The legacy of the antiwar sub-genre has been a prominent staple of cinema since its humble origins. For example, hints of political commentary can be traced back to the works of Méliès and other illustrious auteurs. Especially in our current era — with the great perils of the First and Second World War completely shifting the cultural sphere in a radical new light — the past couple of decades in cinema have prominently served different interpretations of conflict and violence. This includes the innovation and horrific utilisation of the Atom bomb, where works regarding the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been frequently referenced, analysed, and re-interpreted in various different film productions. This isn’t anything particularly new per-say, but the influences throughout the last century have been more than just a footnote in our dark chapter of 20th-century history. I say this purely for the sake of historical context, when contrasting the style and refreshing narrative flare of Ikeda Akira’s The Blue Danube.
In our current environment saturated with miserable attempts at war-infused social commentary, Akira’s contemporary reimagining about the dangers of authoritarianism, fascism, nationalism, and militarism frequently questions positions of power through articulated character archetypes. In terms of its deeper routes, there’s nothing particularly new being stated within The Blue Danube. However, it’s ultimately all in the film’s execution and blend of deadpan comedy & careful subversion of cliche’s that fulfil a palatable experience.
In terms of its cinematic language, there’s a static directional nature throughout each frame. Everything is flat, just like the lives of each of the film’s depicted characters. Yet, that is precisely the point — where through careful repetition of dialogue — each of the interpreted archetypes are given a notable role, scene, or even just a simple memorable moment. There’s pieces of distinct humanity and cruelty in each of the characters; even those upholding a fascist mentality. Set in a fictional city divided by a lazy river, where both opposing ends are in constant conflict with one-another — Akira’s constant dedication in keeping his characters as flat, emotionless, and repetitive as possible is an admirable feat in and of itself.
Occasionally, the deadpan pastiche does become slowly grading when in contrast with some of its more lesser moments of narrative exposition— yet it’s the Pinteresque execution that sustains the film’s unique commentary afloat throughout all of its 105 minutes. Frequently humorous and consistently amusing, The Blue Danube is a rare case of an anti-war film that avoids any form or resemblance to traditional oversaturated war-flick conventions. Ikeda Akira’s latest venture into the surreal is a notable footnote in this year’s IFFR program; an insightful and entertaining work of deadpan comedy that never once relies on hypocritical and reductive commentary.
The Blue Danube premiered during the second half of this year’s historic Rotterdam Film Festival edition, as part of the Harbour program. The film is currently seeking international distribution.