Thursday, November 9, 2006


World Cinema Category
Greenbelt 1, Cinema 2
November 3 - 15

Starfish Hotel

This is an obscure Japanese film about a man whose life seems to tread on a thin line between reality and fantasy. Arisu is a 'pen pusher' meaning an ordinary salaried employee who likes to read mystery novels by Jo Kuroda, an author with a flair for gripping thrillers with characters like Mr Trickster (a guy dressed in a rabbit suit) and a dream like place called "Darkland". One day, Arisu's neglected wife just disappears without a trace. To complicate things, Mr Trickster follows Arisu around and provides him obscure details about his wife. Arisu is also still haunted by an affair he had with a mysterious woman he met in a place called "Starfish Hotel", two years ago. And get this - "Starfish Hotel" just happens to be the title of the latest Jo Kuroda mystery novel getting a lot of publicity all over town.

Are the troubles that Arisu suddenly finds himself drawn into related to his past affair? What really happened to his wife? Why does Mr. Trickster, the rabbit man know so much about his life? Are his sightings of Jo Kuroda real or are their part of his nightmares? Suddenly the viewer is confronted with a lot of questions that seem to offer no clear answers. If ever would you trust someone dressed in a rabbit suit for the solution to your agony?

This film is clearly bizarre yet in some ways it is also quite compelling to watch. Things are clearly not as they seem. You need to really wrap your mind around the facts as they are presented to you. The director, John Williams who happens to be British by the way chose to mix flashback scenes with current events as they unfold. The sequences are coherent and play out effortlessly. You simply cannot help but be sucked into a strange world of somber surroundings thriving with mysterious characters. There are certain issues which are never explained. The who, why, when and what are left dangling. You simply form your own opinion of what really happened. It is like playing a treacherous mind game. I guess the real question is are you willing to play these games or are you simply not in the mood to keep analyzing this film and just accept it for what it is.

I admit the movie still played out in my mind several hours after I had viewed it in an almost empty dark theater. Until now almost a day after, I'm still trying to find a deeper meaning, a hidden message instilled somewhere, making a conscious effort to comprehend what it wants to convey. My only firm conclusion is that with a movie like "Starfish Hotel" you cannot come up with just one clear answer. It will just linger in the deep recesses of your mind and fester like an uninvited guest to a dinner party.

Perhaps this review of the movie which I found over the Internet will help you ease your mind. It certainly appeased my mind but I still have various questions which are well maybe best left unanswered. All I can further add is that this is the first Japanese film I've viewed which deals with flawed human relationships in a modern setting. Most of the Japanese movies I've watched so far dealt mostly with Samurais with their strict adherence to the Bushido code. An era long buried in the past rich history of Japan. So "Starfish Hotel" was rather compelling to watch and I've grown to appreciate its unique essence despite its surrealist undertones.

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