Review: Tokyo Elegy

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To mark his 47th birthday, filmmaker, artist and provocateur Aryan Kaganof released 47 DVDs (AK 47 ), of which this is number 37– originally shot in 1999 and formerly known as Shabondama Elegy, the film marks the end of Kaganof’s career in the Netherlands as Ian Kerkhof; shortly after this film was made, he returned to his birth country of South Africa and reinvented himself.

This film is the seemingly unlikely (but, if you knew him, entirely logical) product of a collaboration with Japanese porn producers Stance, who were impressed with Kaganof’s commercial hit Wasted, and who gave him free reign to make a project in Tokyo. The resulting film is a dazzling, chaotic, fascinating and confrontational tale of love and death that won both Jury Prize at the Netherlands Film Festival and a rave review on Mr Skin!

As a character inspired by the writing of Jack Henry Abbott, Thom Hoffman plays Jack, a westerner who we first see shooting his way out of police custody. On the run from the police and the Yakuza, he begins a passionate affair with Keiko (Mai Hoshino), a porn model who is working through memories of childhood abuse. This intense relationship is doomed to be a short-lived one.

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Tokyo Elegy mixes the sort of digital video experimentation that Kaganof had used so brilliantly in Wasted alongside the less straight-forwardly narrative, more underground approach found in some of his earlier works, to great effect. The film is visually dazzling, sometimes bewilderingly so. It’s also entirely uncompromising when it comes to sex. Real life porn star Hoshino is frequently naked, Hoffman – very much a mainstream actor – has sex onscreen, the film has several hardcore scenes that are the match of any porno movie (most of them actually appearing the context of Keiko’s job). But none of this is gratuitous, or even particularly erotic – in fact, at times it’s quite disturbing, as Kaganof pushes towards the limits of what audiences can comfortably take.

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With a score mixing Japanese jazz noir with US country rock (that really shouldn’t work but oddly does) and a tragic air that permeates the whole movie, Tokyo Elegy is, like all Kaganof’s work, highly recommended to those who can take it – which isn’t everyone. I’d love to see his whole back catalogue available on DVD with all the trimmings (Kaganof’s breathless enthusiasm for film culture both high and low would be great to capture on commentary tracks) – that his films remain relatively unknown outside Holland and South Africa, while lesser ‘edgy’ filmmakers are feted remains a tragedy. Until then, these limited editions from the man himself will have to do.

If you want to know how to get some Kaganof goodness in your life, email him for details.

DAVID FLINT

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