Dir. Kitano
Fri Jan 7-Weds Jan 12
Clinton St. Theater

Takeshi Kitano is best known in the U.S. for his Yakuza films like Sonatine and Brother, which deal with a bloody Japanese underworld. Given this reputation, it's somewhat misleading that Kitano has labeled Dolls as his most violent movie yet. There simply isn't much physical action in this slow, brooding film. The violence is almost entirely emotional--broken hearts, not broken skulls--and it's heightened only because it deals with ordinary people and their flawed quests for love. Inspired by Bunraku puppet theater, Kitano weaves together three stories of relationships and loss that are more allegory than reality--two beggars bound by red cord wander through beautiful landscapes, a woman waits on a park bench every Saturday with a lunch for her lost love, a boy puts out his eyes to get closer to a disfigured pop idol.

It's depressing and dark, but as the quirky plots unfold and intertwine, you can easily get lost in Dolls' stunning cinematography and subtle performances. The film takes on the qualities of a haunting fairytale as it develops over the changing seasons of a contemporary Japanese setting, and in the end, the slow pacing creates a violence all its own--forcing you to take in all the beauty that permeates the mundane moments in the characters' extraordinarily sad lives. RYAN DIRKS

Fear and Trembling
Dir. Corneau
Opens Fri Jan 7
Hollywood Theater

Many a film has been made about the apparently insurmountable differences between Eastern and Western cultures and ways of thought (Lost in Translation and Big Bird in Japan, to name two). In Alain Corneau's Fear and Trembling, this theme is given a new twist: though the protaganist, Amélie (Sylvie Testud), is Belgian, she spent five years of her childhood in Japan. As an adult, her perspective is shaped both by a childhood reverence for Japanese culture and the Western outlook gained after years of living in Belgium. When Amélie decides to return to Japan, she takes a job as an interpreter in a Japanese firm--but despite her education and fluency in several languages, she finds herself assigned to menial tasks such as preparing tea and running errands. Though she tries to understand and obey the strict social codes of the office, her frequent failures result in increasingly humiliating demotions. Her obsession with becoming a perfect Japanese lady manifests itself in a near-sexual obsession with her boss, the beautiful Fubuki (Kaori Tsuji), who takes obvious pleasure in humiliating the well-intentioned Amélie.

Though the film offers little in the way of character development, and lots in the way of angsty monologuing (at one point, Amélie compares herself to a number-crunching version of Sisyphus), it's interesting to watch the office dynamics unfold, and to contemplate once again those insurmountable differences between East and West. ALISON HALLETT

Bless Their Little Hearts
Dir. Woodbury
Fri Jan 7
PCC Cascade Campus

Sparse on dialogue, slow-moving, and filmed in black and white, Bless Their Little Hearts chronicles the struggle of an unemployed black man and his family in a South Central LA ghetto. The most notable thing about Hearts is that it has way too many long, lingering shots, which makes for a pretty arduous viewing experience--especially when the characters aren't very likable. We see the father (Nate Hardman) looking for work, and occasionally finding odd jobs cutting down weeds, painting, even catching fish and attempting to sell them by the roadside. It's obvious he feels the burden of not being able to provide--a burden no doubt worsened by his tired, humorless wife, and two hungry children--but he's also kind of a dick. At one point, he gives up looking for a job to spend time hanging out with a local lady, then comes home and lies to his wife about it. Later, his exasperated wife reveals that her husband's cycle of unemployment has been going on for 10 years.

Overall, Bless Their Little Hearts captures the hopelessness this family feels being poor, living in the ghetto, and never catching any breaks. But instead of making you feel any connection with or sympathy for these characters, Woodberry's direction just makes you feel bored, depressed, and full of pity. KATIE SHIMER