The continuity of cool
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Look at the camera and smile: No More Heroes and the New Wave

Collage3 As an American nation anxiously awaits its annual festival of football frenzy--preceded by four hours of pre-game coverage--I sit here ruminating about video games and French cinema. I expect my deportation papers to arrive any day now.

I've been thinking about No More Heroes and the blissful experience it provides gamers who love and care about games. It's creator Suda Goichi has spoken of his deep admiration for games like Out of This World and films like Paris, Texas and El Topo and has credited them as influences on his work. He sees video games as a powerful medium for self-expression, and as he told IGN in an interview last year, "I assure you that videogames are an art form. In my opinion, the highest form of art is the existence of videogames."[1]

The more I learn about Suda and discover about his work (I've also completed Killer 7 and am currently making my way through Samurai Champloo) the more I'm convinced that his aesthetic vision and artistic sensibility are mirrored in the works of the maverick filmmakers who launched the French New Wave. What's more, Suda's materpiece No More Heroes (too early to call it that?...I'm doing so anyway) bears many striking similarities to the signature film of the New Wave: Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless.

Nearly all of the defining characteristics of New Wave cinema can be found in Suda's work:

  • Self-reflexive design - Godard, Truffault and the New Wave filmmakers never wanted you to forget you were watching a film. Aside from the narrative (and secondary to it in many ways) is the constant sense that the film is in love with being film. Repeated references to other films, the occasional appearance of the director or a camera operator onscreen, and an all-encompassing embrace of film culture permeate New Wave cinema. Sometimes this embrace feels like homage, at other times a gentle mocking. When your hero looks directly into the camera, he's not looking into another character's eyes in first-person perspective...he's just looking at the camera.
  • Rejection of "tradition of quality" - New Wave films were shot on the street, never in a studio, often with handheld cameras. They look rough, even primitive by the standards of then-current Hollywood cinema. New Wave filmmakers perceived the standardized slick, "professional" look of most films dishonest and bankrupt of meaning.
  • Rejection of the "tyranny of narrative" - New Wave films tell their stories very differently than typical Hollywood movies of the day. Jump cuts and jagged editing, mechanical zoom-ins and zoom-outs create a much more subjective camera-style. Continuity editing--"Film Language 101" for communicating story--was replaced by a system that self-consciously drew attention to the fact that the story was being constructed on the screen.
  • Director as Auteur - the filmmakers of the New Wave saw the director as the primary author of a film, and they used the medium as a means of artistic self-expression. To know a film is to know its maker, and one may discover aspects of the director's personality, beliefs, and obsessions in a single film and, even more, in a body of work.

All of the above can easily be applied to Suda's games, especially No More Heroes. Other links can be found--such as a somewhat detached infatuation with violence--but I'd like to turn it over to you at this point.

If you've seen Breathless--even if you saw it years ago and have forgotten most of it--how many connections you can uncover between it and No More Heroes? Post a comment here and let me know what you come up with. Trust me, there are plenty of connecting points that don't require strained comparisons.

Click on the image above for a few big hints. :-)

If you haven't already, I strongly recommend seeing Godard's Breathless, not merely because of its connection to No More Heroes (or its influence on dozens of other films), but because it holds up remarkably well after all these years. Godard's use of music alone is worth at least one viewing...but there I go with another No More Heroes connection.

Have fun!