The ABCs Of Death
Various (2012) Dirs. Various
The concept is a brilliant one: take twenty six directors from around the globe and give them a letter each. They must think of a word that begins with that letter then make a film about the subject of death. It’s as simple and ingenious as it gets and if it can be successfully pulled off then you will have one of the most unique films to hit the screens in a long time.
If it can be pulled off that is.
As always with an omnibus film the risk going into it is how the various styles and culture differences are going to mesh with each other and if a semblance of coherence is likely to be established since many of the directors do not hail from the mainstream side of filmmaking. The other caveat is of course the appeal ratio. With twenty six short films on offer the chances are high that not every film will appeal to a single individual with the varied tastes being catered for, which runs the risk of alienating those who do not, for whatever personal reason, follow the director’s vision. Thus, as ambitious and exciting The ABCs Of Death may sound in theory, the end results are sadly not universally satisfying.
Countries represented in this film include Japan, Spain, Thailand, UK, Mexico, Germany, US, Canada and France and while some of their unique national traits come through in the films, not all are so obvious, usually leaving it up to the spoken language to help the viewer have a chance of identifying the country of origin. The global aspect gives us a unique chance of sampling the many different and esoteric ideas and takes on death indigenous to each country and in that respect it makes for a rewarding viewing experience, if a sometimes difficult one with so many individual wavelengths for the viewer to try and jump on.
Picking a favourite – or rather the film that works the best – is quite easy but naturally differ from person to person. Some films are subtle some our gory, some are over the top, some are just plain weird and some are too subtle or oblique for their own good. For this reviewer, the ones that were the most flat out enjoyable were the animated K Is For Klutz, about a woman and her struggle to get rid of a nuisance deposit in the toilet; the similarly themed T Is For Toilet, a claymation tale involving a young boy’s nightmare move from his potty to the grown up version; and the Thai entry N Is For Nuptials in which a trained talking parrot ruins a romantic moment for its owner.
Some films take on a social issue, such as France’s X Is For XXL concerning a fat woman going to extreme length to lose weight, or P Is For Pressure in which a working single man is forced to take on an unpleasant job to make one of her daughters birthday a happy one. This film, along with D Is For Dogfight is not for animal lovers. Indeed the latter is likely to cause blind outrage as it involves a man literally fighting with a dog. It is in fact the best shot film of the whole bunch and while the behind the scenes feature shows the dog came to no harm, it is scarily realistic.
As a self confessed Asianphile the three Japanese entries were of immense interest to me – then I saw who the directors were. Anyone familiar with the names Noboru Iguchi, Yūdai Yamaguchi and Yoshihiro Nishimura will know exactly what to expect and we’re not disappointed as they deliver what is expected of them, albeit the latter being the only to really go for it. Iguchi’s F Is For Fart is a ridiculous but someone what muted offering from him, with a delightfully cute all female cast, while Yamaguchi’s J Is For Jidai-geki (Samurai Movie) is a two hander involving a silly Samurai seppuku ritual. Nishimura’s Z Is For Zetsumetsu (Extinction) is a satirical take on how Japan is seen by the rest of the world….I think. It involves nudity, rice spurting phalluses and a Dr. Strangelove rip off because…actually, I’ve got nothing.
Nothing is particularly scary in this film but plenty is disturbing. L Is For Libido has no purpose other than to shock with its unpleasant barrage of sexual deviancy, a similar theme explored in Y Is For Youngbuck. Possibly the most terrifying moment – for this arachnophobe at least – is the denouement of E Is For Extermination. The remaining films are either ambitious comedies or obscure arthouse affairs that needed a few more minutes to make sense. Taking top honours for the biggest budget is Canadian sci-fi effort V Is For Vaginus about a future society where woman are sterilised and have to earn they fertility. It’s not frightening or horrific but is impressive looking.
The ABCs Of Death is a difficult film to rate because I love the concept behind it, all the films are very well made and the passion and creativity of the filmmakers shines through. But with such a hit and miss success rate of the individual offerings in the eye of this beholder, it is virtually impossible to say if I enjoyed it or not. I certainly don’t know if I could recommend it but then again, I couldn’t not recommend it as someone else might enjoy it more than I did. Oh and there is a sequel coming next year too!
Watch at your own risk is the best advice I can leave you with.