Fantasia 2012 – Sushi Girl Review (Matt Hodgson)

Fantasia Film Festival 2012

Sushi Girl (2012)

Starring Tony Todd, James Duval, Noah Hathaway, Mark Hamill, and Andy Mackenzie

Directed by Kern Saxton

MINOR SPOILERS

When I started Entertainment Maven a few years ago it was not because I was in love with movies, but rather with the art of storytelling. Movies, books, video games, lyrics, there are countless mediums through which a competent storytelling can tell an enticing tale. However, throughout my life it has become clear that film has become the storytelling method of choice. By critiquing movies and attending festivals I have one of the most enjoyable ‘jobs’ I can imagine. Also, it is no secret to my friends and family that I would like to write a screenplay of my own one day. It is probably this frame of reference that made Sushi Girl especially upsetting for me to watch.

A Tarantino inspired crime thriller, Sushi Girl is the story of a ruthless band of criminals who get together after their newest member, Fish (Noah Hathaway), is released from prison after a 6-year term. The group reunites in a beautifully decorated dining room over a delicate sushi dinner served on the even more delicate naked body of a sushi girl. Tony Todd, James Duval, Mark Hamill and Andy Mackenzie round out the group of hardened criminals, each possessing a uniquely dangerous personality. The dinner quickly turns ugly as despite being ‘business’ partners, the men don’t seem to be the best of friends. Soon enough we learn that the real reason for the dinner is to find out the whereabouts of the jewels that went missing at the end of their last job. The men blame Fish and are convinced he has stashed the jewels somewhere, and they seem ready to get the information out of him by any means possible.

As you can see, Sushi Girl has an absolutely stellar cast, enough players to interest even the casual moviegoer, and all of the primary actors deliver. Mark Hamill gives a great performance as the sadistic and flamboyant Crow, while Tony Todd simply resonates one badass dude. Jimmy Duval was also particularly good as a poor-decision-making screw-up who is really a good guy at heart. The Chinese Ming Dynasty dining location is absolutely gorgeous, an excellent and thoughtful choice for what is certainly a theatre-inspired, dialogue driven film. Add to these points the nail-biting intensity of having five killers in a room, none of whom fully trust the others, and Sushi Girl should have been a home-run. Unfortunately, Sushi Girl had problems from the first phase of making a film, the script writing phase.

I understand how passionate writers can be of their work, it is one of the most toiling journeys a person can make, from starring at a blank page to the completed work. However, screenwriters must be very vigilant in evaluating their initial ideas before embarking on the journey. I always ask myself: ‘Is the idea interesting?’ ‘Is it a story a lot of people would want to hear, or is it just for me?’ ‘Is the idea adding some interesting new aspect to the body of films already out there (even if it’s just a unique genre mash-up)? I’ve had to learn to ask myself these questions the hard way. Unfortunately for the writers of Sushi Girl, they hit upon a sure-fire way to make an uninspired movie by having one of their central characters tied to chair and tortured for about 30 minutes. Maybe it worked for some earlier filmmakers, but this has to be one of the most annoying cliches to permeate horror and crime films. Its like a parasite. Unfortunately the problems don’t end here.

The dialogue sounds like written dialogue, it may be true, but it’s never a good sign when it’s blatantly obvious. Some of the actors are able to save some of the lines, particularly Hamill and Todd, but mediocre to sub-par dialogue in a dialogue driven movie is a recipe for disaster. Also, brief appearances by Michael Biehn and Danny Trejo got an eruption of applause from the crowd, but their unimportant roles could have been played by unknown actors with more effectiveness as it made the film feel like a recent episodes of SNL where James Franco randomly appears for the audience to clap at in lieu of humourous writing. And of course what bit of original filmmaking would be complete without a twist ending?

The filmmakers of Sushi Girl had the ultimate golden horseshoe, an amazing veteran cast and a beautiful location. It actually pains me to say it as everyone involved in the film seemed absolutely dedicated to it, but Sushi Girl is not much more than a wasted opportunity, an opportunity that most filmmakers won’t get in their entire careers.

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14 thoughts on “Fantasia 2012 – Sushi Girl Review (Matt Hodgson)

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  1. Absolutely the worse and incorrect review I have ever-seen on this film I was there and it went over amazing. The seats were sold out? You clam to love movies? now anyone who makes a claim like that does not love independently done great movies with a review like this. The Film is shot, acted, and scripted like a love letter to every film you could possibly like. Tony Todd was amazing best performance of his life. And has more meat and bones then any other film that’s been out in a great while. Arrow in the Head joblo.com loved the film and can’t wait to see what the more MAINSTREAM reviewers and press have to say.

    1. Thanks for commenting Dave.

      As for your points, I don’t think whether a movie is ‘sold-out’ or not is a very good indication of its quality as most of the viewers will have not seen it before the projector rolls. Also, I believe I gave credit to the actors, including Todd, for their performances. My problem is particularly with the script. I found it to be a boring, unintelligent, cookie-cutter of a crime thriller with a good deal of torture. I happen to find this combination less than desirable and that’s why I wrote the review I did.

      It’s great that other sites liked the movie, I want independent film to succeed when deserved, but I suppose we have vastly different taste in entertainment. That said, the fact that you can call my review the ‘worst’ and ‘incorrect’ goes to show that you may not understand the subjective nature of cinematic entertainment.

      I hope I haven’t upset you too much.

      Matt

      1. Matt,

        It’s clear you had expectations going into the film and it turned out different than what you expected. Does that mean it’s not good? Certainly not. Should critics review films using their preconceived notions as a barometer? Certainly not. Are you an authority on screenwriting? Certainly not.

        Yes, this is your review, and yes this is your opinion and you are fully free to express it however you see fit, but don’t start a review by saying you wish to write your own screenplay one day and then go on a negative diatribe about the screenwriting skills of others. Write your own script and you may have a different perspective, but until then, this review screams jealousy.

        Furthermore, did you consider that such a small movie attracted such a good cast because of the quality of the material? If not, you’re basically saying that the cast, including Mark Hamill and Tony Todd, are basically idiots for signing on to this. And what is the wasted opportunity, exactly? How is it cookie-cutter? What would you have done differently? You can’t make such pompous claims without backing them up somewhat. I know you’re trying not to spoil it for others, and you shouldn’t, but these opinions sound less like proper critique and more like petty bitching about a film that wasn’t what you wanted it to be.

        It just seems to me that your negative feelings toward this film, at least judging by the words you use in your review, have less to do with the quality of the film and more to do with your own aspirations as a filmmaker…

        -S

      2. Snake,

        Normally I thank people for commenting, but I was having a hard time with your comment as you basically try to analyze me psychologically through my review and then try to discredit my opinion in the process. However, you did take the time to comment, so I’ll take the time to reply.

        Thanks for the wonderful ad hominem attack. I’ll try to keep my expectations in check next time and go in as a true blank slate as everyone else surely did. Also I will ensure not to use knowledge I may have learned about my passion in order to comment on the writing of others. That would just not be fair. I shouldn’t comment on writing until I have my own movie premiere.

        I don’t know why the actors liked the script. The wasted opportunity is having great actors and not a great script. It’s ‘cookie-cutter’ because it has a very generic heist at the heart of it and an extremely long torture scene with a guy tied to a chair. That doesn’t sound original to me, and if it does to you, then you should really get out and watch some movies.

        I slammed the writing of this one, but I have praised the writing of many other films, and I’m about to do it again for Crave, which was amazing.

        I didn’t like Sushi Girl. However, I don’t even know how you felt about it. Do you realize that while you were trying to find the best way to put me down, you didn’t even say if you liked the movie or not? Or is that just beside the point and would get in the way of your vigilante efforts to protect filmmakers from evil reviewers?

        Matt

      3. Matt,

        I’m only commenting on what I see in your review. If that bothers you, maybe it’s time for some self-reflection and a change in attitude… or it’s time to nut up and actually write that script of yours. Otherwise, don’t throw stones in glass houses… It definitely sounded bitter, as if you were more angry at the opportunity other filmmakers had than issues with the film itself. If it was just about the film, you wouldn’t have even mentioned your own personal endeavors (which seems highly unprofessional to me). You say you enjoyed the performances (somewhat) but that you disliked the script, but a lot of what you’ve written here seems to be coming from the point of view of someone who desperately wants to be in the position these filmmakers are in, not from someone looking to give a fair and balanced review of a film.

        Whether I liked it or not was not really the issue I was commenting on. But since you asked, I highly enjoyed it, and have done a little reading up on it since, and that information has only furthered my enjoyment of the film itself.

        The actors said they all came on board because they thought the material was fantastic, so clearly they would disagree with you that the script resulted in a wasted opportunity. Furthermore, this script was reportedly intended to be an ultra tiny movie and the filmmakers have admitted that they originally had designed it specifically so it could be shot on a budget of about $15,000. This is the main reason, I suspect, for it taking place in one location and for the heist not being very extravagant or complicated. But here’s the point I think you’ve missed- it’s not really about how the heist went down, and the movie isn’t really about torture. It uses the torture and the heist plot device as a means to explore its characters. The filmmakers admitted they weren’t doing anything groundbreaking, but what they did with those variables is far more effective than most films that use those tropes. The reason some people are reacting negatively to the movie is because the ideas behind the violent acts get under their skin. I was amazed at how stomach turning it was, while at the same time, how little gore was depicted on screen. That in and of itself should be commended. It’s supposed to be ugly, it’s supposed to make you feel terrible. I think that was the whole point of the exercise that is Sushi Girl, otherwise the twist doesn’t carry any weight. The twist itself isn’t anything special, and in retrospect is rather obvious, but to get to that point, you have to slug it out with these horrible people in order to reach that conclusion. And once you get there, you’re slapping yourself for not seeing it sooner. The amazing thing about this film is not what does plot-wise, but how it guides your focus.

        As for the dialogue, the filmmakers also are quick to point out that the film could easily be done on the stage as a play, and cite influences like David Mamet and August Wilson. That, and the director makes mention in interviews that he was heavily influenced by pulp novels of the 50s and 60s, as well as several film noir titles of that era, like The Killing and The Asphalt Jungle, so the highly stylized dialogue was very much intentional. It seems you have a desire for your entertainment to be “realistic”, your dialogue to be fluid and don’t have much tolerance for purposely stilted speech, that much is clear. I’m guessing you don’t like Brick or The Maltese Falcon either. It’s okay if you didn’t like Sushi Girl, but just because it rubbed you the wrong way doesn’t mean it is flawed or poorly-written. It was designed to be hyper-real, hard-boiled and vomit-inducing, much like Gasper Noe’s Irreversible.

        At the end of the day, I say to each his own, but I still feel your ego has more to do with your inability to enjoy this film than the film itself. I’ve seen many movies, I have explored the film noir genre quite a bit, and I know exactly where this film is coming from. You don’t seem to see it the same way, which leads me to say that maybe you should take your own advice. In any case, my previous comment wasn’t designed to get you to retract any statements or defend the filmmakers per se, only to tell it like it is. I saw a lot of jealousy in your words, and I don’t think that’s appropriate for a review to contain. This film is polarizing, sure, but it should be polarizing for its own merits, and shouldn’t be compared to your own aspirations.

  2. Not at all. I did not agree with your review. But I won’t go slap for slap. and your right you did give Kudos. Now that I went back over the review. I just felt strongly about the film. But I tell you this the film was far from “a wasted opportunity”.

    How would you know since you did not direct it. And the people who are intimately involved are progressing from it so it seems from the excitment and the reaction to the film..

    Actually when Pulp Fiction came out there were allot of people that said was not as good as Reservoir Dogs. Same went for Casino but in time people found favor with it. Pulp going on to win Oscars and Casino going on to find cult fame, and people not comparing it so much with Good Fellas, & of course are considered classics. As far as the script. I found it fun entertaining and awesome. Also I have not seen a gritty fight club heist movie like this in some time.

    Also the twist ending was well acted and the whole film itself was beautiful .If I had one thing to agree on with you was what you said here:

    “brief appearances by Michael Biehn and Danny Trejo got an eruption of applause from the crowd, but their unimportant roles could have been played by unknown actors with more effectiveness as it made the film feel like a recent episodes of SNL where James Franco randomly appears for the audience to clap at in lieu of humorous writing.”

    Was for me the only accurate thing you said. TO ME. In the whole review other then that, I guess like anyone who loves or likes a film and sees a GEM like this I feel I want to keep anything from staining it no matter how small the stain may be. Since films like this are rarely being made. So I defended it. cuase I want more like them. Also I herd the film was under a mill to make which to me is amazing.

    No Anger here we just agree to disagree I guess.

    1. Hi Dave,

      Thanks for the follow-up and explaining your position in more detail. Any negative comments I made in the review are ultimately a result of the writing. I know that people are going to have vastly different opinions on this film, some loving it others hating it (I have met plenty of both at the festival since the screening). I found that the writing really took me out of this one: the dialogue, the pacing, but most importantly the simple heist at the heart of the film that we’ve seen a million times.

      I had a hard time making it through the entire film. Others will eat it up. That’s why it’s great that we have so many movies out there to choose from.

      Matt

  3. FILM THREAT: LOVES SUSHI GIRL A POSITIVE REVIEW

    Fish (Noah Hathaway) has just been released from jail, and he’s already being brought back into the fold of the criminals whose botched diamond heist put him away in the first place. Still, when Duke (Tony Todd) calls a meeting, you don’t say, “no” and Fish finds himself under the scrutiny of his former associates Crow (Mark Hamill), Max (Andy Mackenzie) and Francis (James Duval). As the crew sits down for a unique sushi dinner, one where the food is served on the naked body of a young woman (Cortney Palm) in the middle of the table, old scars are torn anew, and some fresh wounds are started.

    Sushi Girl is a performance-driven criminal flick done right with brilliant casting. The majority of the film takes place in one room where the main cast practically takes turns showing the audience how incredible they are. It’s an intense, almost inescapable feeling to be stuck in a room with such personalities, but it also keeps you interested and engaged throughout. And if you like violence, you get violence. Dig your crime films to have a healthy dose of nudity? Sushi Girl has that too. None of it is gratuitous to the film, everything fits into the world you’re being presented.

    While I think some viewers could casually dismiss Sushi Girl‘s aesthetic or story as derivative of Tarantino, I like to think of it as more of a result of being created in a cinematic world informed by years of Tarantino’s, and other like-minded, films. This isn’t like the mid-to-late ’90s when a bunch of films all popped-up trying to be the next Reservoir Dogs; this is more the result of filmmakers who either enjoyed Reservoir Dogs or appreciated the genre enough to allow their own creative endeavors to explore similar orbits. There is a difference.

    That said, the performances in Sushi Girl are what make it great, well beyond any familiarities of aesthetic or plotline. It’s not to say the plot is forgettable, I was definitely interested in figuring out what exactly was going on, but in the end it didn’t really matter to me where the plot went because I had so much fun getting there (I may’ve been saying something different had the film ended up with an alien invasion or something out-of-left-field like that, but it doesn’t so we’re all good here). Everyone on screen delivers a kick-ass performance; even Jeff Fahey, and he has a cameo that probably adds up to less than three minutes of screen time. The only one who sinks into the background is the sushi girl herself, and that’s because she does such a great job not moving or speaking, I forgot she was even there. Which, you know, was the entire point of her character so… great job!

    Since seeing Sushi Girl, I’ve heard it described as a “fanboy’s dream” film. To that I would say, “yes and no.” If you’re a fan of the characters the various actors have portrayed, such as Luke Skywalker or Atreyu, for example, then I think you could find yourself a bit confused by what is coming your way. There’s no Luke Skywalker here (though maybe an aural hint of Joker). On the other hand, if you’re a fan of the various actors period, then this film is right up your alley. Tony Todd oozes sadistic evil, Mark Hamill is grimey and so off-kilter it’s scary, James Duval is somewhat sympathetic yet doomed, Andy Mackenzie is a feral beast and Noah Hathaway shows defiance in the face of what was ultimately the worst vocation choice his character could’ve ever made. All great, all the time.

    In the end, while Sushi Girl is not perfect, it was definitely my type of film. Ultimately, I had so much fun with the journey that I came out far more forgiving of the destination. The power of great performances; Sushi Girl had me hooked from beginning to end, and I can’t wait to see it again.

    http://www.filmthreat.com/reviews/53382/

  4. I felt the same way as your review. If you’re going to go to all the trouble and expense of making a film, why not make something original…and good! Sushi Girl was neither.

  5. Snake Majors, aka Kern Saxton, director and co-writer of Sushi Girl, you’re being a huge baby about someone not liking your movie. Get over yourself. It was terribly written. You’ll do better next time.

    1. Sorry chap, that’s not me.

      There are plenty of people out there that like this movie though, and that’s encouraging to me. I’ve met some people who’ve gone completely bonkers for it, so that has to count for something, right?. I know it’s not perfect, but it’s a pretty good first feature, regardless of what any of the haters say. If I really feel the need to respond to a review, I’ll do it as myself, just like I addressed the torrenters… Clearly this review wasn’t worth my time, which is probably why I didn’t remember reading it.

      You’re right about one thing, though: I’ll do better next time. Better script, bigger budget, more time, more experience and more confidence.

      Thanks for the pep talk.

      – K

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