Japan does not export a lot of comedies, though at least one, “Tampopo” (and, to a lesser extent, its successor, “A Taxing Woman”) broke out to international acclaim.
The recommendation of “Kamyu nante shiranai” (Who’s Camus Anyway?, 2005) made by Yanagimachi Mitsuo (director of the very rural “Farewell to the Land” and “Himatsuri”) came to me from Netflix. Putting the bottom line first, I was disappointed by it.
Although there are some entertaining bits, the whole is less than the sum of the parts. The movie centers around some students and their professor/master, Nakajo (Honda Hirotaro) making a low-budget horror movie “The Bored Murderer” that seems to me to derive more from Dosteovesky’s Crime and Punishment than from Camus’s The Stranger. Admittedly, Camus’s murderer was bored, but the guilt of the young killer in the movie within a movie strikes me as far more Dosteoveskian.
The professor, who made a string of successful films and then stopped for reasons no one even attempts to explain, is called Aschenbach by some of his students and takes on the part of the foolish craver of young flesh Aschenbach from Death in Venice right down to putting on makeup—although the aftermath of his hoped-for seduction is being dead drunk rather than dying. That subplot seems dropped in from some other movie.
The students make many references to French New Wave movies, and dub a woman who is hopelessly in love with the director of “The Bored Murderer” Matsukawa (Kashiwabara Shuuji), “Adele” (Yoshikawa Hinano), since her stalking him reminds them of Adele Hugo in Truffaut’s “The Story of Adele H.” (The most obvious Truffaut predecessor, “Day for Night” is not mentioned, BTW.)
The actor who steps in to play the title role of “The Bored Murderer,” Ikeada (Nakaizumi Hideo) is a heterosexual transvestite with his hair died blond. He gets more and more into the part, pushed by both Matsukawa and assistant director Kiyoko (Maeda Ai) to be more like Camus’s Meursault. Ikeada wants to please everyone, but especially wants to woo Kiyoko. (There is also a scene of unusual candor between Professor Nakajo on a bench and Ikeada. Ikeada asks the question no one else dares to ask about Nakajo having stopped making movies, but still does not get an answer.)
The camera pans a lot and there is an opening single shot as long as the famous ones near the end of Antonioni’s “The Passenger” and the one at the start of Robert Altman’s “The Player.”
Without knowing anything about the film-maker, one would guess it was made by a novice, remembering recent school daze, not someone who has been directing films since 1976. Like his film’s Professor Nakajo, Yanagimachi stopped making films in 1995 and taught film at Tokyo’s Waseda University, an elite school in Tokyo, until returning to film-making with “Who’s Camus?” a decade later. Presumably, the aspiring film-maker students are based on his Waseda students I don’t know what he thought the point of the movie was. The part about making a movie develops clearly enough, but the inept attempts at human relationships among the characters (callow youth and a Dirty Old Man) are not very interesting, in considerable part because the characters are not particularly interesting. Ikeada is the only one who has anything I’d call character “development.” The others mostly thrash around in their lives away from making “The Bored Murderer.” As a film about a troupe, “Who’s Camus, Anyway?” does not rival Altman’s “The Player” or the CBC series “Slings and Arrows” or even Peter Bodganovich’s “Noises Off.”
The Film Movement DVD includes some text filmographies and an innocuous 10-minute animated film by Sejong Park titled “Birthday Boy.”
© 2016, Stephen O. Murray