The Trash Can Is A Treasure Trove

“For the first three months, I place each student at a table with a thousand pieces of white paper and a trash can underneath. Every day they have to sit at the table for several hours and write ideas. They put the ideas they like on the right side of the table; the ones they don’t like, they put in the trash. But we don’t throw out the trash. After three months, I only take the ideas from the trash can. I don’t even look at the ideas they liked. Because the trash can is a treasure trove of things they’re afraid to do.”
― Marina Abramović, Walk Through Walls: Becoming Marina Abramovic

Cate Blanchett in “Waiting for the Artist”

I have always loved documentaries. Now in this age of streaming – documentary watching has become like drinking from a firehose.

One time, I can’t remember where… probably a college film festival in the 70’s I saw a documentary by Stan Woodward about grits. This was probably the first transformative documentary I saw – I was a different person (at least slightly) after I saw it. I wrote about this years later, many years ago, in my first blog and lamented the fact that I couldn’t find the thing anywhere and had to be satisfied with only seeing it once. A kind reader mailed me a VHS copy.

Of course, it wasn’t as good as I remembered.

Now, in this best of all possible worlds, we don’t only have documentaries… we have mockumentaries. If done well these too can be… if not transformative at least moderately entertaining. That might be all we can ask for anymore.

There is even a series of mockumentaries, “Documentary Now!“, on IFC. A new season is under way, and the latest one is brilliant. It is called “Waiting for the Artist” and is a riff (a very close one at that) on the famous work “The Artist Is Present” about the famous (and famously insane) performance artist Marina Abramović.

Somehow, they convinced Cate Blanchett to portray Marina Abramović – and she is spot on.

If you have IFC, be sure and check out “Waiting for the Artist” – it hits the perfect place between lunacy and pathos and even has a bit of a point to it.

And the ending is really, really funny.

Youtube has a copy of the original Marina Abramović documentary. Marina is even crazier than the character in the mockumentary.

Big Man Japan

Another review of a movie you (probably) will never see.

Why do I do this? Everyone in the world is out waiting in line to see the last Harry Potter film (I’ve only read one of the books and seen two and a half of the films) while I’m holed up with my laptop when I should be asleep and here I am watching another WTF stranger than strange bit of Netflix Streaming. The last two movies I’ve seen (and, more important, written about) have been Quintet (a candidate for worst movie ever) and now, Big Man Japan.

I know its a cult hit – but I’ve never met anyone that admitted to actually seeing Big Man Japan. I don’t even know how I came across it – probably fell into some webpage that mentioned that it was on Netflix and I couldn’t resist.

Now, I used to see a lot of film and read a lot of movie reviews. The problem is that too many reviews, especially written ones, simply outline the plot of the film in detail and that ruins the whole thing, doesn’t it? So I quit reading reviews until after I had seen a film. My idea is to go in blind, sit there knowing nothing, my brain an empty vessel to receive the cinematic genius unfettered by previous knowledge or expectation. The only problem is that about the time I decided on this course of action I ran out of money and time and hardly ever get to see anything anymore. Anything except when I lose my mind and stay up all night to watch weird stuff like “Big Man Japan.”

Therefore, I don’t want to talk too much about plot details. It would be interesting to see this film without knowing anything at all. It would be interesting, but you’d be pissed at me because I made you waste almost two hours of you precious life on this weird shit. So I guess, as a public duty, I should provide fair warning.

You see, the first third of the movie is a documentary-type exploration of Masaru Daisato, a middle-aged long-haired Japanese loser. His wife has left him and he scrapes by in a cluttered place eating rice and dehydrated seaweed. He carries one of those little folding umbrellas everywhere. Cryptically, he says he likes the umbrella and the seaweed because, “It only gets big when you want it to.”

Everybody hates this guy, they stare, they throw garbage into his yard, and spraypaint insulting graffiti wherever he goes. His wife has left with his daughter, there is a rusting swing set peeking out from the bags of trash outside his house.

He talks about his job. He makes about 5,000 a month (five thousand what… I don’t know) and wishes he made 8,000. He says that there isn’t as much business as there used to be. Though he doesn’t work much, he can’t travel. He has to be on call all the time. He seems to have a problem with the United States for some reason.

About a half-hour in we find out what his job is. He is a hero. They clamp electrodes to his nipples and shoot thousands of volts into his body and he grows into a huge, hairy, chubby guy with a bad haircut and a piece of pipe for a club. Then he goes out and fights giant monsters.

These monsters are tearing up Japan like Godzilla, except that nobody seems to care much about it and nobody seems to get hurt. The monsters are strange, disgusting, bizzaroids with strangely human faces (one has to keep flipping his combover as he tears buildings up by their foundation). The fights are filmed, but they air on television at two in the morning and the ratings are terrible. His agent tries to find sponsors to plaster advertisements on his chest and back to bring in an extra income – but he is so incompetent, cowardly, and unattractive the sponsors are hard to find and harder to keep.

The Strangling Monster

The Strangling Monster

Okay, this sort of thing goes forward, getting odder and odder (I’m leaving a lot out, trust me), until the final climax occurs and then, I’m warning you about this, the whole thing really veers off into truly WTF (and I don’t mean Win The Future) land. It’s pretty stunning, really. I’ve never seen anything even remotely like this. All through the movie you can’t help but wonder how serious the movie maker is. Is this a somewhat serious exploration of Japanese Culture, Capitalism, Monster Movies, Religious Ceremony, Ramen Noodles, Asian Pop Culture, Ozu, our treatment of the Aged, Reality Television, Fame, Heroism, and many other issues… or is this simply a big joke thrown in our face.

The last part of the film leaves no doubt.

It’s sort of genius, really, in a sort of sick, ridiculous, and annoying way. The only problem is that by that point I had actually come to care about Masaru Daisato. The scene where he takes his pixelated daughter to the zoo is heartbreaking. I wanted him to find redemption. I wanted him to defeat his enemies and win the girl.

And that is what the film ultimately skewers – the viewer’s expectations.

Does watching strange stuff like this stretch the mind, or is it only a lonely excuse for killing some time when I should be sleeping, waiting in line at Harry Potter, or out drinking?

Oh, one last thing. Peggy wrote the other day about remakes. It appears that a Hollywood studio has bought the rights to remake Big Man Japan. Or will it be a reboot?

Big Man Japan

Big Man Japan, ready to transform.

The movie answers one long-nagging question. When the hero grows to monster size, where does his clothes come from? In Big Man Japan it is answered. A trunk with a pair of giant purple nylon underwear inside follows the hero around. Before he is juiced up to giant size, the shorts are raised up by a winch onto two poles and the hero stands inside these, so when he grows, he he attired.