R&A by JL: Symbol

Hitoshi Matsumoto’s Symbol is … the only one of its kind. It keeps defying the way I comprehend cinema. I became interested in the film because I knew it starred, was written and directed by one of my favorite comedians. The few who had seen it were completely baffled. I had no idea what I was about to see in advance. My reaction to the film? I was enlightened. It took me a long time to write this review because I didn’t have the time to fully absorb Symbol.

First of all, I’m not going to give any sort of plot synopsis or other details because the best way to enjoy the film is to not know anything about it before seeing it. Essentially it is very experimental comedy that is clearly the result of the epic ambition of a single man. Only someone with the reputation and wealth of Matsumoto would be able to pull off something like this. After the harsh and drawn out beginning the film gradually becomes so funny you can barely sit still. However, it is not as simple as that. In a challenging but brilliant way Matsumoto weaves in a surprisingly complex and serious layer to the screenplay.

It is obvious that Matsumoto’s lead performance is vital for the film. It is a tour de force unlike any other comic performance I can even think of. What is even more pleasing and surprising for me is that Matsumoto is, above all, a great director. He is a master of comic timing both as a performer and as an editor. He builds a simple but very effective rhythm for the film that pulls the viewer in easily. The cinematography is well under control and most of the compositions are interesting, some of them even brilliant. While the form is mostly calm the brief, explosive moments of absurdity fit perfectly – making Symbol all the more hilarious. The sparse soundtrack has a strong and unforeseeable impact – especially in the last scene.

In short: Symbol is weird. And funny. And weird. It doesn’t make any sense to give it a rating since it is so unique and baffling. Go and see it. Yes, it’s an obscure film, but finding and watching it is worthwhile.


The main character’s development is clearly cut into different sections by the screentitles. With an ambiguous screenplay such as Symbol’s (heck, even the title is ambiguous) you can find multiple interpretations. In one way I see it as a film examining a person who tries so hard to grow up only to realize he should have tried to enjoy his “childhood” (The Education). Eventually he comes to terms with life and ascends to become a God-like figure. The whole God concept is heavily supported by the angels (and religion in the parallel storyline). It is even completed with Matsumoto’s “Jesus look” in the end. It’s certainly not the only interpretation I came up with the film, but it’s the one that has the strongest arguments within the film.

If I do have one clear complaint about the film it would be the parallel storyline. It serves well as a way to get out of the room to solve the pacing problems, but in the end it’s only a needlessly long warm-up for a rather unexpected and silly gag.


About Oz
A Finnish film buff who has taken a huge interest in language and Japanese cinema. Can be contacted via email (johlauri@hotmail.com), Twitter (@OzymandiasJL) and a Private Message on EvaGeeks (Oz).

One Response to R&A by JL: Symbol

  1. Pingback: The 23rd Helsinki International Film Festival – Rakkautta & Anarkiaa « Forced Perspective

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: