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By Jeremy Knox | August 3, 2004

This is the type of movie that gets it wrong as often as it gets it right. So by the end you’re not quite sure what the hell you’re supposed to think of it.

If you’ve seen “THX-1138” you’ll be familiar with the general setup. It’s the future and a repressive government has taken over the world. People live in huge underground cities that are partitioned by floors: One floor has single people and businessmen, one floor for families, one floor for school, one for prisons, etc… Inhabiting this distopia is Luchino, a rebellious schoolgirl, who’s on her way back to school after having skipped it for months. For this, of course, she has to take the elevator and from then on we follow her up on her ride.

One can’t make any kind of review of this film without mentioning
Hiroki Yamaguchi, the film’s director/screenwriter. The man is 26 and only a few years out of film school. This shows in the film and is one of its main flaws. He’s like a kid who’s got a great story to tell you and his excitement gets the better of him. There are too many ideas on the screen and too little time devoted to each. The ideas are all rather good, it’s just that Yamaguchi needs to discipline himself and be able to judge which ideas need to be fleshed out and which don’t. One gets the feeling that he was worried that people wouldn’t “get” it and tried to have everything flash by as fast as he could so no one would be bored.

The end result is that the world in which the film inhabits seems more fascinating than the plot. When Luchino’s ride in the elevator is interrupted by an explosion which frees two very nasty looking criminals that were being taken by the police to floor One for disposal, we feel a little cheated that Yamaguchi chose such a standard “trapped in a small space” scenario for his movie. I was rather enjoying the introduction of each floor’s inhabitants every time the elevator would stop. If Yamaguchi could have kept up the quirkiness of that first 30 minutes, this could have been a minor masterpiece of surrealism.

Despite the clichéd developments, Yamaguchi knows how to pace his scenes and build tension. He also has a great ease with his actors and gets professional performances out of all of them. One suspects that this is partly because his enthusiasm is catching and they just couldn’t help but give him their best. Hell, he managed to convince most of his cast to come with him to the Fantasia Festival in Montreal, which is a mere 22 hour plane ride from Japan. He’s got that easy laugh and the eyes of a little boy with a slingshot in his back pocket. It’s no wonder that he was able to talk them into coming.

“The Bottled Fool” is the type of movie that plays on cable late at night and catches your eye as you’re surfing channels. You may not like it, but you stay glued to the screen because it’s well made and always seems to be going somewhere. This isn’t a great film by any means, but it’s made by people who have it in them to make a great film in the future once they harness all that imagination into a coherent whole. What we’re left with is a promising, but clumsy, debut from a filmmaker who needs to ripen a little for his encore.

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