Yôjirô Takita – Okuribito AKA Departures (2008)

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Synopsis
Departures follows Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki), a devoted cellist in an orchestra that has just been dissolved and who is suddenly left without a job. Daigo decides to move back to his old hometown with his wife to look for work and start over. He answers a classified ad entitled “Departures,” thinking it is an advertisement for a travel agency only to discover that the job is actually for a “Nokanshi” or “encoffineer,” a funeral professional who prepares deceased bodies for burial and entry into the next life. While his wife and others despise the job, Daigo takes a certain pride in his work and begins to perfect the art of “Nokanshi,” acting as a gentle gatekeeper between life and death, between the departed and the family of the departed. The film follows his profound and sometimes comical journey with death as he uncovers the wonder, joy and meaning of life and living. Continue reading

Kon Ichikawa – Tokyo orimpikku AKA Tokyo Olympiad [+Extra] (1965)

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Review from the Criterion website :
A spectacle of magnificent proportions, Kon Ichikawa’s Tokyo Olympiad ranks among the greatest documents of sport ever committed to film. Utilizing glorious widescreen cinematography, Ichikawa examines the beauty and rich drama on display at the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo, creating a catalogue of extraordinary observations that range from the expansive to the intimate. The glory, despair, passion, and suffering of Olympic competition are rendered with lyricism and technical mastery, culminating in an inspiring testament to the beauty of the human body and the strength of the human spirit. Continue reading

Yoshishige Yoshida – Honô to onna aka Flame and woman (1967)

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Quote:
Honoo to onma (lmpasse; the title translates as the more poetic ” Flame and Woman” neatly rendered in the French title, La Femme et la Flamme) made the same year as The Affair (whose Japanese title more poetically translates as “Flame of Feeling”), concerns the inability of a woman to find satisfaction in her traditional family s tructure. The heroine, Ritsuko, is married to Shingo, a design engineer. Shingo is unable to father a child so Ritsuko is artificially inseminated. The birth of a son, Takashi, however, does not help marital relations between husband and wife. When Sakaguchi, a doctor having marital problems with his wife, Shina, is revealed as the sperm donor, Ritsuko develops a passion for the doctor. Eventually, following other complications (Shina kidnaps Takashi and she tries to seduce Shingo), Ritsuko, Shingo, and Takashi are reunited . Ritsuko’s inability to feel erotic attraction toward her husband is literalized by his sterility. Continue reading

Ki-duk Kim – Samaria AKA Samaritan Girl (2004)

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Jae-Young is an amateur prostitute who sleeps with men while her best friend Yeo-Jin “manages” her, fixing dates, taking care of the money and making sure the coast is clear. When Jae-Young falls in love with one of those man she suppresses her feelings towards him in respect of her friend who’s jealous. One Day Yeo-Jin fails in doing her job overlooking police officers looking for under-aged prostitutes. In order to not get caught Jae-Young jumps out of a window almost killing herself. On her deathbed, she wishes to see the man again whom she fell in love with and turned away from. But the man only agrees if Yeo-Jin sleeps with him. She does but as they arrive in the hospital Jae-Young is already dead. Trying to understand her best friend, Yeo-Jin tracks down every man she slept with and does the same. As her father learns about this he gets on revenge with fatal consequences… Continue reading

Kon Ichikawa – Shijûshichinin no shikaku AKA 47 Ronin (1994)

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Synopsis:
In Japan in 1701, Asano, the daimyo of Ako, assaulted Kira (Rie Miyazawa), an official of the Shogunate, in Edo Castle, for which offense he was ordered to commit suicide. The following year, one of Asano’s former retainers, Kuranosuke Oishi (Ken Takakura), gathers a group of his lord’s other followers and with them plots to take vengeance on Kira, whom he holds responsible for Asano’s death. Continue reading

Wayne Wang – Eat a Bowl of Tea (1989)

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Synopsis
Ben’s wife wants some attention. Ben’s boss wants some dedication. Ben’s father wants some grandchildren. And Ben just wants a minute to sort it all out in Wayne Wang’s gentle comedy, “Eat a Bowl of Tea.” In New York’s Chinatown of the late 1940s, young Ben Loy (Russel Wong), fresh out of the service, has his whole life spread out before him — including a job, an apartment, and a marriage arranged by his father (Victor Wong) to the beautiful Mei Oi (Cora Miao). But as eager as the couple is to see what America has to offer them, that’s how eager the whole of Chinatown seems to see some first-generation U.S. offspring. And when Ben’s celebrated young marriage threatens to crumble in the face of this pressure, it’s up to him to separate his dreams from his father’s, and to find a future for himself and his wife in their new adopted homeland. Directed by Wayne Wang, “Eat a Bowl of Tea” is a charming, warm-hearted film based on the classic underground novel by Louis Chu. (from DVD jacket.) Continue reading

Hsiao-hsien Hou – Xi meng ren sheng aka The Puppetmaster (1993)

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Hou Hsiao-hsien’s masterpiece about the childhood and early adulthood of octogenerian Taiwanese puppet master and actor Li Tien-lu. This is the second part of a trilogy about Taiwanese life in the 20th century, covering all but the first few years of the Japanese occupation of Taiwan (1895-1945). Hou’s preference for filming entire scenes in long takes from fixed camera angles and for eschewing close-ups has never been as masterfully employed and modulated as it is here–some of the landscape shots are breathtaking. The film alternates between re-created scenes from Li’s life, Li speaking directly to the camera about his past, and extracts from his puppet and stage performances, creating a layered density in the narrative that does full justice to the complexity and poetry of Hou’s investigation. Continue reading