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Rick McGrath [Film Festival 09.19.09] movie review comedy drama

Year: 2009
Directors: Hitoshi Matsumoto
Writers: Hitoshi Matsumoto
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Rick McGrath
Rating: 9 out of 10

It’s not often you come across a movie that’s both wildly thought provoking and wildly funny at the same time. But then again, it’s not often you come across a story that concerns itself with an overtly philosophic/explanatory treatise on symbolism and symbols.

And we all know about symbols, right? They’re a thing that stands for or represents something else, usually used in a concrete/abstract association, such as the color white symbolizing purity. That’s an easy one. Writers Hitoshi Matsumoto and Mitsuyoshi Takasu have come up with something much more interesting. Much, much more.

What we have here are what appears to be two completely separate stories. One involves a Mexican wrestler incongruously known as Escargoman (no kidding) and the other an unnamed Japanese man who awakes alone in an empty bright white room that appears to have no ceiling.

How these two disparate stories link is not only clever, but illustrates the way we learn about symbols and how symbolism is endlessly used and misused by its human creators. Our adventure begins in Mexico as a beat-up pickup is madly racing along a dirt road, piloted by a cigarette-smoking, AM radio loving, good-looking young nun named Karen. She whips by a chicken and as the feathers settle the camera finds one and follows its slow flight down until it settles on a white floor and disappears within it. As it is absorbed a Japanese man awakes and finds himself alone in a big white rectangular room. All he has are his clothes, an odd pajama-like outfit of yellow with pink and blue polka dots. He has no idea where he is. Is it a dream? He calls out. No one answers. Baffled, he wanders around and then spies an odd protuberance on one of the walls. It’s a small cylinder with a larger balloon underneath it. He cautiously approaches and touches it. Immediately an amazing host of winged cherubim emerge from the walls, flutter around, and then return into the wall, with only their little boy penises and scrota still revealed. There are hundreds of them. Our man touches another penis, and a toothbrush pops out of a hole in the wall. He touches another, and a megaphone is tossed to the floor. This goes on and on for quite some time as he experimentally pushes penises until a stupendously surreal collection of items begins to fill his little chamber. Then he touches a penis and a section of the wall rises to reveal a door on the other side of the room. Problem is, the wall shuts down moments after he’s let go of the penis. What follows next is a hilarious series of Rube Goldberg plans designed to keep the penis down long enough to get to the door. This bit is called the “education” phase. You’ll laugh out loud at his increasingly complicated predicaments.

We cut back to Mexico where Karen has stopped at home to pick up her middle aged, fat and over the hill masked wrestler father and take him to his weekly fight with Evil. Dad is not himself today, though – he’s quiet and reserved about his upcoming battle with the King of Evil and his unsavory partner, Tequila Joe. He arrives at the stadium and begins his preparations. Does he suspect something is different?

Cut back to the man in the room. After endless inane attempts at leaving the room he finally escapes and runs through corridors to an even larger round room, this one full of angels. This area is called “Implementation”, and what the man learned about manipulating symbols in the first room is expanded here, but the effects are outside of his perception. But not ours. Cut back to the wrestling match. Escargoman and his partner are getting their fake asses kicked by Evil and Joe, much to the dismay of Escargoman’s father and son. The climax is building, as the King holds Escargoman tightly while Tequila Joe prepares to whack him upside the head with a folding chair. Cut to the white room where our hero presses a penis. Nothing pops out of the wall, but suddenly Escargoman’s neck turns into something long and skinny, like a snail, and he uses it to whip his head like a hammer into Joe, the King, the referee and finally even his son, who has rushed into the ring. Finally he slumps to the floor, his elongated neck whacking his head onto the fight bell. This match is over.

But that’s not the end. These kind of surreal, yet hilarious cause and effect situations repeat over and over as our pajama-clad man continues to push penises. Nothing helpful appears from the walls, so finally he simply climbs the wall, using penises as handholds, and as he does we’re treated to a montage of symbolic historical events. Finally he reaches the top, and now, all dressed in white, he enters a room call “The Future” which has a map of the earth on one wall, and a huge penis and scrotum on the other. He goes to touch it…

So, what do we have here? Surely a study of symbols, but given the vagaries of representation one must suggest that this movie offers the viewer an almost endless litany of possible solutions. The man in the room suggests how children go from literalists to symbolists, trial and error, watch and learn, until they have mastered the concept and can move to more adult, and more dangerous usage – like a simile. It happens here -- Escargoman literally turns into his symbol – now, there’s food for thought. With garlic.

Will this plot précis ruin the film for you? Nope, which is why I did it. There’s a cornucopia of hilarious bits – more than enough to keep you amused, and I’d be surprised if each of you don’t interpret Matsumoto’s symbols differently. It’s part of the fun of concepts.

Technically, the movie is great. Matsumoto not only co-wrote, but he also directs and stars as the man in the white room. His comic timing is fantastic, and his use of masked wrestlers as specific symbols of good and evil is inspired. I’m hoping it’s a knock against cultures dominated by the symbol-driven catholic church, but perhaps that’s just my warped interpretation.

Symbol. We humans can’t seem to exist without them, but how often have we ever considered their genesis and power? This movie does, and I’m recommending you watch it, if only to brush up on your understanding of representative concepts. And it’s very funny, too.

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Anonymous (12 years ago) Reply

I have never read a review that more than half of the article is just description of the movie.


Anonymous (12 years ago) Reply

Well you just did.


Seriously... (12 years ago) Reply

What an awful 'review'. And wishing it was a knock religion where his character essentially became 'God'. What are you a teen who is angry at your parents for dragging you to church on Sunday?

I finish the film and go looking for some clever insight and instead get this 'the film is whatever you want it to be' vomit. No kidding. So is just about every film. Don't quit your day job.


Umad (10 years ago) Reply

well, not quite, does it really matter whether this guy mentions the fact that religion is shit in such a tiny way? grow the fuck up. not "every" film can be interpreted whatever you want it to be, you're just being a dumbass, can a pointless segal movie be anything you want it be? no, it can be whatever the plot has been set out for it. this, obvously called symbols is vast expanse upon the meaning of the word and the general ideas of the writer, don't bother opening your digital mouth again.

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