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Recession, Depression and Just Plain Depressing

Recession, Depression and Just Plain Depressing (photo)

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After a couple of months that for all intents and purposes defined “moribund,” actual moviegoing, at least in the major cities, is getting interesting again, with several masterworks or near-masterworks creeping into theaters. Jan Troell’s scrupulous, beautiful “Everlasting Moments,” Olivier Assayas’ genuinely Renoir-esque “Summer Hours” and Philippe Garrel’s blunt, idiosyncratic “Frontier of Dawn” are all exceptionally exciting and rewarding pictures, and the fact that they’re all being distributed by the sister company of the one that’s hosting me as a critic this month looks…well, funny, I know. What can I tell you? IFC Entertainment’s acquisitions folks have excellent taste, and they’re into…acquiring.

Still in all, I’m slightly relieved, if only for the sake of appearances, that the latest wonderment from Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, “Tokyo Sonata,” premieres on U.S. screens this week courtesy of Regent Releasing. Kurosawa, who, as most of his fans already know, is no relation to Akira, is a master purveyor of artful horror films and/or surrealism-tinged tales of modern urban anomie (or is it the other way around?), or more to the point some combination of both. “Tokyo Sonata,” from a script by Max Mannix that was widely revised (particularly, if we go by interviews with the artistes, in the last third) by the director, has no overt supernatural elements. But still. The Tokyo park where the homeless and unemployed line up every day for free food has the look and feel of a setting from the finale of Kurosawa’s terrifyingly apocalyptic 2001 stunner “Pulse,” only minus the unmanned plane flying into a building. “Sonata”‘s adult male lead, Teruyuki Kagawa, has a peculiarly round face, with puffy skin and doll-like eyes; the eerier blandness of his features brings to mind those of countless somnambulistic killers in ’60s B pictures, beginning with Ricardo Valle’s Morpho in Jess Franco’s “The Awful Dr. Orloff.” His unsettling appearance makes the passivity his character Ryuhei Sasaki displays as he’s summarily dismissed from his job more unsettling than it would have been had a more conventional-looking actor been playing him. And it makes Ryûhei’s always ill-advised breakouts from passivity more terrifying.

These and other off-kilter touches — putting the Sasaki family house literally right next to a rail line, for instance — could have severely impinged upon the balance of the film, spinning it off into overtly Lynchian territory. But Kurosawa is his own man, and his particular mix of melancholy, anxiety, bone-dry humor, and, finally, grace, is a unique quantity in cinema.

After getting downsized due to lack of initiative, Ryuhei slinks home early and tries to sneak in via the back door, only to run into wife Megumi (Kyoko Koizumi), who responds with a quizzical shrug. Oldest Sasaki son Takashi (Yu Koyanagi) is a listless mophead who comes and goes throughout the film like a ghost. “Sonata” is more concerned with Ryuhei’s subterfuge, and younger son Kenji’s impulsive decision to start piano lessons, a course he carries out in secret.

03112009_tokyoSonata2.jpgMore than just a study of a dysfunctional family, “Sonata” also functions as a ruthless critique of the patriarchy, pretty much announcing it as the very heart of the dysfunction. Hypocrisy rules, sometimes with awful hilarity. “I raised you to have a happy life,” Ryuhei protests when Takeshi announces his intention to join the military. After discovering Kenji’s new enthusiasm — which, you know, makes the kid happy — Ryuhei expressly forbids his taking lessons; when Megumi gets Ryuhei to see reason, he lamely notes, “Once I’ve said no I can’t take it back. It affects my authority as a parent.” This provides an opening for Megumi to play her trump — she’s seen Ryuhei in that park.

Just as a sort of détente is in sight — maybe — the family is shattered again, courtesy, at least in part, of Koji Yakusho, a Kurosawa stalwart, whose character’s failed robbery of the Sasaki house leads to a hostage situation and one of the more peculiar “they made me a criminal” monologues in recent memory. But citing these plots points is, finally, rather beside the point, the point being the spell Kurosawa (aided mightily by cinematographer Akiko Ashizawa) casts, putting the viewer in a world that’s recognizable but not quite our own, and illuminating the one that is in the process.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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