Friday, November 22, 2013
Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, Mystery Train is a trilogy of stories set in Memphis, Tennessee that involve different visitors arriving into the city where they encounter all sorts of things in the city. One story entitled Far from Yokohama revolves around two Japanese tourists going on a pilgrimage to learn about the American blues. The second entitled A Ghost is about an Italian widow who stays at a hotel overnight. The third and final story called Lost in Space is about the adventures of an Englishman and his two friends. Starring Youki Kudoh, Masatoshi Nagase, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Cinque Lee, Nicoletta Braschi, Elizabeth Bracco, Rick Aviles, Steve Buscemi, and Joe Strummer. Mystery Train is an extraordinary film from Jim Jarmusch.
The film is essentially about different strangers who find themselves in the city of Memphis, Tennessee where they would all later stay at a hotel all in the course of one strange day. The first of which involves a young Japanese couple in Mitsuko (Youki Kudoh) and Jun (Masatoshi Nagase) who arrive to the city on a pilgrimage on the American blues where they arrive to Memphis earlier than they expected where they argue over who was better, Elvis Presley or Carl Perkins. The second story involves an Italian widow named Luisa (Nicoletta Braschi) who reluctantly stays in the city overnight where she shares a hotel room with a woman named Dee Dee (Elizabeth Bracco) who just left her boyfriend. The third story involves an angry Englishman named Johnny (Joe Strummer) who decides to go into a drunken adventure with his friends Will Robinson (Rick Aviles) and Charlie (Steve Buscemi) that gets bad. All of which has these characters staying in different rooms at a hotel run by the clerk (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins) and a bellboy (Cinque Lee).
Jim Jarmusch’s screenplay has these three very different stories all take place in a very simple narrative yet there’s moments where the three stories connect as characters from one story briefly interact with another and so on. Yet, these are all characters who feel sort of entranced but also lost in this strange city of Memphis as it is a character in the film. Mitsuko and Jun are these two young Japanese tourists who want to see Sun Studios and Graceland where Mitsuko is very upbeat but Jun is more reserved about everything as he doesn’t smile. Luisa is this Italian who finds herself having to stay to Memphis where she is conned into buying magazines and such as well as meeting a strange man (Tom Noonan) who claims to have met the ghost of Elvis where the most normal person she meets is Dee Dee who is just upset over her boyfriend getting laid off.
Mitsuko, Jun, and Luisa are these people who are fascinated by their surroundings where they’re just visitors in this strange land that is a bit decayed and sort of wild. Yet, they’re only staying there for one night as they know how chaotic the place is as the only other foreigner that is roaming around Memphis is Johnny who is just lamenting that he just got dumped. Drowning his sorrows in booze and carrying a loaded pistol, it’s obvious that this character is trouble but he’s sort of this charming character who feels bad over what he did as he has no clue on what is to do where he ends up causing more trouble for himself and his friends. All of these characters would stay in different hotel rooms where the clerk and the bellboy would meet these different characters and often make a few comments about what is going on and such where they would also listen to Elvis Presley’s cover of Blue Moon at certain points in the film as it plays on the radio.
Jarmusch’s direction is quite simple for much of the film while he does create some amazing compositions in the way he presents Memphis as well as the hotel the characters stay in. Memphis acts like this strange ghost town of sorts where some of places are abandoned or decaying while there’s also something vibrant that goes on in the city. It’s a true reflection of Americana that its foreign characters can seem overwhelmed by as Mitsuko and Jun are always staring though neither of them speak much English. There’s a lot of humor in the way these characters react to their surroundings where Mitsuko and Jun have a hard time listening to the Sun Studios tour guide who talks very fast in English. That is among some of the humorous moments as well as the scene of Luisa being conned to buy all of these magazines where it showcases that sense of alienation that can be quite funny.
There are also moments that include the hotel room scenes as there’s always a different painting of Elvis Presley in that hotel room. A lot of which showcases a man who represents everything that is an icon where Mitsuko and Jun are fascinated by how influential he is while Luisa is also transfixed by his presence. Johnny however, isn’t enthused about Elvis as he’s also called by Elvis by some of the locals. His story is definitely one of the darker moments of the film as well as one that is also quite mysterious as Johnny is someone who is connected to a character in another story as it all plays to these characters dealing with the strangeness of the city all in the span of one entire day. Overall, Jarmusch creates a very mesmerizing yet sensational film about people looking for something in the city of Memphis.
Cinematographer Robby Muller does amazing work with the film‘s very colorful and exotic photography from the look of Memphis in the daytime with the use of lights and such to play into the scenes set at night. Editor Melody London does excellent work with the editing by going for a straightforward approach while using some rhythmic cuts for some of the film‘s humorous moments. Production designer Dan Bishop and set decorator Dianna Freas do wonderful work with the look of the hotel rooms the characters stay in that features a different painting of Elvis Presley in each room.
Costume designer Carol Wood does terrific work with the clothes from the youthful look of Mitsuko and Jun to the more old-fashioned look of Luisa. Sound editor Robert Hein does superb work with the sound to convey the atmosphere of the locations as well as moments to link the other stories as a whole piece such as the music and a gunshot that is heard in the morning. The film’s music by John Lurie is fantastic for its low-key yet blues-based score to play into the world of Memphis while its soundtrack features an array of music from soul and rockabilly that includes music by Elvis Presley to play into the mysticism that is Memphis.
The film’s incredible cast includes some notable small roles from people like Sara Driver as an airport clerk, Sy Richardson as a magazine clerk, famed Memphis musician Rufus Thomas as a man who greets the Mitsuko and Jun at the Memphis train station, Rockets Redglare as a liquor store clerk, Tom Noonan as a mysterious man Luisa meets at a diner, and Tom Waits as the voice of a local radio DJ who plays the music that appears in the film. Cinque Lee is very funny as the young bellboy while the late yet legendary Screamin’ Jay Hawkins is superb as the hotel night clerk who dazzles in his red suit. Youki Kudoh and Masatoshi Nagase are fantastic as the young Japanese couple Mitsuko and Jun with Kudoh as the more upbeat and quirky Mitsuko while Nagase displays a low-key melancholia to his rule as Jun.
Nicoletta Braschi is amazing as Italian widow Luisa who is bewildered by her surroundings as she has no idea what is going on while being fascinated by the presence of Elvis Presley. Elizabeth Bracco is excellent as Dee Dee as this woman who just left her boyfriend as she is a very talkative person who is just upset over her day. Rick Aviles is terrific as Johnny’s friend Will Robinson who is frustrated over Johnny’s antics as well as the fact that he is named after a character in the TV show Lost in Space. Steve Buscemi is brilliant as Johnny’s friend Charlie who reluctantly helps Will out to sort out Johnny while trying to deal with the chaos of the night. Finally, there’s the late Joe Strummer in a marvelous performance as Johnny as this troubled Englishman who is upset over losing his job and his girl as he just wants to lash out at whatever is around him as he’s just got this presence that is unforgettable.
Mystery Train is a magnificent film from Jim Jarmusch. Armed with a remarkable ensemble cast as well as an intoxicating sense of mysticism. The film is an entrancing look into the world of alienation as well as a look into a world that is changing but also in decay where many of its traditions try to stay on. Notably in a city that is vibrant as Memphis, Tennessee that is full of culture and mystery that is still exciting to watch. In the end, Mystery Train is a phenomenal film from Jim Jarmusch.
Jim Jarmusch Films: Permanent Vacation - Stranger Than Paradise - Down by Law - Night on Earth - Dead Man - Year of the Horse - Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai - Coffee & Cigarettes - Broken Flowers - The Limits of Control - Only Lovers Left Alive - The Auteurs #27: Jim Jarmusch
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