The best or do I mean most important film in SF Indie Fest* screens tonight in the classic sleeper slot of second feature in a 9:30 pm double bill — on a Sunday night. Toyoda Toshiaki’s Monster’s Club (2010) shows again, same slot, on Wednesday. I could be mistaken in my sense this is not prime positioning but I do worry some folks who’d love this flick won’t go because… well, because I worry.
The photos provided with the press kit show 1. a scary mask, 2. a man with an ax, 3. a man holding a live match to another man’s face. What they don’t show is the existential angst that produces these images, the personal loss and the loss of a coherent cultural context in which the hero can express his grief.
Our hero Ryoichi is a thin young man from a well-to-do family who loses mother, father, brother, another brother, and retreats to the family cabin in the woods to chop wood and assemble bombs, which he mails to corporate overlords. He names his project Monster’s Club, assiduously carving the initials MC into the wooden boxes housing the bombs.
Everything he does he does assiduously, alone, ascetically. Everything about him, his food, his cabin, his bombs, is spare, lean, minimalist, in the classical Japanese tradition. The results of the explosions are a break with that, perhaps. Maybe a Samurai wouldn’t send a bomb. But a Samurai would fight for tradition and that’s basically what Ryoichi’s up to. Trying to blow us up out of the commodified present, back to an honorable past. Who amongst us doesn’t long to do the same?
What makes this film a surprise is the classical restraint Toshiaki lavishes on an overworked, under-understood concept: the Angry Young Man. He takes us inside Ryoichi’s head via the traditional Japanese use of ghosts. Sorry if this spoils the film for you. While I’m at it, let me add there’s a ghost in Hamlet and Macbeth as well. Hope that doesn’t ruin those tragedies for you. Let me add further that those Shakespearean ghosts are what lift those tragedies high above the inevitable bloodletting to a metaphysical plane from which our sordid scramblings can be assessed with compassion.
Compassion is a rare thing in cinema these days. I almost said “rare commodity.” Perhaps you understand what I mean without my elaborating: commodification necessarily drives out compassion. I’d go so far as to say they are mutually exclusive, cannot occupy the same space, are bent on mutual destruction in a way the Soviet Union and the United States never were, but art and war always are.
The irony is, Ryoichi resorts to violence. This is the central paradox of the film, one that is never directly expressed but hangs there. One brother, Kenta, died on his motorcycle. The other, Yuki, blew out his brains with a shotgun. Violent acts. Models Ryoichi rejects when he fashions his revenge on the Great Commodifiers of our Globalized World. He doesn’t really want to die. He wants the oppressors of the world to die. Who amongst us doesn’t share this desire?
SF Independent Film Festival, February 9-23, at the inimitable Roxie Theater, 16th at Valencia Streets, San Francisco.
*Among the dozen films I previewed on my laptop with the dvds provided by my favorite publicist.