Too many movies, not enough screens. Our independently operated movie theaters—the Brattle, the Coolidge Corner, the Harvard Film Archive, and the Somerville—do their part “rescuing” movies that wouldn’t play in Boston otherwise. But video-on-demand services like iTunes and Amazon Instant Video are claiming the work of notable films and notable filmmakers at a rate faster than local screening calendars can keep up with. Two of our favorite filmmakers recently saw their latest films bypass local screens to open via streaming instead. We’re offering this inaugural VOD survey as a guide to help you catch up—and if these trends continue, it won’t be the last.
Directed by Takashi Miike. ***/****
Takashi Miike has earned his reputation as cinema’s leading madman. Audition and 13 Assassins, masterpieces both, are proof of his exquisitely sober filmmaking talents. But the comically prolific Japanese commercial filmmaker also turns out whatsits like Dead or Alive and Full Metal Yakuza—absurdist riffs on his nation’s crime pictures. Those pushed past “satire” or “parody,” directly into the realm of “what the fuck?” WTF is right where Yakuza Apocalypse starts out. A beaten-down town is watched over by a benevolent yakuza boss, who also happens to be an immortal vampire. In other films, that’d be the punchline. With Miike, it’s the setup.
A rival gang executes Boss, and his faithful servant Kageyama is left to bury his master’s severed head. But then that head bites Kageyama on the neck. Then Kageyama starts to bite the town’s innocents. Then Kageyama learns that that’s a faux pas among yakuza vampires—civilians may taste better, but to wipe them all out is to eliminate a necessary revenue stream. Don’t congratulate yourself for reading too deeply into that metaphor. A gangster does it himself: “You could say we’ve been living off their blood,” he deadpans, with the tenor of a sophomoric film critic.
So the pleasures this film is offering aren’t interpretive. They’re textural. The spells cast against common sense pile up: Demons of folklore arrive on the scene, followed by a terrorist frog and a kaiju monster. They all involve themselves in fight sequences, which are blocked with the sure hand of a combat-cinema veteran. That’s what elevates even moderately interesting Miike films from “curious” into “art”: He can speak the formal languages he’s subverting, with a tongue more fluent than those of a genre’s most ardent practitioners. If you believe all filmmakers are subconsciously programmed by the markets they make films for—and that’s a persuasive argument—then you must concede that Miike is the result of a glorious malfunction.
YAKUZA APOCALYPSE. RATED R. AVAILABLE NOW VIA VOD PLATFORMS INCLUDING ITUNES AND AMAZON INSTANT VIDEO.
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. ***/****
Anderson’s reputation is a more grandiose one. With There Will Be Blood, The Master, and Inherent Vice, he’s become a national historian within the narrative cinema. The string-based scores of those movies, by Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead, remained tantalizingly detached from the action on screen. They added, instead of accompanying. And so those period pieces were once removed from reality. They’re daydreams, direct from the American subconscious.
We know what year those movies are set in. And what states. But the other details get as fuzzy as the moods conjured by Greenwood’s unnerving scores. With Junun, Anderson’s 54-minute eighth feature—his first in the nonfiction form—we’re offered a more specific set of slugs: We’re in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India. It is February, 2015. Greenwood and his producer Nigel Godrich are here to collaborate on an album with a team assembled by Shye Ben Tzur, a musical artist who composes devotional works within the Sufi faith. They’re all recording in the legendary Mehrangarh Fort. And—to be exact—it is 12:52 pm.
Anderson’s other films emerged from his ideas and anxieties. But the specificity of these subtitles betrays a shift in priorities: what Junun has, instead, are experiences. Anderson starts off by spinning the camera in circles. (He’s not only credited as director, but also as one of five photographers.) Sitting dead center within the band’s setup, he catches every participant on the first track performing as an individual—on horns, percussion instruments, and dholaks, for starters—while the audio provides the “image” of them together.
In later sequences, Anderson often diverts his attention mid-song: away from the bandmembers, and toward a pigeon fluttering about the workspace, or to the streetside travels of a stray musician in need of harmonium repairs. The editing rides the rhythms of the band’s compositions—building up (to rapturous camera movements and unexpected cuts) and then letting off (with static shots of spit valves and set-deconstruction.) Early Anderson works like Magnolia and Boogie Nights were filled with pop songs—and they were edited to the beats. But Junun, like his other Greenwood projects, is operating from another plane. It hears the music and finds a different beat to play alongside it. Junun may look more like a travelogue than a daydream. But its dissociative aesthetic rhythm? As in the grander Anderson films, that’s still coming from inside the mind.
JUNUN. NOT RATED. AVAILABLE EXCLUSIVELY AT MUBI.COM WITH SUBSCRIPTION. ONE-MONTH ACCESS AVAILABLE FOR $4.99.