What Are You Watching? is a weekly space for The A.V Club’s film critics and readers to share their thoughts, observations, and opinions on movies new and old.
The best movies I’ve seen recently are Elle, Paul Verhoeven’s gonzo comeback, and The Handmaiden, the latest by Park Chan-wook, very freely adapted from Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith—two black comedies about façades, mores, and kink that take circuitous routes to feminist conclusions, tackling sexual violence through deception and violent sex. But as neither of those films has opened yet, I’m going to take this time to write about a truly unusual project by a director very closely associated with a difficult and sometimes violent treatment of the erotic.
Because of a packed writing schedule, the only movie I had time to watch this week outside of work was It’s Me Here, Bellett, a half-hour film by Nagisa Ôshima that was commissioned to promote the Isuzu Bellett subcompact sedan. It consists of three stories set in different seasons, which makes it an obvious precursor to later promo campaigns like The Hire, the early 2000s short film series that gave big-name directors a fair amount of creative control as long as they prominently featured BMWs. Except that Ôshima’s alienated camerawork is probably the last thing anyone would want to sell their car.
I especially liked the melancholy second episode, a proto-Wong Kar-Wai mood piece that does its best to romanticize the act of dozing off in a passenger seat. (It’s the only one of the three that sort of succeeds in making the Bellett look good, mostly by using its windows as frames.) Ôshima, best known in this country for films like In The Realm Of The Senses and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, had a remarkable creative run in the 1960s, and he really shows off his eye for unusual widescreen composition in this project, filling a commercial assignment with extreme angles and pointedly empty spaces.
In the third and bleakest episode (nothing says “mid-price Isuzu” like attempted suicide), he also executes one of the most evocative dissolves I’ve seen in a long time, from a woman’s face into a curving roadway. Adding to the bizarro quotient of the whole thing is the fact that It’s Me Here, Bellett also bears the name of Yasujirô Ozu, Japan’s master of domestic drama, who acted as a creative consultant on the project, but died before it was completed. (Ozu would have several more posthumous credits in the 1960s, usually as a writer.)
It’s unclear how much input Ozu really had, because a baffling array of other, lesser-known directors are also vaguely credited as “consultants,” including Ozu’s contemporary Heinosuke Gosho; Yoshitarô Nomura, best known for overlong 1970s mysteries like The Castle Of Sand and The Village Of Eight Gravestones; and Kô Nakahira (Crazed Fruit), a journeyman who then went on to an unusual second career in Hong Kong, directing remakes of his earlier Japanese movies under the name “Yang Shu-hsi.”