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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
A Metaphorical Film: Not For Everyone!Dec 15 2006
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Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Charisma" is not for everyone. If anything it does tend to be difficult to understand at times, however, this is typical of Kiyosihi Kurosawa's films. [No relation to the cinematic master 'Akira Kurosawa'] As for myself, I really enjoyed the film. However, others may find the film drags a bit and may be hard to follow: But it is still an interesting film nonetheless, and I would recommend that you at least rent the DVD before purchasing the film. Moreover, the film may require repeated viewings.
The film stars one of my favorite Japanese actors (Koji Yakusho). There is something about his personality on the screen that I really like. It doesn't seem as if he is acting; but like a hidden camera is following his every move. [At least to me anyway]. The film begins with Goro Yabuike (Koji Yakusho) as a disgraced Tokyo Detective leaving everything behind in his life and going to a remote forest. It is here that Goro encounters a mystical tree. There is something about the tree that mystifies Goro. What is it about the tree? A botantist, and others believe the tree is the cause for a creeping disease spreading throughout the forest: Apparently, all of the surrounding vegatation in the forest is diseased, and the streams are polluted. Everything it seems points to the tree.
Goro becomes fascinated with the tree, and to him, its mysticism. There is an eccentric person who takes care of the tree in the forest, and will not allow anyone to cut this tree down. Why? As the rangers continually persist in trying to have the tree removed, the tree's caretaker is joined by Goro in resisting their attempts. The tree is named Charisma, and whether or not the tree should be cut down is one of the central themes of the story. But it is also the story of Goro, and his attempt to restore the natural balance of not just the forest, but his own life as well. The film is not for everyone, however, I was intrigued with the film. And as usual, (Koji Yakusho) gives a stellar performance. Recommended with caution.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
A Weird, Mesmerizing Exposition on Individualism and False DichotomiesJune 2 2010
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Kiyoshi Kurosawa has had his duds. "Guard from the Underground" (1992) was mediocre at best, "Bright Future" (2003) was pretentious, and "Eyes of the Spider" (1998) was dreadfully boring. The first time I sat down and watched "Charisma" (1999) I had written it off as another Kiyoshi dud, but a future rewatch proved that it's likely his third best film - behind "Cure" (1997) and "Kairo" (2001).
The key to enjoying this film is to recognize its two primary themes: individualism and false dichotomies. The value of the individual is contrasted with the needs of society as a whole, and the false dichotomy is the illusion that one must choose between one or the other. Kiyoshi communicates these ideas through symbolism. The tree named Charisma represents the individual human being, while the surrounding ecosystem represents society as a whole. The false dichotomy presents itself when each character is forced to choose between protecting Charisma or the surrounding ecosystem. Without recognizing these symbols, it is impossible for the viewer to appreciate the entertaining content of this film.
One of the more interesting characters is the lady botanist. She previously studied individual plants, but claims that she learned nothing from them. She believes that most people are led astray when they look at the individual plants without observing the forest as a whole. This panoramic outlook is fueled when the ecosystem suffers a gradual decline. The botanist claims that the Charisma tree is poisoning the ecosystem and must be destroyed to preserve the surrounding environment. The cop asks her if there's a way for both to survive, but she says that it is impossible. However, it is divulged later on that the botanist herself is accelerating the destruction of the environment by dumping large quantities of poison into a nearby well. Her logic is that a quick death and restoration is a better option than the slow, gradual decline that Charisma is currently inflicting. This must be a very painful decision coming from a character that values the needs of the many over the needs of the few.
The tree's guardian takes more of a natural selection angle, that the dominant individual should rightly survive irregardless of the consequences. He needs force to protect the Charisma tree, which is why he wants to persuade the cop to join his side. When the guardian makes reference to the "rules of the forest", the viewer will correctly remember that the kidnapper in the opening scene made reference to "the rules of the world", and since this movie uses the forest as a symbol for the human world, we now understand that both characters share the same essential outlook. You see, the "rules of the world" represent the false dichotomy of choosing between the individual and society. The world maintains order by forcing people to make this decision and blinding them from recognizing that a third option does indeed exist. The guardian seems to subconsciously recognize this third option, but his obsession with Charisma (aka the individual) prevents him from realizing it.
This is where Koji Yakusho's character comes into play. He is the "swing vote" of sorts because his status as a policeman gives him the power of authority. However, he seemingly plays both sides, first opting to protect the first Charisma tree and then opting to destroy the second Charisma tree. To confuse matters he also destroys the botanist's poison well. Why does he act so erratically? Because he believes that both Charisma (aka the individual) and the forest (aka society) need to survive. For him the problem is the way the question is posed. Rules and force attempt to establish a false dichotomy that allows for only two wrong choices instead of the correct third option. Therefore, he chooses to help one Charisma and kill another, switching sides to keep the balance between the two forces. This film comes full circle on this theme near the end. The cop redeems his earlier mistake at the beginning of the film (getting both the kidnapper and hostage killed) by saving the botanist near the end without killing the kidnapper, another symbolic representation of avoiding a false dichotomy (of choosing one or another) by saving both.
The policeman's refusal to play by the "rules of the forest" causes chaos on a local level, which is first depicted by the sledgehammer killings in the small town and then by the tree guardian's murder of the botanist's assistant. In addition, the men in black (initially hired to retrieve the first Charisma for its apparent monetary value) turn on the local environmentalists and kill them. Even more striking is that these men in black turn down a briefcase full of money and refuse to give the tree guardian a ride (a complete deconstruction of their previous personas that valued money above all else). And since the events within the forest act as a microcosm of the whole world, this local chaos manifests into a worldwide pandemonium. The policeman walks out of the forest to witness the nearby city in flames. His decision to rebel against the rules of the forest has now resulted in the deconstruction of the rules of the world.
This is a very well-written movie that is consistent and efficient in its structure. Viewers with an attraction to odd, quirky, deliberately paced art-house films should love this. The environments are also beautiful and moody, and the chilly weather makes this film essential viewing during the late autumn months. A truly great film with more creativity and imagination than a dozen others combined.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
DifficultJuly 13 2005
Sean P. Malloy
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Kiyoshi Kurosawa has a definite style. Something tells me he's sort of a love or hate type of director. One of my favorite things about his style is that he knows what parts of the typical stories and movies are considered "typical" and expected, and usually jetisons them straight out of the film. Sometimes it makes his movies hard to completely follow or "get". Cure is an example. There is a lot of stuff to "get" in that movie, and i've seen it several times and am still catching new riffs every time.
I just saw Charisma the first time recently, and it's really pretty small in scope on the surface, at least until the final shot. A 9 year old that watches this movie would be bored to death. Or they might be interested in the odd characters and the odd stuff that goes on in the movie. But, a person familiar with film, knowing that most of the movie carries metaphorical meanings, and that there are several layers to digest, will probably enjoy this movie a lot more. I'm sure that after a few more viewings, i'll still be debating with myself whether or not i am really sure of my interpretation of it.
Anyway, the movie is good. It's entertaining in an offbeat way. There are points when it is hard to catch all that's going on, partly because a lot of the lighting is dark, and because some of the shots show characters from far away, and it's hard to tell who's getting hit on the head with a giant mallet over a tree stump. There are characters that just show up with absolutely no introduction (i guess that sometimes character introductions are pretty cliche, so i guess that's why they're jetisoned here). Some of the movie is edited into choppy hard-to-understand segments. The effect is that you don't know what you are really watching until a minute later. I think that's the desired effect. To make it bewildering and dream-like.
Koji Yakusho is awesome, too.
I recommend this movie, as long as you know what you're getting into.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A movie about a treeNov. 24 2009
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Charisma is an odd film with an amazing actor and director leading it. Many people will probably see this film wanting another "Cure," one of the first J-horror movies of the new J-horror wave of the late 90s. But, this is not "Cure" it's an environmentalism film that tries to remove the characters stories to focus on the issues of saving and taking life.
The story goes, there's a tree, one man wants to protect the tree, and only it. One man wants to steal the tree to sell it for lots of money. And one woman wants to destroy the tree. And then there's the main character played by Kôji Yakusho, he just wants to help everyone. Oh, and the tree can only live if it's taking the life of the other trees around it. And that's the film and everything that happens depends on these simple choices each character makes towards this one tree. This leads to one odd yet funny film filled with quite awkward scenes between characters and a tree.
The script of this film was first written 10 years before it was made and truly reflecting Kiyoshi Kurosawa style. "Cure" (made 10 years after he wrote Charisma) is a very good horror movie, was made like all Asian horror movies for money. While, Charisma was written by the director for a purpose, to explore the issues of environmentalism of the 21st century. How do human live without clearing the earth of trees for homes, while still having enough resources to go on living.
This film should not be seen as a horror movie, but as a film similar in style to "Woman in the Dunes" or a book by Kafka. But, I would recommend renting this film before buying it. I feel like most people would find this movie boring and confusing. Yet, if you find yourself drawn into the film it can also be a truly enjoyable experience. I personally find this film to be hilarious and mostly watch it as a dry humor comedy when I'm sitting around the house.
Another Kurosawa success.Aug. 19 2008
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Charisma (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 1999)
Despite my abiding adoration of Kiyoshi Kurosawa, I'm never entirely sure what I'm going to get when I see one of his movies. I think, with the exception of Sweet Home (which is sitting there waiting for me to watch it), I've now seen all of Kurosawa's movies available in the west, and no one is in any way like the other; Cure is a crime drama, Séance is a mystery (and a remake), Bright Future is... something unclassifiable, Pulse is a straight horror flick in the new Japanese tradition. I love them all, and all the other Kurosawa flicks I've seen. Enter Charisma, which is an odd blend of ecological flick, love story, and thriller.
Yabuike (Memoirs of a Geisha's Koji Yakusho) is a detective. Or he was. During a kidnapping, he misses a chance to take action, and as a result, bad things happened. His supervisor counsels him to take some time off, but instead of doing so, he simply walks off the job, taking a bus in a random direction, then getting off at random in the forest and walking, leaving civilization behind. Of course, there's nowhere one can really leave civilization behind in Japan, and he finds himself under the care of naturalist Mitsuko (Veronika Decides to Die's Jun Fubuki, who became a Kurosawa regular after this film). In the forest where she lives is a tree that he finds himself growing obsessed with. He's not the only one. One faction wants to steal it; another wants it to be destroyed, fearing that it's killing all the rest of the plant life in the forest. Former insane asylum inmate Kiriyama (Great Teacher Onikuze's Hiroyuki Ikeuchi) wants it protected at any cost. As Yabuike becomes more obsessed with the tree, he feels that his destiny is entwined with the tree's. Which would make things awfully simple, if he could figure out what he wanted for himself-- destruction, salvation, or to disappear, never to be seen again.
This is the kind of movie I'm not sure any modern director save Kurosawa could actually pull off. It's absolutely ludicrous, when you write it out like that, much as Bright Future and Pulse are ludicrous, but put it into Kurosawa's hands and you get a thrilling, absorbing work of art that tugs at the heartstrings every once in a while. I'm not exactly sure why this is. Some of it certainly has to do with the bleak atmosphere and matching lighting, the sound mix, all the little technical details that contribute to a movie's atmosphere as much as does the dialogue or the character development. Some of it has to do with Koji Yakusho's performance, which is stellar. Some of it has to do with the tree itself, which is an ugly ducking par excellence, and makes you want to root for the underdog, whether it's "evil" or not. Part of it is just the ineffable nature of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's directorial excellence. All sum up, as usual, to far more than the value of the parts themselves, and what we get is another superlative Kiyoshi Kurosawa film. Highly recommended. ****