Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Kenta Fukasaku's X-Cross (2007)

The first point of comparison often for Cinema's children is with their Cinematic parent. Take, for example, the son of Mario Bava, Lamberto Bava. For well over a decade, I've seen comments on message boards, in blog entries, and during conversations with other film fans that Lamberto ain't Mario and nowhere close. While Mario Bava obviously influenced his son, he also influenced a whole slew of Italian film makers, including Dario Argento, but seemingly, Lamberto gets closely compared to his old man, more for his blood ties than his bloody movies. I find this comparison exceedingly unfair. Whether Lamberto Bava's films are good or bad, I believe criticism should be primarily leveled at the quality of his work. For what it's worth, I quite enjoy the overwhelming majority of Lamberto Bava's films, and to his credit, he made a highly successful transition from the dwindling Italian film industry in the 80s into Italian television of the 90s. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Lamberto Bava can say that he is still working.

On the flip side, there are some Cinematic children who receive no comparison at all with their Cinematic parents, perhaps because of their obscurity. Take, for example, Juan Bunuel, son of Luis, who helmed the effective and pre-Poltergeist (1982) creepy paranormal thriller, Expulsion of the Devil (1973) and numerous other works, mostly television. The most notable Cinematic child alluding comparison is the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, Sofia Coppola. While her father's work is appropriately revered, Sofia has, in her own way, become one of the finest film makers of her generation. Highly influenced by Wong Kar-wai, Sofia Coppola has made three excellent films: The Virgin Suicides (1999), Lost in Translation (2003) (for which her screenplay garnered the Academy Award), and her best film to date, Marie Antoinette (2006). Sofia Coppola has earned more hisses for her performance in the pivotal role of Michael Corelone's daughter in her father's Godfather III (1990). Sofia can take comfort, however, in the fact that she didn't direct it.

Soapbox ranting aside, I am of the complete belief that each artist should be judged against his/her own work and not by the work of of his/her parent. A comparison based solely on genetics and biology, at least to me, is quite irrational and ridiculous. Because of this strongly held belief, I went against my old prejudice and viewed a recent Japanese film by Kenta Fukasaku, X-Cross (2007). Kinji Fukasaku delivered at the dawn of the new millennium, capping off a brilliant career, delivering some of the best Japanese yakuza films this world has ever seen in the 70s, his perverse, stylish, and controversial Battle Royale (2000). In a lot of ways, Battle Royale is a perfect film: both culturally relevant in its contemporary time, beyond Japan, and also amazingly nuts and crazy to be enjoyable and horrifying to the curious genre fan. I hold the film in high regard and its novel by Koushun Takami. Kinji Fukasaku's son, Kenta Fukasaku, is credited with the excellent screenplay. The elder Fukasaku would slough off his mortal coil before finishing Battle Royale II (2003) with Kenta sharing a co-directorial credit and surviving with the final film. Battle Royale II is a phenomenally awful film and a complete disaster. Perhaps unfairly, I believed the elder Fukasaku's contribution could not be the fault of the film, so the majority of the disdain I lumped upon the younger director. I did little research on the film's production and do not know where fault lies in the sequel. I unfairly wrote off Kenta as no Kinji and quickly put Battle Royale II out of my mind and included a small note to ignore any future subsequent film from Kenta Fukasaku. I have since changed my opinion towards Cinematic children and decided when the recent opportunity presented itself to view Kenta Fukasaku's X-Cross. X-Cross is about two women, Shiyori and Aiko, who are taking a trip to a secluded village to bathe in its hot springs. Shiyori needs a break, since she's healing with her recent break up with her boyfriend. Aiko doesn't have a boyfriend nor does she believe in them. Aiko lives life without getting close to anyone, and Shiyori is unsure even of their own friendship. "Am I a 'sort of' friend?" she asks. Before Aiko can even give Shiyori an evasive answer, Shiyori nearly hits a figure in the road. Swerving and missing, the pair get out of the vehicle to encounter a tall lady in a dark overcoat with an eye-patch, who says "snip, snip" with a finger gesture like scissors. Quickly assuming that she's okay and freaking out, the two head to the village and are escorted by a sick-looking, hobbling man. He takes them to the springs. While the two are bathing, Shiyori and Aiko have a small misunderstanding. The film then splits the two characters' storylines: Shiyori has a horrific encounter with the villagers, while the mysterious, one-eyed lady confronts Aiko. Upon returning from her bath, Shiyori finds a white cell phone ringing in her closet at her hotel room. She answers it and a frantic male voice tells her to leave immediately. "They're coming and they're going to cut off your leg." The male caller believes Shiyori is his sister, but Shiyori corrects him. There's no sister, just her phone. The male caller reveals that he's a professor at a university who studies local folklore. The town is full of crazies: a long time ago, there was a shortage of women in the village. In order to keep the females around, the villagers decided to cut off the left leg of each woman. This tradition has survived into present day. Shiyori flips and the lights go out and a bunch of faces can be seen through her window.Aiko has an encounter in the hotel's public bathroom. The eye-patched woman from earlier confronts her, donning an outfit which is a cross between a traditional French Maid's uniform and a China doll. She has two pairs of large scissors in her hand. Why is she attacking Aiko? Apparently, Aiko stole her boyfriend away with a one-night stand. Aiko cannot even remember the guy. Aiko escapes the public bathroom only to get caught in a portable one, and Aiko and the Scissor Lady have a battle: Aiko with a chainsaw and the Scissor Lady with a massive pair of scissors, far larger than any garden shears. X-Cross concludes with the two reuniting, and Shiyori's boyfriend and the mysterious caller make an appearance. The final act is very reminiscent of Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man (1973). I have a very high tolerance for ineptitude combined with a gushing love for genre cinema, so I would certainly say that I am the ideal audience for X-Cross. During the first viewing, I enjoyed the suspense and mystery of Shiyori's tale with its twists and turns, although predictable. Shiyori's mistrust of Aiko is a key element of the film and provides the link to the mystery. Kenta Fukasaku's main visual symbol is the cell phone: a white cell phone for Shiyori and a red one for Aiko. X-Cross adeptly tells both woman's tales, alternatively, using the cell phone calls, texts, and emails as links between the two stories. Shiyori's sick villagers and Aiko's insane Scissor Woman are indulgent flourishes, combined with good pacing and nice atmosphere, which made ninety minutes fly by. Keep in mind, X-Cross is a low-budget horror film, pure and simple. Motifs can become gimmicks; what's effective can be tired; and the intriguing becomes sometimes boring, depending on what kind of mood you're in. I apparently was in a ranty mood for this entry, and Battle Royale II is still an awful film. However, Kenta Fukasaku shows promise with X-Cross and I will certainly see his future films.

1 comment:

Aaron said...

The movie sounds like something worth checking out. I swear your blog is gonna cost me a lot of money one of these days because of the number of films that you've written up that I want to see. Great review as usual and you make a good point about the whole Bava thing. Also, I laughed when I read the little Godfather III jab. Good stuff.