REVIEW: Beautiful New Bay Area Project (2013)

bayarea_posterThe lovestruck manager of a Yokohama development project (Emoto Tasuku) falls in love with a construction worker (Mita Moa), but his affections are not reciprocated. When he childishly steals her name tag from the work site, the worker takes matters into her own hands.

Recently I reviewed Tsai Ming-liang’s avant-garde short Walker, a film funded by the Hong Kong International Film Festival as part of their short film project Beautiful. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Beautiful New Bay Area Project is a short action-comedy directed for the second year of that series. Kurosawa is one of Japan’s most effective and versatile directors, helming a wide variety of exceptional films across a range of genres. To horror fans he is best known for Pulse (2001). To prestige drama enthusiasts he is the director of Tokyo Sonata (2008). It is important to place Bay Area in its appropriate context. As a small side project made for a film festival, it lacks the depth and long consideration of his full works. Instead it feels like a joyful confection: a deliberately silly comedic work with a small premise and a breezy sensibility absent from his standard style.

It is interesting to see how the theme of ‘beautiful’ has been translated by Kurosawa in comparison with Tsai. The latter presents an abstract, slow-moving film about a Buddhist monk moving through the streets of Hong Kong. Kurosawa, by contrast, shows an immature young manager become obsessed with a woman who does not appreciate his attentions. It is a far more cynical piece, played for laughs, and styled in a very traditional fashion that viewers of Japanese comedy will recognise. Both lead performers play their roles in a suitable but overly familiar fashion. When the film explodes into a 10-minute kung-fu-fighting chase sequence, it gains an extra boost of energy. It is slickly made and well-timed, but also surprisingly stereotypical.

What lifts Bay Area in the end is not seeing a fairly rote action-comedy, but seeing Kurosawa play with directing an action-comedy. It is not an area in which he generally works, favouring more serious and progressive fare, and he fills this half-hour short with a palpable sense of play. This is a master director essentially mucking about. You would be hard-pressed to consider it any better than a minor work, but even minor works can have fun.

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