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Tel-Club (1999) Tel-Club (1999)
Natsu Ni Umareru
Yukiyasu SHIMADA
76 mins.

Here is the new cinema. A democratic cinema, a cinema that is created by regular people, no matter how insignificant. The kind of cinema that Francis Ford Coppola so famously predicted in his "fat girl from Ohio" monologue. All you need is a video camera and an idea.

Tel-Club is a self-portrait of the lonely but likeable Murakami, who records his every step using his video camera. Returning to his hometown to witness the birth of his sister-in-law's first child, he intends to record the event as a video diary. When the new addition to the family refuses to come out at the expected time, he gets tired of waiting around and decides to look for entertainment. He rides his bicycle into town and stumbles onto the very peculiar Tel-clubs, where men pay to have telephone conversations with teenage girls (a true phenomenon closely related to the methods of teenage prostitution portrayed in Masato Harada's 1997 film Bounce Ko Gals).

He manages to make a date, but the girl stands him up. Despite the disappointing results (and because there is absolutely nothing else to do in town), he decides to return to the club and try again. Time and again he returns, strangely enough growing increasingly confident about his chances with each visit, but always with the same humiliating results.

Watching the video-recorded proceedings outlined above really give one the impression that this is indeed the future of filmmaking, a future in which anyone can simply record his daily life and call it cinema. Slowly though, the question of whether what we're watching is actually true or just fabricated rears its head. And just when it does, Tel-Club takes a turn and runs off in a totally different and thoroughly absurd fictional direction.

Tel-Club is a practical joke in the shape of a movie. Kenji Murakami plays a perfectly orchestrated trick on his audience by using their built-in expectancies about what defines cinema and what separates recorded fact from fiction. By using the video camera to record himself, the director automatically makes the viewer believe that he or she is watching a documentary or home video - in other words: recorded fact. The about-face that follows is so sudden and so utterly removed from fact and reality, that it leaves that same viewer reeling with shame, or laughing at their own stupidity for treading into Murakami's trap.

The highly entertaining Tel-Club is one of a series of recent films made independently from each other around the world, which hint at what cinema might become or might grow to encompass as a result of the developments in consumer video technology. Other notable Japanese examples include Visitor Q (2001 - Takashi Miike), Tokyo Trash Baby (2000 - Ryuichi Hiroki) and the One Piece! project (1999 onwards) originated by Shinobu Yaguchi and Takuji Suzuki.

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