The Duel Project DVD review

Two directors. Two movies. Only one will come out alive. Or something. Carl takes on The Duel Project...

Aragami

Being drunk is great. Firstly, everything is a lot funnier than it would be normally, which could be due to killing brain cells, but let’s hope not. Secondly, movie producers like Shinya Kawai give challenges to great Japanese directors like this: make a movie in a week, with one location, as few actors as possible and it must lead to a duel. One piece of advice: buy that man a drink, it can only lead to good things.

2LDK is Yukihiko Tsutsumi’s side of the project, which focuses on two twentysomethings living together in an apartment. As is clear from the first moment they are on screen together, there is already tension between the two, due to the high number of differences in personality. One is completely anally retentive, marking all the food in the kitchen that is hers with her name, and the other is a spoilt brat hell-bent on getting what she wants. To add to this, they’ve both fallen for the same man, and are both auditioning for the same lead part in a movie.

Through humorous observation, and smartly comic timing, Tsutsumi brilliantly conveys the build in tension between this “odd couple” of insanely dramatic proportions. We get great insight into the thoughts of the characters, and the writing is impeccably tight. In most senses, when you watch a movie that has the same directive choices as a lot of movies, it can bring a good movie down. Well, luckily in 2LDK, the direction is a delight and seems like a fresh take on the visuals of the boring side to western cinema. The direction echoes the tension in that respect, making it seem like no-one has ever been this tense and close to murder, ever.

Still, these are the best points of a film I mainly felt let down by. Being that the name of this DVD collection is “The Duel Project”, surely the duel should be the most important, and therefore impressive part? Well, it’s safe to say it’s not. Every single moment leading up to that is an utter triumph, yet the duel seems flaccid and empty, leaving the tension behind and acting on what seems more like a whim. With the tension gone, the camera shaking constantly seems to try and make up for it. Don’t be entirely disappointed though, as there are some good points to it. The final few moments and the brilliant lead up makes for half a great movie. It’s just a shame the duel was so unimpressive.

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2DLK:

3 out of 5

On the other disk is Aragami, from the mind of Ryuhei Kitamura – the man responsible for the absolute chaos and fun of Versus. In Aragami, a wounded man and a man carrying him turn up at a temple door, promptly collapsing in a heap. We then catch up a few days later when the wounded man wakes up alone, before being greeted by a dude with the fakest hair ever, who tells him his friend is dead. What a nice way to start the morning. Set in roughly the 1600s, a time of travellers and explorers discovering new things all around the world, like wine and vodka, these two men talk about a lot more serious toned subjects than in 2LDK, like war, death, gods and immortality. In this, we find out that the man with the silly hair would like to die at the wounded man’s hand. To say any more would be a crime.

With a slow introduction more of a creeping storyline, the build up between the two is much easier to sense, making this a much more involving movie. While the acting or script may not be as tight, the sheer will of direction and real-ness to the way the conversation is had is much more fun to be involved in. Interestingly, the movie tends to be slyly funny and sometimes even silly, which is unexpected considering the serious tone of the movie. Still, when it works, it works, and Kitamura definitely knows when it works – Versus is probably the best example I can give of what I mean.

All of these elements leave you wondering what could happen next, rather than knowing that something is definitely going to happen, which makes the inevitable duel all the more spectacular when it finally kicks off. Sword-fighting is cool, especially with katanas. And since Kitamura does sword fighting scenes so well, the 15 minute duel that finishes this movie off is absolutely fantastic. Not only is it surprising and imaginative it also creates a brilliant sense of grandeur that 2DLK just cannot reach. Altogether, with a better duel and a much tighter direction, Ryuhei Kitamura steals the show, and wins the challenge, hands down. Not only is Aragami a much better setting and storyline, it just ends up being a better movie overall, with breathtaking battle sequences and a quaint place real-ness to it. I give you Aragami, the winner of The Duel Project!

Aragami:

4 out of 5

The most surprising thing about this release is that these movies are five years old. It’s surprising because of the huge Japanese movie following in the western world, especially with the influence of the highly successful Kill Bill and the less affecting horror remakes preying on the minds of the impressionable. Still, it’s here now, and there’s no point in crying, because it kicks ass. To be perfectly honest, anyone that’s looking for some good fighting scenes would be stupid not to look towards The Duel Project.

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Rating:

3 out of 5