Who's Camus Anyway? Movie Review
The 10 years since we've seen Yanagimachi here in the states will make for a rude awakening; where 1985's Fire Festival was brutal and brooding and Shadow of China was just plain, old bad, Who's Camus Anyway? is ferociously witty and hypnotically alert. The film depicts a collegian film crew preparing to film The Bored Murderer, a true story of a high school student who kills an elderly woman for seemingly no reason. The story's main character is said to have a close relation to Mersault, the main character in Camus' classic The Stranger. During the eight days that the film exists in, the crew prepares and shoots the film with help from their teacher, Professor Nakajo (Hirotaro Honda). The film immerses itself in every crew person, giving special attention to the director, Naoki (Shuji Kashiwabara), who must deal with an overbearing yet generous girlfriend (Hinano Yoshikawa), and his assistant director, Kiyoki (Ai Maeda), who seems to become the object of everyone's affection by the end of the eight days. There's also Ikeda (Hideo Nakaizumi), the effeminate and strange lead actor who is the catalyst for the film's chilling finale.
Beyond the uncountable but controlled cinema references in the film (Truffaut and Godard homages rival Bertolucci's The Dreamers), the true influence of this film is obviously Robert Altman, whose branded style of layered narratives and nuanced character studies drives the film. However, Yanagimachi is riffing off of Altman's style rather than copying it. The brushes of sexual obsession and intoxicating longing are mixed so delicately that you almost can't tell the difference. Also, every performance has its own rewards under attentive viewing. Hirotaro Honda makes the professor's obsession with a young grad student such a haunting and tumultuous affair; we feel sorry for him but are frightened by what capacity he might act on his emotions. Maeda and Kashiwabara conjure up emotions and manipulation with grace and subtlety unheard of before.
Camus' existential literature has always been bundled with the so-called hipster crowd, wrongly. Yanagimachi touches on what Camus was really after: the mystery of everyday things and why we do what we do. To call Who's Camus Anyway? an existentialist film would be degrading simply because of the pretentious connotation that inevitably follows. Consider it more as a section of life, with dramatics, emotions, and all the trimmings laid bare. And if your life doesn't have many of those things in it, think about becoming a filmmaker.
Aka Kamyu nante shiranai.
Reviewed as part of the 2005 New York Film Festival.