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Starfish Hotel
cast: Koichi Sato, Tae Kimura, Toshiki Ayota, Shuku Uragawan, and Genta Rushida

director: John Williams

98 minutes (15) 2007
widescreen ratio 16:9
4Digital Asia DVD Region 2 retail
[released 27 October]

RATING: 3/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
I don't care... I really don't care! I am fully aware that the posers of the art film crowd are dismissive of anyone falling back on the use of the word 'pretentious' when attacking anything but that is no more than a trite defence in order to try and censor their critics of some of their bleakest language: a crass attempt to brand the word's users plebeian and limited in their outlook. It clearly hurts to be branded 'pretentious' and I reclaim the word for that very reason, and promise to rat-a-tat the sorry fuckers with it. We need it, after all... the arts are amok with pretension.

J'accuse! There are still too many filmmakers who are purposeless, making movies that are art for arts sake, inferring that there is more to their dabblings than there is. Your work can be without meaning, as far as I am concerned. It can be purely aesthetic, abstract, and discordant - I welcome that. But I think we all recognise the true 'poseurs' (another word I am bringing back) when they prance before us, soiling our space. They are the ones without the talent and vision but insistent on pushing something on us while under the great fib of their greatness. They never went away.

Starfish Hotel limps along like a camel in high heels. It is an art fudge that is all the greater the failure because of a pick 'n' mix of elements that it has grab-bagged from others, never quite bringing them too near but neither pushing them far enough away. Lewis Carroll, Donnie Darko, Atom Egoyan, Nicholas Roeg, Kafka, David Lynch, Michael Haneke and local art sex fare like The Bedroom are all invoked (and in one scene sex is followed by the protagonist awakening in a sport's field in a nod to The Virgin Suicides) but in this director's hands, a fraidy-cat to the extremes of vision and action, they are about as dangerous as a plumped up pillow or as threatening as a dandelion head. Such activity renders Starfish Hotel nothing more than an I-Spy book tick-list of partially ingested freak film references.

Starfish Hotel aspires to a magicality, purports an unforgivable hardness, but every target is outside its reach. The publicity around the new novel by cult novelist Jo Kuroda, titled 'Starfish Hotel', is everywhere and the life of one of the author's fans begins to ape the plot of the coming volume in what could be seen to be a real-life advance copy. He is Yuichi Arisu and his wife, Chisato, works as an interior designer for Kimura Architecture. Her latest commission is the design of a sex club that she fantasises about attending when open. Of the novel only one thing is as yet known: that it begins, as did the earlier books, with a missing girl; and Chisato also vanishes.

The ongoing saturation book promotion includes leaflet distribution by a man in a hare suit. He pops up everywhere and, at one point, sits with Yuichi relating a story of his own daughter's hilarious slip into prostitution at 19. "Makes you laugh, uh?" On each appearance he appears more diseased and disfigured, and the full head mask crazier in expression, though still never quite taking on a countenance as frightening as Hartley Hare in 'Pipkins'. Yuichi courts the police and private investigators to locate his wife and visits the Starfish Hotel where he meets a beautiful and amorous young woman who becomes a useful periodical distraction. Yuichi visits the exclusive Wonderland club and the police investigate him when it burns down killing the scum that run and work it. Yuichi continues to flit between one zone and the next until the unsatisfactory line that is The End is crossed.

Starfish Hotel is neither fish nor bike but is a pale depository of cult film memories, feeble ghosts of cult flicks that evaporate at the touch leaving ashen remains. He is knocking at the doors of playful popular fantasists when he should be opening a door of his own. It is wan surrealism at a snail's pace. It was a bad idea making Chisato an interior designer as I could have done better with some crushed-velvet curtains and a garage. When the club burns down the debris seems predominantly made up or scorched pallets. The longer the running time, the less one cares about Starfish Hotel, ebbing at the shores of you, eroding one's interest. To paraphrase the nursery rhyme, there's a hole in my bucket, so fuck it, just fuck it!

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