Guy Richie meets Wong Kar-Wai: Hiroyuki Nakano's Stereo Future
"There are two directions we can go: Towards a bright future or a dark one. But we've been given the ability to make wise choices. We can choose the right path."
So begins Hiroyuki Nakano's brilliant film, "Stereo Future". Part Wong Kar-Wai, part Guy Richie, Stereo Future is a sharply directed film about our ability to decide what we do with our lives. Yet, despite having such a heavy-handed message, the film never feels pretentious. This is due to two reasons, Nakano's aptitude in directing, and a rather offbeat story.
At its core, "Stereo Future" is the story of a woman who loses her voice when she breaks up with her boyfriend. However, the story shies away from becoming a Kevin Costner grade drama-fest by presenting the story through a collection of four short films ranging in topic from the tale of a low budget Samurai film extra to the story of a struggling environmentalist media company.
All of this is brought together with superior direction from Hiroyuki Nakano. Not very well known outside of Japan, Nakano is Japan's answer to Guy Richie. In the early 90's he got his start directing music videos; one of his first works being a collaboration with De-lite on the video for "Groove is in the heart". In 1996 he received an MTV video music award for his video for Photek's song "Ni-ten ich-ryu.” Two years later he released his first film, "SF: Samurai Fiction", which quickly became a classic of Japanese underground cinema. His most recent work besides “Stereo Future” is the film "Red Shadow".
Like Guy Richie, Hiroyuki Nakano's style is heavily influenced by his history with music videos. "Stereo Future" is replete with creative camera angles, quick edits, and a heavy dosage of color filtering. What separates "Stereo Future” from works by Guy Richie, or for that matter, Quintin Tarantino who must be Richie's biggest influence, Nakano's tale is, in Nakano’s own words, a "peaceful story." And like so many other facets of the film, in scenes where it seems he is more plagiarizing than innovating, where the film runs the risk of becoming cliché Nakano cracks a smile and jabs at his own silliness.
For example, the movie's only fighting sequence is a straight out of "Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" brawl, complete with rotating dolly cam and slow motion filming. However, on further review one realizes that the film isn't in slow motion at all: the actors are all moving at the rate of an absurdly false imitation of slow motion. Previously in the film this technique is used to mock the horrible samurai film where the main male actor is employed, as though Nakano were likening himself to the hack director in the movie.
Still, this is only one example of a general trend in "Stereo Future" to use contrasts to add charisma. To highlight another of the movie's themes, symbiosis, scenes with the most nature-sensitive messages are displayed in the most creative, inorganic methods. The most awe-inspiring set in the movie must be the architectural marvel of a building where the environmentalist media company is based.
When combined with the music of the film, the total impression is flooring. Recruiting former collaborator Towa Tei, as well as The Fantastic Plastic Machine and many others, Nakano has assembled a soundtrack ranging from dark techno to calming renditions of Bach done on saxophone. Each track is used as a theme for the main characters and to define the emotion of a scene. Again, it's the contrast of hard trance with a cheesy samurai film or abstract experimental with an outdoor scene that gives this movie its depth.
As a result, "Stereo Future" at times feels like a drug movie even though the closest thing to drugs in the film is the pure air and water sold at the oxygen bar where the male lead moonlights. The audience walks away with some strange amalgamation of the style of "Snatch", the story of "Chung King Express, and the feel of "Trainspotting".
And it is through such contrasts that we are able to understand the films title: "Stereo Future". Each layer of this film serves to illustrate the nature of our two futures, or even to show the dialectic between head and heart that defines the human existence. It is seldom that one finds a movie that is moving, poignant, well shot, and incredibly funny, but "Stereo Future" is all of these.
Director: Hiroyuki Nakano
Featuring: Masatoshi Nagase, Akiko Monou, Naoto Takenaka, Kumiko Asou, Tamaki Ogawa, Pierre Taki, Daniel Ezralow, and Morio Kazama.
Featuring Music from Towa Tei, The Fantastic Plastic Machine and Feed.
Stereo Future's website can be accessed at: www.stereofuture.com (Japanese only)
All photos taken from the movie, "Stereo Future" and copyright their respective owners.
[Editors Note: Unfortunately, it appears that "Stereo
Future" is only available on region 2 DVD, so getting a hold of it
may be difficult, but well worth the effort. Perhaps the only problem
with the movie is that its subtitling is not the best. It seems as though
a non-Japanese speaking translator read an English version of the script,
then watched the film and tried to remember how the words went. The English
is fluent, but the translation is sometimes dead off.]
All works this site copyright D. Szkoropad, 2001-2003 unless stated otherwise. This means don't steal it or I'll tell your mother on you. Domo-kun copyright NHK.