06/29/2013

NYAFF 2013: “Helter Skelter” & “Behind The Camera: Why Mr. E Went To Hollywood”

by Matthew Hawkins

Time for a second look at this year’s NYAFF 2013 offerings. I’ve got the lowdown on two additional movies, and both are behind the scenes look at entertainment: the world of fashion and the world of filmmaking to be precise…

Helter Skelter

Not based upon the Beatles song, nor the book about Charlie Manson, Helter Skelter in this case is inspired by a manga that details the rise and fall of Lilico. She’s Japan’s top model, whose face and body graces every magazine cover, and which every young woman across the land gobbles up. Lilico’s also the star of both the small screen and large, and as such, is the object of affection of her perverted old directors. Whom she’s more than happy to oblige, despite having a very handsome male mode/actor as a fiancée. On that note, and not surprisingly, behind the pretty smile and flawless skin is an extremely petty, vain woman who lacks a shred of humanity. One who treats everyone around her like total dogsh*t, primarily her personal assistant Michiko (who greatly admires and loves Lilico). Like the time Lilico decided to come onto Michiko’s bf right in front of his gf, and also has sex with him, again right in front of Michiko (and not long up after she was asked to go down on Lilico, who wondered if it was indicative of deeper feelings, but was later made fun of, which already wrecked Michiko’s mind). Just for shits and giggles.

Helter Skelter spares no expense in showing what a worthless individual Lilico is, one who is not the least bit sympathetic, though it also casts her as a victim of sorts. The film is mostly a criticism of the Japanese entertainment industry as a whole, which she’s ultimately just a cog of. It’s also an indictment of the general public and how they consume their idols, only to immediately spit them out. Speaking of, Lilico’s inevitable downfall comes in two forms. First is the crazy amount of upkeep she must endure, via experimental plastic surgery that taps into “baby parts” and other highly illegal material (according to Lilico’s manager, who also acts the role of surrogate mom, the only thing that is real about her star client are “her eyeballs, her ears, her nails, and her pussy”). The primary subplot concerns a detective’s mission to crack down on the plastic surgeon Lilico turns to, and whose attention eventually focuses upon the star patient. He’s also super philosophical and ends up saying a lot of existential mumbo jumbo (re: all the weird blemishes that Lilico gets, which necessitates the constant trips to the clinic: “she’s like a succulent looking fruit, one that is rotten on the inside” and the like), to remind the viewer that you’re watching a movie from Japan.

Lilico’s second major undoing is the emergence of a younger, prettier, model, one whose beauty also happens to be all-natural. Inevitably, our star is no longer the most sought after woman in Japan, so she commands Michiko to go cut the pretty new face up. Previously Michiko had been an accomplice in the throwing of acid onto the face of Lilico’s fiancee’s new girlfriend (a new gal pal was obtained once the old one was no longer the hottest model), and is at this point essentially being blackmailed, less she wants Lilico to rat her out to the cops. The entire film is a train-wreck, one designed to make Lilico’s eventual and total meltdown as glorious as possible, which it is. On that note, the movie as a whole is flat out gorgeous; the director, Mika Ninagawa, is a former fashion photographer herself, and is not only intimately familiar with the subject material, but simply knows to how to handle a camera. Unfortunately, she could use a few more lessons when it comes to editing, cuz Helter Skelter is a bit on the long side, and at times tries way too hard to remind us the viewer what a monstrosity Lilico is and how we’re also culpable for creating her in the first place. But hey, that’s most Japanese movies in general. Long story short: if you like Lady Gaga and kinda hate yourself for it, this movie might be a good way to funnel those conflicted feelings. Helter Skelter has two screenings: the first is on Tuesday July 2, 9:15PM, at Lincoln Center, and the second is on Saturday July 13, 9:30PM, at Japan Society.

Behind The Camera: Why Mr. E Went To Hollywood

Described as the most “meta” movie of this year’s offerings, which is fact, Behind The Camera: Why Mr. E Went To Hollywood is about E J-Yong (the director of Dasepo Naughty Girls from a new NYAFFs back, which I was a big fan of), who was asked by Samsung to produce a 10 minute long short movie using nothing but Galaxy Android devices. So that’s what he did, but E J-Yong also decided to produce a “making of” documentary, which is what Behind The Camera ultimately is. Makes sense thus far, right? Well, what’s this movie that E J-Yong is trying to film with just cell phones all about? Why, it’s about E J-Yong and his attempt at producing a 10 minute long short movie using nothing by Galaxy Android devices. One key detail is how the fake E J-Yong decides to direct the entire production off cite, in Hawaii, as an experiment. As for the “real” E J-Yong, he does the same, except in the real world, he’s in Los Angeles. Maybe. One more time: it’s about a director who is off site and making a movie using cell phones, about a director who is off site and making a movie using cell phones.

The fake “making of” movie is primarily about how confused and flustered the cast and crew is, about having to deal with a director who is only present on the set in the form of a laptop via Skype. As for the actual “making of”, it’s mostly about how confused and flustered the cast and crew is, about having to deal with a director who is only present on the set in the form of a large screen TV, which is also powered by Skype. But when I say actual, that’s not to say Behind The Camera is a real documentary, because it is not. Some elements are real, with other parts are fictionalized, though E J-Yong refused to say which was which in the Q&A after the screening I attended. Adding to the confusion is how Behind The Camera contains an all-star cast, who play roles in the movie within the movie, or in some cases the movie within the movie within the movie, and are also supposed to be themselves in just the movie, but again are not who they really are.

Example: when Kim Ok-bin (who was the main reason why I enjoyed Dasepo Naughty Girls so much in the first place; she’s seriously the cutest Korean actress alive) has a freak out at and starts yelling at E J-Yong (this is the “real” one, btw, on the big screen in LA, again supposedly), it initially appears to be an act. But then it gets to a certain point in which you begin to wonder “oh man, I think this is really happening?” Then later on, when another actor walks off the stage, it too looks authentic, though it’s established almost immediately afterward that this is part of a prank among the actors that are pissed and want to let off some steam. E J-Yong, when being interviewed afterward, stated that there was a basic framework for everyone to work with, but almost all of the dialogue and action was improvised, and was shocked by some of things that was said about him (again, much of it is about all these people, colleagues of his, making fun of the guy), some of which is pretty mean spirited. Apparently, Dasepo Naughty Girls was a huge bomb at the box office, which is brought up time and time again. E J-Yong also didn’t expect the main storyline hook of the fictionalized flick, that being how the no one believes their director is actually far away, and is in fact super close by, to also play out in reality.

Despite being a who’s who of K-cinema, with a ton of insider references being tossed about, you don’t have to be a total Korean movie expert to watch the film. Though one does need a healthy love for movie as a whole. It’s filled everyone single stereotype you can think of: the director that can’t keep anything under control, the producer who tries his best to keep everything in order, the old time-y actress that constantly tells stories about the good old days, wide eyed young actresses that hang on every word of the aforementioned diva, etc. Though even my patience started to wear thin by the end; the constant complaining about the director not being there and how the production was a mess ends up making everyone look like a total prima donna cry babies. Anyhow, Behind The Camera: Why Mr. E Went To Hollywood plays one more time: tomorrow 1:00PM, at Lincoln Center.

Previous post:

Next post: