Moonlight Jellyfish (JP - DVD R2)
Click here for our review of the visually astonishing drama on Japanese R2 DVD
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One can always rely on the new wave of Japanese filmmakers to deliver the perfect marriage of kaleidoscopic visuals and fresh tunes in their films. Examining the excellent Jam Films series will reveal how creative these individuals can be behind the camera. However, problems arise when these technical merits become the sole areas of focus and the basic fundamentals of storytelling are left neglected. Whilst such titles as Moon Child and Casshern exhibited enthusiastic audio-visual approaches, their clumsy execution of melodrama resulted in a bitter aftertaste. Kousuke Tsurumi’s Moonlight Jellyfish appears to be driven by picturesque chapters but does the premise have enough backbone to maintain interest?
Seiji (played by Battle Royale’s Tatsuya Fujiwara) struggles to look after his younger brother Michio, who suffers from Xeroderma Pigmentosum – a rare disease that is fatal if exposed to sunlight. Matters are even more complicated due to Michio’s state of mind, which is equivalent to that of a six year old child. In order to support his younger brother, Seiji is forced to join the local Yakuza and work through the ranks to become a respected member. One night, Seiji saves a woman named Keiko (Aya Okamoto) from a drunken pervert. By sheer coincidence, she is also Michio’s nurse and falls in love with Seiji thanks to his courageous act. Whilst Seiji continues to see his new girlfriend, the activities of the Yakuza begin to affect their lives.
As with most Japanese filmmakers, writer-director Kousuke Tsurumi’s expertise originates from promotional TV work. In an industry where visual expression means everything, Tsurumi is no stranger to providing tranquilising imagery and punctual editing. Moonlight Jellyfish is separated by appetising collages of underwater photography and vast city landscapes. Tsurumi’s striking use of calm oceanic tones and neoteric beats is simply exquisite. Acute camera angles and careful choice of motions help depict the metropolitan environment it its full splendour. In effect, the physical setting very much represents a heavenly utopia of well balanced weather, lighting and tidiness. Tsurumi has created an imaginary world that appears spectacular but is ultimately redundant and unforgivably hollow.
Moonlight Jellyfish tries to be philosophical and clever but is ultimately riddled with nonsensical ramblings of very confused characters. Even the title is a metaphor for lost individuals causing harm to those who come into contact, just like a drifting jellyfish under a moonlit sky. This is the sort of clumsy writing that the viewer has to endure. Tsurumi raises many points regarding love, social outcasts and corruption but fails to link these interwoven themes. Characters remain emotional for no apparent reason and development and structure are never given priority.
The portrayal of mob culture is a mockery, in the sense that everyone is a testosterone pumped individual determined to shout their insults louder than anyone else. It is difficult to take any of the underworld situations seriously and quite frankly, the film is an insult to the entire Yakuza ideology. Even the death scenes are unnecessarily dramatised; once a character is shot, he will usually squirm for a while before collapsing in style. Fujiwara and Okamoto squeeze out every last drop of melodrama with their take on the love angle. Both performers have substantial television history but Tatsuya Fujiwara’s contribution to Battle Royale is evidence of his true potential. It almost seems shameful to witness such talent exploited to sentimental garbage. Moreover, his highly feminine hairstyle adds to the unintentional amusement generated throughout the film. Admittedly, I do not know much about the Xeroderma Pigmentosum disease (which appears to be a genuine illness) but newcomer Ryo Kimura does little to provide the impression that his character, Michio, is suffering. In contrast, it almost looks like he is doing a really bad impression of a mentally handicapped character.
Moonlight Jellyfish was doomed from the very beginning, especially with a title that fails to bear any significance. The mundane performances, unimaginative writing and bewildering messages make Casshern look like Shakespeare in comparison. It is always sad to see a new filmmaker debut with an alarmingly bad project but Kousuke Tsurumi is blessed with a gift for visual execution. With any luck, his future contributions to the Japanese film industry will be worth remembering.
Moonlight Jellyfish is presented in an anamorphic widescreen format, maintaining an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. As expected from a Japanese label, the image quality is in pristine condition. Primary details are depicted with incredible accuracy regardless of setting and environment. Even the harsh lighting and radiant colour scheme fail to leave an impression on the overall sharpness. The contrast is finely balanced and black levels remain wholesome and true. Despite the blatantly exaggerated pallet, saturation levels are kept well monitored under natural light. As such, flesh tones and ambient shades are largely believable. Moreover, shadow detail has never been so perceptible, managing to preserve the various night scenes in their entirety.
The transfer is free of ghosting and shimmering, although a few digital misrepresentations managed to creep their way onto the disc. However these demerits are minor and virtually negligible. Whilst the colours are undeniably distinct, there is noticeable smearing – particularly where heavy lighting is involved. A closer examination will also reveal traces of posterisation and edge-enhancement. For what it is worth, the disc manages to exploit the film’s only strength with admirable aplomb.
There is only one audio option on the disc - a Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround soundtrack. The quality is once again impressive, providing a reasonably dimensional experience with what is available. Opportunities for directional effects are limited but are executed without hesitation. The rears provide a subtle account of background activity whilst the conversations are reserved for the frontal array. There is a healthy balance between dialogue and music, allowing the viewer to distinguish the sources with absolute confidence. The bass exhibits plenty of depth, which is best highlighted when a character pulls a gun out in slow motion or when the camera zooms and pans suddenly.
The optional English subtitles are superb; nicely paced, translated and free of errors.
The supplements are all housed on the second disc. Kicking things off is a 19m making of featurette, comprising of interviews with the main stars as well as behind the scenes footage. In addition, there are a few bloopers edited in from time to time. Watching this will make one realise how manipulative the film’s colour scheme is, as everything looks different with the absence of artificial lighting. Complicated scenes, such as the film’s climax and the director’s obsession with multiple editing, are thoroughly revealed. The featurette closes with the ceremonial handing out of the bouquet of flowers.
The production diaries are next, lasting a total of 12m. This appears to be an extension of the making of featurette, with repeated interviews and further behind the scenes footage. One new element is the inclusion of the pre-production costume selection.
As expected, the distributors have provided premiere footage that lasts around 20m (from two separate screenings). Rather amusingly, the audience comprises of young screaming girls – many of whom lunge themselves towards Tatsuya Fujiwara. There is seriously not a single male viewer in the cinema, which indicates the type of target audience that the producers had in mind. The cast and director stand in front of the stage to discuss the film and answer any questions.
Lastly, a gallery and trailer finish things off in the extras department. None of the supplements have English subtitles and one really needs to understand Japanese to benefit from them. The collector’s box includes a booklet and children’s storybook (both in Japanese only); note that the latter is the same as the one used in the film. It must be mentioned that the artwork used on the DVD has nothing to do with the film but captures the sort of visual heavy approach.
No amount of exquisite ambience and innovative visual techniques can alleviate a disappointingly mundane commentary on love and discrimination. Director Kousuke Tsurumi is solely dependant on absurd melodrama and the vulnerable minds of a socially challenged audience, in an attempt to be symbolic and intelligent. Instead, the clumsy dialogue is something one would expect to hear from a drunken lunatic. Tsurumi’s firm grasp of lighting, colours and lens work is highly evident but even Battle Royale’s Tatsuya Fujiwara cannot save the mess that is Moonlight Jellyfish.
You can order this title for $59.90 from Play-Asia.
Review by Bodhi Sarkar
Release Date: 20th April 2005
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround Japanese
Extras: Making of Featurette, Production Diaries, Premiere Footage, Gallery, Trailers, Storybook, Booklet
Easter Egg: No
Director: Kousuke Tsurumi
Cast: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Ryo Kimura, Aya Okamoto
Length: 113 minutes
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