One of the problems with the British film industry (apart from the fact there probably won’t be one in a couple of years if the Tories and their Lib Dem bitches have their way) is the lack of movies that actually speak to a young audience.
Don’t misunderstand me, I enjoy a good costume drama when it has something to say, but the dearth of British films that dare to challenge the viewer or aren’t pigeonholed at the 45-65 age bracket is actually pretty depressing.
So when one comes along it feels like a breath of fresh air. The LFF, bless it, tries its best to showcase the best that Britain has to serve up, and it most certainly got it right with its decision to screen Submarine.
Submarine certainly caught my attention – I’m sure I wasn’t the only one – as it marks the directorial debut of Richard Ayoade, best known as uber-geek Moss in Channel 4’s The IT Crowd, as well as Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and Chris Morris’ Nathan Barley.
Based on Joe Dunthorne’s novel, Submarine‘s central character is Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), a 15-year-old Swansea schoolboy who can best be described as a square box living in a world with only round windows.
Oliver has a soft spot for classmate Jordana (Yasmin Paige), who finally notices him when he inadvertently pushes a fellow pupil into a puddle in a pathetic attempt at bullying.
Still hugely confused with where he fits into the world, Oliver constantly divorces himself from reality. For instance, he imagines his awkward relationship with the fragile Jordana as a movie in which he sits in the director’s chair and can’t understand why someone else (namely Jordana) wouldn’t want to read Nietzsche or turn up to a cinema an hour before 1928’s The Passion Of Joan Of Arc “to make sure to get a good seat”. You can imagine how he handles going about losing his virginity to Jordana when the situation presents itself.
Meanwhile, Oliver starts having suspicions his unhappy mum Jill (Shirley Hawkins) is having an affair with old flame and new-age evangelist Graham (Paddy Considine) and decides to intervene on behalf of his sad, quiet dad Lloyd (Noah Taylor).
Remembering this is a first-time effort, Ayoade has a supremely confident touch with the camera, reminiscent of Wes Anderson and Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (1959), and has crafted a film that will speak to every teenager and everyone who can still recall their formative years.
He’s served by a fantastic cast, with Hawkins and Taylor brilliant as a couple uncertain of how to rediscover a spark that may no longer be there, and Considine proving that comedy comes just as easily to him as drama.
However, these pale in comparison to Ayoade’s teen cast. Both products of children’s television, Paige and Roberts are natural leads, with Roberts especially able to bring the truth to a complex role that lesser actors would have turned into kooky or weird.
There really is so much to recommend about Submarine, but this being Ayoade’s baby the plaudits must ultimately fall at his feet. This is one of the finest, most astute debuts from a British director for many years and its existence reassures you that the future of our film industry may not be quite so bleak.
While Richard Ayoade is taking his first bold steps as a director, Japan’s Takashi Miike is something of a veteran, with scores of features under his belt.
Many of these features have to be seen to be believed. Miike has made something of a career out of shocking his audience – or at least surprising the hell out of them. Audition (1999) became notorious for its graphic moments of torture (most notably a scene in which a drugged and paralyzed man watches his foot being sawn off by an unhinged girlfriend), while the ultra-violent Ichi The Killer (2001) has to be seen to be believed (or not as the case may be!).
So it’s unusual that his latest, 13 Assassins, is so conventional in comparison. Although based on a true story and a remake of a 1963 black and white Japanese film of the same name, 13 Assassins owes a big debt to Akira Kurosawa’s seminal Seven Samurai (1954).
Set in 1840s Feudal Japan, the sadistic Lord Naritsugu is destined by his lineage to ascend to a high political office. Already untouchable due to his being the Shogun’s brother, his depraved actions have reached such a point, the decision is made at the highest level to assassinate him to stop him from destroying the whole country.
Retired samurai Shinzaemon (Koji Yakusho) is tasked with recruiting a posse of warriors before Naritsugu completes his journey home. Shinzaemon gathers together 12 assassins (and one bandit) and they travel through the mountains to cut Naritsugu off at the village of Ochiai, where they will make their stand.
Ochiai is converted into a giant mousetrap designed to ensnare Naritsugu and make sure he never leaves. But Shinzaemon and his samurai seriously underestimate the forces at Naritsugu’s disposal and they are soon forced to make their almost suicidal stand facing odds of more than 15 to one.
The comparisons to Seven Samurai really are difficult to ignore. Yakusho’s wise, embattled Shinzaemon can’t help but remind you of Shimada (played by veteran Japanese actor Takashi Shimura) in Kurosawa’s classic, while the larger than life bandit is a virtual carbon copy of the character played by Toshiro Mifune. Mind you, there’s worse things than being compared to one of the greatest films of all time.
After a deliberately slow build up, the pace quickens in the second half as the assassins work to convert the village and then explodes into action for the epic battle between the samurai and Naritsugu’s soldiers.
Brilliantly framed and choreographed, this third act is totally gripping throughout and a tour-de-force by Miike. Although you can guess what’s coming, it doesn’t stop 13 Assassins from punching you in the guts and reminding you that you needn’t look west to find action on a grandiose scale.