Monday, November 02, 2009

Americana Kamikaze

With last year's Welcome to Nowhere (bullet hole road), Temporary Distortion made a strong case for theatrical fusion: their East (theater) meets West (film) sensibility smashed together in a symmetrically shaped installation/set-piece that left them stranded somewhere in the middle, drifting in a poetic wasteland. Kenneth Collins has now turned his eye to the Japanese ghost story, aided once again by William Cusick's video projections, but their success is also their downfall. As with Welcome to Nowhere, the film takes on the sensation of the subject material, but whereas the road picture was physical, their supernatural leaning leaves Americana Kamikaze feeling ethereal.

The work is successfully moody, and Collins's affected direction--in which actors stand perfectly still, being as careful with their emotions as their enunciation--helps us get lost in this world. Furthermore, the choice to project images between the characters rather than above them helps to keep everything at the same level, often provoking eerie resonances between the actors on stage and their doubles in the film. However, such actions take a toll on the plot, which is hard to follow, refracted as it is between film and stage. It's also a lean show--at just over an hour, there's no room for exposition: we learn everything about Ryosuke Yamada's character from his actions--the way he longs to quell his hunger by killing and eating something--and by the way his wife, Yuki (Yuki Kawahisa), fixates on her idea of romance, to the point of blocking her husband out completely.

Cusick's videos change the mood even more drastically, cutting to some lush (albeit severely drained of color) shots of a hallway, down which we see a woman (and this could be right out of Ringu) slowly drawing near, only exposing her face--her slashed open mouth--at the very end. Contrast this with a country song in the middle, which is something Rob Zombie might do for juxtapositional thrills, and you'll see not only the range of technique and talent in the show but also its befuddling nature. Lorraine Mattox and Brian Greer round out the cast--I believe someone's having an affair?--and they toss around lines about love and the nature of stories as if they're doing Jim Jarmusch, but it doesn't click--or perhaps the visuals (for instance, a looped shot of a receding subway tunnel; an image of a woman standing atop a roof) are just so overpowering.

The point is, Americana Kamikaze's unique effect remains embedded with its audience, in a more immediate way than film alone can hope to achieve. Though the climactic subway station shot is confusing and admittedly low budget, it's weirdly compelling, too. And the image of (presumably) Yuki's self-mutilation and suicide ("Do you find me beautiful?") is far more effective in that not only does her body lie there on screen, but it remains standing still in its portion of the box. It's not fully fleshed out yet, but then again, it's a ghost story.

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