Why An Absentee Mother Will Fuck You Up (Thoughts on A Tale of Two Sisters and Kikujiro)

Saturday, August 21, 2010 10:31 PM By Simon

It has been brought to my attention that I watch and write about many an Asian film. So it shouldn't surprise any of you that I've just watched two films by the two of the most prolific directors or South Korea and Japan, respectively, Kim Ji-woon and Takeshi Kitano. And I'm writing about them at the same time. Because I'm lazy.


But also because these two films are loosely connected in theme, namely, that the mother of the protagonists is dead or otherwise gone, and it influences the entire plot. This seems to be a pattern in the other movie I watched yesterday, Audition, and the opposite being true (having a mother around will also influence the plot, but ultimately, you'll be cool with it) in Mother. So I can now gather, for my inevitable bumming about the East, that if you don't have a devoted mother, things will not turn out well for you.

-Su Mi (Im Soo Jung), just released from a mental hospital after the death of her mother, returns to her home with her timid sister Su-Yeong (Moon Geun-young) and her father (Kim Kap-su), to meet with her new difficult stepmother and her mother's former nurse, Eun-joo (Yeom Jeong-ah). Strange things start happening in that old house, see.

-What I find interesting about this movie is that director Kim almost foreshadows the claustrophobia the house will soon present, by giving us one last look at the outside, as the two sisters go to lounge at a river outside. The camera pans to show off the fields of tall grass, the sky, everything.

-Anyway. This stars Im Soo Jung, who starred in Park Chan-wook's I'm A Cyborg, But That's OK, otherwise known as my Favorite Movie Ever. She is good, if a bit predictable (ahem), as the unstable Su Mi, who aggressively resents Eun-joo's presence, and remains cold towards her father, for reasons only implied until the end. Her relationship with her younger sister, however, is loving to the point of obsession (also for reasons revealed later). Im is, really, not given much to do, at least to my too-busy-reading-really-fast-subtitles eyes, by way of acting-acting. She is pretty fantastic for what could've been a very over-the-top performance.

-Also worth mentioning is Yeom Jeong-ah, as the wicked stepmother. Half the time, she is the expected menacing, and with Yeom's overall tinyness, she gets much credit for actual feeling threatening. The other half, she is even creepier, perky and easy to please. The now-infamous dinner scene, for example, where she zealously recounts an anecdote to her guests with such conviction and, dare I say, madness, she sends a woman into a seizure. This lady's got crazy eyes, okay?

-The rest of the cast, Moon's shy and helpless Su-yeong and Kim's put-upon Moo-hyeon, are fine, capable, but really take a backseat to Im and Yeom, although every time Su-yeong is on screen, you just want to give her a hug, she is so permanently in terror.

-As said. Claustrophobia. While there are definitely some Japanese horror influences, and they aren't necessarily a good thing, Two Sisters is absolutely terrifying in it's expert mix of ghost story and family melodrama, blurring the lines between them seamlessly, and you're left wondering which is scarier. The lighting moody and noir-ish, the score manic and terrifying, the editing equivalent to a staring contest, many POV shots and one scene where a revelation is so big the camera shakes violently with surprise, it seems.

-Wow. I just realized. I'm starting to write full-length reviews.

-Oh, well, tell Korean movies to stop rocking so hard.

-Go read an article about this for The New Cult Canon, which puts it much better than I do.

-Masao (Yusuke Sekiguchi), a sullen little kid on summer break, finds himself with nothing to do, and after finding an old letter from his long-lost mother, decides to seek her out. Intercepted by his guardian Grandmother's neighbor, she assigns her boorish, nasty, probable ex-Yakuza husband Kikujiro (Katano) to escort him on the trip, telling his grandmother they're going to the beach. After gambling away they're money and narrowly rescuing Masao from a child molester (after leaving him outside a restaurant, of course), Kikujiro promises to take him, relying on the help of kind strangers.

-Cute. That's the only way I can put it. Kitano, if you'll recall, is known for his violent, moralistic, expectantly compassionate gangster movies. Which is why seeing him make a movie so unabashedly sentimental, so lighthearted and bloodless (literally, if not figuratively) is so fucking weird. Of course, he's also known for destroying genres from the inside, so naturally, he makes what could've been another in the long line of gruff-man-and-lonely-kids-touch-each-other's-lives-in-unexpected-ways and makes it almost less obnoxiously twee.

-There are long bouts of idle play between Masao, Kikujiro, and the various strangers they pick up, Kikujiro's blatant assholery counterbalanced by Masao's Power of Pout, which all could be, probably is, self-indulgent and unfocused, but it generally fun to watch, especially the third act, where the two travellers, a young poet, and two doggedly nice bikers frolic at a campsite, where the main objective is to entertain Masao after an event that should be spoilerish. This time in the movie is the best, I think, the only part where I laughed at loud.

-Anyway. These bullets are getting awfully long. To sum: Kitano, I think, decided to make a movie he could take his kids to, and for the most part, he succeeds (even though most of this shit would never go down in an American film, at least one so lighthearted and almost plotless). Tones shift, hearts warm, bikers take the piss, unlikeable characters get tolerable, the core relationship is very nice. This is not the worst road movie you could watch, basically.

-Adieu, my patient compadres who did not skip the last few hundred paragraphs. You're dedication is rewarded with snacks. Later.

-If anyone has any reviews of either of these films, do link them down in the comments. They're just those type of movies you want to read reviews about, okay?


TheUnwashedMass said...

I loved Kikujiro, but it was a bit too long. The third act is funny but directionless. Still a top film though, and the soundtrack is genius.

August 22, 2010 at 7:59 AM