Movies reviewed this week: Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean and Shinjuku Triad Society.
7/30/2022: Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982): ***1/2
What a complicated, difficult movie.
I’m not qualified to validate Altman’s portrayal of a trans woman. With the vantage point I have today, I can contextualize some of the misguided elements as depictions of what people thought in 1984, but I don’t think Altman probably knew that he was missing the mark. In 2022, I can watch those elements of the movie and see a tragedy with notes of hope. If I’d watched it in 1984, the line about regret would have read very differently. I believe that Altman intended to tell her story with warmth and compassion, though.
Meanwhile, there’s a whole freight load of commentary on how we the fans interact with fame, and what dreams mean, and how they end. All that is pretty near perfect.
Pair this as a double feature with The Last Picture Show.
7/31/2022: Shinjuku Triad Society (1995): ***
The grime would spill out of the screen if every character in the movie wasn’t soaking up all the filth. That’s Miike for you. This was his first theatrical movie after a lot of DTV toil, and it shows: he’s not as surgical as he got later on. I think it still contains his essence, which is to say it’s an unpleasant excursion into the world of outcasts, without any desire to pretend that anyone’s a hidden jewel. Redemption is not the point.
About halfway through, when Kiriya is being transferred from the trunk of one car to another, I realized that the movie is about bodies as commodities. Sex, yes: we open with that note. Medical supplies, also: that comes up later. I don’t think there’s a single character in here who treats anyone else as though they had agency. Even the brothers aren’t people to each other. Kiriya doesn’t care about Yoshihito’s decisions; in the end his brother is just an unconscious body to dump on a bullet train so that he’ll go back to where he should be.
You can, perhaps, draw a line from there to the other theme of racial isolation. The brothers are outsiders from any society thanks to their Japanese/Taiwanese heritage, and there’s a throughline of conflict between Japanese yakuza and Chinese triads to boot. Language barriers arise from start to finish. Is it that thinking of humans as commodities lends itself to thinking of bloodlines as meaningful? I think that’s too much of a stretch, but the two themes reinforce each other even if they aren’t directly related.