Tomu Uchida – Kiga kaikyo aka The Straight of Hunger (1965)

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A very complete article about Tomu Uchida :
Here some words coming from it and about this particular film :
“Straits of Hunger is a definite attempt on his part to essay the modernist style and subject matter then being mined by such as Imamura (whose work in my opinion it surpasses). By this time Uchida worked invariably in colour; for this film only, the grainy look of ’60s black and white ‘Scope was aped and intensified by the decision to shoot on 16mm before blowing up to 35. The film is the story of a criminal, Inukai, who escapes justice after a theft which caused the destruction of a Hokkaido town. A brief encounter with a prostitute leads her to become romantically obsessed with him; years later, seeing his photograph in the newspaper, she goes to look for him, only to be killed by him when she threatens to betray his now hidden past. The narrative construction is masterly. The film is divided into three segments, each of different timbre: the first, an action-packed account of Inukai’s flight; the second, a bleak and realistic study of the life in Tokyo of the lovelorn prostitute; the third, an account of the psychological duel between cop and criminal. The drama moves, with geographical symmetry, from the strait dividing Hokkaido from Japan’s main island of Honshu, through northern Honshu to Tokyo, then northward again to conclude at the strait. The symmetry gives the film a sense of inevitability, as the past exerts a controlling influence on the present. Continue reading

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Akira Kurosawa – Dodesukaden [+Extras] (1970)

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By turns tragic and transcendent, Akira Kurosawa’s film follows the daily lives of a group of people barely scraping by in a slum on the outskirts of Tokyo. Yet as desperate as their circumstances are, each of them—the homeless father and son envisioning their dream house; the young woman abused by her uncle; the boy who imagines himself a trolley conductor—finds reasons to carry on. The unforgettable Dodes’ka-den was made at a tumultuous moment in Kurosawa’s life. And all of his hopes, fears, and artistic passion are on fervent display in this, his gloriously shot first color film. Continue reading

Ishirô Honda – Gojira AKA Godzilla (1954)

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One of the longest-running series in film history began with Ishiro Honda’s grim, black-and-white allegory for the devastation wrought on Japan by the atomic bomb. As his visual metaphor, Honda uses a 400-foot tall mutant dinosaur called Gojira, awakened from the depths of the sea as a rampaging nuclear nightmare, complete with glowing dorsal fins and fiery, radioactive breath. Crushing ships, villages, and buildings in his wake, Gojira marches toward Tokyo, bringing all of the country’s worst nightmares back until an evil more terrible bomb — capable of sucking all the oxygen from the sea — returns the monster to its watery grave. The original film is chilling, despite some rather unconvincing man-in-a-suit special effects, and brimming with explicitly-stated anti-American sentiment. All of that was removed for the U.S. release directed by Terry Morse. It was replaced with bad dubbing and tedious added footage starring Raymond Burr. The resulting edit was just another monster movie, but was still popular enough to assure future Toho Studios monster films a wide American release. Gojira No Gyakushu (1955) was next in the series. Continue reading

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

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