DID YOU READ

“Confessions”: War may be hell, but it has nothing on high school.

“Confessions”: War may be hell, but it has nothing on high school. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 New York Asian Film Festival.

“Confessions” is the latest from Tetsuya Nakashima, who in 2006 made “Memories of Matsuko,” my absolute favorite of the films I’ve seen over the years at the New York Asian Film Festival. “Matsuko” was all about the gaping divide between its peppy musical numbers and frenetic, “Amelie”-bright visuals and what was in fact a wicked downer of a tale about a fallen woman who keeps falling and falling and falling until she dies, all but forgotten.

In “Confessions,” the visual stylings are even slicker, somewhere between a high-end music video and “Fight Club”-era David Fincher, but all glimpses of humanity has been leeched away. Misery is everything.

The film opens on a rowdy 7th grade classroom, where kids are sipping on what the teacher explains is milk provided by a potential government campaign. One boy is being blatantly bullied, some have left mid-lecture and are hanging out on the roof, others are openly on cell phones or talking with their friends. Their teacher, a serene thirtysomething named Yuko Moriguchi (Takako Matsu), is used to being ignored — and she knows she’s about to get their complete attention. She’s talking about how she’s quitting teaching at the end of the month, how the death of her young daughter, who drowned in the school pool, has affected her, and, dropping that other shoe, how two of the students in her classroom were responsible for murdered the little girl.

06242010_confessions1.jpgOh, and she put something in their milk.

Moviewise, I can’t think of another country that consistently looks at its own youth with the complicated mixture of mistrust, fear and compassion that Japan has, in titles like “All About Lily Chou-Chou,” “Battle Royale,” “This World of Ours” and “Suicide Circle.” “Confessions” is downright brutal to its class of 37 teens, on whom puberty is shown to have descended like a season of madness.

They’re entitled, they’re cruel, they’re despairing, they’re lonely, they’re angry, they’re disturbingly detached, they’re in some cases downright sociopathic. They don’t exactly inspire faith in a future generation. Then again, the adults don’t come off so well either.

Though Moriguchi departs after unveiling her truth to the class, she hovers on the outskirts of the narrative, using the children as tools in her quest for vengeance. Her revelation, her “confession” — she never names the two boys who killed her child, but gives enough details about them that their identities become immediately evident to their classmates — makes one of conspirators the target of savage bullying and harassment and drives the other one into withdrawal in his room. Manipulating the earnest young teacher who’s replaced her, Moriguchi feeds the flames of the pair’s persecution until they burst, unleashing violence against the only people who care for them.

06242010_confessions3.jpg“Confessions” is a murder mystery without the mystery — after the long first sequence, we and most of the characters in the film know exactly who did it, even if they’re apparently sheltered by juvenile legal restrictions that make prosecution pointless.

The twists that come are ones of motivation and perspective, as the narration shifts to the shy class president who dreams of death, to the mother who pins blame for her child’s actions on anyone but him, to the shut-in who refuses to bathe because the scent of his own filth reminds him he’s still alive, to the would-be genius ready to commit atrocities in order to get the attention of his estranged mother.

“Confessions” is breathtaking in its ruthlessness, though that also means it’s emotionally distant — stuffed with social issues like bullying, youth suicide, hikikomori and school violence, it all starts to seem extremely dysfunction junction. Moriguchi’s no heroine — inarguably and terribly wronged, she nevertheless pursues as ruthless a revenge as she can manage against the culprits, unencumbered by any sense that they deserve special consideration because they’re only 13 years old.

Given the unhappy home life of one of the boys, the ending’s shrugging off of any possibility of redemption seems awfully grim. At what age should people be held completely accountable for their own awfulness? And what of the collateral damage that occurs, the (semi) innocents who end up as part of the body count?

06242010_confessions2.jpgBut perhaps that’s the point — the film, which is frequently shot in the cool greys and blues of a world (Moriguchi’s world?) permanently drained of color by trauma, is one in which inflicting pain seems the only surefire means of communicating your own suffering.

You can be alone in your own personal hell, and yet elsewhere the sun is shining, the trees are blossoming and the girls running through puddles, happy to be free for spring break. What a beautiful world, and what incredible ugliness can be found in it.

“Confessions” does not yet have US distribution. It screens July 1st and 4th at the Japan Society in NY.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.