Posts Tagged 'frank capra'

One Wonderful Sunday (1947)

Kurosawa followed up on No Regrets for Our Youth with this remarkably bleak comedy about a young couple that simply wants to have a pleasant Sunday together. Yuzo is a disillusioned soldier who is valiantly trying to maintain his dignity and integrity in the ruins of postwar Tokyo. Masako is his relentless chipper girlfriend. They are too poor to live together much less marry. They only have 35 yen between them for the day.

The day goes from one failure to another, each one underlining their yen-less existence. When Yuzo tries to contact an old war chum who owns a dance hall, the management assumes his looking for a handout. When they go to the zoo, they get caught in the rain. When they try to go see a concert, scalpers swoop in and by all the cheap seats, beating Yuzo up when he complains.

Kurosawa has dealt with postwar deprivation in movies like Drunken Angel and Stray Dog, but in neither of those films are as emotionally raw as this one. After Yuzo drives Masako away in an act of misdirected fury, he sits there sullenly in his own apartment, listening to the rain piss down. His desperation is almost unbearable. Kurosawa leaves the shots long in this scene and the camera static. It would have made Andre Bazin swoon.

For the first two-thirds of the film, you could say this is Kurosawa’s most Neorealistic film. Instead of a bicycle, these characters are wandering around a cruel and indifferent city simply looking for some relief from their grinding poverty. A lot of the movie is shot on the streets of Tokyo too, giving Sunday a documentary feel like Rome, Open City and Bicycle Thieves.

Then the last third kicks in. Kurosawa suddenly veers uneasily from gritty Neorealism to a strange mixture of Capraesque whimsy and Peter Pan-style appeals to the audience. Following yet another petty defeat, this time in a coffee shop, Yuzo regroups his shattered spirit and starts looking towards the future with an inkling of hope. When that wisp of a silver lining slips away, Masako turns to the camera and beseeches the audience to clap for our broken hero, shrilly begging “Onegai Shimasu” over and over until your eyes are as dewy as hers. Breaking the fourth wall is a movie like this is really bizarre and jarring. But by doing so Masako, and by extension Kurosawa, is pleading with the postwar audience to think about the future ahead of them and not the yawning abyss below them.

Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

In case you missed it, Lars and the Real Girl is a twee indie film about an emotionally crippled young man who believes that a sex doll is his girlfriend. He calls her Bianca, claims she was raised by missionaries in Brazil, and pushes her around in a wheelchair. The spectacle is so pathetic that everyone in the nameless Midwestern town plays along, from his brother to the local doctor to the pastor. As he heals, Bianca grows “sick” and eventually “dies,” paving the way for Lars to pursue a real flesh and blood lass.

Ryan Gosling is the best thing about this flick, delivering a solid, sympathetic performance for a character that could have easily become the freakish butt of cruel jokes. But the movie wears its Capra influences on its sleeve and it grows a little tiresome by the end. The townspeople are so understanding of Lars and his strange delusion that my suspension of disbelief started to fray. Especially towards the end of the film when Bianca was sent to the hospital in an ambulance. I doubt that any HMO would have covered that. It seems like the filmmakers had a crazy idea (Lars loves a sex doll) and then did everything in their power to smooth the set up of any sharp, jarring edges.

I wonder what the film would have been like if Lars weren’t such an obvious basket case and he was not deluded into believing that Bianca was a real girl. Instead, Lars was consciously in love with a silicone and plastic doll. It’s an unsettling thought, not just because it seems so alien but also because it seems so familiar. Who didn’t have a teddy bear or Tickle Me Elmo as a kid? Whose childhood memories don’t have moments of real love and tenderness towards these dolls? And who doesn’t feel a twinge of sadness at the sight of these dolls now? What makes a discarded toys have more pathos than, say, a pitched shoe. (I have a Grover doll in a box in the closet that, I will never throw out) Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg’s wildly underrated A.I. mines these primal loves and fears with particular ruthlessness. We need to love. And if the people around us can’t completely fill that void (and inevitably, they can’t) we fill that void with things – be they sports cars, cools shoes, or buxom sex dolls named Bianca.

This all reminded me of a Savage Love column I read a couple weeks ago that referenced David Levy’s sort of new book Love and Sex with Robots. It speculates that in the near future we will regularly be having sex with and fall in love with robots that are essentially a couple generations above the Real Doll featured in Lars and the Real Girl. The argument for sexbots is pretty obvious if uncomfortable – guilt-free prostitutes that will cater to any fantasy and have no diseases. And given the perverse creativity of humans, there’s no limiting these robots to adult human forms. There are already sex dolls in the form of (shudder) children for sale in Japan. And I’m once the idea catches on, we will start seeing shemale sexbots, robo-dog and horse sexbots and then from there real weirdness like centaurs, unicorns and hobbits. With sex, love often (though not always) follows. Levy argues that in a couple decades we will start seeing human-robot marriages. A development that will no doubt give the Family Values crowd conniptions. Then again, according to some theorists, in a couple decades the line separating human and robot will quickly start to blur. But that’s another entry.

Garfield Factor: President James A. Garfield finds the whole subject distasteful and refuses to delve any further in the matter.

March 2023

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