L’art subtil du commentaire-critique

On me demande souvent quels sont les critères que j’utilise quand j’écris des critiques (reviews) de livres ou de films. En fait, j’utilise les même critères que j’ai développé au cours des années alors que j’écrivais des critiques d’abord pour Samizdat (un fanzine de science-fiction et fantastique québécois, 1987-1994) et, par la suite, pour Protoculture Addicts (un magazine sur la culture, le dessin animé et la bande-dessinée japonaise, 1987-2008). J’ai été rédacteur-en-chef pour ce dernier pendant plus d’une vingtaine d’années et ce sont ces même critères auxquels je demandais à mes collaborateurs d’adhérer. Je vais donc profiter de la présente occasion pour vous expliquer un peu comment je procède. Et je suggère à quiconque qui désire écrire des critiques de suivre ces quelques lignes directrices.

J’aimerais d’abord définir la critique comme étant un simple commentaire et non pas une critique analytique. Cette dernière cherche à étudier, en profondeur, les moindres aspects d’une oeuvre: les motivations des personnages, les choix narratifs, le message de l’auteur, etc. Une simple critique, quant à elle, n’est qu’un commentaire qui se veut ni objectif, ni constructif, ni négatif : c’est juste une opinion, un ressenti, que l’on exprime. On aime ou on aime pas, et on tente d’expliquer pourquoi, en décortiquant brièvement les impressions que l’oeuvre nous a laissé.

Je préfère d’ailleurs parler de “commentaire” et non de “critique” car ce dernier terme fait plus pompeux et peut aisément être confondu avec son cousin analytique. Un commentaire donne une impression plus modeste. On ne cherche pas a donner de leçon mais simplement à dire ce qu’on en pense. Dans le cas d’un livre, on pourrait parler de commentaire de lecture mais comme on peut commenter aussi des documents audio-visuels (des BD ou des manga, des films (vu au cinéma, en Dvd, ou Blu-ray), ou même de la musique (concert, CD)) je préfère m’en tenir simplement à “commentaire.” Bien sûr, l’approche sera un peu différente selon le type d’ouvrage  que l’on commente (livre, cinéma, musique).

Une autre question que j’entend parfois c’est “pourquoi se donner la peine de faire un commentaire” alors que l’on pourrait bien se contenter d’apprécier une oeuvre pour ce qu’elle est sans trop se poser de question. Je dois avouer que pour moi c’est plus une déformation professionnelle. J’ai écrit tellement de commentaires pour les publications pour lesquelles je travaillais que maintenant je ne peux pas m’empêcher d’analyser et de penser à ce que je ressens au fur et à mesure que je progresse dans le livre que je lis ou dans le film que je visionne. Et tant qu’à avoir des idées ou des opinions, pourquoi ne pas les partager? Car la raison fondamentale d’un commentaire c’est cela: partager ses coups de coeur (ou de foudre!), son amour (ou parfois son aversion) pour une oeuvre, ou simplement donner son opinion. Parfois, aussi, il s’agit de vouloir aider les autres à comprendre et à mieux apprécier une oeuvre ou, tout au moins, à partager la façon dont nous percevons une oeuvre (à travers le prisme de nos expériences personnelles, de notre savoir, de notre vécu). Si nous sommes passionné par un sujet, il est tout naturel de vouloir partager cette passion. Le lecteur (du commentaire) en fera bien ce qu’il veut…

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March, Book 1: Civil Rights history in comics

“Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) is an American icon, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement. His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington, and from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president.” (…)

March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement. Book One spans John Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall.”

(Text from the publisher's website; see also the back cover)

Congressman John Lewis wanted to be a preacher. He grew up on his parents' farm in rural Alabama taking care of the family chickens (to whom he was practising preaching!). The story starts in his congressional office as he is preparing to go assist at Obama's inauguration. A black lady comes into the office with her children to show them up a place where history was made. Instead they meet with the Congressman himself who takes this opportunity to tell them a little about himself and the history of the civil rights movement. With the help of his uncle Otis and Martin Luther King, Jr., to whom he wrote a letter, he succeed to go to college in Nashville. There, he contributed to the Student Movement and, inspired by Gandhi's nonviolent protest, took many actions to fight against segregation.

The storytelling is excellent and the art is pretty good. It is a superb idea to bring back to life Congressman Lewis' memories, such as his actions of civil disobedience, for a new generation to understand what the civil rights movement was all about. It is very educational and it is probably even more relevant today than when it was first published (considering the “Black Lives Matter” movement and the fact that I discovered this book through a CNN report about President Trump insulting Congressman Lewis, saying he was “all talk and no action” !).

All in all, it's a nice way to teach the history of an important moment of our Western Civilization, but also an excellent occasion to talk about good moral values. The life of great role models like Congressman Lewis need to be recorded for the posterity, but not only in history books or museums but also as part of our popular culture. It's a good reading for the Black History Month and I cannot recommend it more strongly.

March: Book One, by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. Marietta GA: Top Shelf Productions, August 2013. 128 pg., Softcover, 6.5" x 9.5", 14.95 US / $19.99 Can. ISBN: 978-1-60309-300-2.

For more information you can check the following websites:


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S’enfuir – Récit d’un otage

“En 1997, alors qu’il est responsable d’une ONG médicale dans le Caucase, Christophe André a vu sa vie basculer du jour au lendemain après avoir été enlevé en pleine nuit et emmené, cagoule sur la tête, vers une destination inconnue. Guy Delisle l’a rencontré des années plus tard et a recueilli le récit de sa captivité – un enfer qui a duré 111 jours. Que peut-il se passer dans la tête d’un otage lorsque tout espoir de libération semble évanoui ? Un ouvrage déchirant, par l’auteur de Pyongyang, de Shenzhen, de Chroniques birmanes et de Chroniques de Jérusalem.” [ Texte du site de l’éditeur ]

“Être otage, c’est pire qu’être en prison. En prison, tu sais pourquoi tu es là et à quelle date tu vas sortir. Quand t’es otage, tu n’as même pas ce genre de repères. Tu n’as rien.” [ Texte de la couverture arrière ]

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Dear Deer

“A woman stares at a deserted exhibition in the local museum, a place said to be haunted by the phantom of a deer, “Ryomo-Shika”... Twenty-five years earlier three siblings reported seeing the deer, becoming first famous, then infamous when their claim was debunked. The fallout was devastating. The second son, Yoshio, is now living in a psychiatric institution; Akiko, the unsociable youngest daughter, lives in the country with an older man; and the eldest son, Fujio, who has remained in town, is burdened with debt from the family’s failing business. Now, with their father dying, the three siblings along with their respective partners and friends, have returned home, their first reunion in many years. But time hasn’t dulled their rivalries and or their rancour. They find themselves once again at a crossroads in life.”

(Text from the Festival's program)


WARNING: May contains trace of spoilers! People allergic to the discussion of any plot's elements before seeing a movie are strongly advised to take the necessary precautions for their safety and should avoid reading further.

I admit that I misunderstood the movie description in the program, so I thought it would be some sort of ghost story. Not at all.

When they were kids, siblings Fujio, Yoshio and Akiko saw a rare deer that was supposed to be extinct and took a blurry picture. But people thought it was an hoax and that they lied to attract attention or just misidentified a common deer. They were quite hurt no to be believed. On top of that, after their mother's death, their father became quite abusive, so the younger brother and sister left their hometown and the older brother stayed to take care of the family business. He has to work hard to keep it (and the town) together despite serious economic problems as a big development company tries to buy off the land. The younger brother seem to have a mild case of obsessive-compulsive disorder as he seems to have internalize all his guilt and frustrations from the childhood. The younger sister is good looking and has always had her ways with men, but unfortunately she eloped with a loser. She is very selfish but she eventually soften. She has a very unhappy life in Tokyo.

Twenty-five years later, they come back to their hometown when their father become gravely ill. They all have been greatly affected by their childhood have serious psychological problems. The death of the father brings back to the surface all their issues and what stayed unsaid for a long time is being expressed making their return trip a cathartic experience that is finally freeing them from the weight that had kept them miserable for all those years.

This is a very beautiful and interesting movie. Japanese movies are always good at showing us the beauty of the countryside. The director said that he was inspired by the fact that people from the countryside and people from the city seem to have very different mentality and way of life.

Dear Deer (????????): Japan, 2015, 107 mins; Dir.: Takeo Kikuchi; Scr.: Noriaki Sugihara; Ed.: Azusa Yamazaki; Music: Takuro Okada; Cast: Yuri Nakamura (Akiko), Yoichiro Saito (Yoshio), Shota Sometani (Fujio), Kôji Kiryû, Rinko Kikuchi, Yûrei Yanagi, Takeshi Yamamoto, Wakana Matsumoto, Yasushi Masaoka.

Film screened at the Montreal World Film Festival on September 3rd, 2015 (Cinema Quartier Latin 9, 11h00 – the theatre was filled only at 10% of its capacity) as part of the “First Film World Competition” segment. The director was present to introduce the movie and for a Q&A afterward.

For more information you can visit the following websites:

Dear Deer © 2015 Office Kiryu.

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Haman

“A tragic story of a girl who becomes a monster. Deeply in love, Haruka decides to have sex with her boyfriend. But the results are catastrophic: she accidentally kills him. Traumatized, she flees the scene. Her cursed life has begun. Does she have any hope of escaping the malediction? A dark fantasy about life, sex and love. ”

(Text from the Festival's program)


WARNING: May contains trace of spoilers! People allergic to the discussion of any plot's elements before seeing a movie are strongly advised to take the necessary precautions for their safety and should avoid reading further.

I was not expecting much from this movie. I thought it would be a Fantasia-style gory and sexual horror movie. I was surprised to discover I was a more subtler and meaningful fantastical tale.

Haruka is cursed. She goes to a love hotel to have sex for the first time with her boyfriend. What should have been a pleasant occasion turns into a nightmare when her boyfriend unexpectedly and painfully dies during intercourse. She has no idea what happened: she was enjoying herself on top of him when there's suddenly a gush of blood as she appears to have ripped off her boyfriend's penis. She flees the scene in horror. The next day, in the news, the police talks of a gruesome murder as the sex of the victim appears to have been bitten off in a very inhuman way.

She skips school and wanders around in a dazed state. Has she dreamed or hallucinated the whole ordeal? Is that a fantasy induced by teenage angst and sexual anxiety? Or is she really some sort of monster and it happened for real? Is that even possible to have teeth "down there"? As she wanders on the road, she is kidnapped and raped by a pervert, but she kills him too, by "biting" off his penis with her vagina. The curse is confirmed.

Eventually, she meets Yosuke — who is nice to her and helps her overcome the trauma. She also meets his sister (so she said but she ends up being a jealous impersonator stalking Yosuke). They starts dating but Haruka fears that if they go further she will kill him. However, she accepts to date him only if they have a sexless relationship. Of course, with time, Yosuke cannot endure such a sexless love and wants to have her even if he knows that it will probably kill him. A love to die for.

The director said he was inspired by the true story of Sada Abe — who killed her lover and kept his penis as a souvenir. Even if the story had already been adapted in several movies — the most famous being Ai no Korida / In the realm of the senses by Nagissa Oshima — it seemed to him to be a good starting point to talk about sex and love.

The movie was very low budget and was shot within twelve days with a crew of seven (all volunteers) but most of the work was done by Tetsuya Okabe (directing, script, editing, etc., even paying for the lunch of the crew!). The film looks pretty good for such a low budget production and the director succeeded to turn a subject of comedic horror into a thoughtful allegory.

The title, Haman (???), is a slang blend (or portemanteau) expression made from ? [Ha, tooth] and ???? [Omanko, vagina] meaning "toothed vagina". I am not sure if the director was aware of this when he wrote the script (most probably), but the idea of the "vagina dentata" (in Latin) can be found in the folklore of many ancient cultures.

All in all, it was a good movie and I enjoyed it. It is amusing to see that the story ends up much more interesting by being treated through a more mainstream movie (with minimum gore and nudity--we see Haruka's breast in only one scene) rather than as a comedic horror film.

Haman (??? / lit. "toothed vagina"): Japan, 2015, 95 min.; Dir./Scr./Ed.: Tetsuya Okabe; Phot.: Yumi Hasegawa; Music: HIR, Shintaro Mieda; Cast: Nonka Baba, Yusuke Kojima, Maki Mizui, Mukau Nakamura, Shoei Uno.

Film screened at the Montreal World Film Festival on September 2nd, 2015 (Cinema Quartier Latin 16, 20h30 – the theatre was filled only at 18% of its capacity) as part of the “World Great” segment. The director was present to introduce the movie and for a Q&A afterward.

For more information you can visit the following websites:
Haman © 2015?????.

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The Next Generation Patlabor — Tokyo War

“Over the years since 1988, the "Mobile Police PATLABOR" franchise in Japan has become a pioneer in multimedia, combining anime comics, videograms, films and novels. Until now the films have been animated. The story has now gone live-action... Labor is a robot specifically designed for heavy industry work. The rise of Labors has sparked a revolution in industry, but also an increase in crime. To combat these new Labor crime wave, the police have created a special unit: The Patrol Labor known as the Special Vehicles Section 2 (SV2). This is the birth of "Patlabor". We are now in the 21st century and the Tokyo Metropolitan Police’s SV2 so-called Patlabor still looks out for misbehaving Labors, but Patlabor is no longer considered necessary because of its cost and care. When Tokyo is attacked by an organization of terrorists using stealth helicopters, SV2 is called in to neutralize the threat.”

(Text from the Festival's program)


WARNING: May contains trace of spoilers! People allergic to the discussion of any plot's elements before seeing a movie are strongly advised to take the necessary precautions for their safety and should avoid reading further.

This is a beautiful movie. The CGI seems so perfect that the only thing that looks out of place is the Labor themselves — they look so preposterous, like some old giant toys from another era; that was probably done on purpose.

Not surprisingly (considering it's a movie directed by Mamoru Oshii), this is a Patlabor movie where we see actual labor action only a few minutes in the end. And, of course, the movie have the usual slow moments of politico-philosophical introspection also typical of Oshii's movies. The director himself seems to make a cameo appearance in the movie, with his typical hat and his beloved basset hound dog.

However, I am not sure that anyone who is not already familiar with the Patlabor story could easily understand what's happening in this movie, which seems to come closely after the second anime movie, and which is also the final segment of a 7-part series of live-action films! Even myself, who is well acquainted with the Patlabor universe, had trouble following sometimes (was the pilot of the helicopter the previous SV2 commander? Was she acting to seek some sort of social justice? I am not really sure…). Of course, if you take it strickly as an action movie (and disregards the political stuff) there is not much that you really need to understand to enjoy the movie.

In his introduction of the movie, before the screening, Oshii-San didn't say much. However, he mentioned that he shot his previous film in Montreal (Garm Wars: The Last Druid — for more details on this movie you can check ANN, IMdB, Youtube or Wikipedia).

All in all, this movie offers a great photography, beautiful CGI, a nice near-future sci-fi setting and, as a bonus, it shows us parts of Tokyo that we are not used to see. But it has much more meaning if you are a Patlabor fan, of course.

The Next Generation Patlabor — Tokyo War (The Next Generation ????? ? ???? / Patoreiba: Shuto Kessen / Lit. “Patlabor: Decisive battle over the capital”): Japan, 2015, 93 min.; Dir./Scr.: Mamoru Oshii; Phot.: Hiroshi Machida, Tetsuya Kudo; Art Dir.: Anri Jojo; Ed.: Yoshinori Ohta; Music: Kenji Kawai; Labor Design: Hideki Hashimoto, Katsuya Terada; Cast: Toshio Kakei (Keiji Gotoda), Erina Mano (Akira Izumino), Seiji Fukushi (Yuma Shiobara), Rina Ohta (Kasya), Shigeru Chiba (Shigeo Shiba), Kanna Mori (Rei Haihara), Kotaro Yoshida (Onodera), Reiko Takashima (Kei Takahata), Yoshinori Horimoto (Isamu Otawara), Shigekazu Tajiri (Hiromichi Yamazaki), Kohei Shiotsuka (Shinji Mikiya), Yoshikazu Fujiki (Yoshikatsu Buchiyama).

Film screened at the Montreal World Film Festival on August 30th, 2015 (Cinema Quartier Latin 9, 21h30 – the theatre was filled only at 14% of its capacity) as part of the “World Great” segment. The director was present to introduce the movie but there was no Q&A due to the late hour of the screening.

For more information you can visit the following websites:
The Next Generation Patlabor — Tokyo War © 2015 HEADGEAR / ”THE NEXT GENERATION -PATLABOR-” PARTNERS.

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Early Spring, Sakurajima

“Takashi Arimura had been working in Kyoto. Now that he’s reached the age of retirement he’s returned to his hometown, Kagoshima. A beautiful city with a volcano overlooking it, but the vista can’t make up for the fact that life in retirement is depressing. With the encouragement of his wife, Kyoko, he takes up a new hobby -- drawing. He picks a paintbrush for the first time. The world now looks very different. He now has a goal in life. Can he reach it?”

(Text from the Festival's program)


WARNING: May contains trace of spoilers! People allergic to the discussion of any plot's elements before seeing a movie are strongly advised to take the necessary precautions for their safety and should avoid reading further.

This movie shows us the boring life of a retired elderly couple. With her husband's retirement money, Kyoko can finally open her own very small movie theatre. And Takashi can start to paint again, but he feels unhappy and thinks he has no talent. Life seems not worth living and he feels like just killing time before death. He meets a fortune teller who somehow predicts him better days and encourages him to be more optimistic.

He finds a new fascination for the Sakurajima island and its active volcano, so he starts making many trips there to paint the volcano. He submit his painting for a local exposition but it is not selected. However, he has found a new joy and feels life is worth living again.

The movie was shot in cinéma-vérité style with very little dialogue and some weird angle shots. The pace is so slow that the story doesn’t seem to progress at all sometimes. The movie seems excruciatingly long despite that it’s only eighty-eight minutes long! The photography is good and gives us the opportunity to see the beautiful countryside of Sakurajima as well as the rather ordinary cityscape of Kagoshima. It represents the image of the real, everyday Japan which is somewhat rather refreshing.

Despite its shortcomings, the movie offer an interesting subject. More and more Japanese are living longer to enjoy their retirement, even on a merger revenue (this couple didn’t seem rich at all since they live very simply, in a very small house and his clothing have many patches). They must find hobbies to make their retiring enjoyable.

Early Spring, Sakurajima (???? / Sakurajima soyun / Sakurajima early spring): Japan, 2015, 88 min.; Dir./Scr./Ed.: Hiroshi Toda: Phot.: Guillaume Tauveron, Hiroshi Toda; Music: Mica Toda; Cast: Yoichi Hayashi, Hitomi Wakahara, Kenkichi Nishi, Katsuhiko Nishi.

Film screened at the Montreal World Film Festival on August 30th, 2015 (Cinema Quartier Latin 16, 16h00 – the theatre was half full) as part of the “Focus on World Cinema” segment.

For more information you can visit the following websites:
Early Spring, Sakurajima © 2015 Skeleton Films.

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Blowing in the winds of Vietnam

“Misao Sasho teaches Japanese in Hanoi, Vietnam. One day she receives a phone call from Japan informing her of her father’s passing. Upon returning to Japan for her father’s funeral, she realizes that her mother has deteriorated and is becoming senile. She decides to take her back to Vietnam. The new environment works wonders. Misao’s mother enjoys the company of Misao’s acquaintances. She is suddenly the centre of attention...”

(Text from the Festival's program)


WARNING: May contains trace of spoilers! People allergic to the discussion of any plot's elements before seeing a movie are strongly advised to take the necessary precautions for their safety and should avoid reading further.

This is one of the two best movies I've seen at the MWFF in 2015.

Misao is teaching Japanese in Hanoi, Vietnam. When she returns to Tokyo for her father's funeral, she realizes that her mother Alzheimer's disease has gotten worse. She' bored at a stranger's funeral: her husband's! Her step-mother cannot take care of her anymore so Misao decides to bring her back to Vietnam with her, despite the opposition of her family. "It will make her worse" or "it will kill her," they say.

At first, it works out pretty well and, despite the language barrier, her mother is getting along with Misao's friends, students and the people of the neighbourhood (mostly owners of the local cafe's, the Sakura Hotel, Japanese bar, the programming director of the VoV radio station, as well as the staff of the Youth Theatre, and a Japanese expat who drives a bicycle taxi). Together, they all live several adventures like helping a young Japanese woman to find her grand-father's Vietnamese family that he left behind after WWII or organizing a musical show starring a very old (and also Alzheimer's sufferer) theatrical actress.

Misao is even reacquainted with an old friend from her college days -- when they were protesting during the university uprisings of the '60s. He takes a job as another bicycle taxi driver but has an accident while carrying Misao's mother who gets seriously hurt. Feeling guilty, he helps taking care of the old women after her hospitalization, but he has to leave because of his job as a TV producer. However, Misao cannot take care of her mother alone. It is a vey demanding task and she gets sick herself because of it. This is quite a somber moment in the movie and we really feel the pain for her (it has particularly hit home for me because, at the time of the screening, I had recently experience a similar situation in my family).

In the end, the mother gets better (from her hip replacement NOT from the Alzheimer's because you never get better from that, you can only slow it down a little). Misao's students stage a musical around a Japanese folk song that can provide a sort of allegory for Misao's situation. Apart from Misao's mother post-accident despair, it a fell-good and up beat movie. We have to take one day at a time and enjoy life while we can -- and not give up on our loved ones.

The movie not only want to create awareness on the fact that the increasingly aging population of Japan means that the society will have to deal more and more with the problem of elderly's dementia, but also it wants to remind the Japanese of the close ties (and maybe responsibilities) that still bind them with Vietnam, which was one of their pre-WWII "colonies."

One negative point: I was told by someone who speaks vietnamese that the language spoken by the Japanese actors (which they most certainly learned phonetically) was so terrible that it was impossible to understand.

It is a well-paced drama that offers lots of light-hearted moments and allows the viewers to enjoy not only the beautiful cityscape of Hanoi, but also the surrounding countryside.

I really enjoyed this beautifully made movie which provided an excellent entertainment while making us think about very serious subjects like alzheimer and wars in Vietnam.

Blowing in the winds of Vietnam (??????????? / Betonamu No Kaze Ni Fukarete): Japan/Vietnam, 2015, 116 min.; Dir.: Tat Binh & Kazuki Omori; Scr.: Kazuki Omori, Uichiro Kitazaki (based on a novel by Miyuki Komatsu); Phot.: Koichi Saito; Ed.: Naoki Kaneko; Music: Tetsuro Kashibuchi; Cast: Eiji Okuda, Akira Emoto, Kôji Kikkawa, Keiko Matsuzaka, Yôsuke Saitô, Reiko Kusamura, Yûya Takayama, Shigehiro Yamaguchi, Reina Fujie, Yoneko Matsukane, Tan Nhuong, Lan Huong, Tan Hanh.

Film screened at the Montreal World Film Festival on August 29th, 2015 (Cinema Quartier Latin 12, 21h30 – the theatre was half full) as part of the “Focus on World Cinema” segment.

For more information you can visit the following websites:
Blowing in the wind of Vietnam © 2015?Blowing in the wind of Vietnam?Production Committee.

[ Traduire ]

Blood Bead

“Tokita, already into his middle age, has been teaching at a film school in Kyoto for a while. He would prefer to be directing films rather than teaching about them but it pays the bills and life isn’t bad. Indeed, he is having an affair with Yui, the pretty secretary of the film school. Still, the fact that he hasn’t been able to finish his script and find funding for his project nags him enormously. He is a filmmaker not a schoolteacher... Then, on the street, he runs into a striking young high school girl and his life changes. Not necessarily for the better. He is immediately smitten with Ritsuko. He begins to stalk her. He becomes delusional. His life itself becomes a film. And its ending has not been written.”

(Text from the Festival's program)


WARNING: May contains trace of spoilers! People allergic to the discussion of any plot's elements before seeing a movie are strongly advised to take the necessary precautions for their safety and should avoid reading further.

I enjoyed this movie (what's not to like with a movie with lots of beautiful nudity?) but it's a little hard to talk about it. I'll do my best. The story is relatively simple and yet rather complex altogether. However, it’s always interesting when movie makers turn the camera on themselves.

Movie director Tokita (Eiji Okuda) is teaching at a film school in Kyoto. He has a rather good life with his mistress Yui, a secretary at the film school, but he would rather be making movies than teaching about them. However, he has not been able to finish a script in a while. He says that, as long as he is thinking about a script, he can still feel he is a director. He is currently working on a pinku eiga script largely inspired by his relationship with Yui.

Tokita is in his sixties and can hardly get an erection, particularly when he's drunk, but it only makes him more obsess with sex. The title of the movie refers to the "Akadama” legend saying that a blood bead will come out to mark the very last ejaculation of a man.

One day, he notices a high school girl and starts following her, stalking her and becomes obsess by her. He imagines having an affair with her, rapping her even, but he is stuck and doesn't know how to end his story. At some point, he discovers that the school girl prostitutes herself (she's charging $700!). He succumbs to the temptation and sleeps with her, but feels disgusted with himself afterward. Seeing his increasing obsession for Ritsuko while typing the script, Yui decides to leave Tokita.

Tokita feels desperate but succeed to finish the script anyway and presents it to a production company which doesn't sound very receptive. He pleads that it would be his last movie, and ask to please give him a chance! Tokita gets drunk but, as he receives an email from the production company saying that they agree to finance his movie on some conditions, he gets hit by a car and dies!

Once again we have here a movie that tackles the subject of the increasingly older population of Japan which reflects a serious preoccupation among the population. This time we are presented with the despair that sexual frustration and the worth of one's legacy can provide to an elderly man.

Director Banmei Takahashi, who is himself not unfamiliar with pinku eiga, said in the Q&A that he thought young directors were not putting enough sex in their movies and he wanted to remedy that. He also said that he killed the main character at the end because one of his friends died that way and he wanted to make an homage to him.

During the course of the movie we follow both Tokita's life, the story of his script as well as his own fantasies, and this makes it rather difficult sometimes to discern which is what. However, it is a good and interesting movie -- albeit a little weird -- that offers a reflection not only on Japanese cinema but also on the life of elderly men. And, of course, there's plenty of sex scenes!

Blood Bead (????/ Akai Tama / Perle de sang): Japan, 2015, 108 min.; Dir./Scr.: Banmei Takahashi; Music: Gorô Yasukawa; Phot.: Shinji Ogawa; Ed.: Kan Suzuki; Cast: Eiji Okuda (Shuji Tokita), Fujiko (Yui Oba), Yukino Murakami (Ritsuko Kitakoji), Shota Hanaoka (Kenichi Yajima), Shiori Doi (Aiko Kato), Tasuku Emoto (Aoyama), Keiko Takahashi (Yuriko). For a mature audience (18+).

Film screened at the Montreal World Film Festival on August 29th, 2015 (Cinema Quartier Latin 10, 19h00 – the theatre was a little less than half full) as part of the “World Great” segment. The director was present for a Q&A after the screening.

For more information you can visit the following websites:
Blood Bead © 2015?Blood Bead?Production Committee. All Rights Reserved.

Introduction and Q&A


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Kagura-me

“Akane, a young woman who lives in a small rural town in Japan, loses her mother when she is a child, and cannot overcome the loss. Akane’s father had left her mother’s side before she passed away because he went to perform kagura, a traditional ritual dance at Japanese festivals. Akane has never forgiven him and seldom talks to him. Not that he doesn’t regret his action. He too was deeply affected by his wife’s death and he never performed kagura again. Akane leaves home after high school graduation, and starts a new life far away in Tokyo. But life in the big city is overwhelming and Akane returns home after five years. Thirteen years after her mother’s death, Akane’s father has decided to come out of retirement, just to be able to dance in the big 60th anniversary festival. But he has aged. He has serious health problems. He collapses in rehearsal and it becomes clear that he won’t be able to perform. But Akane’s heart has softened. How can she help him? Perhaps by learning kagura?”

(Text from the Festival's program)


WARNING: May contains trace of spoilers! People allergic to the discussion of any plot's elements before seeing a movie are strongly advised to take the necessary precautions for their safety and should avoid reading further.

This movie is very Japanese: it is beautiful and slow paced. It’s a rather complex story and the festival’s program did a very good job at summarizing it, so I won’t say more about it. It’s set around a rural ritual where one danse to please the gods in order to get a good harvest, but it’s a story about grief, about caring for elderly parents, and a little about domestic violence. It poses a very fundamental question about modern life in Japan: is it better to preserve the tradition as it always was or should we adapt it to modern life and therefore preserve the tradition spirit rather than its strict form?

Exceptionally, this movie was subtitled in french (which is rather rare at the MWFF as it is done mostly for the movies in competition) but, unfortunately, this time the subtitling was full of mistakes. Bad translation and spelling mistakes can be quite distracting from the movie itself. The translation was probably done hastily to present the movie at the festival.

All in all, it remains a beautiful movie (Japan’s countryside is always pleasant to look at) about the trials of life.

Kagura-me (???? / lit. “god enjoyment’s woman”): Japan, 2015, 112 mins; Dir.: Yasuo Okuaki; Scr.: Yasuo Okuaki & Nozomu Namba; Music: Kôji Igarashi; Phot.: Hiroshi Iwanaga; Prod. Des.: Takashi Yoshida; Cast: Tomomitsu Adachi, Mayumi Asaka, Masayuki Imai, Tsunehiko Kamijô, Mei Kurokawa, Ryoichi Kusanagi, Ryû Morioka, Nanako Ohkôchi, Maki Seko, Masayuki Shida, Keiko Shirasu, Rina Takeda, Ryoko Takizawa, Mariko Tsutsui, Ren Ôsugi.

Film screened at the Montreal World Film Festival on August 29th, 2015 (Cinema Quartier Latin 9, 15h00 – the theatre was a little less than a quarter full) as part of the “First Film World Competition” segment. The production team organizer was present to introduce the movie.

For more information you can visit the following websites:

Introduction of the screening


Kagura-me © ?Kagura-me?Production Committee.

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