Nagisa Ôshima – Nihon shunka-kô AKA Sing A Song Of Sex (1967)

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In Oshima’s enigmatic tale, four sexually hungry high school students preparing for their university entrance exams meet up with an inebriated teacher singing bawdy drinking songs. This encounter sets them on a less than academic path. Oshima’s hypnotic, free-form depiction of generational political apathy features stunning color cinematography.

This gets our vote as the most overlooked of Oshima’s films, underrated perhaps because its English title makes it appear frivolous. It’s decidedly not. Despite flights of comedy, (unnerving) sexual fantasy, youthful yearning, karaoke and hootenannies, Sing a Song of Sex offers an intent, penetrating portrait of a generation confronting its new freedoms and its inability to act on them. Oshima obviously considered the film very important, one infers from the essays he wrote about it. Continue reading

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Akio Jissoji – Mandara (1971)

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An often-overlooked confederate of Oshima Nagisa (1932-) and Yoshida Yoshishige (1933-), Jissoji Akio (1937-) was one of the avant-garde cinema directors of the early 1970s to focus on issues of sexuality and changing cultural values. Although Jissoji is best known for his first feature film Mujo (1970) and his biggest box office success Teito monogatari (1988), his second feature Mandara best portrays his attitude towards sexuality and Japanese culture. Working with the noted script writer Ishido Toshiro (1932-), who wrote the scripts for a number of famous films, including Oshima’s The Sun’s Burial (1960), Night and Fog in Japan (1960) and Yoshida’s A Story Written in Water (a.k.a. Forbidden Love, 1965), Jissoji created a complex portrayal of a utopian cult attempting the union of sexuality and an agrarian way-of-life. Two pairs of alienated unmarried college students from Kyoto visit an isolated hotel on a beach near Tsuruga where they become enmeshed in the devious schemes of the charismatic cult leader who eventually leads his surviving disciples on a fatal ocean voyage. Continue reading

Nami Iguchi – Inuneko AKA Dogs & Cats AKA The Cat Leaves Home (2004)

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This is the first feature by Iguchi Nami, who more recently made the film Don’t Laugh at My Romance. Inuneko is also known as The Cat Leaves Home and as (more literally) Dogs & Cats or even Dog/Cat. The title refers to the personalities of the two heroines–one sly and flirtatious, the other stubborn and introverted.

Iguchi actually shot this as a 8mm feature (in 2001 I believe) before “remaking” it in 35mm. The 8mm feature is also on DVD but I don’t have it; I’d love to see it, provided subtitles are available.

This 35mm version is the one that played commercially in Japan and made it to festivals worldwide. As far as I know, it wasn’t released commercially outside of Japan, which is a shame as this is one of the most charming recent Japanese films i know. It’s shot in the long-take style preferred by many Asian independent filmmakers, but in a mode closer to, say, the deadpan comedy of Jarmusch than to the muted intensity of Kore-eda. I suppose, in the Japanese cinema, it’s closest in tone to Yamashita Nobuhiro’s Linda Linda Linda. Continue reading

Hsiao-hsien Hou – Nanguo Zaijan, Nanguo AKA Goodbye South, Goodbye (1996)

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After spending much of the decade making films about Taiwan’s complex and troubled history, Hou Hsiao Hsien turns his attention to its money-obsessed present with this gangster drama. Tattooed mobster, Kao (Jack Kao), and his quick-tempered, aptly named protégé, Flathead (Lim Giong), along with their girlfriends, Ying (Hsu Kuei-ying) and Pretzel (Annie Shizuka Inoh), are desperately trying to make it big. Their master plan is open a disco in Shanghai, but that scheme seems less and less likely with each call they get from their cell phone. Corrupt mainland potentates want a king’s ransom in kickbacks while Pretzel racked up a king’s ransom of debt herself at the mahjong table, prompting her to make a half-hearted suicide attempt. To make ends meet, these would-be entrepreneurs make a stab at swindling the government over swine — selling sows when they are supposed to be the more valuable studs. They wine and dine the farmers in rural backwater Chiayi only to get cut out of the deal and kidnapped by the corrupt police. (All Movie) Continue reading

Yasuzô Masumura – Manji (1964)

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Synopsis

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A dutiful, unhappy lawyer’s wife falls in love with a young, mysterious woman she encounters at an art class. Soon their affair involves her husband and the young woman’s impotent lover and together the four slowly descent into a web of tangled passions.

Masumura was the first Japanese student to attend Italy’s prestigious Centro film school, whose alumni include the likes of Michaelangelo Antonioni, Liliana Cavani and Dino de Laurentiis. Filmed in glorious scope, Masumura fills his screen with simple, yet effective compositions. The direction is even, with his cast of players, most of whom have a long association with the director, embodying their roles wonderfully, exuding the passion and turbulence caused by their tangled affair. The exposition is well paced, as twists in the plot emerge with each meeting. The melodrama is high in true Japanese fashion, as pacts and allegiances shift the balance of power throughout the picture. While able to capture the sensuality of his subjects, Masumura does so without excessive voyeurism or blatant sexuality. The result is an exquisite photoplay, rich in the pitfalls of human desire, with interesting and dire unexpected. Continue reading

Yûzô Kawashima – Shitoyakana kedamono AKA The Graceful Brute (1962)

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The original story of amazingly greedy people with cheat, embezzle and corruption, is an original, written by Kaneto Shindo. It’s all set in this little apartment of the Maeda family. The son’s taking money from the talent agency that he’s working for. But the money’s somehow missing. Who’s taking it? Parents, who act like they’re poor, seem to be hiding something. Or is that the daughter, the writer’s mistress? Maybe the tax man, who was helping the agency to evade a tax? The singer looks like he lost so much money, too. Who’s the most greedy, clever, smart, sexy and strongest but never seems to show that and always behave gracefully? Continue reading

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