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Review: Yaji and Kita: The Midnight Pilgrims

Yaji and Kita: The Midnight Pilgrims is a mashup of aesthetic sensibilities and attitudes old and new.

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Yaji and Kita: The Midnight Pilgrims
Photo: Media Blasters

Kudô Kankurô’s Yaji and Kita: The Midnight Pilgrims is a trip—a mashup of aesthetic sensibilities and attitudes old and new. Yaji (Nagase Tomoya) and Kita (Nakamura Shichinosuke), an Edo-era gay couple, set out to visit the Ise Shrine, along the way encountering numerous adventures that put into perspective their vision of the world and test their love for one another, and by extension, expand our opinions of the workings of cinema. Happily anachronistic and dolled-up in hilarious plays on words that probably shouldn’t translate to English as well as they do and pop-cultural references that fly so fast and hard you won’t mind that some, maybe even most, land somewhere over your head, the film is structured around the inns Yaji and Kita encounter throughout their journey. This segmented layout becomes a playfully profound acknowledgement of life as a series of tests, thrills, diversions, and roads to recovery: at Laugh Inn, Yaji tugs on Kita’s super-elastic balls after the latter wakes up from a twisted dream where he becomes a member of an audience that mocks him as a child; at Singing Inn, the depressed Kita struggles to help a young woman find the voice that will clear the weather around Mount Fuji and later entertains lying to himself by wooing her; and at Soul Inn, Yaji and Kita will be separated by death and attempt to find their way back to each other. That’s only the tip of a nutzoid iceberg that includes a drag queen who caps a musical number with an announcement that she can perform sex change operations, a farmer who squeezes yam juice from his tightened fists, a bartender who dispenses a sweet and heady liquor that opens a portal in our metaverse, and a weeping effigy of Yaji’s former wife, who is now the flatulent source of the River Styx in the afterlife. It takes some sort of wild genius to imagine people sliding down a river on wooden planks turning into the pieces of a Tetris-like computer game, but Kudô doesn’t push empty flash. Because Kudô deeply hard-wires feeling and pop, every virtuostic burp and splatter in the film has a profound reaction on its characters, especially Kita, who copes with drug addition and fights through the story’s pop-cultural rubble to look for a reality that exists healthily on his own terms. A sign of its super-fantastic nature, Yaji and Kita proudly and loudly offers vacancy both to fart jokes and scenes as kookily touching as Yaji holding back from having to piss in deference to his lover’s struggle with addiction. If that’s not love I don’t know what is.

Cast: Nagase Tomoya, Nakamura Shichinosuke, Koike Eiko, Ken Naoko, Kuwabata Kazuma, Itao Itsuji, Furuta Arata, Arata, Nakamura Kankuro, Shimizu Yumi, Takeuchi Riki, Yamaguchi Tomomitsu Director: Kudô Kankurô Screenwriter: Kudô Kankurô Distributor: Media Blasters Running Time: 124 min Rating: NR Year: 2005 Buy: Video

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