A blind woman wakes in the morning and goes to buy a loaf of bread.
This may not seem like the most auspicious of beginnings, but
Japanese filmmaker Masashi Yamamoto spins this simple act off
into a chaotic filmic experiment documenting 24 hours in the life
of modern Tokyo.
Concentrating on the tattered fringes of society, Yamamoto introduces
us to a random collection of Tokyo low-lifes. First up is Miki,
a pathetic junkie who smokes some crack, strangles her lover to
death, gets dressed and goes to work as a computer programming
exec at a high-tech Tokyo firm. Miki's story seems to be the most
central, and Yamamoto lenses her tale with an aggressive experimental
style. Flashes of light, kinetic condensations of time and rapid
shifts in color signal Miki's deteriorating mental state. Following
in close succession, though, is a seemingly unrelated string of
characters: a female Mexican wrestler biding her time until she
flies home, the hyper leader of a hip-hop gang obsessed with finding
his stolen car, an American prostitute prowling the streets of
the Ginza district looking for kicks, a Pakistani immigrant fleeing
the consequences of a heinous crime.
Most viewers would rightfully expect some kind of convergence
or at least a resolution to all these divergent storylines. That
isn't in the cards. Yamamoto isn't interested in narrative structure
here. Junk Food contains much of the dirty DIY ethic of
New York's underground filmmakers. Using largely amateur actors
and a mix of film and video stock, Yamamoto creates a stylish
collection of brief experimental sketches. Mood, place and character
float through this free-form narrative, occasionally incandescing
in a vivid visual image. Yamamoto wants to shock his audience,
and occasionally he does with some bloody doings which leap from
the languid narrative.
Fans of Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar Wai (Chungking Express,
Days of Being Wild) will appreciate the hip, aloof stylings
of Yamamoto. Amid the gritty vignettes, Yamamoto weaves a ponderous
musing on today's "junk food" culture. Aside from the
obvious drug pun in his film's title, Yamamoto seems to be dwelling
on the cultural corruption of Japan. The street gang and its preoccupation
with rap music and low rider cars seems like the ultimate symbol
of Japan's cultural cannibalism--so eager to devour any trend
or style, while its own long-standing mores, values and history
slip away. One tattooed cast member expresses an open hatred of
the Triads. But even those organized gangsters seem like models
of moral behavior when compared with the anger-fueled "homies"
on display in Junk Food. What are we to make of their brutal
hatred of their own leader?
There's also the question of the "American" prostitute.
By film's end, there's a growing suspicion that she may not actually
be an American. Her accent isn't the smoothest, and she seems
to know her Japanese pop stars far better than her American. Is
she intended to be an actual Asian so obsessed with Western culture
that she pretends to be American? Yamamoto isn't providing answers
to any of these questions. His stream-of-consciousness narrative
drifts on to another character, another location before we are
able to glimpse the entire picture. Some may find this lack of
information frustrating. Others will just go with the flow.
Yamamoto's sordid, shocking, gutter-dwelling mood piece is certainly
not for every taste. Some critics have accused him of hewing too
closely to the stylish, self-absorbed New Wave crime genre pioneered
by Wong Kar Wai--much like young American filmmakers now parrot
the works of Quentin Tarantino. There is a certain validity to
the accusation, yet alert viewers can also see hints of early
punk filmmakers like Derek Jarman. In the end, Yamamoto's work
has an inscrutable, drug-crazed edginess all its own--guerrilla
filmmaking turned kamikaze filmmaking.