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Reviews

Who’s Camus Anyway?

Who’s Camus Anyway?

Kamiu nante shiranai

Mitsuo Yanagimachi

Japan, 2005

Credits

Review by Leo Goldsmith

Posted on 23 October 2005

Source Gold View Co., Ltd. 35mm Print

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The Japanese propensity for faithful imitation is the focus of Mitsuo Yanagimachi’s new film, Who’s Camus Anyway? On the campus of a Tokyo university, Yanagimachi’s wandering camera takes in the mimetic activities of his young characters as they mime, master classical guitar, practice synchronized hip-hop dance, and, most of all, imitate life through the cinema.

But unexpectedly, imitation in all of its forms is not viewed here with disdain as a shallow and unoriginal practice. Rather it is a vital creative activity for Yanagimachi’s youthful characters, who defer to their film professor (who was once a successful film director himself) and model their film project on all of the films they love best. This spirit is neatly summarized in the film’s opening shot — a long tracking shot that weaves around the many characters of the film as they walk around campus — which pays tribute to similar sequence shots in other films (Touch of Evil, The Player, Shonben Rider, Mizoguchi’s work). Within this long take, the characters themselves nerdily reference these famous films and their opening sequences. With this witty and unabashed referentiality, Yanagimachi’s shot is a playful homage, free of self-seriousness and oneupmanship.

Comparing their top-ten tracking shots, the students are on their way to a production meeting to prepare for the shooting of their student film, The Bored Murderer. The film they’re making concerns a young man who kills an old woman out of boredom and is based on an actual event (and also occasions the Camus reference in the title). As their protagonist “experiments in killing,” the young filmmakers (led by their director, Matsukawa) experiment in turning life into art, but of course art has its influence on life, as well. In their film, the title character is played by an almost equally inbalanced lead actor who seems to enjoy dressing in women’s clothing, and makes tense sexual advances to various members of the crew, male and female (including old Professor Nakajo). And in Matsukawa’s dejected girlfriend, Yukari, the crew find another model of real-life insanity. Alternately shrugged off and manipulated by her callous hipster boyfriend, Yukari nonetheless cooks and cleans for him, lends him large amounts of money, buys bananas for the entire crew, and threatens suicide when too much ignored.

Like Day For Night, the film focuses on the dalliances and falling-outs of filmmaking. But if most of the film emphasizes the lightness of these situations, the film also offers its share of dark and spectral moments as art insinuates itself into reality in unsuspected ways. A banal cigarette break at the college center is accompanied by strange orchestral music, and its source is unclear until (in another bravura tracking shot) musicians begin to appear one-by-one in the stairwell. All of this uncertainty culminates in the film’s final sequence, which brilliantly confuses the student’s murder scene and the process of filming it. Yanagimachi wittily collapses the disparate moods — the grisly horror of senseless violence and the elation of a successful shoot — into another series of lengthy shots, suggesting that the lines between comedy and tragedy, fiction and reality, and imitation and originality are always fluid.

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