Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Andromedia

I've probably mentioned it before, but I'm extremely fond of Takashi Miike, mostly because of his unpredictability. Perhaps this is due to his being insanely prolific, but his films aren't afraid to go off in bizarre directions and take unexpected turns. Nothing he does is surprising, even if he's making a vehicle for Japanese girl band Speed and their boy band buddies Da Pump. Andromedia isn't merely a star vehicle though, it's an experiment in fusing genres that nobody has ever thought to fuse.

On one hand it's a heartfelt drama about adolescence and getting a second chance with someone you love. Kenji Harada is Yu, and Hiroko Shimabukuro is Mai. They're young lovers and old friends, coming to terms with their blossoming sexuality and young bliss. Takako Uehara is Mai's friend Rika, who secretly loves Yu and is jealous. Tragically, Mai is run over by a bus, in a scene that I hate to admit I laughed extremely loudly at, and everyone is sad, until she is reincarnated as a magical computer program by her dad.

That leads neatly to the other hand, which is a wacky computer-based espionage comedy in the vein of Hackers and Masterminds, with the same mix of "OMG computers!", hilariously juvenile evil CEOs (Christoper Doyle, also known as a very good cinematographer. Cinematography and acting do not require the same skill set, as soon becomes obvious by his overblown performance), and instantly dated and ridiculous CGI. Mai inhabits a world of Tetris blocks, sheets of quickly scrolling binary and all the "Holy crap, computers!" you can think of post-accident, and is being chased by the evil CEO and Satoshi (Ryo Kataro), her half brother who has a brain tumor and an unclear role in the proceedings.

Also, there's a boy band music video in the middle, because there's a boy band there, that's what they do, why not?

It might seem like touching drama and action/comedy are two genres you would never expect to see in a hybrid. There is a good reason for this, the tonal shifts are utterly bizarre, and you often feel as though there are two movies going on simultaneously. Not helping is the overwhelming late-80sness of the proceedings - the movie was released in 1998, but it feels really 80s in style and substance. I never realized that the one thing Masterminds needed was more high school drama.

I wish it could have just been about the kids coming to terms with their friends' death, but there has to be that pesky explanation for that ghost. On the other hand, I sort of enjoyed the cheesy hackerspoitation aspects, in the same way I enjoy Hackers and Masterminds in spite of their terrible execution. I love movies about computers by people who have only heard of computers from second-hand sources, and this is no exception, the joyously bizarre attempts to visualize what happens in your machine is a joy to behold each and every time.

One element that doesn't work is Hiroko Shimabukuro. Like in most vehicles for people who made their name singing, Shimabukuro is utterly unconvincing as a human being. Now, I actually thought this was an intentional choice on the part of the performer, since she's not a human and supposed to be learning her way around being in a computer, but she seems to be reading off of cue cards. This would be fine if she could read out loud, but it honestly sounds like a fifth grader reading a report to class. As I said, it sort of works in the computer, but there are scenes where she's playing a real person, and she still does it.

Andromedia could have easily been unwatchable, and it is nevertheless very stupid, but I have to say I can't hate it. It's too out there, trying to meld genres that really don't go together very well. It has some good elements, some good imagery, and it's by my favorite hyper-prolific Japanese director. I enjoy watching it, but I hate to say, it's a very stupid movie. But, considering what it was designed for - a vehicle for bands - it's certainly better than Spice World.

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