Kwon-taek Im – Sibaji aka Surrogate Woman (1987)

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m’s first international prize-winner (best actress for Kang at Venice) is a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger attack on the principles of male lineage and ancestor worship in the traditional Korean family. It’s set in the late Yi Dynasty (late 19th century) to stress how deep rooted these things are, but its resonances are squarely contemporary. The well-born Shin and his wife are happy but lack an heir; behind his back, the family conspires with his wife to bring in a surrogate to bear him a son. Their choice is Ok-Nyo (Kang), a free-spirited girl who endures various physiological and sexual indignities (intended to ensure that she produces a boy) because she comes to like Shin and enjoy the relatively pampered life – forgetting she is there only as a servant. The emphasis on female suffering has come in for some critical stick, but Im’s analysis of Confucian blockages in the Korean psyche seems all too cogent. And his mastery of image, tone and rhythm is unassailable. TR Continue reading

Sogo Ishii – Gyakufunsha kazoku AKA The Crazy Family (1984)

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The Kobayashi family finally get the chance to move out of their tiny, cramped Tokyo apartment in favour of the suburban house of their dreams. But all is not well: the house is infested by termites and the family starts cracking up: Son Masaki is studying so obsessively for his exams that he’s losing his mind; daughter Erika is oblivious of all but her forthcoming record company audition, grandfather Yasukuni starts getting World War II flashbacks and father Katsuhiko is so worried about his family’s “sickness” that he thinks can only be cured by group suicide… Continue reading

Dharmasena Pathiraja – Bambaru Avith AKA The Wasps Are Here (1977)

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Malini Fonseka and Vinjaya Kamaratunga acted together in 41 films, and The Wasps are Here (1978) is one of their pairings. Fonseka is a young girl engaged to a young fisherman and Kamaratunga is the indolent aristocrat who courts her. His family takes over the market for her village’s fish. The encounter between the village and urban business methods has tragic consequences as the activist filmmaker, Dharmasena Pathiraja, shows how traditional Sri Lankan society struggles to cope with the challenges of modernity and ethnic violence. In real life Kamaratunga married the daughter of Sri Lanka’s aristocratic political family in this same year, a cinematic prince becoming political royalty. His wife became president of the country, but his own foray into politics ended tragically with his assassination in 1988. Continue reading

Dharmasena Pathiraja – Ponmani AKA Younger Sister (1977)

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Ponmani comes from the highest caste in Tamil society, but her family has fallen on hard times and can’t even pay what they owe on her married eldest sister’s dowry, let alone find dowries for her and her middle sister. Her father sits idly by, reflecting on past glories, while her brother works to pay the money owed and preserve the family honor. When she takes matters into her own hands and elopes with a boy from the lower fisherman caste, the family honor takes a deathblow. The difficulty of life for a Tamil woman whatever her caste, religion or marital status is given a feminist analysis. This black and white film from Sri Lanka’s rebel Sinhalese auteur, Dharmasena Pathiraja, shows the beauty of Jaffna, an ancient city of temples, churches and beaches, and gives us an idea of the forces behind the civil war that broke out later. Festivals: Singapore International Film Festival 2003. Continue reading

Kazuo Kuroki – Ryoma ansatsu aka The Assassination of Ryoma (1974)

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This was also voted No.55 on 1999’s Kinema Jumpo Poll of Top 100 Japanese Films of All Time.
It’s a samurai film but its style is rather different from those Toei & Daiei jidaigeki in 50s & 60s (probably not surprising as an ATG production), It has a non-heroic (or at least, unorthodoxy) portrait of the protagonist: Ryoma, at times even a parody, with the wry humor everywhere in the film. But it also looks a bit like a documentary, as the film is very grainy and the cinematographer is Masaki Tamura, who’s responsible for the look of many Shinsuke Ogawa & later, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s films. Continue reading

Shinji Sômai – Ohikkoshi AKA Moving (1993)

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Renko’s mum and dad are splitting up, and her heart is burning. So she plays with fire, tears up the rule book, holds herself hostage, even starts talking to the weird girl in school who’s the only other one with divorced parents. But as Renko watches her childhood go up in flames, she learns how to forge a new self from the embers. Director Shinji Somai is hugely regarded in Japan, but only starting to be known in the West, more than a decade after his death. Formally surprising and emotionally thrilling, Moving is the work of a remarkable filmmaker at the height of his powers. Continue reading

Teruo Ishii – Edogawa ranpo taizen: Kyofu kikei ningen AKA Horrors of Malformed Men (1969)

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PLOT SUMMARY
After escaping from an asylum, young medical student Hirosuke assumes the identity of a dead man in order to solve the mystery of a weird doppelganger whose picture he sees in the newspaper. Traveling to faraway Panorama Island, he discovers a mad scientist surgically remaking normal human beings into misshapen monsters…but that is only the beginning. Hirosuke soon learns the horrible truth about the island and his own family’s shameful past, and finds himself plunged into the depths of incest, murder, and madness. Continue reading