Yoshimasa Ishibashi is a video installation artist-turned-sketch comedy director whose best known creation is the 2000 television show “Vermillion Pleasure Night.” This program featured among its wacky sketches “Oh, Mikey!” (aka “The Fuccons”), chronicling the surreal adventures of an American family in Japan, all portrayed by very creepy-looking mannequins. This recurring sketch was spun off into its own show a few years later, and “The Fuccons” is the work by Ishibashi best known to Western viewers, through its DVD release and YouTube clips.
Now Ishibashi has created his first feature film, “Milocrorze: A Love Story,” which despite its title contains multiple love stories within it, preserving the frenetic, channel-surfing style of his sketch comedy shows. Eye-popping pictorials and elaborate art direction abound throughout the film, which speeds from one comic set-piece to the next in head-spinning ADD-fashion. “Milocrorze” shares some stylistic similarities with such films as “Survive Style 5+” (2004) and “Funky Forest: The First Contact” (2005), which also contain multiple stories rendered with outlandish visual invention. “Milocrorze,” unfortunately, represents a step down from these earlier films, the extremely busy proceedings failing to mask its overly repetitive nature and problems with narrative pacing.
The film is bracketed by the love story involving its title character Milocrorze (Maiko), a comely young woman who becomes the obsessive love object of Ovreneli Vreneligare, who we first meet as a very young boy who lives an adult life of factory work and grocery shopping in a colorful picture book world. When Milocrorze leaves him for another man, the distraught young boy is left with a literal hole in his heart that he covers with a saucepan. This story is accompanied by a non-stop voiceover that adds to its whimsicality by lending it a sing-song children’s story quality. The Milocrorze story abruptly transitions to a variety show featuring its next major character, Besson Kumagai (Takayuki Yamada), a brash, ‘70s-style white leisure suit-wearing, sunglass-clad purveyor of advice to meek, lovelorn young men. Curt and insulting to his clients, he inserts himself into illustrated scenarios of his instructions to three young men who call him up, each punctuated with elaborate dance sequences with Besson and various scantily-clad women. Besson and his female entourage collide violently in their car with figures from the third story, concerning Tamon (Yamada), a samurai in the midst of a fight to find and rescue his girlfriend Yuri (Anna Ishibashi) from the clutches of red light district traffickers in an anachronistically jumbled city. The story backtracks to Tamon and Yuri’s first meeting at Yuri’s flower shop, and then forward to the gambling game that devolves into a long swordfight battle between Tamon and dozens of foes. After this story ends, we come to the conclusion of Ovreneli’s story; now an adult (Yamada again), he reencounters the now married Milocrorze at a hot-springs inn.
“Milocrorze”is mostly held together by its greatest asset, the Peter Sellers-like turn by Yamada, who brilliantly transforms himself into the three distinct characters he plays, quite riveting and funny in all his roles. But the film he is in is often a let-down, its most glaring weakness a slackness of pacing and inability to transcend its status as a motley collection of tenuously connected episodes. Besson’s multiple dance scenes and the absurdly overextended sequence of Tamon’s epic swordfight battle betray a lack of discipline that too often weigh the film down and make it feel overstretched at even its relatively brief 90-minute running time. So while “Milocrorze”is a visual delight and has some funny individual scenes, its many structural problems make it a disappointingly uneven work.
“Milocrorze: A Love Story” is the opening night film of the New York Asian Film Festival, screening on July 1, 9 p.m. at the Walter Reade Theater. Director Yoshimasa Ishibashi and actor Takayuki Yamada will appear at the screening, where Yamada will receive the Star Asia Rising Star Award. “Milocrorze” is also part of the Japan Cuts Festival of Contemporary Japanese Cinema, where it will screen on July 10, 8 p.m. at Japan Society. Ishibashi will introduce and do a Q&A following the screening. For ticket information, visit the Film Society of Lincoln Center or Japan Society websites.
Video: Q&A with Takayuki Yamada, “13 Assassins” screening
New York Asian Film Festival, July 2, 2011