Background: Film Movement is a company that sells subscriptions of movies that come to you once a month on DVD. They are currently well into their fourth year of operation with numerous independent films making the grade of their board, with some admittedly quirky choices thrown in for good measure. I stumbled upon them as a reviewer and have bought a great many of their back catalog, always meaning to sign up for their service but hesitating because I get a fair number via reviewing at DVD Talk. One of the benefits of reviewing their releases is that few reviews exist anywhere on their DVDs and that keeps me honest as much as provides fans some slight glimpse into whatever a title may be in a given month (I have yet to run into a rental outlet that has these too, making it all the more important that they get a fair shake by a reviewer). This review focuses on their recent release of Who's Camus Anyway? (Kamyu Nante Shiranai) by director Mitsuo Yanagimachi, a story about people making a film within a film.
Story: Okay, as a plot device, showing a movie being made as central to the movie itself has been around a very long time and tried by the best in the business (even done in porn a whole lot; the ultimate guide to what works and doesn't). This time, the setting is a college film class taught by a formerly acclaimed director in Japan with all the usual stereotypical modern youth in a variety of roles. All the members of the class have at least one formal technical job in the movie, The Bored Murderer, with each adding some flavor to the ensemble cast. The initially most colorful member of the crew is young Naoki, the director. He sleeps with half the females in the movie, trying for the other half in the process, and is not above selling his bedroom skills in order to help finance the movie (much like a porno, it's on a tight budget and he's willing to "take one for the team" as often as necessary; what a guy!). His almost steady girlfriend has delusions of marriage, having followed him by transferring there and providing supplemental funding for the project when he acquiesces to her immediate physical needs (like promising to donate some semen to a sperm bank for later impregnation in her for the time when "he's ready" for kids).
Half the crew are film geeks that can quote chapter and verse of their favorite movies, sounding much like internet reviewers now that I think of it, typically arguing over nuances to classics that nobody else can see. The assistant director, Kiyoki(?), is another sexual dynamo as she follows slightly in Naoki's footsteps by effectively seducing the men around her. The professor is also given special consideration in that he is seen as a tragic figure since his wife passed away three years prior and he's lost without her. As professor Nakajo, he pines for a hotty coed from afar, having one of his students arrange for a meeting later on in the movie that really gets him flirting with trouble. And the replacement lead role as the killer in the movie is played by a transvestite Ikeda who is among the weirder members of the movie, from his admissions of gay sex and cross dressing to his intuitive knack for the role as a killer without apparent motive.
The movie follows this strange group as they plot, plan, and scheme to get their movie made, showing a lot of attention to the type that actually make college movies (sly nods to those doing so aside, the writer/director seems quite familiar with the roles on a level you'll never see made by those in Hollywood these days). My own regret about the movie was the ambiguous ending where reality and the fantasy aspects of the movie making seem to merge, keeping the viewer from understanding exactly what is going on. I know that some would suggest this follows the path of certain established film makers or movements but from my perspective, there were wholesale areas in need of polishing up for those of us that aren't auteurs in the making. As a character study though, the movie was rich in archetypes and characters that interested me as a viewer so any particular issue I had with a lack of plot or the ending is balanced out accordingly. I thought the rating should be a Rent It since many people will find the film to be disjointed and lack established entertainment value but for fans of film, it will probably score at least a bit higher on the scale for all it had to say. Check it out and maybe you'll understand where I'm coming from better in the process.
Picture: Who's Camus Anyway? was presented in the original 1.85:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen color it was shot in by director Mitsuo Yanagimachi as released by Film Movement in the USA. The fleshtones were accurate, the use of camera styles varied with each scene (on purpose as part of the movie it appeared) and while it had some grain in most scenes, it came across as a rare bird indeed; a moderately successful experimental film. If you're well versed or trained in film making, you'll recognize many of the forced perspective shots, angling, or use of visual techniques to draw the audiences attention but even a second viewing seemed to yield more clues as to what was going on, making it more of an art film than one you'd pick up for general amusement on a Friday night with a date. There was some light pattern noise at times but it wasn't as bothersome here as it would have been in a movie centering on effects or explosions so you may otherwise consider it to look good.
Sound: The audio was in 2.0 Dolby Digital Japanese with optional English subtitles in yellow block lettering near the bottom of the screen. There was some separation and I really liked the music, though most of it was subtlety placed, but the audio portion of the movie wasn't as delicately woven in terms of complexity (almost as if director Mitsuo Yanagimachi were saying the audio wasn't as important to the message he was trying to get across).
Extras: The best extra, as always on a Film Movement release, was the bonus short film, this time a CGI animated bit called Birthday Boy from Korea by Sejong Park. It was good enough to be nominated for the 2005 Academy Awards and I'm told there's a great separate R4 release of the short, complete with substantial extras (there'd have to be considering the short is about 10 minutes long, though as an individual release, it'd have to be pretty inexpensive to get me to bite; despite great extras). The story is about a Korean boy in 1951 waiting for his dad to get home from the war but settling for a birthday package that alters his life forever. There were also some biographies and a double sided DVD cover though Japanese speaking fans will want to go to camus.com and find a treasure trove of goodies on the main flick.
Final Thoughts: Who's Camus Anyway? was the latest sly look at making a movie within a movie as brought to DVD by Film Movement. It had a lot of insider jokes and nods to the production process as well as some of the more realistic college antics I've seen in a very long time (contrary to National Lampoon's version of college life, people have real matters to attend to, like classes, money, etc.). It was quirky and full of a weird set of characters that you're never quite sure about in terms of their motivations or what's running through their minds but that's half the fun of the show. In all, fans of film and film making will like this one a lot more than the rest of the world but it didn't get too artistic as to be boring, marking it as a worthy chapter in the series by Film Movement as their Year 4, Film 8 release.