Saturday, May 11, 2013

Andromedia(1998) Movie Thoughts

Beyond belief that it has indeed been fifteen years since Japan's V-cinema madman Takashi Miike left the confines of low-budget gangster/violence productions for the commercial big time. And strangest of all, it's all the more jarring that it was a music superstar fantasy vehicle that made this transition come to life. Much in the vein of The Beatles, The Who, and so many others, an attempt to make teen idol quartet, SPEED into movie stars must have seemed like a natural boon to the folks at TBS, and their record label while the Spice Girls made their baffling shot across the bow on the other side of the planet. So sad then, when the Miike-helmed ANDROMEDIA lacks any of the energy (read: attention by way of obnoxiousness), or even enthusiasm of said short-lived marketing juggernaut. What we have here is a J-pop film so devoid of core, so bereft of inspirational spark, it might just as well be a photocopied local concert leaflet stuck in a grating. A children's cybernetic fantasy as told by a manic depressant, what culminates in this mainstream debut is perhaps more telling than its ineptitude may imply.

Hiroko Shimabukuro stars as Mai, an ordinary girl who's long unrequited childhood love comes to an end, mere moments before her life follows suit. Killed by an oncoming truck (or her own lack of cognitive awareness, or new boyfriend's unfortunate timing- whichever one prefers), Mai's memories and virtual consciousness is then inexplicably manifested in digital form by way of her computer science genius of a father (!??). Mai has now become the virtual entity known as AI (Get it? Hur-hur), and it's up to her friends, including Yoko, Rika & Nao (The remainder of SPEED- Eriko Imai, Takako Uehara, & Hitoe Arakaki), and her grieving new boyfriend to save her from the clutches of her father's employers. Why? We're never truly let in on this particular piece of narrative necessity. Then again, much like how we suddenly learn of the father's abilities(which include the means to compact nearly an entire lifetime of memory and personality into what seem to be no more than three DVD-Rs), much of ANDROMEDIA doesn't bother with the details, and just lumbers on it its concrete grey-infused jumble between chase movie, music video, and bizarre 1990s teen angst.

 So many elements seem readily in place for the film, but without anything to hold them together, we are subject to nuggets of film ideas merely allowed to float freely without any binding thread, making for a frustrating & often painfully slow experience. It's easy to see where such confusion comes from within the initial five minutes as we are introduced to the central couple of Mai & Yuu, a pair that almost implies a completely different manner of movie. The inciting incident also has the distinction of being one of the most flippantly executed (and in turn, unintentionally hilarious) ever committed to film. So when we are expected to understand the hows and whys of Mai's becoming a computer-generated entity, we are barely given anything of worth to hold onto. Making matters even more headache inducing, is that the plot to not only destroy the program's creator, but to acquire AI for themselves is never fully addressed in any satisfying fashion. In fact, it is very much neglected openly, as if we should fully be aware that none of this carries any weight of any kind as long as we shut up, and get to enjoy SPEED - Terrific. Suddenly disappointed that I wasn't having certain vagrant chems suggested to me.

So as described already, ANDROMEDIA is a difficult thing to take in as this grand transition between the days of gangland insanity like Dead Or Alive, and colorful adaptations such as Yatterman & Ace Attorney. To even attempt to do this work any justice is to invite arachnids of insanity in, and allow them to gnaw away at the brain centers that keep depression in check. Once it is made clear that AI has taken on the traits and appearance of Mai, but is confined to an oh-so-dated junky looking laptop, the movie then finds itself unable to decide whether it is a family-friendly FX-laden fantasy, or dark and melodramatic teen soap. And this is something that pretty much makes up the bulk of the film, (no joke, the movie just loves stopping mid-action to pour on gallons of unearned despair) until it shifts again due to the truly bizarre appearance of SPEED's boy-band equivalent, DA PUMP.


That's right. Let that one sink in..

Where a chase sequence ends in the destruction of a car, leading to a music video involving an abandoned garage surrounded by sheet metal & FIRE.

Why they have decided that there is no reason to fear that the bad guys wouldn't barge into this, and proceed to end all of this in a senseless hail of bullets still kind of baffles me. The fact that Miike never flexes such a daffy move remains disappointing, and this trend continues on for a majority of the remaining running time.

And that's pretty much what sums up my ultimate feelings on ANDROMEDIA - It's a ransacked back alley behind a Tower Records that has broken pieces of ad copy that offer up something potentially interesting, but sees no means of making it work as there remains no rhyme or reason for it being so messy. It's not even chaotic enough to be interesting, it just lumbers along as if being held back by obligation rather than enthusiasm. ("I guess I'll just be a movie..") It's this neglected middle child who is well aware of its position in the sibling chain, and just lies back, listless and unwilling to offer more than a halfhearted wave, while wearing a sarcastic T-shirt. If there's anything worse than an uninspired production, it's an uninspired production by a director who is often known for moments of sheer, biting inspiration.

Which leads me to looking back at all of Miike's output (that I have seen anyway - the man is the very definition of prolific), and considering all the bad that comes with the good. As excited as many of us where about his potential during those heady latter 1990s-early 2000s, his strengths as a filmmaker were often in shocking violence, and awkwardly surreal humor. So when one asks him to step well outside this milieu, it shouldn't be too much of a stretch to feel like this wasn't the best fit for his abilities. Now what could have at least happened here was something truly out there. And the biggest problem dogging this film, is that despite some TRULY bizarre stuff injected into strangely carved out corners of the story (mostly within a subplot involving Mai's angst-ridden, long-lost, cancer-stricken half-brother, played by Yukinari Tamaki), there is little energy holding any of it together, almost as if the director was aware that this wasn't enough to work with, and had zero assistance along the way. And again, looking back at when Miike's energies are not feeling the spark, films that could have easily found their way conceptually, often fall flat - Something that epitomizes what happens here. It's all a mishmash of intentional and unintentional weird, and it simply isn't enough.

Oh. And do I go ahead and make mention of the inclusion of some wonky guest casting choices made for this most auspicious mainstream debut? A large part of the film's truly mental nature comes courtesy of none other than legendary cinematographer/part-time actor, Christopher Doyle, who's role here of main heavy is only made worse by way of a computer translator conceit in the film that speaks over his english dialogue - with NO subtitles to allow clarity of anything he is saying. His jarring role notwithstanding, turns by TETSUO's Tomorowo Taguchi, and the ever reliable Naoto Takenaka further take this film down a rabbit hole only the hardcore shut-in may be interested in. Do any of them seem to know what kind of movie they were making? Doubt that they cared(except maybe Takenaka), and it shows.

So this is what can happen when the attraction of bigger budgets and higher profiles comes a-knocking. We could get something borderline inscrutable. Wait. Scratch that. ANDROMEDIA is an inscrutable and often stupefying experience in commercial vacuousness that feels more like a funeral than any Lars Von Trier work, and akin to a directorial Freudian slip. It knows it is headed for dim and darker days, and wants us to follow along. Miike might very well had seen the end of the world, and it was buried deep within a dumpster filled with AKB48 CDs..


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