Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Japan Cuts ’16: The Shell Collector
when you thought it was safe to walk barefoot on the beach again, the cone
snails attack. You have to pick them up first, but if you don’t know they carry
a stinger, they might surprise you. It turns out the cone snails are particularly
potent in Yoshifumi Tsubota’s adaptation of the Anthony Doerr short story, The Shell Collector (trailer here), which screens
during this year’s Japan Cuts: Festival of New Japanese Film in New York.
blind-since-birth Professor has retreated from the world, preferring the
company of his shells, just as the apocalyptic outbreak started. The degenerative
disease causes paralysis of the extremities, but mostly leaves the mind intact.
It is an awful curse for most of the afflicted, but particularly cruel for an
artist like Izumi Yamaoka, whom the reclusive Professor finds washed up
on-shore. While he nurses her back to relative health, she manages to get stung
by a particularly nasty cone snail, but instead of killing her, the venom cures
Yamaoka is a brand new person, but not in a way that makes the Professor
comfortable. Inspired by the visions she saw, Yamaoka wants to try the venom
trip again, but he adamantly insists that would be a really bad idea.
Eventually, she leaves, wiping out the subtle two-handed chemistry the film had
built up. In her place slouch the thuggish island headman who strong-arms the
Professor into curing his daughter, Tsutako Yuba. Next, it will be the
Professor’s own son Hikari his Up With People colleagues at a suspicious NGO
who start pestering him for the cure.
story might work on the page as an anti-science fable, but it is clunky and
didactic on the screen, especially once Yamaoka makes her exit. Tsubota
luxuriates in the coastal landscape, but his mood is not strong enough to
overwhelm obvious pedantry, like why is it the only person who can find the
life-saving shells is a blind dude who basically just sticks his hand under a
rock less than a foot from the water-line, pulling them out like they were
waiting for him.
least for a while Lily Franky and Shinobu Terajima forge some mature and
intriguingly complex chemistry as the Professor and the artist. Sosuke Ikematsu’s
gee whiz vibe really clashes with the third act’s foreboding, but that is
probably more on Tsubota than the actor. Ai Hashimoto only gets to walk around
looking ethereal, but she certainly does what is asked.
Tsubota and company probably Life of Pi in mind as their benchmark,
but it falls considerably short. Frankly, breaking up the delicate two-character
balance simply sabotages the film. It isn’t really recommended, but it is sold
out this Thursday (7/21) anyway, so skip the stand-by line and rest up for
later screenings during this year’s Japan Cuts at the Japan Society, in New
York’s fashionable Turtle Bay neighborhood.
Labels: Japan Cuts '16, Japanese Cinema