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Stereo Future (Nakano Hiroyuki 2001)


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Stereo Future

Genre: Utopian Love Story

review in one breath

First off, this is a love story. And if you're familiar with the type of films I prefer to review, you'll have noticed that the only love stories dealt with here involve unfortunate demises, tragic karmic fates, or general spousal "conflict" leading to the psychotic haunting of one by the other. Thus my reviewing Stereo Future here might suggest to some of you the possible presence of formidable malice or weapons of mass destruction. But, I would like you all to know, I have a much softer side which is able to enjoy cuddling on the sofa basking in the warm glow of a romance..... heh.


Actually, Stereo Future IS a love story, so you can bet that's precisely NOT why I am reviewing it. Instead, Stereo Future is listed here because within it director Nakano Hiroyuki, also responsible for the MTV-fueled ninja movie Red Shadow, has created such an aesthetically polished and ambianced futuristic vision of contemporary culture that I can recommend it to anyone interested in contemporary Japanese film. Let me here be the first to describe Nakano's vision as a Realistic Utopianism (or Utopian Realism)?.

At its core, Stereo Future is a romantic comedy set in Tokyo 2002. It is comedic in the sense that society often deals absurdity to those attempting to make their way up the social ladder. Thus our main character Keisuke (Nagase Masatoshi) must endure all manner of inconvenience, even humiliation, as he attempts to define himself as an albeit neophyte actor under the shadow of stellar, though has-been celebrity (Takenaka Naoto). In similar fashion, the social obstacles facing Keisuke's friends will lead to some of the film's most humorous moments. This pattern can be applied to each of the characters (no one is spared) including a very dramatic and untimely revelation involving the wooly-headed assistant director overseeing Keisuke's acting career.

Stereo Future brings to the table a cute story, very beautiful characters, including Eri played by Monou Akiko (who, I hear, appeared in "Lost in Translation" as a... Chinese girl? Wha? IMDB has her character listed as "P Chan". - Go figure.). Monou becomes the crown jewel in Nakano's aesthetic world. In addition to a cute story with comedic characters and a babelicious Monou, Stereo Future also has the largest line-up of mainstream, contemporary celebrities of perhaps any movie I've reviewed. Leading the fore in both stardom and humor is the unparalleled Takenaka Naoto who I always enjoy seeing.

But all of these, as great as they may be, are simply the pieces which occupy Nakano's truly stunning world. I've met excellent cinematography before, in Higuchinksy's stark and surrealist Uzumaki or Kitamura Ryuhei's polished Heat After Dark. The cinematic world of Stereo Future is easily as impressive as either of these, but in a completely different manner. Nakano seems to love the polished glass and chrome architecture marking Tokyo's unparalleled march into the future. He also demonstrates an uncanny knack for identifying what are at once both retro and ultra-futuristic styles which are currently present in Japanese urban culture. I guess I stress that last part ("currently present") because in writing this I now realize that this is where Nakano excels.

As his subtitle suggests, this is Episode 2002. In other words, it is set in a world only a few months apart from the movie's premier in Japan. Thus the world he captures cinematically is indeed our own without recourse to props, devices or false structures. Nakano's very skillful camera is set precisely on actual aspects and nuances of our existing society, both natural and architectural. This results in a quite visceral impression which is hard to explain, especially for someone who is by no means a professional reviewer, but nevertheless stands as clear and distinct in my mind as any dream recollected.

Although Stereo Future can undoubtedly be enjoyed on a number of levels (whether star power, genre, storyline, etc) its unrivaled impression was via its rich, polished aesthetic vision which, to be honest, I believe is the most memorable I have thus far witnessed.

In all this talk about visual aesthetics, I failed to mention the excellent soundtrack which permeates this film from start to finish. Nakano skillfully turns this film, as he did, though less so with Red Shadow, into an audible pop-culture, experience. Stereo Future brings you into an audibly ultra-lounge and visually ultra-chic urban utopia.

Though not yet available in a subtitled release (as of time of writing), this may indeed be an example of that (rare) type of movie you can enjoy without knowing what they are saying. It sounds implausible, I know, but I (in a perfect world would) guarantee you will learn something aesthetically.

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
This film has cultural relevance regarding its plethora of mainstream, contemporary talent, the excellent selection of (existing) utopian architect, trends and urban culture, and actual environmental science. More importantly, however, this film is undoubtedly high contemporary art. Had to dust off the red zero for this one. According to the ancient Zen Masters, there are three types of lust. They are called Akiko Monou, Kumiko Aso, and Tamaki Ogawa. (They each get one blue skull) I am strongly recommending this for its amazingly effective Utopian cinematography utilizing existing structures and styles.

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