BASTONI: THE STICK HANDLERS (DVD) Image

It was an unusual experience for me. About forty-five minutes into this movie, I gave up, paused the film, and picked up the DVD box again.

I had no idea what the film was about.

I take that back – I knew it was about two people, Ryo and Natsuki. I knew that they were actors in adult videos. I knew that Natsuki was pregnant, with what I assumed was Ryo’s baby, and I knew that they were either going to get married or already were.

But according to the box I picked up, there was a lot more plot to unfold. At some point, Ryo’s ex-girlfriend Miyuki was supposed to show up and teach them the error of their adult industry ways.

I was perplexed. That seemed like a clear enough plot, but somehow I had missed something. Where was the girlfriend?

When I hit the pause button, here’s what I’d seen. Natsuki is at the doctor’s office, getting her first sonogram. The baby is fine. So she goes home, and tells Ryo, who has been out playing soccer, that the baby seems to be coming along well.

He’s not home, but several cameras are. It appears that they are now the subject of a documentary, or perhaps just multiple web-cams, which they seem to hope will bring in extra money since Natsuki wants to get out of her chosen profession.

And that’s the first hour. Oh, there’re another couple of subplots, about another actor, and a producer (or was he a director?) whose films aren’t bringing in money anymore, and who needs to start producing hits or he’ll be dumped by his company.

At last, finally, the ex-girlfriend showed up and started stirring up trouble.

I suppose this sentence should read something like “but by then it was too late,” but honestly, the last half an hour was surprisingly good. A few interesting, if somewhat arbitrary, secrets were revealed, and some beautiful camera work was thrown in, and a little nice drama, and suddenly it was a pretty good film.

Not great, though. And even having thought about it for a while, it’s hard to say exactly why.

Right off, I imagine part of the blame must go to the subtitles – not for existing, but for being so poorly rendered. A film that originates in Japan will, of course, require subtitles to be understood by most American audiences, including myself, and these were abysmal. On multiple occasions, I found myself watching text that was misspelled, badly or not at all punctuated, and often pushing two words together on the screen for no discernable reason.

Worse, on a couple of occasions, during dialogue-heavy sequences, the subtitles vanished completely, and I found myself watching one-or-two-minute segments of the film that forever will remain a mystery to me.

Secondly, I’m still at a loss as to how the subplots of the film were meant to tie into the main plot. I suppose those characters shared some screen time with the main characters, but whenever they appeared I spent more time trying to remember who they were than caring about what they were doing.

And finally, the first hour of the film just drags on endlessly. Some setup for the situation might have been required I suppose, but the same ground could have been covered in twenty minutes, easily, and left a lot more time for the unfolding of the relationship between Ryo and Miyuki.

There’s an interesting story to be told here, certainly, and when it gets told it’s fast, furious and affecting. It’s a pity the audience has to wait so long for it to start.

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