Under the Radar: “The Departure” & “Tom of Finland”

Dogwoof / Kino Lorber

This week I’m going to mix it up with two different movies, one a doc and the other a narrative foreign film, one that’s much easier to talk about than the other, so you may have to bear with me here.

One assumes that everyone who has ever had a creative streak in them has also suffered from some degree of depression at one time or another, but suicide has been a real problem in Japan for many decades.  ’s documentary The Departure is about a very unique Zen Buddhist monk named Ittetsu Nemoto who decides to do something about it. Coming from a troubled childhood and early adult years drinking and partying, Nemoto decided to become a zen priest after seeing an ad in the newspaper claiming “no experience necessary.” For the past ten years, Nemoto has run a retreat called “The Departure” which works with those contemplating suicide to give them a reason to appreciate their lives.

It opens with one of his typical sessions telling those taking his retreat to write down the important things in their lives on pieces of paper, which they then have to crumple up and throw away. It’s a simple but powerful way of knowing the important things you’re likely to lose if you commit suicide.  Nemoto is nothing like the typical Buddhist monk you’d expect as he rides a motorcycle, drinks and goes out dancing, but what’s amazing is watching him work with his patients, treating them as if he would his closest friends.

At the same time, Nemoto has a new toddler son, Teppei, who requires a lot of attention and trying to balance his duties as a father and as a suicide counselor always being there for his patients/students is starting to take its toll on his health.

Normally, I’m not a huge fan of cinema verité (aka “fly on the wall:”) documentaries, but the amazing access Wilson got to Nemoto and his patients makes The Departure just a powerful and emotional film to we watch as we learn more about Nemoto and his troubled personal history with suicide. Apparently, Wilson got her inspiration from a New Yorker article and approached Nemoto about making the film while knowing very little Japanese, which actually made it easier for Nemoto and his patients to interact and talk about personal things while being filmed. The say she and her editor cut between Nemoto working with patients ready to die and playing with his adorable son, who just has so much life and energy in him, is what keeps your attention completely rapt during every scene of the film.

While there’s a lot of talk about death and dying, no one actual dies in the movie, so you don’t have to worry about that. It’s actually  ends up being quite an inspiring and motivating movie even if it also is likely to make you tear up, realizing what Nemoto is putting himself through to keep others from killing themselves.

The Departure is now playing at the Metrograph in New York and it will open at the Laemmle’s Monica Film Center on Friday Oct. 20., plus you can find out when it plays elsewhere on the Official Site.  (Apparently, it will air on PBS on New Year’s Eve, too!) You can watch the film’s amazing trailer for the movie all the way at the bottom of this piece.

Kino Lorber

Directed by Finnish filmmaker , Tom of Finland is about an LGTBQ icon who I personally had never heard of. Apparently, he was famous for his detailed homoerotic drawings that were very popular among the gay community throughout the ’70s and ’80s.

But first, the man born Touko Laaksonen would fight in the Finnish army in World War II but would remain in the closet due to Finland’s stringent anti-homosexuality laws. This would force many of the country’s gay men to marry women while keeping their sexuality hidden, as Touko would bounce between his day job as an advertising artist and drawing the detailed artwork of naked muscle men and those bound head to toe in leather (as in the image above).

It turns out that Tom’s image of leather clad men travelled across the Atlantic and inspired an entire movement in San Francisco and New York of gay men dressed up like the characters the legendary “Tom of Finland” drew from his imagination. He eventually heads to America and struggles to get his controversial drawings printed and published, while at the same time, the gay community is being hit hard by the advent of AIDS.

Tom of Finland the movie is very different from other biopics about artists we’ve seen from Europe and the States, and much of that comes from the subdued performance  by Pekka Strang, a complete unknown in the States but an actor who is likely to get more attention for the role.

With all the talk of how amazing Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name is (and it most certainly is), Tom of Finland gives us another view into how important it is to love and be loved, but this movie does so in a far more playful way while also dealing with some of the real prejudice that gay men were still facing in the ’80s.

Whether or not the subject material is up your alley or not is second to the fact that Karukoski is an amazing filmmaker who is  being attached to bigger movie projects like the Tolkien biopic, starring Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins and Colm Meaney, which is currently filming. He’ll also direct Keanu Reeves and Isla Fisher in The Starling, so this Finnish filmmaker is certainly a name to keep in mind with Tom of Finland being his first film to get recognized globally.

His movie has been playing at festivals around the globe all year, and it was finally released in New York this weekend with an L.A. opening next Friday, Oct. 20. Oh, and it’s Finland’s selection for the Oscars this year, and I wouldn’t be even remotely surprised if it was shortlisted or even made the nominations. That would make it only Finland’s second Oscar nomination ever.

Oh, and here’s that trailer for The Departure I promised earlier…

  | East Coast Editor

Under the Radar is a weekly column focusing on one or two movies that you might have missed or wouldn’t have heard much about since they have limited marketing budgets. These aren’t reviews per se and they won’t always be about movies I necessarily like — just movies you should know about and any social implications they might have that would make them worthwhile viewing.

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Still quiet here.sas

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