Art House Beat: Confessions from the Killing Fields, a Haunted Grove, & Evangelion 2.0
Enemies of the People (NWFF, Jan 21-27)
“Good is the passive that obeys Reason.
Evil is the active springing from Energy. “
When, in “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, William Blake defined “evil” as “energy,” he was not far from the truth. Attempts to personify “evil” have falsified its nature to the point that many no longer believe it its existence in any form. Portraits of Nazi war criminals led to a reductive concept of ‘the banality of evil” because the persons to whom evil was attributed were ordinary blokes, little resembling caricatures of evil as are found in religious iconography. “Enemies of the People,” a documentary about the Cambodian killers who, under the Khmer Rouge regime, slaughtered over a million and a quarter people between 1975-79, supports the idea of evil, as neither adjective nor noun, but a verb, a force, a movement, in short, “energy.” These ordinary people became, through actions imposed upon them by their superiors, the host of this malignant energy. Three decades later, they are still psychologically ravaged by their acts.
“Is evil just something you are / Or something you do?”
In “Sister, I’m A Poet,” Morrissey personalizes Blake’s idea of evil as something that courses through a person, rather than the matter of which that person is made. “I never wanted to kill/ I am not naturally evil,” he declaims in “The Last of the Famous International Playboys,” as an apologist for London’s notorious Kray brothers, although he may as well have been speaking for the Khmer Rouge killers. Director Thet Sambath spent years gaining the confidence of his subjects before they finally opened up and began to confess their crimes. And when they do, we see their actions as the issue of a paranoia that issued from a place outside of themselves, not as the natural expression of an innate diabolism.
At least it seems so in the greater number of the provincial foot soldiers who did most of the killing. The case of Nuon Chea, party leader who was number two to Pol Pot, is somewhat different. Even in his confession, which took Sambath nearly a decade to extract, he clings to a justification of his policies, claiming that it was necessary to sacrifice the lives of the (sometimes) innocent in order to save the country from the communism that had taken over Vietnam after the defeat and expulsion of American troops. But even Chea does not appear to be the source of the atrocities. When Sambeth tells him that his family was among the victims, Chea accepts and regrets his culpability.
Lest I begin to sound like an apologist for these monsters, let me add that there was nothing pleasant about them. True, they began by following orders, but many finished by becoming addicted to murder, often killing innocent people simply in order to feast on their gall bladders. The confessions that Sambeth elicits from them might not effect any reconciliation with relatives of the victims, but they do establish some truth for the history books.
Evangelion 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance (Grand Illusion, Jan 21-27)
Hayao Miyazaka’s fairy tales, Makoto Shinkai’s time-warped romanticism, and Satoshi Kon’s surrealism have displaced the mecha-anime in recent years. To be sure, a series such as “Mobile Suit Gundam Seed” still has its followers, but tales of mecha- pilots battling extra-terrestrial robots no longer dominate contemporary Japan’s animated film industry as they did in the 1990′s.
So it is with much enthusiasm that the Evangelion myth is being retooled for a new generation. The first of the tetralogy was a fairly faithful recreation of the first six episodes, with a technological upgrade. But this second one, “Evangelion 2.0,” is something else. Those unfamiliar with the series should just jump into this blindly, because there is no way that you can take a crash course in the Evangelion mythos that will guide you through it. Fans of the series should relax as well. Too much here is the same yet different for anyone to mentally fuse the rebuild with the original. Best to approach it as something new.
This is an Evangelion for a new generation, or maybe for a new century, one that is more topical than speculative. It should bring the mecha-anime a new audience today because it combines the recent trends in anime with the old mecha stories. It also boasts more sophisticated graphics, using computer animation tools that didn’t yet exist in 1995.
Taking place in a catastrophic world where selected children are used to pilot humanoid aircraft , then risk being turned into machines in order to cope with what they are doing, “Evangelion 2.0” is a chilling vision of what the world may be like after a global cataclysm.
With parents expecting them to protect them from their own creations, the kids are too screwed up to be able to form normal friendships with each other. Their function has taken precedent over their being. Imagine where the United States Air Force might be today had Reagan succeeded in implementing his Strategic Defense Initiative, and the world of the Evas is easily envisioned.
There are things in this movie that terrified me. A train ride suddenly interrupted by the devastating arrival of a hostile Angel, a blood-red ocean with no smell because there are no life-forms within it, and the revelation that the only reminder to the universe that the human race ever existed might well be a war machine made eternal by the abiding of a human soul.
Kuroneko (SIFF Cinema, Jan 21-26)
According to military folklore, one of the advantages in becoming a soldier is the privilege of taking whatever one desires. Kaneto Shindo’s 1968 ghost story, “The Black Cat,” opens with a brutal sequence in which a band of samurais do just that. They rape and murder a woman and her daughter, then burn their house and ride off with another tale of plunder gained. The sequence is terrifying in its simplicity. Shino doesn’t need to rub our noses in the carnage to shock us with the full effect of the occurrence. For the next hour and a half, we do not stop reeling from what we have witnessed.
Neither do the victims of this samurai raid. The slain woman and daughter make a pact with a black cat to lend it their forms in order to tear out the throats and drink the blood of every last samurai. They make good on their oath until a samurai rides through their haunted grove who they cannot bear to destroy, He is the son and husband of the two ghosts, who had left them alone on the farm while he sought his fortune as a soldier. Among the many ethical dilemmas explored in the story is the question of whether he is to be spared the wrath of the black cat and, conversely, if the ghosts are to be spared by their relation who has accepted the commission to destroy them.
Shindo is among the several masters of Japanese cinema whose work has been largely unseen in the West. Of the 158 film he has written and 45 he has directed, only 1960’s “The Island” and 1964’s “Onibaba” are well-known in this country. He has been, however, active to this day, with the script for 2009’s “Hachi: A Dog’s Tale” among his most recent credits. “Kuroneko” joins “Onibaba” as one of Japan’s spookiest and most thought-provoking horror films. Its blend of subtle eroticism and eerie atmospherics, plus the use of Noh theatre to add a ritualistic element to the violence, fills the screen with both enchantment and terror. You won’t want to blink your eyes lest you be caught off your guard.
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