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Chime and A bunch of Ramblings

My favorite films this year have been a 19 minute Iphone commercial and a 44 minute NFT by two directors who if I'm honest, recent outputs have been somewhat less than stellar. I don't know if that says more about where I am with the state of film or is more reflective on the reality where more conventional methods of getting films made lay. We're in an interesting time and place with movies where the traditional method of delivery for a mass audience is in a state of flux and the idea of what a mass market is, is ever changing. In recent times we've seen plenty of movies flop that otherwise seemed destined to be a success at the box office, theater chains boarding up megaplexes in mass quantities and the ones that aren't, are thanking their shareholders for keeping the lights on before Nicole Kidman comes on screen to seemingly eulogize their own funeral before it happens. I don't mean to opine greatly on the theater experience in 2024 but even for me, someone who loves to go to the movies, my willingness to go for something new is significantly less than it has been at any other point. I no longer regret missing the latest blockbuster, hell most of the time I don't even watch them when they eventually come to streaming a mere few months after they've been in theaters. These days you're more likely to get me in a theater to watch a revival of an old film rather than anything that's new. Not to say I'm totally out,"Furiosa" and "The Zone of Interest" were both rather enjoyable experiences, just a year ago "Oppenheimer" knocked my socks off in a jam packed Imax screening, but look at what two out of the three have in common. They're singular events. While both "The Zone of Interest" and "Oppenheimer" were historical dramas you could go into them with just a cursory amount of knowledge about their subjects and come out with a different viewpoint. They aren't necessarily crowd pleasers but they're far from boring films, at least in my opinion. What all three do have in common though is that for films of their runtime, and in the case of "Oppenheimer" and "Furiosa" they're scale and there budget, share in the fact that they have a sense of artistic vision. Only one of the three was a box office success and you could argue that the one that was, was only able to be so because it was piggybacking off the release of a much larger success in the Barbie movie. Though that isn't a line of a thought I personally subscribe to. My main point in bringing this up is how that level of success or failure attributes to people's perception of how these films are received in the short term. "Furiosa" is, even in the face of wide critical praise and Hideo Kojima seeing it no less than 85 times within the last week has been written off as a box office failure and a unnecessary sequel in a long running franchise. Personally it might be my favorite of any of the "Mad Max" films and wonder if it wasn't attached to that universe how one might of received it, especially giving it's expectations in regards to its predecessor in "Fury Road". How this relates to the two films I alluded to at the beginning of this article is that both weren't released in conventional methods, one in fact can be viewed in its entirety for free on youtube. Both to put it cynically were made entirely for commercial purposes and I watched them on my bed with my laptop, far from the spectacle of even the most shoddy of theater experiences. Yet they're the most fun I've had with new films in quite some time. Chime in particular may very well end up as my film of the year when it's all said and done. If I had to guess as to why, I wouldn't say it's because of their short runtimes but for the fact it feels like the first time that their prominent directors Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Chime) and Takashi Miike (Midnight) made something in their style for years. Sure it's not with the same vigor or energy as they had in their younger days but to put it in singing terms, they still have their pipes and can belt out their greatest hits. They were fun watches because even if the circumstances behind their creations were less than conventional their approach to their narrative wasn't. They're both conventional films but what they do within that space is, to me anyway experimental.

In his return to the neon nightlife of Shinjuku Takashi Miike goes out of his way to pack as much action and color as humanly possible within the the less than twenty minute frame he has and for the most part he succeeds in doing so. "Midnight" is a cartoon spectacle of a film that's only flaw is that it is only 19 minutes long. A manga masterpiece very much reminiscent, if not a toned down version of some of the earlier offerings of his career. With many sequences of the featuring pages lifted straight from the Osamu Tezuka manga of the same name as transitions. It felt nostalgic to be given a taste, even if it was a small one, of an older Miike returning to the Shinjuku setting that is so prominent in his works. It might be more "Zebraman" than it is "Ichi the Killer" but that's far from a weakness. Everything you could ever want from a Miike film is here from an over the top bad guy with a peculiar disposition and a hand puppet sidekick, to a cameo from the director himself. Every frame is dripping with personality and even contrasting it with the director's own recent feature length offering "Lumberjack the Monster" I'd much rather return to "Midnight" than ever watch another drab, listless and convoluted thriller from Miike or anyone again. This is the best super hero movie we've gotten in years and it was solely produced to sell Iphones. It's honestly surreal that the same man who once had his "Masters of Horror" episode banned from broadcast and produce something as transgressive as "Visitor Q" is being commissioned by a multinational conglomerate like Apple and previously produced a tv show for Disney of all companies but I suppose it's not who hires you or why, but what you do when hired that matters. What Miike does here is memorable and sticks with you because of its absurdity. I almost feel bad for saying that is reminiscent of his previous style because no two Miike films are the same. But in watching the behind the scenes video featured on Apple's youtube channel, Miike's passion for this project and indeed the passion of his whole crew is very evident. With the director even saying that "I love this enables young people to pick up an Iphone and create really interesting stories" Now whether you think that's just a hard sell from a famous director paid to give one is up to you, but if such a cynicism does exist in Miike it is in reflected in the final product of "Midnight".

Chime on the other hand isn't necessarily a film I'd call fun or nostalgic, but it is the best paced horror I've seen in some time. It's a a film that would work if it were 40 minutes or 40 hours, just based off the simple fact that it knows exactly what it wants to be. It's direct and purposeful in its nature without being overbearing. It helped revive a passion for that if I'm honest in the past few years has slowly but surely withered, especially following the wave of exorcism and possession films that have inundated themselves into the world of recent horror. Not mention the numerous mindless tributes and meta sequels that have about as much self awareness as they do color, which is to of course next none. I'm not interested in the works of gentrifiers. Where Chime succeeds where a lot of those type of films fail for me is it isn't trying to be larger than what it is. It asks a simple question to its audience and leaves it open ended enough for that audience to interoperate it. Even though it is very reminiscent of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's previous work, "Cure" in particular, it definitely does more than enough to stand out on its own and engross you. It is a mystery movie but it isn't concerned with trying to find an enigmatic serial killer or being a police procedural, in fact the lone police officer's presence in this film can best be described as incidental. Yet there is such a unique tension to Chime, even something as simple as a family dinner scene is shot and edited in such a way that you feel every bit of awkwardness and anxiety between the characters. There's a depth to the film and similar to Kurosawa's other films in the genre I'm interested to see what a rewatch uncovers. I rarely talk about the acting in my reviews but Mutso Yoshioka has one of the best one person performances I've seen since Mia Goth in "Pearl", I think that highly of it. Especially given the fact he has no where near the same space to work with, he really sells the handful of scenarios he's given. His performance is subtle enough that a few of the things his character does catch you relatively off guard but also is over the top in all the right ways. His facial expressions alone sell the film's horror. I akin this film something similar to seeing the Rolling Stones towards the end of their respective prime as a group, they might be rehashing old ideas and playing the hits but it's the little flourishes they add that really make it worth going out of your way to see them. Though I would be remiss if I didn't say I don't think there's a band or recent piece art that fills you with as much dread as "Chime". I don't mean to put down modern horror too much there's still a lot about the genre I really do like, but they're kind of like those classic rock tribute groups you see pop up these days, sure they can play their instruments and hit all the right notes but at the end of the day they're still just a souped-up version of a karaoke band, one that you have to pay a premium price to see.

This isn't something I plan on doing too regularly but I do feel that it is important to write about as the world where auteurs are given endless freedom and inflated production budgets seems to be waning. Even legendary filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola have had their noted struggles with getting their films funded and are having late career struggles similar to that of the more famous Kurosawa, Akira. For better or worse "Midnight" and "Chime" maybe a look into the future of film, a return to a time where smaller content is being produced at a major level and while I don't think the vessels in which those two films were delivered were necessarily perfect, it is something I'd like to see more companies play around with in the coming years. Films with shorter runtimes produced by creators both young and old, the sort of training ground that the likes of a Roger Corman used to provide. Perhaps that's just wishful thinking. Regardless I'm excited to see what the future holds and am always striving forward with a sense of careful optimism that some may confuse for jadedness. I don't want a world of endless streaming shows and off brand blockbusters produced for the likes of Netflix. I want film to succeed and grow as medium even if the current landscape seems dead set on digging their heels in the sand and refuse to make even the smallest modicum of change. This is my favorite medium of storytelling, I'd like it to stick around lone after I've stopped writing about it. Seeing the imaginations of others realized or sometimes even realized poorly is what inspires me to write and keep writing.

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