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Bob Doto [Film Festival 07.13.10] Japan movie review comedy drama

Year: 2009
Directors: Hitoshi Matsumoto
Writers: Hitoshi Matsumoto
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Bob Doto
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Starring and directed by one half of the Japanese comic duo, Downtown, Hitoshi Matsumoto's SYMBOL is about as tart as a Sour Patch Kid shoved up Sartre's tight arse on a cloudy day. It's the film Becket would have made had he ventured into slapstick (some might say that's all he ever did). It's the film you and your significant other go to, watch, laugh, scratch your head, and then talk about over bubble tea, which by that point will have taken on an infinite array of new meanings. In effect, SYMBOL is the just-sub-pinnacle of comedic absurdia, and I can easily recommend you check it out.

However, truth be told, SYMBOL is actually, and for roughly seventy of its ninety-three minutes, two separate films. The first being a playful cinema verite about an aging Mexican wrestler set to battle his most difficult match to date, cheered on by his adoring son, while the second film is about a Japanese man (played by Matsumoto) trapped in a large white-walled room often covered in tiny cherubic penises that when pressed first emit a high-pitched tone which then allows a random object to be tossed into the room from a secret hole in the wall. Think: Cube, only lead by a man in baby pajamas, who at various times throughout the film, acts and rants very much like an infant. No one gets there head chopped off, but it works.

The film opens in a lazy Mexican town inside a dusty Mexican home where everyone speaks Spanish (obviously, but a shock at an Asian film festival!) while a man in a Mexican wrestling mask sits at the kitchen table silent and non-observant to the world around him. Eventually a smack-talking cigarette smoking nun skids across his front yard to pick him up and take him to his next battle. The lens is sun drenched and humid, and just as you think to yourself, "WTF is going on?" the film cuts to an altogether opposite color palette that can only be described as Crayola where our noble, though frustrating, protagonist attempts to alter his confusing situation while trapped in a seemingly door-less room filled only with piles of random stuff (sushi, guitars, lawn chairs, soy sauce, megaphones, etc.).

For most of the film you're wondering what the hell these two awkwardly different narratives have to do with one another. Eventually you find out, and while it's a relief, you've got to work for it, not to mention agonize over watching Matsumoto winge and whine over not being able to figure out how to get out of his torturous prison. "Just put the vase on the kid's penis!!!" you want to scream at him, not believing you'd ever have to think (or say) those words.

All in all, SYMBOL's pay-off is OK. And while I don't want to judge the film in consumerist terms, if you set me up for a zinger, I'm gonna base my review on the effectiveness of said zinger. That said, the very last zinger, that is the very last scene, is just what I needed to send me home smirking.

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bill (11 years ago) Reply

Terrific movie - one of the very best of 2009.
Can't wait to see what Matsumoto comes up with next.

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