Milocrorze: A Love Story (Japan, 2011)

Milocrorze: A Love Story, in its North American Premiere, will be the Opening Night Presentation at the 10th Annual New York Asian Film Festival, which runs July 1-14. Right off let me say that it’s a terrific film. Director Yoshimasa Ishibashi has created an imaginative fantasy that genre jumps back-and-forth and all around its own time/space dis-continuum, with both an eye-popping color palette and plenty of female pulchritude eye-candy. it also affords actor Takayuki Yamada an opportunity to display his considerable skills in a near one-man show, seeing as he plays the three very different male lead characters, one in two manifestations. Yamada is in at least four other films (13 Assassins: Director’s Cut, Vengeance Can Wait, Gantz , and Gantz: Perfect Answer) that will be shown at the festival! No wonder he’ll be receiving this year’s Star Asia Rising Star Award.

The film begins with a female narrator telling us that “In a place a bit far away from this planet…” lives Ovreneli Vreneligare. Thus a fantasy, fairy tale quality is immediately established. Ovrenili is a seven year old man-child with bright orange mop-topped hair and colorful clothing who lives with his cat Verandola Gongonzola. (Don’t ask me why the Italian-sounding names; I haven’t a clue. Maybe just because they’re so much fun to hear.) One day he meets “the great and heavenly” Milocrorze, a lovely full grown real woman, in a park. An intimate — if oddball — relationship develops, and they begin to live together in a new house Ovrenili has bought, even though it’s above his means. But Milocrorze’s feelings change over time, and she moves out and stops coming to the park. The End. Only not quite.

Jump cut to the “5 PM Evening Show” where the special guest is  Besson Kumagai (Takayuki Yamada), a “counselor of youth studies” who instantly solves the romance problems of young men. Loud, brash, rude, obnoxious, and otherwise verbally abusive, he suggests such things as one caller tweaking his girlfriend’s “breast bells” when she opens the door. This portion of the film includes many dance segments, as Kumagai prances his way down hallways and sidewalks as well as in a supermarket. There he performs a routine that’s a blend of John Travolta’s character in Saturday Night Fever and Michael Jackson’s in Thriller. Always Kumagai’s dancing is accompanied by lovely young ladies, including two in the barest of bikinis and long, open coats.

After he leaves a club where he insults a table full of hostesses, his limo hits two steampunk-dressed characters, one of whom has shot a samurai (?!) with an arrow from a crossbow. The samurai, Tamon (Yamada again), learns that a certain Yuri has been sold by the dying Vandit (at least that’s what the subtitles consistently call him) to Tenzakuro, the largest licensed quarters in Taisho City. In a flashback we learn that four years earlier, Tamon had met and fallen in love with Yuri, who operates a flower stand. But at that time, Tamon (Yamada in a different manifestation of the character) was a business suit wearing contemporary young man with his shoulder length hair swept straight back from his forehead and face! While Yuri and he were riding on his motorcycle, the Vandit and his henchmen ambushed them and made off with Yuri. Tamon, in various clothing styles, wandered around looking for leads as to Yuri’s whereabouts. His efforts included a visit to Gazen, a master tattoo artist, played by venerable director Seijun Suzuki, sporting his real-life breathing tube.

Having finally discovered that she’s one of the courtesans in the Tanzakuro brothel, Tamon tries to win enough money in the premise’s gambling den to procure her services so he can take her away. But a vicious sword fight erupts (remember, Tamon is now the samurai), and in an extended one-against-many tracking shot, Tamon fights his way through numerous rooms. This scene, made to look like a single take, but definitely not, made me think of the end of Sword of Doom and Oh Dae-su’s escape scene in Oldboy. Eventually Tamon finds Yuri, but the seriousness of his wounds put the future of their love in grave doubt.

The film then returns to the story of Ovreneli Vreneligare. After “years of growing and molting,” he’s now thirty-seven years old, but looks younger, especially because he’s wearing the same hairstyle and clothing, only in larger sizes. And he’s now played by — you guessed it — Takayuki Yamada in his final lead characterization. At this point in his life, Ovreneli likes to take three-day trips to hot springs in the winter. He goes to Nipple Spring in Autumn Field to stay at Inn Nakyamura. There, to his total surprise, he finds Milocrorze, who is the now married proprietress of the inn. The odds are stacked against him, but Ovreneli, who’s had a hole in his heart that he’s covered with saucepan lids in front and back since Milocrorze left him, makes a last valiant effort to regain her love.

I first saw Milocrorze: A Love Story at a press screening at Japan Society a short while ago. The 25 to 30 or so of us who were present all laughed out loud over and over and over again. Before writing this review, I watched it again on a DVD screener generously provided by Japan Society. And the film held up wonderfully, a remarkable achievement since humor often doesn’t translate well across language and cultural differences. I like to use a four star rating system, and I’m assigning Milocrorze: A Love Story a rating of 4 out of 4 stars, my highest recommendation. See it if you can, at NYAFF, Japan Cuts, or wherever.

Milocrorze: A Love Story [Mirokuroze] screens at the Walter Reade Theater on July 1 at 9:00 pm. Director Yoshimasa Ishibashi and actor Takayuki Yamada are scheduled to attend. For tickets, visit the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s NYAFF website.

Milocrorze: A Love Story will also screen at the Japan Society on July 10 at 8:00 pm as part of the Japan Cuts film festival. A co-presentation with NYAFF, this screening will include an introduction and Q&A with director Yoshimasa Ishibashi. For tickets to that screening visit Japan Society’s Japan Cuts website.