Still wounded — here’s one we had prewritten:
You do not know strange until you’ve seen "Funky Forest: The First Contact," from a team of three writers/directors that includes Katsuhito Ishii, whose "The Taste of Tea" won the audience award at last year’s festival. "The Taste of Tea," while also off-kilter, did have a narrative; "Funky Forest" is a collection of sketches strung together by
barely overlapping characters that resembles nothing so much as the experience of late night flipping through public access channels while half asleep on the couch. Powerfully bizarre, often hilarious public access channels: reoccuring characters include the "Unpopular-With-Women Brothers" (one practices elaborate dance routines, another is a chubby white kid, and the third is Tadanobu Asano, strumming solemnly and not very skillfully on a guitar) and the "Babbling Hot Spring Vixens" (self-explanatory?). At various times the film can recall David Cronenberg, Bill Plympton, the more non sequitur-prone moments of Monty Python and, oddly enough, Wes Anderson, but mainly it defies description, two and a half hours of aliens, variety show comedy, rambling anecdotes, dream sequences and dance-offs, interrupted halfway-through with a message that Side A is over and that Side B will start after a three-minute intermission. If you can get on its wavelength (which for some may require chemical aid) there’s lots of fun to be had, particularly in any of the scenes featuring Asano, surely the oddest international heartthrob around with his infallibly befuddled earnestness.
Quietly just as strange, and possibly our favorite film in the festival, is Riichiro Mashima and Masaki Kobayashi’s "Ski Jumping Pairs: Road to Torino 2006," a mockumentary about a fake sport. We know; we’re all for a ten-year moratorium on the genre ourselves, but the delirium of "Ski Jumping Pairs" is impossible to deny: done in the form of a drippy Olympic network special leading up to finals, the film fetishistically layers on all of the elements of a sentimental look at the history of a homegrown sport, from a somber presenter (Shosuke Tanihara, who actually does host TV programs), archival and home movie footage, reflective talking heads, effusive narration and heavy-handed foreshadowing, all to tell the story of brilliant physicist Toshifumi Harada, who, growing up in Hokkaido "devoted himself to skiing and Einstein" and became determined to apply his theory of "special flying object mitosis," aka the Rendezvous Theory, to the sport of ski jumping, using his twin sons as the pioneers. There are of course obstacles and tragedies to overcome, but "Ski Jumping Pairs" never overplays its watery-eyed, subdued sincerity, poking fun at the unavoidable Japanese spirit of ganbaru, of hanging in there and trying one’s best. The film started as a CGI short, and towards the end the main action shifts over to CG work of a quality that will impress no one; still, by that time we were well caught up in the saga of the Harada brothers, who barrel towards a final triumph that is inevitable, ludicrous, and still, somehow, somewhat touching.
"Funky Forest" screens tonight and June 24th at the Anthology; "Ski
Jumping Pairs" also screens tonight and on June 23rd at the Anthology.