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JAPANORAMA - Cheng Cheng BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMAThe Duel Project started out as a drunken bet, when Japanese movie producer Shinya Kawai challenged two up-and-coming directors to each make a film that had only two actors, who would fight to the death, in a single location – it also had to be shot in less than a week, and stick to a tiny budget. The results were Aragami and 2LDK (2LDK REVIEW HERE)

Duel Project 0Duel Project AragamiAragami: two wounded soldiers collapse at the door of a monastery, but when one wakens up the hospitality doesn’t last long. This film couldn’t be more different to 2LDK. The dialogue feels slow and padded out. There’s continual talk of magic, immortality, demons, goblins and such fantasy staples – bit of a turn-off for me. The film’s soundtrack is OTT porno music / thrash metal, and the tone is equally unusual – slapstick/manga. All familiar territory for Ryuhei Kitamura who’s biggest film to date was Versus, and was using this as a ‘dry run’ for Azumi – unfortunately the film only finds its stride in the last 10 minutes. My favourite aspect was how much the film was steeped  in a history of swordplay and swordfighting movies yesteryear – from intricate/complex katana flare, down to some lovely, old school, ‘Shing! Ching!’ metal-clashing sound effects. Aragami isn’t a bad film, but watching it after 2LDK really takes the sting out it’s tail: whereas you enjoy the pressure-cooker buildup in 2LDK, Aragami’s set-up feels flat and uninteresting, you just want to see these guys battle it out, and when it does roll round, it feels much shorter and less innovative/satisfying than the other movie. The Duel Project is definitely worth checking out, but I’d recommend watching this first, building up to the superior 2LDK.

Score: 5.5/10

Aragami 01 - Takao Osawa, Masaya Kato, Kanae Uotani, Tak Sakaguchi, Hideo Sakaki

“Ninja Stars are for losers”

Aragami 02 - Takao Osawa, Masaya Kato, Kanae Uotani, Tak Sakaguchi, Hideo Sakaki

Blue Valentine: full-circle relationship drama focusing on a young all-American couple. This one’s independent to the core: indie Soundtrack, lo-fi visuals, handheld camcorder / shaky vibe – R-Gos even busts out a ukulele for a serenade at one point, in a scene that’s sweet enough to give you diabetes, or cringe-worthily comparable to dental work – depending on your stance.  If there ever was a film aimed specifically at Noah and the Whale / Modest Mouse fans… this is it. The story itself is uncompromisingly banal, refusing to go anywhere, and with the indie style, it feels more like a fly-on-the-wall than drama in parts. Chronologically shuffled, it bounds between timeframes, making the mood warm and fuzzy, then ice cold, then fuzzy again… Despite a dull, mumbly script Gosling and Williams are the only aspects that kept me watching; they clock in some serious dramatic mileage through the convincing everyman/everywoman relationship scenarios. Overall, this is a tough one to rate: Blue Valentine wants to be rooted in the real world, yet it’s cast two beautiful Hollywood stars; it wants to be crushingly realistic  yet has a rose-tinted cinematic romanticism outlook. Rarely does a film hang so heavily, or rely so much on two people, and in this case, two solid performances couldn’t make this special.

Score: 4.5/10