While sifting through all the movies I have watched over the years, I often find ones that cannot be placed in a specific category. Movies that deal with anything and everything - a life in the woods, the desire to be loved, forging a family among strangers or making deals with the devil. So here I have listed 5 guilty pleasures of mine - not all of them might be critically acclaimed, but I do like coming back to them from time to time.
1. Shoplifters, 2018
In 2017, Director Hirokazu Kore-eda was surprised by the statistics of petty thefts in Tokyo. Well, rents are high and working hours are unforgiving, so it's only natural that there are people living on the margins who must make their way ahead somehow. Thus was born the idea for Shoplifters. Shoplifters is the story of small-time thieves. They steal from grocery stores and large malls - after all, would a corporate notice a few missing bananas? One day this 5 member family find a little girl locked out on the balcony of her apartment. Rescuing Yuri, they originally plan to let her stay for dinner only, but soon notice that Yuri's family neglected and abused her. The family immediately takes her in and she becomes a member of the shoplifters.
However, the plot does not continue to unravel in the same rosy vein. Yuri is soon reported missing by her original family, a shoplifting member is caught, another pays the price and as relationships intertwine, not everyone gets a happy ending. The film won the Palme d'Or and also the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Perhaps I should warn that despite the bubbly trailer and how the happy family-bonding scenes make it seem that Shoplifters runs on a lighter vein, it is anything but. It is thought-provoking, socially conscious and carefully crafted to make us question the choices we let society make for us. The family of shoplifters stick together - they are an odd assortment and not all related by blood, but in one of the most densely packed cities in the world - feeling lonely is surprisingly easier than ever.
2. Hot Young Bloods, 2014
Set in Heongseong, South Korea in the 1980s, Hot Young Bloods is the story of the leader of a delinquent female gang and the complex gang wars that occur between various groups. Young Sook, played by Park Bo Young is feared by all, including rival school gangs. Their school, clearly run less by the teachers and more by the students is full of unruly students who know their future holds toiling in the fields or working at the nearby factory. Amidst this arrives a new girl - she is different, delicate. And Young Sook finds her long-time crush falling head over heads for her. Hot Young Bloods does not offer an action-packed time (though there are quite a few fight scenes), or an intricately weaved plot - but it is one of the best movies I had seen in a long time simply because of the plot's ability to be refreshing, simple, but not monotonous.
The best thing about the movie is that it inspires a sense of nostalgia for the 80s, even if the 80s lifestyle in Korea is something you might have never experienced. The small village homes, the outdoor seatings, the fields, the cycle tracks amidst them, knee-length uniforms, colourful flared jeans, the unruliness in the classrooms - all of them are so different from the highly curated movies of today. At its heart, Hot Young Bloods might be a story of romance and finding your path in life, but there are too many side characters whose small arcs are just as interesting and satisfying. It's a pleasant way to spend 2 hours.
3. Helter Skelter, 2018
Helter Skelter is based on Kyoko Okazaki's manga of the same name. If you're familiar with Okazaki's works, you might know that she often deals with mature themes and Helter Skelter is no exception. The movie revolves around a supermodel Liliko, who is currently the top-billed industry persona appearing on every magazine cover, and brand advertisement. But on the inside, Liliko is a slightly unhinged, even deranged human who derives joy from torturing her assistants, lashing out at her manager and generally - making everyone's life difficult. She sleeps with her manager's boyfriend because she can. She sleeps with a top executive to get a role - because she can. What Liliko forgets is that she harbours a secret - and that she is dependant on the tiny circle of supporters to keep quiet. Liliko has undergone full-body cosmetic surgery and every day, little by little, her body reacts negatively to all the drugs she is administered.
On the other side, we have Inspector Chiharu who is on the tracks of an illegal plastic surgery clinic rumoured to be linked for organ theft and a string of suicides across the country. Things take a turn for the worse when Kozue, a new model played by Kiko Mizuhara slowly takes Liliko's top spot in the industry. The magazine covers change and Liliko wonders if the people's adoration for her was only skin deep like her beauty. Every single frame in the movie is worthy of being turned into a wallpaper. The director Mika Ninagawa started off as a photographer and her distinct style with bold colours, floral elements and monochrome pallets is evident. At two hours, the movie is a bit too long for the content it holds but I'm sure Mika Ninagawa's cinematography will leave you wanting more.
4. Audition, 1999
When I first read the book by Ryu Murakami from which the movie is adapted, I was disappointed, to say the least. The plot was linear, the shocking reveals were minor disruptions at best and the ending could be seen from a mile away. Which is why I'm glad that Director Takashi Miike took the concept and turned it on its heels! The 1999 movie based on the book is enough to blow one's mind. Takashi Miike's efforts turned the film into a veritable cult classic and Asami Yamazaki one of the most memorable serial killers in Japanese cinema.
After the death of his wife, middle-aged Aoyama is encouraged by his son to start dating again. One of his friends sets up an audition of sorts for him. And that's when Asami walks in with all her (deathly) charms. She is delicate, warm - a perfect match. She loves Aoyama like no other, and is fully accepting of his circumstances. The filming and the music could very well lure one into thinking they're watching a romantic comedy. And it IS a romantic comedy until the entirety of Asami's resume turns out to be fake, and she sees a picture of Aoyama's wife in his apartment. Surprisingly, whenever Aoyama investigates any lead from the resume, the owners turn out to be dead? over the years, Audition has been caught in several controversies. Recent watches reveal the misogyny and gender stereotypes running within the film. Starting from the "wife" auditions to Miike trying to subtly justify Asami's behaviour as a need, the movie is full of controversial ideas. Perhaps, time has not been kind on the film. But I suppose, that is why it had to be included in a list of guilty pleasures?
5. If Cats Disappeared From the World, 2016
The movie is based on a novel of the same name by Genki Kawamura and I'd highly suggest both to anyone! The story revolves around a young mailman. He is never named. Let us call him the narrator. The narrator lives alone - he is estranged from his friends and family for reasons that are not immediately clear. He leads a simple diligent life along with his cat Cabbage. However, one day he is diagnosed with a terminal illness and given only a few days to live. That is when he comes across another man - one who looks just like him and one who calls himself the Devil. Characteristically, the devil asks him for a deal - every day the narrator must sacrifice one thing, and in return, he will be allowed to live another day. At the end of the day, the chosen item will disappear from all around the world forever. But it is the devil who gets to choose what disappears.
And so things start disappearing and the world moves on without them - cellphones, movies, clocks, until he comes down to the one thing he loves the most - his dear cat Cabbage! The movie follows the novel religiously and the subdued, blue colour pallet gives so much life to what the narrator feels as he contemplates losing an object every day. With a cellphone gone, you not only lose that - but you lose all the years of evolution, the years of having the comfort of making instant calls, knowing where your loved ones are and finding information online instantly. He loses all the friends he met via the cellphone. So, when does the trade of a material object outweigh the benefit of an extra day? This is a thought-provoking movie, but one that doesn't come across as too heavy or patronising. You can watch it and relax, or you can watch it and conduct a three-hour-long debate. So what will happen if cats disappeared from the world? You'll have to watch this movie to find out!
Let us know the movies that you consider to be your guilty pleasures!