, Miura Tomokazu as the teacher, and Kudoh Yuuki (whom I later discovered played the Japanese girl in Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train) as one of the students. Despite this, the film is very unusual. Filled with beautiful long takes and surreal moments, I’m not too sure how I feel about the movie as whole, but I do know that it has gotten me interested in Japanese 80s culture. Currently streaming Yamaguchi Momoe (Miura's leading leady of the 70s whom he later married) videos. The typhoon outside finally ended when I was halfway through the film.

“there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I’m not going
to let anybody see
you.
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
cigarette smoke
and the whores and the bartenders
and the grocery clerks
never know that
he’s
in there.

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say,
stay down, do you want to mess
me up?
you want to screw up the
works?
you want to blow my book sales in
Europe?
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too clever, I only let him out
at night sometimes
when everybody’s asleep.
I say, I know that you’re there,
so don’t be
sad.
then I put him back,
but he’s singing a little
in there, I haven’t quite let him
die
and we sleep together like
that
with our secret pact
and it’s nice enough to
make a man
weep, but I don’t
weep, do
you?”

—   Bukowski, Charles. Bluebird. Listen here. (via wordsnquotes)
The Kirishima Thing - yet another beautifully crafted Japanese film set in high school. And so my fascination with Japanese high schools continues. As someone who teaches in elementary and junior high schools, high school is like the girl next door, so close, yet so far. I only know it as much as my 3rd grade students whom are nearing graduation and are eagerly awaiting to reinvent themselves in trendier uniforms. 
The film, named after an illusive character, unfolds in chapters named after days of the week. A majority of the chapters however plays out the same scenes on the same day in different perspectives, thus revealing another piece of the central puzzle. There is hardly a “story” perse, but I found every second of the film fascinating, right up to its beautiful cacophonic climax. I’m almost interested in tackling the novel, but it’s yet to be available in English, which is really a good thing, because I hardly have time to read the books I already have. Better to just watch the movie again sometime.