Monday, March 29, 2004


I recently saw two more live-action films by Mamoru Oshii: Stray Dog: Kerberos Panzer Cops and The Red Spectacles. (In the U.S., these films are packaged in a boxed set along with Talking Head.) Of the three films, Stray Dog is the most nearly conventional. It begins like an straightforward action film, with a former member of an elite anti-crime police unit that was violently suppressed by the government coming to Taiwan to search for his former superior. But the plot soon slows to a crawl in favor of long sequences showing the protagonist and his superior's ex-girlfriend walking or driving through Taiwan's streets or countryside. The film is stylized, reminding me of Wong Kar-wai (not that I've watched much Wong Kar-wai). But it remains within the bounds of orthodox narrative filmmaking, except for two "action" scenes near the end that cross over into parody.

The Red Spectacles is another kettle of fish. Though ostensibly a sequel to Stray Dog, it's completely different in both style and tone. It begins even more conventionally, with a bloody shootout. After the credits, the film immediately shifts to black and white, but for a while it still seems like a straightforward action film. Soon, however, Oshii pushes the stylization of both plot and acting to the point of parody and way beyond. Combined with the storyline's incomprehensibility, the result is like nothing so much as one of Raul Ruiz's more opaque films. (Like Ruiz's Life Is a Dream, a similarly incomprehensible "thriller," The Red Spectacles contains several scenes set in a movie theater. In this case, the theater's screen shows only a static close-up of the upper part of a woman's face, no matter what is playing on the theater's soundtrack.)

There is no evident connection between either of these films and Talking Head. There may be a peripheral connection, but I'd have to watch Talking Head again to say. As with Talking Head, a single viewing isn't enough to judge these films, though if pressed I'd say that The Red Spectacles struck me as the most successful (but I like Ruiz).

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