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“Tokyo Sonata” and “How to Live in the German Federal Republic” on DVD

“Tokyo Sonata” and “How to Live in the German Federal Republic” on DVD (photo)

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You know where you are right away with “Tokyo Sonata” — Kiyoshi Kurosawa-ville, a suburb of Japanese cinema that’s commonly plagued by secret chaotic pressure, bubbling to the surface and causing cracks in the pavement. Here, it’s a storm wind blowing in from off-camera, whisking a wide sheet of newspaper off a table and floating it across the room like a lazy manta. A woman scurries over to close the door, wipes up the rain on the floor, and then opens the door again, to watch the onslaught of weather in the trees. Bad times are coming.

Kurosawa is one of the most tirelessly fascinating directors at work today — he almost single-handedly lit the fuse for the J-horror movement, but actually his best-known films, from “Cure” (1997) to “Pulse” (2001) to “Doppelganger” (2003), aren’t genre films but confrontational parables about instability and dislocation, often garlicked up with a Buñuelian sense of the absurd and a taste for metaphors that can sometimes get beautifully out of hand. (“Bright Future”‘s jellyfish come to mind — what the hell?)

Thus, “Tokyo Sonata” may be the Kiyoshi Kurosawa movie for people who don’t much like Kiyoshi Kurosawa movies, in that KK addresses his obsessions straight on, on a small scale that makes perfect domestic sense (most of the way), and with a happy ending yet. What possessed him? We should know better than to ask. “Bright Future” (2003) or “Charisma” (1999) are inscrutable question marks (and perhaps my favorites for that reason), and KK’s career is filled with comedies and strange stuff we don’t see over here. Whatever: the new film is palm-sized, brilliantly composed, typically eloquent and often creepily funny.

05032010_TokyoSonata2.jpgThe woman at the door is Megumi (Kyôko Koizumi), a fortysomething mother and wife of tempered maternal reserve, unaware at first of the real storm: her husband, none-too-bright middle-manager Ryuhei (Teryuki Kagawa, swollen with anxiety), has just been laid off when his company decides to avail themselves of cheap Chinese labor.

Kurosawa gets a curdled laugh from this in his typically smooth visual way: as Ryuhei exits the building with his bags of personal effluvia, he stalks distractedly toward a public square across the street where, revealed in the tracking shot, three other black-suited salarymen sit with their belongings, all equally lost. Like several other traumatized modern men in contemporary movies, Ryuhei can’t admit defeat to his wife, and he wanders the city for days pretending to be at work, meeting up with a seemingly unhinged friend from school who’s also been downsized and who enthusiastically embraces the masquerade lifestyle.

That’s just the beginning: Ryuhei’s infrequently seen teenage son impulsively decides to join the American military, just in time for the troop surge, and the younger son, all of 12, creates a mini-insurrection at school by calling a bullying teacher on his porn consumption (“Like a revolution!” his buddy crows as the classroom devolves into chaos), and violates his cash-poor father’s orders and pays for secret piano lessons with his lunch money. As Yeats said, things fall apart.

A visit to the unemployed slacker friend’s house for dinner seethes with slow burns and mysterious observations. Soon after, the friend disappears in a marching throng of homeless men. Ryuhei gets a job cleaning mall toilets, and sees his fellow janitor leave at shift’s end in a tidy business suit — everybody is lying about who they are. Slowly, the movie nudges into a more comfortably KK-esque realm — that is, toward the possibilities of irrationality — when KK regular Kôji Yakusho appears as a self-loathing burglar, kidnapping Megumi and lighting out in a ridiculous stolen sports car for whatever frontier they can find.

05032010_TokyoSonata4.jpgWhich isn’t far, in Japan, and the last act of “Tokyo Sonata” is hauntingly, subtly crazy, as if the family’s disintegration virally affects the whole city. It may be a bit too subtle for Kurosawa fans, but that might just mean they’re watching for the wrong reasons.

Good thing the filmmaker is never less than inventive visually — every shot has unpredictable layers and details, from the trains that continually plummet by the oblivious characters to the playful intimations of social collapse out on the streets. He’s the kind of director various filmgoers and critics want various things from right now, but some time in the future it’ll be obvious that Kurosawa was a master.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.