Robinson's Garden

  • 1988
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Drama

Acclaimed internationally, ROBINSON'S GARDEN is the second feature from promising young Japanese experimental filmmaker Masashi Yamamoto, who came to prominence after a screening of his 16mm feature CARNIVAL OF THE NIGHT at the 1982 Berlin Film Festival. Borrowing independent American filmmaker Jim Jarmusch's (STRANGER THAN PARADISE; DOWN BY LAW) cinematographer,...read more

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Acclaimed internationally, ROBINSON'S GARDEN is the second feature from promising young Japanese experimental filmmaker Masashi Yamamoto, who came to prominence after a screening of his 16mm feature CARNIVAL OF THE NIGHT at the 1982 Berlin Film Festival. Borrowing independent American

filmmaker Jim Jarmusch's (STRANGER THAN PARADISE; DOWN BY LAW) cinematographer, Tom Dicillo, and lighting designer, Jim Heyman, Yamamoto creates a strikingly beautiful film set in modern-day Tokyo. The story follows the growth in self-awareness of a jaded middle-class young woman (Kumiko Ohta) who

supports herself with an occasional drug deal. One day, while stumbling drunkenly through a back alley, she discovers an abandoned factory with a green, lush, overgrown garden nearby. She immediately moves her belongings into the building and, like Robinson Crusoe, sets up her own little world,

painting the walls in neon colors, putting up lots of blinking lights, and planting cabbages in the wild garden. She befriends an anarchic little girl who wanders in periodically to take advantage of the unlimited freedom the hideaway offers. Then Ohta makes the mistake of inviting some of her

friends over for a party at which the rowdies begin fighting and nearly destroy her new home. As the months go by, she continues to tend her garden, alienating herself from her friends and past life. Inexplicably, she falls ill, and, try as she might to stave off the encroaching foliage, the

garden creeps in and begins to take over the fragile residence. Her illness worsening, Ohta leaves her garden and returns to the city outside, only to begin hallucinating about her deceased grandfather. Finding the outside world the same as before, she steals a bicycle and painfully rides it

uphill all the way back to her garden. In an ambiguous scene, it appears that she then dies and her spirit, in child form, is taken outside by her grandfather. Together grandfather and granddaughter sit on the grass and marvel at the huge tree that dominates the garden. The next day, the

mischievous little girl returns to the garden to fly a radio-controlled toy airplane. Noticing something in the tall grass, she digs until she finds a mechanical bird. She winds it up, and it begins chirping. Contemptuous of the antiquated toy, she tosses the bird to the ground and kicks it,

preferring to play with her radio-controlled airplane instead.

Director Masashi Yamamoto scrupulously avoids explicit elucidations of what he presents on-screen, preferring an ambiguity wherein his images convey the meaning. While this style may prove frustrating for some, those who put aside narrative expectations will find much of beauty and value in his

poetic imagery. ROBINSON'S GARDEN paints an unforgettable portrait of contemporary Japan, showing that society as having reached an impasse. While the massive Japanese economy hums on, the alienated and disaffected become more and more nihilistic and self-destructive. Ohta's character decides to

remove herself from this bunch and set up her own world, but no matter how hard she tries to make the environment her own, nature returns to take over. Yamamoto has said that he was first struck by this notion when he saw an exhibition of fossils at a museum. Looking at fossils of prehistoric

ferns, the director was impressed with the fact that plants were here long before humankind and are likely to exist long after humankind has disappeared. In his view, human life is relatively insignificant in comparison with the inevitability of nature. The film is very pessimistic about Japan's

future, embodied by the strangely amoral little girl who seems obsessed with modern technology and violence. Although slow-moving and somewhat obscure, ROBINSON'S GARDEN is a visual feast, containing some haunting imagery that will not easily be forgotten. (Violence, adult situations, sexualsituations, profanity, substance abuse.)

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  • Released: 1988
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Acclaimed internationally, ROBINSON'S GARDEN is the second feature from promising young Japanese experimental filmmaker Masashi Yamamoto, who came to prominence after a screening of his 16mm feature CARNIVAL OF THE NIGHT at the 1982 Berlin Film Festival. B… (more)

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