Carnival in the Night (Yami no carnival)

Dir: Masashi Yamamoto, 1982. Starring: Kumiko Ota, Akemi Edo, Chika, Michiro Endo. Asian Cinema.
Carnival in the Night (Yami no carnival)

I'm starting to realize that, like certain record labels in music, film companies can also help steer you in the right direction when taking a chance on the unfamiliar. Besides the well-known Criterion restorations and releases of films held in high-esteem, Facets is another company that I'm beginning to see a great pattern with. I think it's safe to say that they deal with films that are a bit more obscure, which can sometimes mean taking a chance on something that you might hate. Carnival in the Night was not one of those cases.

Shot mostly in 16mm black and white with occasional transformations to color, the film is a visceral piece of art that should be applauded despite its subtle flaws. Using a documentary technique, director Masashi Yamamoto cast a small group of non-actors to more or less play themselves—each character linked to the sensational Kumi (Kumiki Ota). In the course of roughly 72 hours, you see the slums and residents of Shinjuku, Japan and Kumi's relation to them. Diving straight into the local punk scene, we see her band perform and you are immediately aware that this is a side of Japanese culture that you have never been exposed to.

One of the best parts about the movie is the sense of direction. Though Kumi is the focal point of the story, the camera digs into the lives of those she encounters, starting with Papou. If you've ever wondered who the perfect example of a hot-head would be, look no further. From starting barbaric fights to attacking total strangers, this is one character who is hard to watch, especially if you get the notion that he is under the influence while "acting," which I did. Aside from being a drug addled tough guy, he is also a pimp and one of Kumi's many lovers. From there we meet Ossan, an ex-anarchist who works as a sort of janitor while spending his free time making maps of the city. The sole purpose of his new hobby is to become familiar enough with Shinjuku so he can plant a bomb in the perfect setting and blow it all to smithereens. Now, until this point in the plot, I was really convinced I was watching a documentary.

Kumi's life as a single mother and musician is put on hold as she leaves her son with her ex-husband for the weekend and her group disbands. The rest of the film follows her through the morbid streets of the city as she becomes more and more detached with reality. Apart from her experiences, the film takes the time to follow up on Papou's violent mishaps and even follows other random characters who were in her path. The most interesting is a homeless teenage girl who captures crows and tries to sell them on the street. When no one buys them, she breaks into a funeral home and steals ashes, later to bag them and try to sell them on the street. Another is a male prostitute who Kumi tries to woo and who ends up having a bad and fatal night. I liked the fact that these were not exactly supporting roles, but rather unsuspecting intrusions into what appears to be actual people who've come across bad luck. It makes it seem as though Kumi is cursed and that her presence in the city is the sole force driving it to hell. Obviously it isn't, but it was a welcome change to both enjoy her character and feel as though she is dangerous.

The freakish quality of the film creates a fascination with the city. It makes it so that you have this strange curiosity to find out if Shinjuku is really a city laced with blood and filth and if its residents are really in this much despair. I've seen films that are from Japan, and in all honestly, many of them are so similar that it takes something exceptional to keep me really interested. The culture and the customs of both ancient and modern Japan are not something that most people are familiar with. Seeing this ultra-cool and extremely violent story unfold, not to mention a glimpse of the punk scene, was really fascinating. Being a low budget film, there were some technical flaws, but everything else is perfect. Around every corner and in every scene are spectacular people who leave you in a trance. My favorites are the local club goers, who dance as if they are possessed and really leave a haunting impression. The message seems to be that cities like this, and the people there, are not asking to be forgiven. This is a lost gem that exposes a culture on the skids with a style that is sure to impress. Highly Recommended.

Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Nov 11, 2010 12:47pm
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