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

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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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Quote:
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

Mikio Naruse – Tsuma yo bara no yô ni AKA Wife! Be Like a Rose! (1935)

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The effervescent and charming Chiba Sachiko (Naruse’s wife at the time) plays Kimiko, the bold daughter who travels to the countryside to find her estranged father to seek his consent for her forthcoming marriage . When Kimiko discovers that her father has taken up with a young geisha and is just as difficult as ever, her journey forces her to reconsider her ideas about familial ties. The film was Naruse’s biggest success to date and one of his warmest films. WIFE, BE LIKE A ROSE! won first place in Kinema Junpo that year and became one of the exceedingly rare Naruse films to earn distribution in the US. Continue reading

Naomi Kawase – Futatsume no mado AKA Still the Water (2014)

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From wikipedia:

“Still the Water (2つ目の窓 Futatsume no mado?) is a 2014 Japanese romance film directed by Naomi Kawase. It was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or in the main competition section at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.[1] It has been selected to be screened in the Contemporary World Cinema section at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.[2]

Kawase has described the film as her “masterpiece”, deserving of the Palme d’Or and states: “This is the first time that I have said this about a film. After the Camera d’Or and the Grand Prix, there is nothing I want more than the Palme d’Or. I have my eyes on nothing else.”[3]

The film was taken in the scenic nature of Amami City, Amami Ōshima, in Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan in 2013.[4] The music was produced by Hasiken,[5] a male singer-songwriter from Chichibu, Saitama.” Continue reading

Hiroshi Shimizu – Tokyo no eiyu AKA A Hero of Tokyo (1935)

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“This late silent film is little more than an hour long, and achieves a narrative concentration and emotional intensity which place it among the neglected gems of the Japanese cinema of the 1930s. The story focuses on the widower Nemoto, ostensibly a businessman, who has one son, Kanichi, the hero of the title. Nemoto remarries; his new wife is a widow with a son and daughter of her own. However, Nemoto’s business turns out to be out a shady scam, and he disappears, leaving his wife to raise the three children alone. In order to support the family, she is obliged to become a bar hostess. She conceals this shameful employment from the children, but the truth comes out years later, after her daughter is rejected by her husband’s family when they investigate her background. The film contains powerful performances from Mitsugu Fujii, here making the last of his regular appearances for Shimizu, and Mitsuko Yoshikawa, a specialist in the haha-mono (“mother-film”) genre. Continue reading