Amidst a bunch of mediocre-to-abysmal blockbusters, the in-flight entertainment system on my Delta flight had on offer a movie I had never heard of: The Host.

Figuring that a movie about body-snatching aliens could not possibly be that bad (or rather: no matter how bad, would have to be somewhat entertaining), I ended up subjecting myself to what turned out to be 90 tedious minutes of some of the worst moviemaking I have ever seen, only made bearable by occasional bits of unintentional hilarity through sheer ineptitude. I belatedly gave up somewhere around the two-third mark.

All along, I could not quite put my finger on it, but there was something vaguely familiar in the movie’s over-simplistic linear plot, incredibly dull treatment of otherwise time-tested genre tropes, barely-defined one-dimensional characters and empty dialogs masquerading as profundity… not to mention the obvious (though badly muddled) religious undertones. Despite having never heard of that movie until then, it felt as if I may have watched it before.

And then today, while browsing Detroit airport’s equally indigent Travel Bookstore, I happened upon the book that apparently inspired that abortion of a movie. And it all made sense.

Just in case the author’s name alone may not have been enough, a big sticker above it proclaimed, in big gaudy gold letters: “By the author of the Twilight™ series“.

There must be a way to convey to a Japanese audience why Amélie was adequate but ultimately forgettable in its schlocky quirkiness and Paris (“the movie”): a derivative piece of tourism porn by an aging director, who used to do much better… that does not make one sound like a bitter jaded fuck or a strident Parisian film snob.

I just haven’t found it yet.

Time to finally change topics a little…

As part of my grand OCD project to document every last tiny aspect of my activities (and possibly do something cool with the data one day), I have started compiling a List of Movies I watched, with ratings and mini-reviews.

At the moment, it is limited to recent viewings, plus the content of my permanent movie library and a couple random ones. Over time, I will try to commit more, as they come back to me.

Since it is doubtful I will ever get around to writing a proper recount of this month’s cultural outings, here are a couple random thoughts instead:

  • Despite my impression of the past few years that Japanese cinema was losing ground to more daring, less formulaic Korean filmmakers such as Park Chan-wook, Japanese movies were particularly well represented at the Berlinale and fared pretty well.
  • Of the three screening we attended, Korean movie Ki-chin was definitely the weakest: beautiful photography, unfortunately undermined by a contrived plot and the least engaging depictions of food I have ever seen in a food-oriented movie (not to mention terminally inept subtitling work, which made it difficult to follow even basic dialogues).
  • Yoji Yamada‘s films were of a much higher grade. Friday’s première screening of Kyoto Uzumasa Monogatari was a nice prelude to the more involved Ototo, on Sunday. Both had a rather typical Japanese vibe of quiet everyday life events mixed with deeper topics that never take themselves too seriously. Still not convinced about the Japanese conception of slapstick physical humour as the height of comic relief, but overall good movies.
  • Thanks to Berlin’s opulence in Opera venues, we obtained last minute tickets for a representation of my all-time favourite (my undying love of Verdi’s works, over any Bellini, Wagner or even Mozart, is a clear reflection of my mundane operatic tastes, sure, but I stand by it).
  • Musical happiness.
  • Small aside: people who can’t help loudly coughing, right in the middle of Violetta’s dying aria, deserve to be put to a slow and painful death. I don’t care how much your throat itches: put a lid on it or stay home. And while we are at it: do not clap at the end of every single fucking scene. Keep it limited to the overture, the end of each act and at most a few noteworthy arias and find something else to keep your hands and cerebral-motor cortex busy.

The Cove is not gonna make Japan many friends among the world’s dolphin and whale lovers, but it is definitely worth a watch.

Although it could probably go lighter on the whole Mission: Impossible antics (unfortunately, it seems you just can’t sell a documentary nowadays if it doesn’t feature endless gratuitous action montages), the scenes it captures are captivating and hard to ignore. Beyond the expected money shot of an expanse of ocean literally red with dolphin blood, the investigative work offers some fascinating insights into the cynical political maneuvering that goes on to ensure the fishing doesn’t stop.

The vast farce that is the International Whaling Commission and a long tradition of Japan’s bribing third world island countries for votes, gets the bashing it deserves: I don’t care what your opinions on the whaling issue are, if you seriously believe in the “scientific whaling” argument, you are very misinformed or a moron.

Casual observers of Japanese modern history do not need to be told of its infamous propensity to always side with industries against public welfare, when environmental or public health scandals strike. Others will probably think that the recount of Minamata disease’s infamous cover-up is exaggerated… After all, while Western countries routinely poison locals in remote third-world countries and get away with it, it is quite a rare thing for a country to let companies do it on its own soil and unfalteringly support them when things go awry (and long after that). Long-time residents will also enjoy the nod to Japan’s sub-par criminal justice system, delight in spotting the usual cast of Japanese administration characters (the blatantly corrupt – yet utterly polite – cop on local business’ payroll, the roboticized bureaucratic talking-head, the government “scientist” spouting pseudo-science etc. etc.), without, unfortunately, escaping the usual trite clichés (is there a single japanese story that cannot be illustrated with a nail and a hammer?).

This documentary is not without its faults and I honestly have my doubt about the efficiency of the “Us vs. Them” brand of activism, when confronted to Japanese culture. But regardless of which side of the Blubber Hamburger / Cute Smiling Cetacean debate you stand on, there are a couple items worth pondering in there.

Not that I have anything against French cinema in general, but even I am getting tired of seeing thirty-something couples endlessly strolling through picturesque Parisian streets or sitting at cafés, absorbed in pseudo-intellectual discussions of their latest hormonal release…

And if I hear one more piano piece by Satie or a Bach partita in a film, I shall scream.