Charisma - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Charisma Reviews

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Super Reviewer
August 30, 2014
Heavy in allegorical content, Kurosawa's Charisma is impressionistic in nature, haunting in composition, scary in presentation and good in execution.

The range of interpretations vary greatly, from a commentary on the Japanese society to eco-friendly messages. Maybe it's all of the above... There's no law. In fact, I haven't made my mind yet and I'm still writing this review with the bold hope that I'll be able to come up with one by the time I'm finished.

The opening sequence and the rest of the film play a duality joined by a statement spoken in both parts: "Restore the Rules of the World". The protagonist, Goro Yabuike, is a detective who is asked to negotiate with a lunatic who is holding an M.P. as a hostage. The lunatic writes down a note and delivers it to Yabuike, demanding exactly the phrase above. Yabuike misses a clear shot to save the M.P. because he willingly hesitated, and consequently both the M.P. and the criminal get shot.

The introduction is stylistically unrelated to what follows next, but not thematically. Yabuike is taken to an unnamed forest where people are divided between preserving a possibly poisonous tree protected by metal poles, or destroying it.

So I see the tree "Charisma" as a leader, a ruler of some kind, playing a transcendant role in the people's lives. By the time this leader arrives, he/she inflicts a powerful influence over the surrounding populace with its "poisonous roots". The rest of the forest, which is described as "average trees", represents people in terms of hierarchy power. Finally, the human characters represent any group of activists, that go from the leader's followers, to conspirators, to military figures:

- The followers are willing to accept the self-destructive nature of any society or form of government (in this case, an "ecosystem"), because that cost is implicit and unavoidable in the human nature. Rules are rules, especially those of the world, and these, according to them, imply a battlefield of conflicts, life and death.
- The conspirators are in favor of the populace, and are not willing to concede any opportunity to the poisinous roots of the "tree".
- The military figures have their own interests, possibly financial, but they circle around the leader's interests as well. They depend on him.

But amidst these conflicts, a unique person rises holding the idea that the best way to preserve a blanace for the sake of everybody is allowing both the leader and the populace to survive, because it is common to think that the only way to overthrow a regime is to kick out the leader, possibly assassinating him, as history has tought us. And as history has tought us, not all charismatic leaders exert a positive influence on people: think of how Jim Jones got 909 members of his People's Temple to commit mass suicide in the jungles of Guyana in November of 1978. But as the structure of society seems to dictate most of the times, there is no room for this idealistic, utilitarian ideas and the tree eventually gets burned.

Of course it couldn't stop there. Another tree rises, bigger than the previous one, but without its "charisma", and therefore is not another "Charisma". That's the contradictory duality in the history of mankind: they have always demanded a ruler to follow, because they love to follow someone, but if the demands of the populace are not perfectly met, they'll seek another source of power. Does that mean that they lose hope in the form of the government that have betrayed them and failed them so many times? No. They sustain hope in something hopeless. So the tree gets destroyed, but did it die? No. There is still "his" seed , which will "rule" afterwards in the name of his predecessor.

The ending confirms this duality with a pessimistic point of view: be it Mother Nature or civilization, the "rules of the world" are unavoidable. We were once asked in a Philosophy class whether if we perceived nature - in that moment, the teacher's finger pointed towards a window where trees and birds were under a very sunny climate, because it was pretty sunny that day - as peaceful and calm or not, as compared to the society structures we have created. Naturally everybody responded that nature seemed more peaceful. I rolled my eyes at everybody's response. Before I could say anything, the teacher clarified that nature is a very hostile world, where animals, plants and trees get hunted, saved, killed, tortured and predated by other animals with sometimes destructive natural disasters, like thunder storms and floodings. It's a food chain out there.

Kurosawa maintains his impressionistic lens, keeping us as distant observers, not only with the purpose of displaying an otherworldly cinematography, but because a wide scope/landscape of the events matters when we are third-party, neutral observers. We are not put inside the mind of the characters or adopt the point of view of the situations minimalistically. We are kept distant, so that we can form, first, an interpretation, and then, a judgment. The ending was terrific from a "cool factor" point of view, worthy of an 80s cult sci-fi film. A little bit exaggerated, but appropriate.

One thing remains certain: this is still about how the role of an individual can be affected by society's forces which are way bigger than him/her.

½ February 20, 2014
Given what I have seen before of director Kiyoshi Kurosawa's work, I was expecting this to be a horror movie and probably a pretty strange one. It certainly is a strange movie, even more bizarre and enigmatic than the director's Bright Future. But it is not a horror movie or a thriller. As with Bright Future, I don't understand the way it ended and I'm at a loss for what it all was about but it certainly gave me a lot to think about and I enjoyed watching it.
January 8, 2012
I haven't heard of it
½ March 29, 2011
I couldn't make it through this film. It was just too slow and I couldn't feel the direction it was heading...
½ March 29, 2011
I couldn't make it through this film. It was just too slow and I couldn't feel the direction it was heading...
March 10, 2011
Affascinante ed ipnotico, ma anche sconnesso e confuso. Un film che non saprei valutare davvero, ma che forse un giorno rivedrò...
Super Reviewer
½ August 3, 2010
As a writer, I have always found Kiyoshi Kurosawa to lack focus. As a director, he is nothing short of brilliant. Here I'm starting to pick up, absorb and understand many of his visual choices, such as his constant filming of his actors in long shot. This is a quiet way of informing the audience that, despite their importance in the narrative at large, they are trivialized by the forces around them - in Pulse, the overwhelming crush of isolation and technological despair; here, the fulfillment of a depressing utilitarian philosophy, represented both through Koji Yakusho's failed policeman and Charisma, the tree that's poisoning all the other trees. Yakusho is small, just as society would have him belief, and it's none of their concern whether he lives or dies. Everything is meant to die someday.

Or at least, that's what I distilled from the film. There are a lot of things going on in Charisma, many of which dead-end without any attempt at resolution or explanation. The sanitarium director's wife, the professor and her sister with the weird coat, and the mysterious militia with an unexplained need to cut down Charisma all fall by the wayside by the end of the film. I could make suppositions as to their purposes, but next to the overall theme of the film they feel unimportant and wasted. It's an uncomfortably familiar sensation in Kurosawa's films, almost all of which feel overstuffed and oddly thin at the same time (Pulse evades this, and Seance to a lesser extent).
November 16, 2009
One of those bizarro dream logic movies that really pumps my nads. Contains some of the more blindingly brilliant bits of cinema In recent years. Kiyoshi Kurosawa is a certified champ.
September 2, 2009
I love Kôji Yakusho, but this was a total dud. Hated this movie. Listless plot line with random events thrown in to try to create some sense that something was happening when it wasn't.
July 14, 2009
I consider this movie the most complete illustration of the non-dual realization and it is my favorite movie.
July 1, 2009
seltsam, enigmatisch, halluzinatorisch. nicht in worte zu fassen, nicht mehr loslassend, und wohl kurosawas meisterwerk.
½ April 1, 2009
Dans la campagne japonaise, Kiyoshi Kurosawa met en branle un drame policier angoissant, multipliant les pistes de lectures dans un climat d'etrangete dont il a le secret.
January 3, 2009
Call him the Japanese Tarkovsky. Go on.
December 30, 2008
Charisma marks Kurosawa Kiyoshi's fist tentative venture outside genre constrictions and a chance for the director to really get loose. The result is a heavily symbolic, narratively incoherent, absurd dark comedy. Weirdly enough it's also decidedly lighter in tone than any of Kurosawa's heavier genrepieces.
October 11, 2008
Solo para aquellos con gusto adquirido por Kurosawa: es lenta, confusa y con un final salido de la nada. Muy buena pelicula.
October 4, 2008
c'est un etrange film, inclassable, une sorte de road-movie campagnard . J'adore la scène des bolets hilarants.
October 3, 2008
This was a difficult one that left me scratching my head at the end. But aspects of it (some, not all) began to sink in a bit after the fact. Definitely original and shot very well...but requires some patience and probably more than one viewing.
½ July 30, 2008
This is hard for me to rate due to a number of factors going on while I was watching this on my dysfunctional DVD player. Charisma is a riddle of a film. It poses a lot of questions without leaving any conclusive answers. The story revolves around a cop who is forced to leave the force after blotching a hostage negotiation. He finds himself in a forest where he meets a number of eccentric characters. One of them is a young man who has dedicated his life to restoring a rare tree that everyone seems to be after. Another, a botanist who wants to rid the plant due to its disastrous effect on the forest's ecosystem. One of the great things I've noticed about Kurosawa (I've only seen another film of his) is the way he places characters in situations without ever explaining them. It requires a lot of active participation, plenty of patience, and a lot faith in the director. When it works, it really pays off. When it doesn't, it is simply frustrating. Charisma is a film that needs a lot of attention and when you fail to give it any (or if you're sleep-deprived, watching it on a dysfunctional DVD player, and emotianally unstable), it will also fail the viewer. It is filled with rich symbolism and references that may or may not be understood the first time around. The cinematography is wonderful for the most part-- though a little dark and saturated during certain night scenes. The performances are offbeat-- verging on dead seriousness to comedic farce. The sound design was a little distracting. Some levels seemed to take things over others (maybe deliberately in a godardian fashion) but to a point of annoyance. It is a nice little film, not perfect, but convinced me enough to give it another viewing.
July 25, 2008
one of the best films i've seen lately. bizarre and a bit fragmented--it keeps you guessing where he is going with this movie... beautiful cinematography...maybe not for those who don't watch foreign films very often, though.
½ June 8, 2008
wtf? I didn't understand a damn thing from this movie....
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