Apr 27, 2011

The Last Frankenstein

Fresh off my acquisition with the incredible The Man Who Stole the Sun, I hopped right back onto similar terrain with Takeshi Kawamura's The Last Frankenstein, a film I have been encouraging myself to watch for some time but only recently attaching subtitles. Taking the bare blueprints of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Kawamura, an avant-garde playwright (supposedly wrote the screenplay for a similarly take on classic horror - My Soul is Slashed), took a great deal of fantastical liberties with the progress of a manmade ... man. In The Last Frankenstein, a science teacher named Sarusawa continues to mourn the death of his wife, victim of suicide, and is forced to adapt to a way of life with his telekinetic daughter, Mai. The fragile bond the two share and the city are thrown into turmoil once the recent rash of suicides have been scientifically linked to a disease that is spreading - an epidemic of persuasive death. Seeking out Dr. Aleo, a mad genius whose philosophies of the continuation of our species involve creating, from scratch, new super-humans and forcing them to copulate, Sarusawa hopes that his twisted mind can bring the eventual fall of man to a halt. The Last Frankenstein, if one thing, is certainly Japan's own. Taking post-modernism and Western influence into account, Kawamura has been crafting subversive stage plays using these similar aesthetics of J-culture and Western persuasion since the 80s, The Last Frankenstein being an earlier theatrical production of his own design. For reasons he saw fit, perhaps due to the epic apocalypse within, a feature length film was made.

Opening on Moonlight Sonata, The Last Frankenstein establishes itself as a film that has intentions to move, which surprisingly, it does. Even the avant-garde absurdist nature of Kawamura's lovechild never gets in the way of a larger effect on the humanity of the viewers. The warnings came early with the appearance of various strings of "suicide clubs" that crept along the city streets simply chanting "death" to the point of irrepressible audible meltdown. To understand the very fractured way of life expressly lead by Sarusawa, one must realize the burden left on him by his wife's suicide. Certainly a selfish act, or was it? With word that the suicides can be linked to a disease, a bodily manifestation of a virus leading one to take their own life, surely his wife couldn't have carried this same bug, or could she? Carrier, perhaps - This question and more are asked very subtly by director Kawamura. Never is it stated but always does it resonate. The pure melancholy of it all achieves a far greater emotional impact than more than half of engaging international cinema past millennium. A leading intellectual on the school board mentions the mad Dr. Aleo and reassures Kawamura of Aleo's notoriety. Upon leaving his study, a gunshot rings through the hallway causing Sarusawa to pause, drop the collected works of Aleo, and sprint back into the room, only to find an apology letter and brain matter on mahogany. This is just one example of how the collected effect of The Last Frankenstein ranges from humorous to frightening. Witnessing a hunchbacked assistant prowl the streets at night, in order to kidnap women, Sarusawa gives chase to the hissing abomination. This eventually results in Sarusawa's extended stay at Dr. Aleo's castle, which, more or less, is the near death experience for The Last Frankenstein.

Here lies my only problem with The Last Frankenstein. Originally conceived as a theatrical stage play in 1986, the filmic rendition of Kawamura's inspired reaction to increasing Japanese suicide left him three separate acts, each with their great strengths. The first act, discovery of the death religion, bears a great weight on human empathy. Staying silly, but not too silly; builds up to a boiling confrontation with death, eventual, of course. The second act stays strong with the impending doom of complete self-annihilation of, not just Japanese culture, but the world. Balancing both comedy and tragedy, the second act is the strongest of all. The third act finds itself around an hour and a half into the feature with Sarusawa's stay welcomed and his daughter being used in the creation of the creatures. Romance is fleeting and the script gets flighty. Balance is the main issue I have with the finale. The Last Frankenstein's final moments toss out recognition of previous events. In fact, the suicide virus is mentioned briefly, as Aleo refuses to help humankind, rather, let them die out in order to kick-start a new race, and the cult only returns in one swift scene and disappears entirely from the film. For spending the better half of an hour on such tragic events, only to cast them out in favor of absurdism and repetitious scenes of two sewn bodies of "perfection" watch pornographic material, you'd think The Last Frankenstein would have some grand plan up its rotted sleeve. Regardless of this, which I didn't favor, The Last Frankenstein is still an utterly excellent film. Marvelously acted, weighty, and gloomy, it surely has to be seen in order to believe.


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