Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Achilles and the Tortoise

It’s not entirely clear who or what the tortoise is, but by at the end we are told via sparing voiceover that Achilles has finally caught it (happiness? peace? freedom from obsession?) For Achilles is Machisu, a child at the start of the film, who paints obsessively under the barely attentive eye of his art-collecting father and circle of painter/dealer friends. His productivity continues apace through young adulthood as an art student trying out different styles, and on into middle-age, played by Kitano himself, still a not especially good painter, still completely unsuccessful financially and still as driven to create art as he ever was. Despite an unexpectedly high body-count (an alarming number of which are suicides) it’s terrifically funny, particularly when we are with the art students, whose ridiculous antics and outfits perfectly capture simply how much fun art can be, even if it’s not really very good. The title refers to Zeno’s paradox which I am not going to go into here, and more than providing a literal symbolism it mirrors the apparent absurdity of a lifetime devoted to the artistic quest. Kitano himself took up painting after a near-fatal motorcycle accident (and then made the excellent Hana-Bi which featured many of his canvases, as a recuperating cop takes up painting) and he has certainly been busy. His pictures are charming, child-like and rarely especially good, but that’s not the point – even if the film seems to end by declaring art to be garbage, it has already told us that there is still something wonderful, and tragic, about a life devoted to the pursuit of art, against all logical considerations of family, self, well-being and even success, aesthetic or financial.

d/sc/ed Takeshi Kitano p Masayuki Mori, Takio Yoshida ph Katsumi Yanagijimi pd Norihiro Isoda m Yuki Kajiura cast Takeshi Kitano, Kanako Higuchi, Kumiko Asô, Aya Enjôji, Kuruo Hatoyama, Masatô Ibu, Taigi Kobayashi, Akira Nakao, Takashi Nishina, Ren Ohsugi
(2008, Jap, 119m)
posted by tom newth at

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