Posts Tagged “Japanese”

2009

February 28, 2010
Cinequest 20
Japan
Japanese
107 Minutes
Drama
Atsushi Funahashi

I don’t need plot or the camera to move or dialogue or sex or violence or fast pacing to keep me interested. But Holy Toledo was this thing slow. I was sitting with a full cup of coffee, it was my first film of the day, and I’ll be damned if I could stay awake.

In the Yanaka neighborhood of Tokyo are a whole bunch of Buddhist temples and old-timers. And a huge, five-story pagoda used to stand over all of it. The children played around it, and it made the neighborhood happy to have it. Everyone alive at the time agrees that it burned to the ground in 1957, though how it caught on fire has two story versions. Either a crazy homeless man did it, or two lovers killed themselves by lighting it on fire while they were inside. Either way, the burning of this structure has deeply wounded the neighborhood and a student film society sets about interviewing people about it. They are also after the holy grail of filmed footage of the fire itself.

Two characters discuss how important it is to make the elderly interview subjects comfortable before asking them painful questions about the burning. This is supposed to help us in the audience go along with film maker’s pacing, which involves slow, static shots of this temple and that. Of a blind woman scrubbing tombstones. Of various ceremonies for the dead. There is also footage of the young people from the film society (actors, I think), interviewing people with memories of the pagoda (real-life citizens, I think). These stories meander until we end up learning about why the neighborhood isn’t as good as it used to be when the pagoda stood sentry. Some of the interview subjects lament that no one worships dead relatives anymore. Another doesn’t like the crime that’s moved in. Others talk about the beauty of the structure itself and how the designer went against the convention of the time and hung off the edges of the immense structure without ropes.

It is filmed mostly in Black and White, though there are rare shots of color and a few in sepia. The mixture of real neighborhood residents, a real historic fire, and actors working around them is mostly successful. The shots are uniformly beautiful, even while watching someone sweep for five minutes. But oh my goodness is it slow. And dark. And quiet.

Notes:
Slow, static shots…temple after temple…some young people are collecting film from old-timers…a five-story pagoda built in 1600s, then destroyed, then rebuilt in the 1800s, and burned in the 1950s…old-timers reminisce about what the huge structure meant to the town..

DEEP IN THE VALLEY

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CRAZED FRUIT
1956

February 7, 2010
Netflix Criterion DVD
Japan
Japanese
86 Minutes
Drama
Ko Nakahira

Sort of a “Rebel Without A Cause” for Japan. It’s the 1950s and the beach kids in Japan are too bored to be rebelling against anything. They are well-to-do and spend their summer at jazz clubs, playing cards, and accumulating female conquests. They wear Hawaiian shirts and strum ukuleles and hang out at their wealthy friend’s house most of the time. They are in college, but school is the last thing on their minds. If the Hamptons had a boardwalk with amusements, it’d look a lot like the place depicted. There are sailboats and powerboats and sports cars available whenever these boys want them.

Brothers Haruji (younger, innocent, naive, angsty) and Natsuhisa (older, smoker, mistreater of women, deceiver) spend their days waterskiing and tanning and lamenting their existence. Haruji, who has apparently never mentioned a girl before, becomes smitten with someone he sees at the train station. Her name is Eri and he goes slow with her, teaching her to waterski, swimming with her, and laying out on rocks where their legs _almost_ touch. A party is held whereby each boy is to bring three girls and the one with the best “hand” wins. When Haruji and Eri walk in, the contest is over. She is poised and beautiful and bejeweled, acts innocent, but doesn’t push away her dance partners when they pull her close.

Brother will betray brother, feelings will be hurt, and Eri will turn out to be anything but the giggly schoolgirl she purports to be.

CRAZED FRUIT (what kind of stupid Anglicized title is that, anyway) is pretty frank in its depiction of sex, especially for 1950s Japan. A woman who was “passed around last night” has a conversation with virginal Haruji while they wait for his brother–she’s wearing a nightgown. A girl pulls a boy’s hand to her breast, a skirt is torn open in a moment of passion, a knowing glance turns to an embrace.

The soundtrack is full of Hawaiian music while the boys lounge in the beach house during the hot parts of the day, and jazz is loud at night. The nonchalance of their casual hookups with women must have been shocking to middle-aged moviegoers back in the day. It leaves the modern viewer with a “not much has changed” attitude.

7.7 IMDB

Crazed Fruit @ Amazon

CRAZED FRUIT

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ZERO WOMAN: A DANGEROUS GAME
1998

April 15, 2009
Netflix Roku Player
Japan
Japanese
80 Minutes
Drama / Thriller / Crime
Hidekazu Takahara
Rei: Chieko Shiratori

Sometimes the DVD cover is enough. I mean, just look at it. Couple that picture with the previously listed job of actress Chieko Shiratori (nude model), and really, what harm could 80 minutes spent with this movie cause?

If Jason Bourne was a hot chick, took long baths, walked around topless while feeding her fish, and then dressed in boots to assassinate bad guys, you’d know what this movie was about. Don’t hold your breath waiting for the Criterion Collection version any time soon.

5.4 IMDB

Zero Woman: Dangerous Game @ Amazon

ZERO WOMAN: DANGEROUS GAME

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BATTLE ROYALE
2000

April 4, 2009
Netflix DVD
Japan
Japanese
121 Minutes
Action / Sci-Fi / Sport / Thriller
Kinji Fukasaku

Could You Kill Your Best Friend?

In the near future, a class of teenagers is chosen by lottery to be stranded on a remote island and given three days in which to kill one another until only one survives.

“Bracing, violent, blackly humorous satire on the bleaker aspects of modern society that manages to be more than merely an excuse for a killing spree” — Halliwell’s Film Guide 2008

** Halliwell’s
8.0 IMDB

Battle Royale @ Amazon

BATTLE ROYALE

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GATE OF FLESH
1964

September 10, 2008
Netflix Criterion DVD
Japan
Japanese / English
90 Minutes — December 11, 1964
Drama
Seijun Suzuki [Shunpu Den]

Hard-to-categorize film that takes place in post-war Tokyo. A band of colorfully dressed hookers work a particular area of town, catering to American GIs and Japanese criminals. They have a simple code: no pimps and no sex without payment. Break this rule and the other women in the group will strip you, assault you, nearly torture you, cut off your hair, and dump you in view of the whole town. Woe to you who have sex for love. We follow one girl as she joins the gang and the profession. Everyone is trying to make ends meet after the war. Japan has an incredibly low sense of national pride–characters mention the surrender and failures of the army and emperor.

There isn’t much plot to speak of. Girls drink and steal and sell their wares. The film is dark and sultry–everyone is sweating all the time. It is also pretty sexy for an early 60s film. In addition, there are scenes to satisfy any number of fetishes, both Japanese and Universal. Girls are tied up and bound, whipped and caned, covered in milk. There are artsy sex scenes. And the “cleaning” of an entire cow with a knife while the girls look on intrigued. A black American priest is seduced and then kills himself. A gang leader has the obligatory scar down his cheek. There is a man who enters the women’s world (and warehouse) who ridicules the women while recuperating from his latest caper.

Not exactly recommendable, but not an ordeal either.

Criterion even seems to think that this is light, exploitation–there is no commentary on the disc.








7.3 IMDB

Gate of Flesh – Criterion Collection @ Amazon

GATE OF FLESH

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TOKYO STORY
1953

August 15, 2008
Netflix Criterion DVD
Japan
Japanese
136 Minutes — March 13, 1972
Drama
Yasujiro Ozu
#10 They Shoot Pictures Don’t They Top 1000 Films Of All Time

“Solo Filmschool” movies are those on the big list of the 1000 best films of all time, which the crew over at TSPDT keeps track of and updates from time to time. The version of the list I used is from January 2010. My plan is to work my way down the list, watching all of them on DVD (if available), regardless of how slow-moving, or out of date they might appear at first. If a highly-regarded and serious film class is not available where you live, you could do a lot worse than using this list as a jumping off point.

An elderly couple, who travel to Tokyo to visit their married son and daughter, discover that their children have little time for them.

TOKYO STORY was the subject of Cinebanter #58 From The Queue section which is available here.

“Ozu made one of the greatest films of all time. It lacks sentimental triggers and contrived emotion; it looks away from moments a lesser movie would have exploited. It wants not to force our emotions but to share its understanding. It does this so well that I am near tears in the last thirty minutes. It ennobles the cinema. It says, yes, a movie can help us make small steps against our imperfections.” — Roger Ebert The Great Movies II

“In this understated, beautifully composed classic of domestic disillusionment, the editing is unobtrusive and the camera’s gaze is steady; it moves only three times during the film and is kept at a low angle, looking up at the characters. In his formal concentration on everyday family life, Ozu discovers universal truths about the human condition. Here, an elderly couple face the painful fact that they are a burden to their children and grandchildren. But the most devastating comment comes at the end of the film, from their daughter; ‘Isn’t life disappointing’ — Halliwell’s Top 1000

“Bleak, austere and moving family drama of life’s disappointments” — Halliwell’s Film DVD & Video Guide 2007

“Ozu’s vision, almost entirely un-inflected by tics and tropes of ‘style’ by this stage in his career, is emotionally overwhelming, and arguably profound for any engaged viewer; it is also formally unmatched in Western popular cinema” — Time Out Film Guide 2007

“Powerfully quiet story of old age, the disappointments parents experience with their children, and the fears the young have of time passing. A masterpiece.” — Leonard Maltin’s 2005 Movie Guide

The Best Film Of All Time — Halliwell’s
**** Halliwell’s
**** Ebert
**** Maltin

TOKYO STORY

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BITTER SWEET
2004

July 19, 2008
Netflix DVD
Japan / France
Japanese
64 Minutes — October 12, 2004
Drama
Mitsuru Meike

4.8 IMDB

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Written by Michael W. Cummins