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Sunday, 8 February 2015

B-Class Cultural Heritage (2013)

Director: Yuji Hariu
Stars: Juya Kasuga, Jiro Kurosawa, Raiki Komino, Masao Yamamura, Shinichiro Kanamaru and Reisa Maekawa
This film was an official selection at the 10th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2014. Here's an index to my reviews of 2014 films.
If DOUG.DAT and Sad Monster disappointed me, the final sci-fi short shown at the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in 2014 elated me. B-Class Cultural Heritage was stunning on the big screen, as much for how utterly different it was from everything else around it as for what it actually was in itself, but for me it was a breath of fresh air. It certainly didn't hurt that Yuji Hariu, the film's writer, editor, director and effects wizard, flew out from Japan for the festival with an absolutely stunning interpreter in tow. I believe that my better half is still jealous that I got to talk to her after the screening, but hey, Hariu's English was about as weak as my Japanese; we both have a few words here and there but no fluency. She did a great job helping us communicate and merely happened to look drop dead gorgeous while doing so. Somehow this was all highly appropriate because this is perhaps the most quintessentially Japanese film I've ever been privileged to watch. Perhaps it's the 21st century equivalent to all those Yasujiro Ozu classics.

What happens is easy to describe but tough to relate because it makes more sense the more background a particular viewer might have in Japanese culture. We're watching Akira, a skateboarder played by Junya Kasuga but presumably named for the actual skater doing the stuntwork, Akira Imamura. He answers his phone to hear a typically kawaii voice tell him that he's standing on a forbidden manhole, one registered under the B-Class Cultural Heritage Association. As he looks down, she explains that, 'As a penalty of this violation we will viciously attack you for the next 3 minutes.' She really isn't kidding either, adding that, 'If you do not die, we'd like to present you a special prize!' She even finishes with a cute, 'Good luck!' as the manhole lifts and some sort of laser weapon peers out from underneath, focusing on Akira's chest. It waits politely for those three minutes to begin and he discovers that he needs to be off and running with great speed! I don't believe this film could remotely work in any other culture, but here it's perfect.
It isn't just the concept that's quintessentially Japanese. The film itself is produced with technical aplomb that is consistent in every aspect. There are many more laser guns, of course, and an abundance of neat explosions. Nobody else seems to notice, which is a notable comment in itself. The weaponry gets bigger and more powerful as the clock runs down, carefully concealed within other mundane objects registered by the B-Class Cultural Heritage Association like traffic lights and railroad crossings. Hariu's effects work is exemplary, never taking over the film but working hand in hand with the cinematography of Kazuhisa Maruyama who, like Hariu, doesn't appear to have earned another credit at IMDb. His camera is notably in tune with the story, with a number of scenes tailored around the choreography. One has a young man drop a coin as he prepares to put it into a vending machine. Leaning down to get it, Akira leaps over him on his skateboard and a gun rakes across the machine, shocking the clueless young man as he stands.

Everyone involved warrants praise. I don't know if Hariu or Maruyama was responsible for the use of slow motion, but one of the most tired effects in film looks utterly fresh here because this is precisely what slo-mo is for. There's a great use of dolly work to lift the camera above the city as Akira turns and look down at his progress. The editing is razor sharp, courtesy of Hariu in collaboration with Tomoyuki Kujirai and Masaki Mizuno, who both also worked with him on the visual effects. That editing works seamlessly with a wonderful use of subtitles and credits, which never settle for boring old conventions. Transitions between shots look wonderful too. The electronic score by Jaermulk Mansfield and Soichi Terada is appropriate for the action, the insanity and the inevitable irony waiting for the conclusion. Everything is perfect, down to the awesomely underwhelming prize for survival. This was the best way to finish up a sci-fi shorts set and I've enjoyed it many times since, courtesy of the DVD Hariu gave me. Arigatou gozaimasu, Yuji-san!

B-Class Cultural Heritage can be watched for free on Vimeo and YouTube.

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