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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Reviews of Three Monkeys and Tokyo Sonata

Three Monkeys is about a politician who makes a big boo-boo during election time: he accidentally hits and kills a pedestrian. He then does what is usually done when a studio head or movie star does the same thing: pays someone else to take the rap (though he isn’t allowed the cynical outcome of winning the Oscar; here he loses the election). So the politician’s chauffer goes to jail for 18 months in his place, with a nice monetary reward waiting for him upon release. And then…things go really wrong. Three Monkeys is a gripping thriller that is not remotely directed like a thriller; it’s made up of long, languorous takes filled with silence. Everybody does a lot of thinking and internalizing their emotions which creates as much or more tension as is found in a Hitchcock movie. No one’s particular likeable; the family tends to talk to each other by answering questions with another question or outright avoiding the topic at hand; the father is misogynistic and violent; the son’s a whiner; the politician is callow. At the same time, by the end of the movie, one feels so much empathy for everyone that the story reaches the emotional level of a tragedy. Screenplay by Ebru Ceylan, Ercan Kesal and Nuri Bilge Ceylan (who also directed).
Tokyo Sonata is a wonderful movie. It’s absolutely wonderful. Did I mention that it was wonderful? If I didn’t, let me say once again, it’s wonderful. In many ways it has the same structure as Three Monkeys, but instead of someone accidentally killing someone, someone loses a job and then things go really wrong. It’s also filled with lots of silences and long takes (Ozu is often name dropped when people talk about this film). It also does something that every book of screenwriting and university writing class says can’t be done: the author takes the plot in a different and really weird and odd direction about half way through when one of the characters is abducted by a desperate, but hopelessly inept criminal. By the end, a peace of sorts reigns over the characters symbolized by the youngest child, a music prodigy, auditioning for a performing arts school. He plays Claire de Lune with such beauty and delicacy that the world comes to a stop to listen. There’s no indication that the characters are any better off financially, but they have reached a measure of acceptance born out of awe at the mystery and majesty that can be created in the universe. Screenplay by Max Mannix, Sachiko Tanaka and Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation; he also directed).

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