A young filmmaker and cinephile rents his body out as a human punching bag for yakuza thugs to repay a debt in “Cut,” Iranian expat helmer Amir Naderi’s overweeningly pretentious Nippon-set drama. Simply in terms of craft, pic is all right, if somewhat repetitive, but its hectoring, self-important boosterism on behalf of what its hero and presumably its helmer consider “pure cinema” is so strident, it would almost be comical if it weren’t done with such solemnity. Nevertheless, pic picked up some passionate supporters among eggheads in Venice and is sure to make the rounds at further fests.
Given to sermonizing in the streets of Tokyo with a megaphone about how multiplexes are killing cinema and the need to support the aforementioned but little-defined “pure cinema,” yadda yadda yadda, aspiring helmer Shuji (Hidetoshi Nishijima) is clearly a few reels short of a full feature. When not preaching in the streets or visiting the graves of such heroes as Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu, Shuji projects classic films like Buster Keaton’s “Sherlock Jr.” and John Ford’s “The Searchers” for other film fans on his own rooftop terrace.
Shuji has made three films already himself with money lent to him by his brother Shingo, but it turns out Shingo got the money originally from yakuza money lenders; when Shingo failed to repay on time, they killed him. Local boss Masaki (Shun Sugata) gives Shuji 10 days to clear the debt or he’ll sleep with the sashimi fixings, too.
At the yakuza’s boxing-club hangout, Shuji goads the gangsters into paying for the pleasure of beating him up. In order to withstand the pain, he prods himself along by thinking of how angry he is about “shit cinema” (presumably multiplex-friendly fare), or about all the great works he’s shown at his club. In the evenings, he bathes himself in the projected beams of his beloved movies, and almost seems healed by them. For his final climactic push on the 10th day, he counts down his personal top 50 movies, each one ceremoniously revealed in a white-on-black title card intercut with the action.
The pic at the top of Shuji’s list is a choice as lacking in originality or the element of surprise as the film is of intentional humor, which is a shame because with just a little tweaking, it could have played as savage satire on film-geek fanaticism. Sadly, it seems both Shuji and Naderi are entirely in earnest.
Helmer shows no particular aptitude for filming fight sequences, but some of the skill that made his earlier work so well regarded, such as “Water, Wind, Dust” (1989) and “The Runner” (1990), is certainly in evidence elsewhere in “Cut.” Pic builds a foreboding atmosphere and sports striking setups, while the perfs from the ensemble, especially intense Nishijima and Sugata as the melancholy mob boss, are worthy of praise. Its rhythms grow too monotonous by the end of its overlong 132-minute running time, but it’s not hard to see what its supporters like about it.