🎬 #39 From Keanu to Kitano, Surf's Up!
I’ve been ’surfing’ a few times, mainly in the UK, and by surfing I mean being able to mount the board briefly before falling off of it again. It’s an art and a lifestyle that I appreciate, but have no desire to get better at or any deeper into.
But that doesn’t stop it from being the backdrop of this week’s two films. For some reason it’s a pursuit that’s become synonymous with spiritual yearning and freedom as much as for what it actually involves - riding a board on some water that’s rolling at pace towards a shore.
These films couldn’t be any further apart. But what they do have in common [aside from coming out the same year] is that almost metaphysical attraction of trying to keep up with a force of nature and the transformational impact it has on the person.
Happy choosing, happy viewing
FILM ONE: A SCENE AT THE SEA
1991 Dir Takeshi Kitano
This film plays almost as a direct opposite to Point Break. If you turned off the subtitles [and didn’t speak Japanese] you could enjoy it as if it was a silent film. It’s tender, languid but swells up with incredible emotional force.
It’s a love story that’s both between two young hearing impaired people and between the young man of the couple and his new interest in surfing. It’s their fledgling romance that is the most touching thing about the film, eschewing all the cliches to show us something almost cartoon-like in its real life sweetness.
There is a raw innocence to Kitano’s film that draws us in closer and shows us something that appears so disarmingly simple. I talk a lot about the impact such ‘simply’ constructed films have on me. There is a mastery to being able to tell a story in a way that appears effortless. Here it’s no different, scenes play out in wides, there are barely any drastic, uncontrolled camera movements - all of the telling comes from the characters, how they move and act towards each other in the frame. Therefore adding more to the story book or animated film style. The film is also rated U, which means it’s suitable for anyone to watch, this lends more weight to the idea that it’s like a live action animation.
The cinematography by Katsumi Yanagijima paints the backdrops with desaturated greys and blues while colourful pops of clothing and props makes it feel very graphic - rendering the film as a minimalist but quirky illustration. It feels like it could have come from a Manga, a poetic, beautiful and touching one brought to life by Kitano’s multi-faceted sensibility.
TL;DR why should I spend 1 hr 41 mins of my precious life watching this? Kitano’s love story set against the backdrop of surfing is disarming in its simplicity, let it wash over you like a lapping wave after a hard day of catching breaks.
*Available for a small rental fee on Arrow.
Fact: Director Takeshi Kitano was also the host of Takeshi’s Castle.
FILM TWO: POINT BREAK
1991 Dir Kathryn Bigelow
I can’t imagine my childhood without this film. Potentially, along with Terminator 2, the most viewed film by my 10 year old self. I have very fond memories of me and my brother enjoying it endlessly - I think he even had the soundtrack that I listened to. All these years later it even served as the theme for my good friend Kojack’s stag do in LA.
So it’s been with me my whole life and there is never a day that goes by that I couldn’t just stick it on and enjoy it all over again. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow and executive produced by her then husband James Cameron, it tells the story of rookie FBI agent Johnny Utah [played by Keanu Reeves] as he tries to track down a gang of bank robbers in early 90’s LA.
The reason it’s entered our cultural consciousness, ‘100 percent Utah,’ is hard to put a finger on. There were lots of 90’s action film that haven’t followed us the way this film has - it even spawned a theatre show and remains endlessly quotable.
Perhaps it’s Reeves’ star power - he’s almost become a metaphysical entity, connected to almost more hit films and franchises than anyone else you could name, while remaining an incredibly nice dude. I think it’s a combination of a great action premise, the world of the FBI meets Surfing, almost direct contrasts, great casting and great direction. Busey, Lori Petty and John C. McGinley in particular are stand out in the supporting roles.
It’s popularity is also down to the duality of the two leads, Reeves and Swayze [his best role outside of Donnie Darko]. Like all great cop and robber stories they are mirror images of each other. More similarities than differences, but their social identity means they’re at odds with each other and must evade or capture.
What’s great here is that relationship and identity is intermixed further. You’ll notice that by the end of the film the lead characters have essentially swapped hair styles - Utah’s once short and cropped, is now longer and wilder, whereas Swayze’s Bodhi sports a more controlled, shorter cut. The influence of each one on the other, as well as the lifestyle, is embodied by the very character’s look. Perhaps an accidental touch given that the ending was reshot 6 months after principle photography had wrapped and both actors had adopted different styles for their new projects.
It’s a film anchored by excellent action set pieces that feel wholly connected to the story and aren’t just in there for the sake of it. Nothing feels gratuitous. Bigelow’s pacing of the story gets right to the point. Within 15 minutes we’re deep into it, the characters are introduced and we’re well on our way. It’s one of those films where everyone knows exactly what it is and they all play it perfectly, from the writers to the cast and crew, everyone knew what they were making. It doesn’t try to be anything more than a high octane action film with great characters - it’s the opposite of pretentious and self important. You’re carried up in it before you even have time to realise that you’re in the centre of a barrel that’s about to dump you into a coral reef. It’s fun, sunny and unrelenting action nostalgia for anyone who grew up with it and just great for anyone who didn’t.
TL;DR why should I spend 2 hrs 2 mins of my precious life watching this? Strap in for Bigelow’s benchmark undercover extreme action sports film that does exactly what you’d expect but over delivers every time.
*Available to stream for free on Netlfix, Amazon, and Virgin Media.
Fact: Rumour has it that it was Cameron who convinced Kathryn Bigelow to do it. He was also instrumental in the famous sky diving chase scene.
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