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  • Kerry Chambers

How does one start a discussion about one of Japanese Cinema’s most underrated filmmakers? By stating just how underrated he is. That is very, very underrated. With thanks to Third Window Films in the UK, much of his work has been made available to us, even his most recent The Resurrection Trilogy, a pandemic saga infused with paranoia and rage. He still needs some hyping on this side of the world, so how about a little rundown of one of the most watchable filmmakers on the festival circuits.

Pornostar - Third Window Films (1999)

Controversial in his Native Japan, with two rather high-profile arrests, Toyoda has seen his career de-railed a few times. But he only seems to take it in his stride; his works is unique and distinct, infused with rage and alienation, societal strain on masculinity in the modern world. On small budgets he wrangles one of the best talent in Japan, penning powerful screenplays, works closely with the same crew and composing some of the most visually striking works to come out of Japan. His voice is original as his contemporaries, and he deserves to sit amongst the greats like Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Hirokazu Koreeda. Working across all types of media – features, shorts, documentaries and even music videos – his voice is still apparent, diverse as much as he is distinctive in his style. Toyoda's films have a feel; they make sentimental and nostalgic, feel at home and yet wildly unsettled. They leave me feeling a lot and I don't know what.

Go Seppuku Yourselves - Third Window Films (2021)

It’s been over a year since I first discovered Blue Spring. I wrote a review about in which I spent most of it unravelling the infinite tragedy of the eighty minutes I had just endured. It took me some time to work through the rest, despite availability within my grasp. Now that I have, it feels only right to rundown some of his best work and convince you, dear reader, to become the avid-watcher of Toshiaki Toyoda. It is by no means definitive list. The films I have left off are brilliant works, amazing actually in comparison to other director’s works – I had a really hard time deciding what to keep on such a small list. What is worth noting is how fascinating all of Toyoda’s works are, breaking them down and in analysing each one thematically and contextually only makes for more indulgent watching.

I'm Flash! - Third Window Films (2012)

Honorable Mentions:


5. The Resurrection Trilogy (2019-2021)

I could have ranked this higher but as aforementioned; Toyoda has a lot of great films. It only made sense, however to tie together his latest works into a package, especially considering they are made up of two shorts and one mid-length feature. Possibly his most biting to date, they are films that captured the anxieties and frustration of the last few years globally. Made before and during the pandemic, Toyoda uses this as frame for his unusual, experimental genre-bending saga.


Wolf’s Calling, the first, is a sixteen minute short starring a multitude of regulars including Kiyohiko Shibukawa and Yōsuke Kubozuka (he really shines in the final entry). It also had Tadanobu Asano in it: need I say more. An atmosphere piece mostly, it was in indirect response to his 2019 arrest (He was in possession of a firearm that was in fact a WW2 antique), as Samurai gather together at the Mt. resurrection Wolf Shrine in preparation for… something. It’s full of tension and mystery, feeling almost like a tonal teaser for what he would follow up with.

He followed this up with 2020’s day The Day of Destruction, the longest of the entries.

Flitting between past and present, it’s about a monster uncovered deep in a mine that has been spreading a plague through a small town, leading to inexplicable mental illness. Coinciding with what would have been the 2020 Japan Olympics, this film was somehow still achieved despite the pandemic. It’s an interpretative piece but many can see the anxiety infused throughout the story, as the world comes apart.

The final entry Go Seppuku Yourselves, and my favourite, feels more like a monologue of sorts. Kubozuka stars as a Samurai accused of spreading poison throughout the village, preparing to commit ritual suicide. Released in 2021, it produced around the same time as its predecessor; it becomes a biting commentary of the government, the story itself having many parallels to the Pandemic. Poised at the Mt. Resurrection Wolf Shrine, the ceremony is performed in one of cinemas most brutal and bloody depictions yet, but not before the Samurai exposes he officials for their failure to control the deaths around them. Mostly long takes and dialogue, the twenty-six minutes are the most engaging in the entire saga.


4. Monsters Club (2012)

Toyoda was banned from the film industry following a public arrest in 2005 for possession of drugs (an offense taken very seriously in Japan) and this overshadowed the major release of his feature Hanging Garden, a star-studded drama. It was not until 2009 with The Blood of Rebirth, that he returned to filmmaking, although blacklisted from the studio system and to this day he works predominantly independently. But in 2012 he released two great films; Monsters Club and I’m Flash! Monsters Club is my favourite of the two, without a doubt. Contemplative and stripped back, beautiful wide shots of the rural outdoors saturated in the snow, the colours are visceral against the minimalist scenery. On such a tiny budget, Toyoda still captures that cinematic feel.

Ryoichi (Played by an incredibly moving Eita Nagayama) lives a solitary life in the snowy mountains, living in a cabin, isolated from modern society. Except when he is sending homemade bombs to marketing CEO’s and advertising companies. Disillusioned by society around him, his acts of violence are an attempt to seek revenge on society, as though his actions alone will invoke change. As time passes he no longer appears to be alone, with strange apparitions visiting him at night and the unexpected appearance of his dead brother who killed himself years before.

Inspired by the life of the American terrorist Ted Kaczynski, this is perhaps Toyoda’s most reflective film; Monsters Club harbours a deep-rooted resentment that seems to capture his own isolation during his years away from the Film Industry. Long hours maintaining his life and intimate monotonous scenes of crafting the bombs are over-layed with monologues as more and more the protagonist attempts to justify his exile from the world. He seems to fear it and hate it in equal parts, philosophising that the working world is akin to modern slavery, reflecting on the capitalist – consumerist culture that is running society into the ground.

Suicide hangs over Ryoichi, a subconscious way out if he is caught or can no longer see a point. His cause is what he keeps him going momentarily. The terrifying figure that appears to him (shaving-foamed ghouls that remind me of the uncanny detergent ads from years ago) feed his nihilism, offers suicide as a way out, and indulges his dark thoughts. This is an existentialist character study that moves beyond its political premise and eventually uncovers Ryoichi’s past, a stark contrast to his now incredibly lonely present. The film is angry, but in a different way from its predecessors. Toyoda’s rage, much like as one gets older, is growing evermore internalised. It’s still has projection, but it’s less explosive, far more subdued.


3. Hanging Garden (2005)

A housewife has enforced a rule in her home; complete and utter honesty amongst her family when asked a question directly. They discuss past romantic encounters, what they think, what they did wrong, what they don’t like; all in an attempt to seem more authentic with one another and more so for her, to maintain the illusion that they are an open and happy family. Her troubled childhood drives her to the point that she wilfully ignores the problems unfolding around her. Her husband is having an affair, her daughter has been skipping school and gotten photographed for adult magazines at a love hotel and her son has a crush on his teacher. Meanwhile she is trying to suppress the reality around her, desperate to fabricate a perfect life around her, down to the smallest details. She makes sure to ask the right questions as time goes on.

Hanging Garden - Third Window Films (2005)

It’s a softer film from the director, one of his only female led stories. There is a focus on the mother, her daughter and her own mother; the conflicts between them subtle and strained. Yet through one another they try to make connections, try to communicate. The family are far from explosive, they are tired and ashamed. The title of the film is taken from the Garden that the mother nurtures – that in itself a feminine connotation – that grows and blooms far better than her own family. It also a reference to Babylon.

Hanging Garden - Third Window Films (2005)

Hanging Garden doesn’t lack any of his visual flare; steady, circular camera movements re-used throughout. Top shot dinner scenes, circling the table, early on a full 360 degree shot of the exterior of the apartment block they live in is borderline psychedelic, mimicking the Ferris wheel the family went on years before. Every shot is curved, there’s no end, no horizon; things are just out of sight. There’s also a rather fabulous and bloody ending (not in the violent sense for once). He’s stripped back his score and gone for a far more gentle melody throughout, his characters reflecting through monologue instead.

Hanging Garden - Third Window Films (2005)

Despite being his most peaceful film, it’s brimming with drama. Toyoda manages the lives of his characters evenly, capturing the irony of their honesty, imbuing a sense of humour even as things fall apart. They are sincere, they have that, but they revel in their dishonesty as though it has become part of the equilibrium; was honesty ever the real intention to begin with?

Hanging Garden - Third Window Films (2005)

2. 9 Souls (2003)

Many consider this to be Toyoda’s Magnum Opus. I am of two minds; I agree but I love Blue Spring so very much that I flip-flop back and forth. They also garner many of the major themes of his work, but exist in different stages somehow. Where Blue Spring is still brimming with angst, 9 Souls is a mature effort and one even more complex. After all, it has nine stories to tell, of criminals whose lives aren’t quite as we first perceived. It’s as though he stepped back, took a breath and unpeeled the conflicted masculinity within Japan one strip at a time.

9 Souls - Third Window Films (2003)

Recluse Michiru is convicted of killing his father and imprisoned for the crime. In the isolated prison he is roomed with eight convicts who, having committed various crimes and carry various emotional baggage. One night they are able to breakout, and with a tip from a crazed inmate set off in a stolen van to a Primary school where they hope to find money. On their journey they are each forced to confront their pasts and attempt to face the future in a blind sense of possibility. The late great Yoshio Harada stars alongside Ryuhei Matsuda and a slew of familiar faces that would go on to feature in his latter works up to present day (part of the appeal of Toyoda’s movies is also the familiarity of his cast, an extended universe displaying the range of talent in his actors that makes them all the more personal).

9 Souls - Third Window Films (2003)

In its first half an outrageous black comedy, the men behaving boorishly as they bulldoze their way across country – it’s zany and bright, with its; cast bouncing beautifully off one another. In fact it impossible to believe that in its second half that the characters we see becomes sympathetic at all but it does. When the convicts decide to atone for their sins, we are faced with some morally compromising and tragic scenes. The various roles of men in society, the father, the husband, the son alongside their professional and social strains are explored to the fullest in their attempts for penance.

9 Souls - Third Window Films (2003)

Its final scenes are some of Toyoda’s most beautifully shot work; rain has never felt so cleansing. Dip return with an even better soundtrack, Let’s Get Lost being a beautifully rambling and heartfelt song that carries the mood of the piece. It’s utterly absorbing, their dynamics have shifted and their story resonates long after the credits roll. It’s a strange film, but a forgotten classic, surprisingly unique and powerful.

9 Souls - Third Window Films (2003)

1. Blue Spring (2001)

Still as powerful as it was on initial release, Toyoda’s narrative sophomore feature is also his most unforgettable. A recent re-watch blew me away all over again – a full bladder, I remained in seat, rejecting the modern technology of the pause button. With as much anger as its predecessor, Blue Spring is also infused with a delicate melancholy. What we saw in his debut feature Pornostar, the stifling rage of the youth entering the working world in a climate of severe economic decline, is the absence of hope. In Blue Spring it’s a tragedy capturing the realisation of the fact; the youth in this film see their dreams stifled.

Blue Spring - Third Window Films (2001)

Following the lives of teenage boys in a rundown High School, one by one they begin to lose hope in a future they wish for, committing heinous acts and slipping further into a life of crime. Koji (played by the sullen icon Ryuhei Matsuda) and Aoki have been friends for years. When Koji ranks supreme in the school in the clapping game he wields his power uncomfortably but effortlessly, Aoki and their groups of degenerate friends reign over the school leaves them practically immune. However, eventually Koji finds the power-plays pointless, turning to school work and flirting with a different future, all to Aoki’s horror. Violence has value to him – it’s what is expected of them in their brutish world - and when his best friend is willing to leave that life behind, he is leaving him also.

Blue Spring - Third Window Films (2001)

Toyoda’s signature visual staples come into fruition here; bright colours in both the blooms of the flowers and the blood on the floor in contrast to the stifling grey mundanity of the rundown school. The blossoms flourish, the sky is blue yet the school is bleak; the graffiti in black peppering endless corridors a reminder of the void waiting to absorb them. His sweeping camera movements bring gravity to a scene whilst harbouring the cinematic relish. They’re sometimes playful, full of energy, experiments with static shots and real-time takes. It can be easy to forget when enjoying one of his films how minute the budget can be, what he achieves is always tantalising. His moments of actions conflict with his moments of contemplative calm.

Blue Spring - Third Window Films (2001)

Furthermore, he’s a filmmaker with a great grasp of music in relation to image, thoroughly modern and this is probably most effectively displayed in Blue Spring. It’s also a huge trademark of his. Using the music of punk band Thee Michelle Gun Elephant, with tracks like September Punk Children and Drop, he manages to push his scenes into iconic territory. That final scene is utterly heart-breaking.

Blue Spring - Third Window Films (2001)

Where Blue Spring thrives is focussing on the humanity of its subjects; Pornostar was hopeless, this has it in such small servings. It focuses on the troubled rivalry between Koji and Aoki (all the characters a beautifully fleshed out, even the ones that have about three lines), rooting its story in a tragic love story of sorts as their friendship dissipates through lack of communication, different wants and time. The bigger themes of growing up into a fractured world is in the microcosm of their own conflict, which is one friend outgrowing the other. They’re trying to find future for themselves, one just wants more. It is never said if that more is even there. What happens to those that get left behind?

Blue Spring - Third Window Films (2001)

 

There you have it. What's your favourite Toyoda film and have there been any you look forward to checking out? Enjoy your watching!

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“From the star.

From the stars.

The sea is the mother.

The people are her bosom.

Heaven is the playground.”


And the so the festival begins…


‘It’s not you it’s me’, ‘we want different things’, ‘I just can’t see a future with us; I’ve been spitting these lines at movies for the last few years’, embracing a mentality that sometimes the film is just not the right fit for me. It began as a kindness, there are so many works that I can see for all their charms but then I’m hobbling about with shoes on the wrong feet. Many of my reviews have been kinder than I wish to be, wielding diplomacy where maybe I should wield some steel. But last week shifted things. Koko-di, Koko-da walked the Mile with me, I had to condemn it for its frustrating shortcomings.


Today, I’d resigned from the gallows, climbed on a soap box to gesture wildly about the complexity of this week’s surprise viewing: Ayumu Watanabe’s stunning 2019 Adaptation, Children of the Sea. Under Studio 4°C, the company behind some favourite’s including Mind Game (Yuasa, 2004), Tekkonkinkreet (Arias, 2006) and even the enjoyable mixed bag that was Berserk: The Golden Age Arc (Kubooka, 2012-13), Watanabe achieves something rather monumental. Lu Over the Wall (Yuasa 2017) meets Angels’ Egg (Oshii, 1985) were my first impressions when it came to its conclusion, by the morning after I would be so bold as to state it was reminiscent of 1988’s Akira – condensed from a series of manga that overflowed with existential ideas and equally as ground-breaking. To add to the fantastical, composing a soul for the sea and sky, Joe Hisaishi returned to the realm of cinema. His score provides a nuanced gravity that allows the film a voice as much in moments of serenity and colossal upheaval.

The Children of the Sea (All The Anime, 2019)

Based on the manga of the same name by Daisuke Igarashi, it follows fourteen year old Ruka over the course of an eventful summer. After an incident in which she injures a fellow teammate at her sports club, she is forced to leave when she refuses to apologise. Due to estrangement from her troubled mother finds, Ruka finds solace in the local aquarium where her busy father works where years before she experienced a supernatural sight in one of the exhibits. Something equally as strange happens again when she meets the high-spirited Umi (Sea) and later the ethereal Sora (Sky). The younger of two brothers raised by dugongs, their skin is sensitive to the air, craving the ocean to survive. Because of this, the aquarium took them in to investigate their origins and their link to the sea. In meeting them a mystery begins to unravel; supernatural phenomena unsettle the creatures of the sea, a comet falls from the sky, and a ghostly whale song announces the coming of ‘The Festival.’

Children of the Sea (All The Anime, 2019)

The original manga is highly complex; Watanabe had to strip away elements to capture the essence of the highly original source material. Perhaps better described as a Sci-fi, keeping within the spirit of the art and style of the original story, Watanabe focusses on the story of Ruka, strips away characters and plays down side plots until he tells a strange, abstract folk tale of loneliness, duty and rebirth. In true Japanese storytelling fashion, it takes something simple and breaks it open to reveal all the little cells holding it together, intricately linking to the universe, eventually leaving much to contemplation.

Children of the Sea (All The Anime, 2019)

The lukewarm reception took me by surprise. Perhaps it’s because it becomes something wholly unexpected. It branches off from the manga taking core ideas and condensing a long-running format in to something more concise. If I have any criticism it’s that it could be interpreted as too broad a source material to really be done justice. But the slice that Watanabe serves us is a hypnotic experience. It reminds me, as I earlier stated, of the infamous Akira. A brief glimpse of what is a wealth of story within the post-apocalyptic manga by Katsuhiro Otomo, he manages to harnesses the essential heart of his original story, boiling it down to the tragic friendship between its two main characters. Big ideas are explored; the atomic war between men, power and the annihilation of humanity. Somehow the film still feels vast as does Children of the Sea, a powerful, philosophical voyage.

The Children of the Sea (All The Anime, 2019)

The earth breathes; in the ocean we find natures womb, all life celebrates its rebirth as the cycle continues – it unites us to land and sky, each organism a piece of us, made from the stars above. We are all connected. These big ideas are captured in some intense sequences of its third act, an odyssey through the conception of the universe. It’s purpose a mystery that transcends Ruka and the two boys. In the team funding the research of Umi and Sora, we see the artificial in stark contrast to a film fit to bursting with life – they want uncover the truth by any means necessary, fuelled by greed and more so man’s hubris, an endeavour to outwit the world we live on with a delusion that we can hold natures will in our hands. This film rejects that, pushes forth the truth that we are more than what we believe to be, that the ocean carries answers we will never begin to understand. Maybe we don’t need to. Some people hate vagueness in their stories, I can be one of them and roll my eyes for good measure; but sometimes a story can thrive off its ambiguity.

Children of the Sea (All The Anime, 2019)

On a basic level, Children of the Sea still remains grounded. The story of Ruka is familiar to many; struggling to control her emotions, unable to communicate she lashes out. She can’t find a voice in her life. When she discovers her connection to Umi and the sea, she begins to see the world is bigger than her comprehension. Ruka finds solace in the company, a boy who is inherently open-hearted. His naivety and honesty awakens a need to protect him, helps her to speak through action. As Jim, one of the guardians of the two boys, states in a moment of insight; “We humans cannot convey even half of our thoughts if we fail to put them into words well, but whales may, through a song, sing and communicate what they see and feel as it is.”

Children of the Sea (All The Anime, 2019)

The theme of loneliness is prevalent, all the more highlighted by the massive topic that in any conversation can begin to eat you whole. Many, if not all, of the characters are lonely. Where in nature this ebb and flow of communication reveals the organic shifting of the earth’s cycles, from the lowliest bug to largest mammal, the humans are a messy in between of stifled emotion and lost identities. We resist the cycle, like we resist most of the wonderful things the planet offers us. In a pivotal scene between Sora and Ruka, she acknowledges her own loneliness and that of the two boys; radiant with life, the sight of the falling star she witnessed was also shining so bright because it wanted to be seen. That beautiful glow made her sad when she could see such aloneness.

Children of the Sea (All The Anime, 2019)

Children of the Sea is teeming with sumptuous visuals, hyper details and lush artistry that pays homage to it’ source material and more. It captures the terror of its more Lovecraftian scenes, the abhorrence and tenderness of the ocean we are immersed in and the muddling’s of people in amongst it all. A blend of intricate CGI and hand drawn technique, it’s probably one of the most stunning films I’ve ever seen. Drawing attention to each of these styles, in vital moments, each frame is pulsing with life. The smells and sounds heave from the screen. The team explored new visuals, technology and experimented with colour compliments to bring to life the world of the ocean below and it’s binaries with the world above and beyond; the skies are painted in hues of reds and purples rarely captured in Anime, the water alive upon each surface it graces. The film becomes a sensual adventure. Right down to the falling rain, each drop becomes a character all of its own.

Children of the Sea (All The Anime, 2019)

However, I feel it is only right that I address the controversy that surrounds not only this film but the animation community as a whole. Children of the Sea is another example of misconduct in a vast plain of poor work environments, mismanagement, fraud and abuse. The film suffered a familiar production hell that has been wrought throughout the animation community for decades. In the works for five years, during that time it was revealed that (once again), animators worked for little money, gruelling though hours’ worth of overtime and exploited by the studio. Now, from the little sources I have it seems an attempt to unionize meant that staff did get paid but without the activity of the union, they would have been worked to death with no compensation. The most beautiful of works have often been produced by companies unwilling to pay their animators worth. There are exceptions, some recent studios have attempted to provide safer, more supportive work environments but these are too few and far between. May it be a work culture epidemic or simply an extension of the corruption within all entertainment industries, Children of the Sea is just another example of extreme conditions that pushed its employees to breaking point. The final product is absolutely phenomenal but I can’t help but think that it is unlikely we will see anything of this creative magnitude again as long as companies refuse to support their employees. More so, it’s not worth the lives of people who lovingly, painstakingly crafted it.

Children of the Sea (All The Anime, 2019)

When I think of all the creatives that came together to make this astounding film, the hours, the talent, the passion for what they do, I can’t comprehend how one can’t be moved immediately. Maybe I’m soft for more classic animation, I know I’m biased. But in viewing Children of the Sea I saw an infinite wealth of creative expertise and beyond that existential horror. I have yet to see something quite so hypnotic, misleadingly pensive in its early half, gradually creeping into terrain of cosmic wonder until I felt I had been washed in clarity. If one goes into this film expecting a clean –cut narrative journey, they will be sorely disappointed as they would if they anticipated an orgasmic thrill-ride of psychedelic visuals. It’s neither and both of these things. Terrifying in its capacity, deeply intelligent, touching and devastating. With all this, it still provides an affirmation of sorts.

Children of the Sea (All The Anime, 2019)

In the end, for me, I felt like I had seen something of some importance – something worth sticking about for. I hope this film will gain more traction, which with time, the soul and the thought that went into is not lost. It’s a feature that could only be told through the beautiful yet harrowing work of the talented animators, one that I do not expect to see imitated. With little explanation, we are left with speculation and feeling, and I can’t hate that when Children of the Sea offers me something rather cathartic.


****1/2

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“Our rooster's dead, our rooster's dead,
He'll no longer sing kokodi, kokoda,”

Koko-di, Koko-dull… that was dreadful, but then again so was my soul-shattering disappointment at this film. Actually, maybe I need to take it down a notch a little; after all, there was no real cause for such intense optimism for this Swedish Surrealist Fantasy/horror by Johannes Nyholm. Also, 'dreadful' is a bit much... It’s just that I love myself some off-beat horror, the less-mainstream (apparently) the better. I had seen the trailer once or twice for Nyholm's film. Maybe eyed the cover of the Blu-ray even more so, taken as I was by such a freaky, yet simple piece of poster-play. The rest was likely my own fabrication. Or not.


Following tragedy, a couple goes on a trip in attempt to reconnect. Whilst camping deep in the woods, a dapper gentleman all in white emerge from the trees, accompanied by a bizarre entourage including a silent woman, a giant man, a dead dog and a louder, more alive one. In a series of humiliations, psychological tortures and mischievous games, the characters wreak havoc on the couple.

Koko-di Koko-da (Nyholm, 2019 - Picturehouse)

Screened at the Sundance Film Festival to a relatively positive reception in 2019, Koko-di Koko-da looked to be another addition to the often scorned breed of high-brow horror that has graced the silver-screen in the last few years. It’s a genre that panders to me, once a Slasher chick, I have to take the stigma on the chin now that I have become massive snob now when it comes to horror cinema; I am of the Hereditary kind of pretension and I love it. Described by some as a Funny Games meets Groundhog Day, that would suggest that Koko-di Koko-da was as good as either of these; it isn’t. Compelling though the premise seems the format grows tedious rather quick. There are only so many ways to be terrorized in a clearing, or so the film shows.


Spliced with genuinely interesting puppetry to convey the psychological and emotional journey of the couple, in fact the very thing that prefaces the main body of the story, it only leads to more disappointment. Once we’re in the woods, it proves to be the least engaging part. On top of this is an attempt at black comedy that does little to amuse or discomfort instead falls rather flat (having just come of a self-indulgent splurge through Julia Davis’ BBC series Nighty Night, I have a whole new respect for the genre). Script or performance, the sense of humour in this piece fizzles out where it claims to revel in it most, its first act carrying much of the advertised sharpness.

Koko-di Koko-da (Nyholm, 2019 - Picturehouse)

The nursery rhyme sung by the creepy side-show artist, and the melody produced by a rather narratively significant music box, lends the film its interesting title and adds to an air of discomfort if for a time. But this could only build so much atmosphere before even I forgot the significance of the tune and the film lulled into its intentional repetition. Technical choices are made that overall robbed the film of tension in some of its more intriguing moments. It also, in attempt to seem off-kilter, a little other-worldly, possibly through the use of manipulating frame-rates or some snazzy editing, had a tendency to look kind of ugly. Was this also intentional? At this point, one can make any excuse for art but we have to be frank about some things.


Not to say it was all terrible. Its first thirty minutes are genuinely engaging. Perhaps I should have mentioned this earlier that would then explain my severity on its final hour. The set-up is some good stuff. In fact, the humour can be found here; in the exchanges between the couple, the wife’s food-poisoning, the later argument about ice cream flavours. Their faces painted as cartoonish rabbits, the tragedy that followed was genuinely hard-hitting to watch whilst uncomfortable. If that tone had been maintained, I could rate this as a film worth remembering.

Koko-di Koko-da (Nyholm, 2019 - Picturehouse)

With these early scenes, and a pretty good final scene that ties it all up nicely – gosh is it a slog to get there though – I could see the merits in its portrayal of a couple in crisis. It explores grief in a unique way with the concept that if you can go back and change one thing, would it make any difference at all. This gimmick makes for incredibly compelling storytelling, to relive events and alter it and learn from it and ultimately find it fruitless in each attempt is the human calamity that makes for true nightmares. It is our perverse desire to regret. But Koko-di Koko-da does not manage to grip with this concept; its talons are too blunt. Maybe this would have benefitted from being a short film.


I liked the fixed camera in the car, the headlights lighting the way when they turned off the road and weaved their way through the trees along the little used path. The appearance of the white cat, the way the forest looked at night, which the cinematographers best moments were captured, the initial isolation that certainly enhanced the atmosphere briefly were all interesting at first. Honestly, there were plenty of little things to like bookending the experience.

Koko-di Koko-da (Nyholm, 2019 - Picturehouse)

It’s the sort of film I really want to love. A fable like tale interwoven with a stark examination of grief, metaphors and fantasy shrouding the harsh reality of the subject matter as it creeps into unsettling worlds. I love Swedish cinema, too. Sweden has an incredibly fascinating film repertoire, not to mention the vast and rich folklore they often exploit to marvellous effect. It’s hard to not think of the works of Ingmar Bergman or Victor Sjöström, or latterly Roy Andersson or Lukas Moodysson when recalling some truly fantastic filmmakers (I am so sorry that I can’t think of any great female directors…). Though often bleak, they can take the rich culture of their country and examine the state of the human psyche, pushing it to the extremes in various fascinating ways. Ya see? I had some really high hopes.


It is a frustration I felt throughout the film and this review. I wanted more and never got it. I wanted to love this. The spectator should always be guessing, a step behind the story they’re seeing and maybe that was the case here. Following the storyteller into the forest at first was fun, but it became rather obvious that there wasn’t much to see the deeper we went, the trees were all the same, the vegetation was sparse with not even a freaky-looking toadstool to snap a picture of and before I knew it we had both been wandering in unintentional circles. I have nothing against woodlands, have in my time trod many and found each one uniquely compelling, but it’s easy to grow bored when you’ve seen the same stump a hundred times.


**

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A Space for Reviews, World Cinema Appreciation, Essays and Reflections by Writer Kerry Chambers

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