IFFR / IMAGINE 2010 : SYMBOL Review

When we here at Twitch posted the very first teaser for Hitoshi Matsumoto's "Symbol" nearly a year ago, we all wondered whether the man was a genius or if he had disappeared up his own ass.
 
Fear not: with his sophomore film, writer-director-star Matsumoto proves he is most definitely a genius. "Symbol" is a delightful puzzle box of a movie with an intriguing first 75 minutes, followed by a mindblowing last 15...
And don't fear for an inaccessible pretentious piece of art either. When I saw it at the International Film Festival Rotterdam it got great ratings from the audience, and the same thing happened a few weeks ago at the Imagine Festival in Amsterdam.
 
 
The Story:
A guy wakes up in a white room which is completely empty except for one button. When he presses it, hundreds of new buttons appear on the walls, and pressing these bring a variety of objects into this room. When one button opens an exit which unfortunately seems impossible to reach, the man realizes he's inside a puzzle and he will need all his wits to escape.
 
Meanwhile, a luchadore wrestler in Mexico prepares for what may be the fight of his life...
 
 
The Movie:
It has already been a few years since the release of "Dai-Nipponjin", Hitoshi Matsumoto's previous film which I really liked. That film was an original and very funny take on the infamous Japanese "man-in-suit" monster movies, but underneath the jokes there was a surprisingly sad story about a lonely man who was abused by everyone from birth till death.
The same is true here: "Symbol" has a serious thing or two to say about what makes us tick and how we handle learning and experience, but it's all covered with a hilarious slapstick surface which is worth the price of admission by itself.
 
And it's not just funny either, but also exceptionally well-made. Seeing Hitoshi Matsumoto fumble around in his puzzle-room may already look flashy enough in itself, but whenever the story focuses on the wrestlers in Mexico we get treated to some stunning camerawork and art-direction, making for terrific compositions throughout. The technical merits are so high I would not have minded it if Hitoshi had made a straight film about luchadore wrestling. It looks that good.
 
"Dai-Nipponjin" ended with a weird final segment which irritated a lot of people, so I was curious what director Matsumoto had in mind as a final for "Symbol". Well, I'm not going to spoil it here but suffice to say that the ending of "Symbol" is my favorite sequence of the film, and I am eagerly awaiting an English-friendly BluRay so I can endlessly rewatch it. Optimum, Manga UK, Eureka, Third Window Films, anyone: you listening?  
   
   
Conclusion:
Hitoshi Matsumoto has created one my favorite films of the year, and the best I saw at the 2010 edition of the IFFR. The combination of highbrow concept and lowbrow humor is unique and odd, and many directors would stumble with it, but Matsumoto has created solid gold here.
 
In short: "Symbol" gets my highest recommendation. Now where is that BluRay release?!!
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