DID YOU READ

“Symbol”: Are you there, God? It’s me, Hitoshi Matsumoto.

“Symbol”: Are you there, God? It’s me, Hitoshi Matsumoto. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 New York Asian Film Festival.

Hitoshi Matsumoto, a famous Japanese comedian whose work outside of the two features he’s directed I have to confess to being completely unfamiliar with, has sported some truly horrendous big-screen haircuts.

In his impressively bizarre mockumentary “Big Man Japan,” Matsumoto played an ineffectual part time superhero whose droopy personality seemed to physically manifest itself in the sheets of long, scraggly hair closing in on his demoralized face. (When he transformed into a barrel-chested CG giant in order to fight monsters, his hair stood straight up à la Don King — must be all that electricity needed to spur the change.)

In his new film “Symbol,” which succeeds against all odds in being even stranger than “Big Man Japan,” he peers out from under the heavy fringe of a deeply silly-looking bowl cut, the roundness of which is matched by the gaping “O” of his mouth as he shrieks his frustration or terror. Finding himself inexplicably trapped in an all-white room mounted with little all-white switches (which we learn are actually the Lilliputian privates of giggling cherubim lurking in the walls), Matsumoto’s unnamed, pajama-clad protagonist is the unwilling participant in some sort of surreal one man metaphysical experiment.

06282010_symbol3.jpgWhenever he presses a switch — they’re all identical and unlabeled — something absurd takes place in the room. A bonsai tree is ejected from a hole in the wall. Sushi drops onto a plate. An apparent African tribesman sprints out of one corner and vanishes into the other.

A countdown clock signals the arrival of a giant pair of buttocks, which descend from the ceiling to pass gas upon the trapped man’s cowering form. And one of those switches opens a door — in the opposite wall, just a little too far away to get to before it closes back up.

Ah, yes. Did I mention there’s this whole other intercut storyline, set in Mexico, about lucha libre?

The wrestler thread, which is entirely in Spanish, seems to take place in an only slightly quirkier version of the real world that bears not apparent connection to the fellow in the room. Escargot Man, who’s a técnico, a good guy, prepares with his partner to battle a team of much younger and seemingly genuinely violent rudos with the ominous name “Devils of the North.” His parents are concerned, while his son insists, in the face of jeering classmates, on Escargot Man’s inevitable triumph. When the match actually begins, things don’t look good. Well, until…

06282010_symbol2.jpgI won’t give away the actual convergence of the two stories, which is staggeringly funny and, despite all the weirdness that’s preceded it, categorically unexpected. And goddamn, it should be — the first two thirds of the film are basically a sometimes tedious, slapstick-overstuffed set-up for that joke/revelation, and while the final act just piles on marvelous scenes of insanity, the overall feeling of “Symbol” is of a very, very long short.

I can’t begin to posit what the ending signifies — with the angel and devil imagery, there’s certainly a religious spin you could plant on it, but that seems, perversely, a little easy.

I prefer Mark Schilling’s proposed theory that the message is that “Actions have consequences, though our ability to foresee the latter is limited — if not nonexistent.” In that light, “Symbol” is a fantastic rebuke of/alternative to the “Babel”s of the film world. And that’s an idea I like very much.

“Symbol” does not yet have US distribution. It plays July 4th and 7th at the Walter Reade Theater in New York City.

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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.