Thursday, April 5, 2012

David Kalat: Kiyoshi Kurosawa is the Cure

Kiyoshi Kurosawa is the Cure
by David Kalat
Movie Morlocks

One day, Japanese pulp cinema auteur Kiyoshi Kurosawa was watching TV. A killer had been apprehended, and the TV newscasters mobbed the perp’s neighbors to ask all the familiar questions: what was he like? Did he act unusual? Did you ever suspect you were living next door to a monster? And the answers to these inevitable questions are inevitably frustrating: he was just a nice, quiet man who never aroused any suspicions. He must have been a monster disguised as a man.

People want to be able to explain away crime as something aberrant. The press tries to meet this need, to package the reporting of crime in ways that pit us versus them. But Kurosawa, a cynical man who studied sociology before becoming a moviemaker, recognized these impulses as delusional. The killer, his neighbors, his victims, the detectives who caught him, and the reporters who covered the tale are all made of the same stuff. Kurosawa saw the disquieting truth: anyone can be a monster. Even you.

This was in the mid 1990s, a period when the world’s cinemas were clogged with serial killer dramas all hoping to be the next Silence of the Lambs, or Se7en. That, or at least hitch a short ride on their coattails. Most remained just that—wanna bes, never weres, nots. This is the story of the film that did become the Next Big Thing, and along with Hideo Nakata’s 1998 Ring invented J-Horror.

Kurosawa had, by this time, spent most of the last fifteen years toiling in Japan’s B-movie industry. The rules of the game were simple, if brutal. To make a living making movies in Japan, you had to make lots of movies, make them fast, and make them cheap. The theaters were dominated by American imports (if not for protectionist policies by Japan’s exhibitors, there would be no room at all for domestic productions), so movies had to have a viable life on video. Certain genres became entrenched as the prevailing mode of commercial filmmaking: pornos, yakuza shoot ‘em ups, and horror movies.

Kiyoshi Kurosawa was capable of playing this game very well. Low budgets didn’t discourage him at all, and indeed he considered them something of an advantage. When he was hired to direct Bright Future in 2003, the first thing he told producer Takashi Asai was, “I’ll come in on time and on budget.” Asai was little taken aback by this promise: “A director who before saying I’ll make a great film or a compelling film says, ‘I’ll come in one budget and schedule,’ a director who announces this to the producer is either really great, or I don’t know… I don’t know really know what to make of it.”

Furthermore, Kurosawa eagerly embraced genre limitations. “I am a genre director,” he proudly described himself.

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