notion people on the internet are not necessarily whom they purport to be might
have been an unsettling new notion in 1997. At that time,
documentarian-essayist Chris Marker used the language of cyberpunk to inform
his then latest cinematic hybrid. Technologically, its fits squarely between WarGames and The Matrix, but the aesthetic is all Marker. The ghosts of history
and the digital future warily circle each other when Marker’s freshly restored Level Five (trailer here) finally has its premiere
North American Theatrical release this Friday, as part of BAM’s Marker retrospective.
is a novelist, who inherited the task of completing her late lover’s computer
strategy game. Submerging herself in his work, she tries to work her way
through his simulation of the Battle of Okinawa, the final Pacific Theater conflict
before Hiroshima. Yet, the program refuses to recognize any of her attempts to
avoid Imperial Japan’s tactical mistakes. Instead, it forces history to
tragically repeat itself, chapter and verse.
the game itself is not much of a Macguffin and it offers very little in the way
of sporting engagement. It is really just a collection of talking heads to
click on. Still, the commentary Marker collects is undeniably the film’s
strongest material. Through interviews with filmmaker Nagisa Oshima and martial
artist and Bushido authority Kenji Tokitsu, as well as the recorded testimony
of Reverend Shigeaki Kinjo, Marker thoroughly critiques Imperial militarism,
while still putting their kamikaze tactics in a wider historical context.
the film makes a strong case that some of the worst Japanese war crimes were committed
against their own people. Provocatively, Marker’s experts suggest (but never
really prove) the military’s ferocity at Okinawa and the subsequent mass
suicides and supposed mercy killings of the civilian population were intended to
intimidate the Americans, but inadvertently hastened the decision to drop the
could be a good forty-five minutes of insightful analysis of the Japanese war
experience in Level Five, which is
not nothing. However, Laura’s long dark nights of recorded video diaries and
trolling internet chatrooms are rather awkward, to put the matter
diplomatically. Ordinarily, it is not fair to hold the technical shortcomings
against such a fiercely idiosyncratic, anti-commercial production, but in this
case the medium is at least a small part of the message. Unfortunately, Level Five’s visuals look on par with MST3K favorite Overdrawn at the Memory Bank.
Marker still had a keen eye for a disconcerting
image or a revealing truth, but the attempt to capture an of-the-moment zeitgeist
does not serve the film well, in retrospect. One wishes he had simply made
documentary about Kinjo and the Battle of Okinawa, but he made Level Five instead. Nevertheless, his
leftist admirers have waited years to see it, so they might as well satisfy
their curiosity when Level Five opens
this Friday (8/15) at the BAM Rose Cinemas.
Labels: BAM, Chris Marker, French Cinema, Nagisa Oshima