Friday, September 2, 2011

The Argentine Hag (film version), 2007

Am I being obsessive, or just thorough?  Either way:  boring, right?

So there's a film version of this, released in 2007 and also called Aruzenchin babā (The Argentine Hag).  It was directed by Nagao Naoki 長尾直樹, and it's the only film of his I've seen.

The best thing about this film is the decision to cast Yakusho Kōji 役所広司 as the dad. It works on a meta level, since the character already seems to echo Yakusho's character in Shall We Dance.  And more importantly, casting Yakusho almost saves the movie.  He's so damn handsome, so damn charismatic, and such a good actor:  his part here is drastically underwritten, and the characters he's interacting with are so tongue-tied, but the body language and speech mannerisms he gives his character make any scene he's in at least watchable.  With almost no help from the script or director he creates a character who's somehow both a working-class Japanese dad and a hippie, both impetuous and stolid. 

Otherwise the film is too disappointing, and on too many fronts, to even bother exploring.  Among its crimes are:  failing to capture any of the spirit of Nara Yoshitomo in the visuals;  reducing the typically thoughtful, smart Banana narrator to a standard-issue J-film pouty-cute teenager (but without the difficult resonances of Nara Yoshitomo's pouty-cutesiness);  and rejecting, at the end, the novel's message of acceptance of the town cat-lady and all she represents about living.  (In the film, the Hag tells the dad that he has to go back to his daughter.  Rather than letting the daughter come to them.)

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