Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Teruo Ishii's Screwed (1998)

Feelings check: how is everyone doing today? Chances are that most people are doing better than Tadanobu Asano in Teruo Ishii's wonderful Screwed (1998). Asano, Tsube, with his shaggy hair, turtleneck, and his head always down, is the low self-esteem version of Ralph Bakshi's Fritz the Cat. Tsube is a cartoonist, and the opening surreal montage of painted bodies writhing on a blood-red beach are images from his work ("lots of ideas but can't bring any of them together"). Tsube doesn't make any money, so he and his girlfriend Kuniko (Miki Fujitani) get kicked out of their apartment. Kuniko goes to work in a dormitory and Tsube begins his wandering journey. Tsube has many sordid encounters, often with females, but almost all of Tsube's encounters reveal one thing--he is a loser, a lovable one, but a loser, nonetheless. Screwed is a film that reeks of tragedy, but the end result is a comedy. Asano's Tsube is a character to whom I can totally relate and with whom I feel a strong kinship. Two of Tsube's greatest assets are also his two of his biggest flaws: an overactive imagination and a fatalistic view of the world. As attributes, the holder of these two can produce great art; as character flaws, these two can be killers for most folks. So, let's start with Tsube's suicide attempt. Tsube finds four condoms in Kuniko's purse when she comes to visit him one day from the dormitory. Tsube can't determine if the condoms were for Kuniko's use with him, so his mind begins to hearken back in time to Kuniko's old boyfriends. A particularly shameful episode pops into Tsube's mind when one of Kuniko's suitors comes for a visit at their home. The suitor treats the couple to a nice meal and even shares their bed with them. Tsube doesn't make any wages and Kuniko lives away from him, so in Tsube's mind, he's determined that she's sleeping with someone else. It turns out that she is pregnant with someone else's child, but it's not the scenario Tsube envisioned: Tsube realizes that Kuniko made a serious mistake by having a one-night stand. He also realizes that he doesn't own her and is able to see her as the lonely person that she is. Feeling a failure, he attempts suicide and is hospitalized. His stay in the hospital is hilariously embarrassing. On a day trip to the country, Tsube meets Chiyoji (Tsugumi), a young woman who works at a bar. Tsube thinks she's just a hick and doesn't really know anything. As he speaks with her as she serves him sake, Chiyoji reveals that she was sold by her father to her foster mother, who forces her to host at the bar. Tsube doesn't believe her, and the two make small talk. Chiyoji reveals that she wants more than anything, a pair of red shoes from the city. Tsube doesn't take her seriously, again, and soon passes out from about four sips of sake. He awakens later to witness Chiyoji being molested by two bar patrons. Tsube watches as she's degraded, and Chiyoji reveals that she'll put up with the degradation if the patrons promise to buy her the red shoes from the city. Tsube realizes that Chiyoji is quite genuine and seeing the reflective harshness of her life, Tsube leaves. The country isn't as idyllic as the city, and for Tsube it's sometimes a lot closer to home than he realizes.Ishii films Screwed with a seeming soft-focus lens and a fondness for red hue. Screwed takes overt turns into the surreal, especially the final episode, but for the most part, the film is surreally realistic. That is to say, life is shown as unreal through realistic encounters. Asano is a perfect actor to portray Tsube. Some of my favorite performances from Tadanobu Asano are in Sogo Ishii's Electric Dragon 80000 V (2001), Takashi Miike's Ichi the Killer (2001), and Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's Last Life in the Universe (2003). A lot of Tsube's dialogue is delivered with his soft voice in voice-over, and I really enjoy watching Asano walk down the street with his head down, hearing the thoughts in his mind, and looking around the next corner for something bizarre to pop up. Screwed was one of Ishii's final films. After a very prolific film career in the 60s and 70s, Teruo Ishii disappeared for the entire decade of the 80s, only to appear in the early-90s with a new production. Younger generations of viewers and younger filmmakers brought a new appreciation to his work, and Ishii flourished again. Screwed and Japanese Hell (1999) are two of my favorites from Ishii. Whenever I watch Screwed, it always makes me laugh and puts a smile on my face. It's not because I can feel better that I don't have it as bad as Tsube, but because Tsube plays out a little bit of the human condition which gives a glance at how often we make mistakes with unforeseen consequences. I highly recommend picking up the region-one DVD from Panik House Entertainment.

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