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Chasing the obsession, or obsessed with the chase?

“More people die on the East Bay commute than this idiot’s ever killed…”

Just came back from watching Zodiac, the latest from director David Fincher about the unsolved Zodiac serial murder case in the 1970s. I once said that if it was anything like the Korean film Memories of Murder, I’d be extremely happy. Well, I can say that it’s both like and not like Memories of Murder, but I’m extremely happy anyway, because it’s the first masterpiece of 2007.

Like Memories of Murder, Zodiac is about a real-life unsolved murder case from decades past. Specifically, a chain of murders occurred in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 60s and early 70s. He sent a bunch of letters to different newspapers in towns where these murders took place, taunting the police and threatening to kill school children. Fincher was a child living in Marin County at the time (fairly close to where one of the murders took place), so he probably captured the period fairly well. Having lived in SF for only 14 years, I wouldn’t know much about it back then, but I even recognized some of the locations, including a glaring mistake where a scene that was supposed to be in neighboring Daly City was shot in the Sunset District. How do I know this? The local Chinese supermarket, which has only been around in the last 10 years, is placed prominently in the background. Its name? Sunset Super.

Anyway, Zodiac follows two different paths in the investigation: the police, led by Dave Toschi (brilliantly played by Mark Ruffalo), and the San Francisco Chronicle, with reporter Paul Avery and cartoonist Robert Graysmith (whose books are the source of the film). While one may expect their paths to cross and they collaborate just like a Hollywood buddy film, they rarely do and only does so when Avery becomes a distraction. The film, at 158 minutes, is a meticulous look at existing files regarding the case. Graysmith is the natural protagonist not only because he was the only person that remained obsessed until he wrote a damn book about it, but also because it’s obvious that Fincher and writer James Vanderbilt were both equally obsessed with the subject as well. It may not be as sensational or have the emotional resonance of Memories of Murder (this is where they differ), but Fincher makes up the lack of emotions with tons and tons of details. Critics have compared watching Zodiac as reading case files for 2 and a half hours. I’d say that’s half-true - reading files for 2 and a half hours is boring, and Zodiac is certainly not boring. It’s an involving look at obsession, how man can continuously gnaw at something as long as they cannot make it go away. It’s Fincher’s most mature work to date, and it’s a masterpiece. If you think you can’t sit through the 2 and a half hours in a theatre (and you will feel those 2 and a half hours, no doubt), you owe it to yourself to at least check it out on home video.

A friend said that he felt Fincher didn’t know whether Zodiac should be a thriller or a procedural because they stopped showing the murders halfway through - that’s because the Zodiac killer has only confirmed to have committed 4 murders, and three of them were shown onscreen, while quite a few of the other murders that were not shown were simply speculations.

And now, more news:

- The Death Note films are finally finding their home video release this week (rental versions have been out in Japan for the first film, though, which allowed the HK version to be released as well), and Warner Bros is shipping 500,000 copies of the two-film set on the release date. It’s not a huge launch, considering that it’s the second highest-grossing film market in the world. But since they are charging over 60 bucks for each set, and that this is the highest shipment for a domestic Japanese release in 2006, maybe it is a pretty big deal after all.

One note to correct in that story - Death Note part 1 was shown on TV in a director’s cut (which, according to an imdb poster - so take it with a grain of salt - it took out footage rather than added) before part 2’s release (it even scored an excellent 24.5 rating), part 2 was never shown on TV - NTV has no reason to since it would just take away from the video sales.

- Twitch mentions today about Rinko Kikuchi’s first Japanese film after her encounter with the Oscars in Babel. But give credit where credit is due - Ryuganji actually picked up this story a few days ago first. Judging from the description and the trailer, it doesn’t seem to be a particularly appealing film, so watch at your own risk.

- Speaking of watch it at your own risk, Palm Picture has a red-band trailer for their latest acquisition - The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai. Twitch has picked up the trailer, and it’s weird as hell, just like the plot sypnosis. Do I dare go watch this?

- Anyone who has more faith in their reading Japanese than their listening can go watch Sakuran with Japanese subtitles all day this Saturday and Sunday at this theater in Tokyo. I might’ve gone, but I would have to live in Tokyo first.

- Looks like the Academy Award isn’t much of a commercial factor when the film arrives in Japan. Last year’s winning film for best actor, Capote, opened on 4 screens and eventually made 100 million yen (117 yen=$1, at least for today). Eiga Consultant analyzes the 12.1 million yen opening of this year’s winner, The Last King of Scotland, and while it did open with 200% of Capote’s opening weekend, it also opened on 12 times the screen Capote opened at, so the per-screen average is actually only 16.7% of Capote’s.

- Apparently, seeing South Korean entertainment’s boom in the last decade, Variety Asia thinks that the rest of Asia would like to do that. While I do see the point of the Singapore part, Hong Kong already has a full-grown entertainment industry that, while absorbing some of South Korea into its mainstream, is much in need of a revival more than a boom, and maybe that’s what this new government grant is for.

- The new 3D animation trend is so huge that even Hong Kong is joining in on the fun, and the person doing it is none other than Brian Tse, who carved out Hong Kong’s most famous contemporary animated franchise with McDull. According to Twitch, he’s developing a 3D animated feature about a duck liver sausage that finds out he’s a piece of poop. No kidding. At least the duck liver sausage idea is pure original HK humor.

- With increasingly successful Chinese films being funded from foreign funding, the Film Bureau realizes that they should modernize their existing government funding system. Insteading of finding government subsidies or a rich financier, an official at the Film Bureau says, “We now urgently need film producers who are politically sensitive, aesthetically sophisticated and have a flair for marketing.” Politically sensitive means communist, right?

- I mentioned about those Southern boys trying to do awesomely bad Japanese rap a while ago on this blog, and that they were putting a show in a Shibuya club. Well, their gigs already happened, and Japan Probe is awesome enough to provide a video of those Kokujin Tensai (literally means Black Person Genius, or a grammatically correct title of Black Genius). I searched on Youtube, and trust me, this is the best quality one can find of that show. Believe me, I don’t think the Japanese people who are there are laughing with them. They’re probably laughing at them. I know I would, and I’m not even Japanese!

Song of the day coming up after this entry.

One Response to “Chasing the obsession, or obsessed with the chase?”

  1. Brian Says:

    The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai is a very peculiar film to say the least - but in truth I didn’t think it was a very enjoyable one - some neat ideas not very well executed and for a film that has a woman having fun with Bush’s finger, lots of sex, killings and other nuclear nonsense it still dragged quite a bit. That this low budget pinkish Japanese film is actually being released in theaters is almost insane and hysterical - but at the same time kind of cool.

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