"Instead of a movie existing only to tell a story... the challenge is how faithfully you can tell a story called a movie."
Talking Head (トーキング・ヘッド) (1992) is an interesting meta film written and directed by Mamoru Oshii. The film follows an unnamed hero who calls himself a "migrant director," someone who can come onto any troubled (anime) film project late into production and copy any directors style and always makes sure the film is finished on time. Our story starts when our hero is hired by a producer to do his hardest project yet, a much awaited anime movie that needs to premiere in two months, very little work has been done already and the director himself went missing months ago.
So as I've mentioned before on this blog, one of the big "trademarks" of a Mamoru Oshii film is he likes to ask really deep theoretical and psychological questions in his films through the narrative. If that's your thing, this is your film. Talking Head is PACKED with those kind of questions, not only about life but also about film and different peoples roles in film. This is really cool because I could tell this film probably sums up his entire view and thoughts of film (and anime) and working on film in his life up until this point. I enjoyed this pretty thoroughly but I'd say Oshii might have over done it a little bit with this one, because the questions and "higher concepts" are very constant through out the entire film.
The biggest problem with this movie I had was that the deadlines for the director seems absolutely ridiculous, I understand this was probably the intent and this helps us to learn who everyone in the production team is very quickly but this is something that really took me out of the story. Right off it was hard for me to get into it because there's no possible way anyone could produce an animated film in two months that isn't even complete on a script level, (and that goes without all the mishaps and foul play that happen in the narrative!) Maybe it wouldn't affect anyone who knows less about film and animation as much, but I have to believe that this film was made with those people in mind specifically based on how little explaining this film does so this seems misleading and confusing to me.
Also because this film does little to explain a lot about film and animation, I feel like you'd have to have at least a basic knowledge of the production of them to even understand this movie, otherwise I think you'll just get lost in the weirdness. This is something I really enjoyed because I'm really partial to those things but I could see how this would really turn some people off to the movie. And I'm really not holding this against the film actually, it's fine if a director wants to make a film for one specific audience but I am going to put this here just in case, more of a warning than anything else.
Where this film really shines is it's direction. This is a very heavy, high concept and very difficult film, a lesser director would not have been able to pull this off so well. This film blends meta with art house and classic detective mystery genres in a way that just blows my mind! The film is very low budget only using a handful of sets, and this is something that is worked into the concept because almost every set is very obviously "built" on a stage inside a theater with often no walls or attempt to cover the theater setting. This alone adds an another level to the film, bridging the gap between film, theater and real life in a very interesting way.
Tonally this film is actually very similar to The Red Spectacles (1987), the whole film has a very sullen tone but carried out in a very comedic way. Actually I'd say this film is WAY more successful than The Red Spectacles in that respect, this is not something that is easy to do and this film does it very well. And the humorous side of the film allows Oshii to make some very slight references to his other films, something I probably wouldn't have noticed, (but picked up on because I dedicated this week to his films!) but it's also done in a way that is not distracting at all... something that lots of auteurs often get caught up in too much and it becomes too obvious/distracting.
Also wanted to do a little shout out to the lead actor of this film Shigerou Chiba, if you recall in my last couple reviews this guy was kind of a sore spot for me and I thought he didn't work well at all in the role of Koichi in the Kerberos Saga, however in this film I thought he killed the role! This is how he should have played Koichi in my opinion, because I really liked his character in this movie.
Talking Head (1992) not for everyone, but it's definitely worth checking out if you are interested in film or animation (anime) production, or what goes on inside a directors head during said productions. But the film could also just be worth wile if you're into very strange surreal, almost wacky films. I'd say it works very well on different levels. But be warned, this is no light viewing material. 4.5/5 Stars.
Continue to check back because everyday this week as I am continuing to review the films of acclaimed Japanese director Mamoru Oshii. If you missed it be sure to go back and check out my review of The Red Spectacles (1987) and my review of it's sequel StrayDog: Kerberos Panzer Cops (1991).
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