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Bob Doto [Film Festival 07.14.10] Japan movie review drama fantasy



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

Go Shibata makes strange films based on challenging premises filled with incredible (read: inspired) music and we love him for it. In 2004 (2009 in the States) we got LATE BLOOMER, which told the story of a serial killer with cerebral palsey. The movie became a cult sensation all while it's disturbing self languished in distribution red tape. Thankfully, Shibata's most recent film, DOMAN SEMAN, carries the torch of where he left off, although possibly a little lower than before. It's hard to say, however, because frankly, and I must admit cheerfully, I'm still not sure just what DOMAN SEMAN is!


Here's what I do know: DOMAN SEMAN is a punk cluster funk of knotted tones and obliterated semiotic conventions, and is one of the weirder narrative experiences I've had to sit through in my day. The "story" as told by the NYAFF speaks for itself:

"Behold, the Apocalypse! Souls are destroyed by greed, the global economic crisis and the Human Enslavement Project run by the evil Kato the Catwalk (in a rubber Halloween mask) who encourages gangs of Hot Boys to beat up the homeless while cruising around Kyoto in her luxury hearse. Opposing her is Mr. Abe, a yakuza magician who leads an army of psychic children as they protect Kyoto with mystical amulets made of garbage. Enter Shinsuke, a deadbeat who supports himself by mooching off his girlfriend, and Tsutomu, a homeless bum constantly tripping on Day Glo Imperial Mushrooms. Conscripted by Mr. Abe, they're forced to monitor the whereabouts of Terada, an adult who slaughtered the staff of a personal loan company when he was 16 and who has grown into a lightning rod for dark mystical energies."

Let's take a look closer, shall we?

1. "The Human Enslavement Project run by the evil Kato the Catwalk (in a rubber Halloween mask)"
Kato the Catwalk is one of the more "interesting" "female" characters I've met in film. Played by the singularly named male juggling performance artist Monchi (whom we got to see in action before the show), Kato is a bumbling mess of a nemesis crippled by her own face make-up. She's a baddie and will go out of her way to continue being as such.

2. "Gangs of Hot Boys"
These young lads show up every so often while out on a homeless beating rampage. Fear not, there's no gore or real depictions of violence, but when the news lavishes praise on one young buck caught in the act, you might cringe just a touch.

3. "Mr. Abe, a yakuza magician who leads an army of psychic children as they protect Kyoto with mystical amulets made of garbage."
I'm not sure if it was the language barrier, but I would have never guessed our yakuza savior (read: mob boss) was anything occult, save for the star he used as his symbol. He is, however, easily recognized as a likeable, if stern, character who gets our two dim-wit protagonists to fight for the good side.

4. Shinsuke, a deadbeat who supports himself by mooching off his girlfriend, and Tsutomu, a homeless bum constantly tripping on Day Glo Imperial Mushrooms.
Speaking of deadbeats, Shinsuke is "our guy." He along with his faux-hobo friend Tsutomu is who we're rooting for through this cacophony of mystery. Both get into a world of trouble and destroy or kill (I'm still not sure which best describes the act) people by ripping the tops of their heads off, after which a sea of what can only be described as "animated semen" comes shooting skyward.

5. "Terada, an adult who slaughtered the staff of a personal loan company when he was 16 and who has grown into a lightning rod for dark mystical energies."
Terada is where all things thematic get a bit tricky (as if they weren't already). While the rest of the characters are pretty one-dimensional, serving mostly to freak us out or push along the story, Terada comes as a breath of fresh air. He's a developed person and ultimately gives a right tear jerker of a performance as his shirt becomes drenched in his own blood. The guy just wants to be left alone, people!

Overall, I thought the film was gooooood, though not great. Although I'm willing to admit that some of my reaction has to do with the way the film was marketed. Everyone is talking about how psychedelic this is, how far out the story stretches into the realms of the occult. Truth be told, there ain't that much occult going on here. Yeah, a couple of stars (not in circles), a couple of sigils floating around in the form of recycled plastic bottles. And, yes, there's the occasional transportation of physical matter, but all in all, the film, even if totally f-ed up, is pretty tame. Nevertheless, as an object in and of itself, I'd have to say this film is kinda dope. See it and appreciate it as another example of how easily Asian filmmakers handle disjunction. They've got that stuff on lock down.

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