The 2005 New York Film Festival’s other tale of cinema hailing from the Far East, Who’s Camus Anyway? riffs intertextual where Hong Sang-soo’s film waxes meta. Mitsuo Yanagimachi’s first film in 10 years, WCA? has the cinephilic zeal of youth but the assured touch of a mature pro. A week in the life of a Japanese student-film production, the film kicks off with a breezily orchestrated six-minute take introducing us to the main players: the assistant director in the midst of a casting crisis, the motorcycle-riding director, his obsessed girlfriend, assorted crew members, their outwardly grave professor (secretly smitten with a student), and the student film’s cinephile producers, who are discussing movies with long opening takes.
With its formal games, amused sidelong glances at campus life, and knowing allusions to other movies, the film may first appear to be a lightweight trifle, more funny ha-ha in the depiction of its milieu than Funny Ha Ha. But as the week wears on, the subject matter of the student film, The Bored Murderer, based on the true story of a Japanese schoolboy who murdered an old woman, begins to weigh on the cast and production team. In attempting to determine the teen killer’s motivation (compared by the professor to Meursault’s in Camus’s The Stranger), they are confronted with the absurdity of their own actions as eros runs amok on set and off—the professor even makes a move on his crush on the anniversary of his wife’s death, in a riff on Vertigo.
As in ensemble Altman, the diversity and folly of human behavior are laid bare, though moments of happiness are allowed. The film builds to a finale that is both disturbing and jubilant: the students have begun their first day of shooting, the filming of the murder scene, and spirits are high. After a 10-year hiatus himself, Yanagimachi would hardly begrudge them their pleasure. But the audience is left to wonder what it is these movies do for and to us: offer cheap vicarious thrills, or insight into ourselves and fellow neighbors—distance or empathy? Smuggling all of this into an ostensible college comedy should be work enough—let’s hope it doesn’t have to be smuggled onto the Internet for you to see it.
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