Pathfinder // 2006 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // November 2nd, 2007
"Your face looks like the end of the world." -- one schoolgirl prostitute to another
I'm going to start out this review with a few important statements:
* I like that digital filmmaking has put power into the hands of the people.
* I have nothing against filmmakers who want to challenge preconceived notions of storytelling and film convention.
* I'm kind of a sucker for style over substance at times.
* I've always defended independent films as a critic and a viewer.
I need to clear that up before I start to explain just how much I hate Divide. I have a lot of patience for low-budget filmmaking, but I have no tolerance for pretentious crap -- and that's really all this is. It exists as an exercise in directorial indulgence; it's pretty much a waste of time for anyone else.
As far as I can tell, Divide is about Saki, a high schooler who is searching for a long-lost twin sister. In order to find her, she ends up in an underground world of teen prostitution and drugs (neither of which we actually see evidence of). There are also subplots that involve fights between the teenage prostitutes, their freaky pimp, and one of Saki's creepy teachers. All of these stories are told out of order, though, so this is just my best guess.
Arrogance is a bad trait for a first-time filmmaker. Director Tsujioka Masato has lots of it, though, to the point that he's actually labeled his first film "a Tsujioka Masato world," rather than "a Tsujioka Masato film." He used every filter he could find in his editing software, throwing in transitions, musical cues, and color filters as though they were about to be taken away forever. He wants to tell multiple stories at the same time, and knows that the cool thing these days is to tell stories out of chronological order.
Well, Masato may have his own sense of style, but he has a lot to learn about filmmaking. Stylistic quirks need to support the plot and characters, which fails to happen in Divide. Two characters drive in a car, which is intercut with wild colorful patches and punctuated by roaring punk music. It's a pretty wild scene, but it ends with the two characters driving up to a building, and looking at each other in silence for 10 seconds. The style is there, but it never really goes anywhere. This is one of many examples of his stylistic overachievement, and I found myself cringing each time. He has the technique down, but hasn't used those techniques to create something worthwhile.
To make matters worse, Divide is a film with no teeth. It sets itself up as a punk film, with no order, no purpose, angry at the world. It's strictly PG-13 territory, though, which doesn't line up with the style and content. The girls are prostitutes, but all we ever see them do is serve drinks to clients in a club. We witness an underground world of violence, but most of the violence cuts away to stock footage of battleship guns firing. They talk about the drug culture, but we never see any of the characters obtaining, holding, or using said drugs. If Masato wants to create cinematic anarchy, he's going to need to grow a pair of balls and learn from Japan's truly edgy directors. Takashi Miike could have made this film work, and Shinya Tsukamoto could have turned it into a classic.
The disastrous nature of Divide culminates in its poor production values. The sound recording is terrible, so much of the dialogue is harsh. The sound mix keeps peaking, and we can hear the voices clipping out sometimes. The editing is poor, for all the flash, with no consistency in look, tone, and feel. Pathfinder's DVD doesn't help matters any. The video transfer isn't progressive, so movement creates combing any time there's movement (which is most of the time). The subtitles don't make much sense, either, and I can't tell how much of it is the film's bad dialogue, and how much of it is poor translation. The only extra is a production featurette, which fails to offer any insight into the purpose of the film.
I do always try to find positive aspects of the films I review, but the only one I can find here is the film's graciously short running time. I only had to suffer through an hour of Divide, and I'm not sure I could have taken much more. Pathfinder usually makes much better international choices than this, so I'm not sure why they picked up this one for international release. Fortunately, just because it's been released doesn't mean you have to watch it. In fact, I strongly recommend that you don't.
Guilty? Oh, hell, yes. Masato needs to spend some more time learning from the directors he's worked with.
Review content copyright © 2007 Joel Pearce; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Production Featurette