Icarus Films // 2007 // 105 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Ryan (Retired) // October 23rd, 2010
Who's up for some Nordo-Japanese architectural musings?
While these are technically documentaries about architecture, they feel more like experimental art films. Gorgeously photographed but ultimately lacking in real narrative substance, Great Expectations and Kochuu are closer in spirit to the "Over" series of stuff-photographed-from-helicopters than to Ken Burns.
Of the two films, each of which clock in at just under an hour, Great Expectations is the more informative. It's the story of Philip Pirrip, a young architect besotted with a particular kind of drywall called "Estella" manufactured by the Havisham Gypsum Company Ltd. Wait...I think I'm getting my stories mixed up here. THIS Great Expectations is a brief survey of modern and post-modern architectural trends with respect to human habitation and societal structure. It's about how we live, how some people think we should live, and how some people think we will live in the future. All of the architects and designs discussed date from the post-World War II era; most are from the latter part of the Sixties and the early Seventies. You get the usual suspects -- Buckminster Fuller, I'm looking at you -- as well as some out-of-left-field choices (e.g. the Venus Project in Florida created by Jacque Fresco), which makes for a broad, if not definitive, survey of the topic. The unifying theme is "people and the spaces they inhabit" -- specifically, how architecture can adapt to the human desire for certain "creature comforts" while still providing sufficient density to house today's highly urbanized society. Narration is minimal; for the most part, the only dialog comes from the designers themselves.
Kochuu, on the other hand, is...well, let's just say that it probably has a very specific audience. The film's subject matter is the influence that traditional Japanese architectural themes have had on modern Nordic architecture. The film definitely does a good job showing the influence...but I don't think it really does a good job of explaining it beyond "these architects saw Japanese architecture and were inspired by it." Well gee, I think I could have figured that out on my own, thank you.
So as documentaries, these films fall short. But as films, they're actually quite impressive. The footage used is beautifully photographed, and the composition of the shot often communicates more about the buildings than the narration. Kochuu has some spectacular images of unique contemporary Japanese architecture that, if printed out as still images, could easily hang in many contemporary art museums. Wachtmeister may not be the greatest documentarian in the world, but he's a hell of a photographer.
Disappointingly, the films are presented in a nonanamorphic widescreen transfer that is solid but unspectacular. The image quality isn't bad, but these are films that probably would have been jaw-dropping if they had been shot in anamorphic high definition. Sound is a perfectly adequate Dolby stereo mix, and no extras are provided.
Ultimately, these two films are probably only of interest to serious students of architecture, who may get a lot more information out of them than us layfolk. However, if you are in the mood to see some really impressive design work via some really impressive photography, you might want to give this double feature a look.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Icarus Films
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* IMDb: Great Expectations
* IMDb: Kochuu