Saturday 24 November 2018

100 Essential Films That Deserve More Attention - 23. Symbol

People embrace the enchanting glow of the big screen for all manner of reasons; to journey to faraway places they could only ever imagine, to experience the escapism of a captivating story, or maybe to indulge in an obsession with the world of cinema. For me, all three of these reasons apply - and many more - but first and foremost is the satisfaction of recommending obscure films to other like-minded individuals who adopt them as their new favourites.

With over 100 years worth of films to choose from, and many of these now available at the click of a button, it can be extremely difficult to narrow your choices down to pick a film to watch. Although cinema has been around for over four times longer than my life on this earth, I have spent what some may consider an unhealthy amount of these years delving into the history of films to discover some of the best hidden gems out there.

This series of articles aims to highlight the overlooked masterpieces that I have unearthed whilst exploring the forgotten recesses of cinema. Take a gamble on any one of these films and I guarantee that you will be eagerly awaiting all future instalments in this series. You may well have heard of a number of these films; my aim isn't merely to shine a spotlight on the most obscure films out there, but to share my enjoyment of those films which don't have the cult following I believe they deserve.

Director - Hitoshi Matsumoto
Country - Japan
Year - 2009
Runtime - 93 Minutes

If you ever reach the level of obsession with films that I have, you may find that it is possible to 'burn out' and lose interest in the world of cinema temporarily. Whilst experiencing this passing phase it can be difficult to pluck up the motivation to watch a film, and it usually takes a strange or unique film (that is unlike anything you have ever seen before) to remind you exactly how much fun the viewing experience can be. Enter Symbol, one of the most bizarre Japanese films I have ever seen, and one that reignited my passion for the wold of cinema. A film that defies description - though I will try - and takes you on a crazy and completely unpredictable journey.

Symbol opens on a dingy Mexican backlot where a lucho libre wrestler is preparing for an upcoming fight, whilst his family go about their daily routines. This fairly innocuous opening segues into a much stranger story in which a Japanese man (Hitoshi Mushimoto) awakes to find himself trapped in a large, empty, white room. The link between these two situations is not clear at first but, like all good storytellers, director and star Mushimoto weaves the two disparate threads together with a brilliant sleight of hand.

Although the Mexican family do have a part to play in the film's story, we spend most of our time alongside the confused man as he tries to figure out how to escape from his puzzling predicament. Those familiar with escape rooms will delight in the inventive methods of storytelling on display here. At times it feels like you are watching a friend complete a live action Nintendo game, with all of the craziness you would expect from such a prospect. The humour throughout is unashamedly silly, and this makes Symbol’s ascendancy to its philosophical leanings in the later stages of the film a welcome addition. Matsumoto is clearly toying with his audience and delivers some surprising food for thought after he reels you in with his comic madness.

Amazingly, Symbol was not well received in Japan but it has attracted a cult following from Western audiences who find themselves enamoured by the genuinely unique approach it takes to storytelling. Nothing is lost in translation as the surreal nature of the film means that it only briefly touches on cultural aspects that may lose relevance outside of its native audience. At times the special effects can appear slightly clunky but this actually adds to the charm of Symbol; if everything was too well refined the scenario could be in danger of exuding a sinister edge instead of the playful ambience that is paramount to the audience’s enjoyment of the picture.

It is rare for a critic to struggle in finding reference points to other comparable films either stylistically or plot-wise but Symbol really is one of a kind. The slapstick humour has its cornerstone in the visual comedy of silent cinema although this is given a compelling modern and absurd twist by Mushimoto, whose imagination conjures up all kinds of sensational plot devices to drive the story forward. For a film that takes place mostly in a single location, Symbol never loses steam, and remains an intriguing mystery until the very end. If you are ever in the mood for an uplifting, amusing and incredibly quirky film then look no further than Symbol. It may have you scratching your head in parts but is still likely to lift your spirits and remind you how much fun can be had when you take a punt on a film that is completely and utterly bonkers, in the best possible way. 

If you take the time to watch Symbol then it would be awesome if you could also take the time to let me know what you thought of it, either by commenting below or tweeting me @filmbantha. Thanks, and enjoy!

For previous instalments in the series click here

No comments:

Post a Comment