Yuriko Furuhata – Cinema of Actuality: Japanese Avant-Garde Filmmaking in the Season of Image Politics (2013)

During the 1960s and early 1970s, Japanese avant-garde filmmakers intensely explored the shifting role of the image in political activism and media events. Known as the “season of politics,” the era was filled with widely covered dramatic events from hijackings and hostage crises to student protests. This season of politics was, Yuriko Furuhata argues, the season of image politics. Well-known directors, including Oshima Nagisa, Matsumoto Toshio, Wakamatsu Kōji, and Adachi Masao, appropriated the sensationalized media coverage of current events, turning news stories into material for timely critique and intermedial experimentation. Cinema of Actuality analyzes Japanese avant-garde filmmakers’ struggle to radicalize cinema in light of the intensifying politics of spectacle and a rapidly changing media environment, one that was increasingly dominated by television. Furuhata demonstrates how avant-garde filmmaking intersected with media history, and how sophisticated debates about film theory emerged out of dialogues with photography, television, and other visual arts. Continue reading

Tokuzô Tanaka – Daisatsujin orochi aka The Betrayal (1966)

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Synopsis:

An absolutely fabulous film, featuring an extended fight scene (~10minutes!) that is the best since SWORD OF DOOM! Far and away Raizo Ichikawa’s best fighting ever!!! He plays an honorable clan retainer and assistant sword instructor who goes on the road after the lord’s nephew murders a neighboring clan samurai, thus taking the heat for the crime. His trusting nature leads only to the ultimate betrayal.
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Kiyoshi Kurosawa – Tokyo Sonata (2008)

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After a retreat to the atmospheric and spectral Loft and Retribution that reinforce Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s reputation as a horror filmmaker, Tokyo Sonata continues in the vein of his idiosyncratically personal (and arguably, more interesting), yet equally unsettling films that began with Bright Future. As the film begins, the family patriarch, middle-aged senior administrative manager, Ryuhei (Teruyuki Kagawa) has been notified that the company has outsourced his job to China (where his salary would pay for three language-fluent office workers) and, without portable skills that could be applied to another department, will be immediately laid off from work. Reluctant to tell his family for fear of undermining his authority, Ryuhei continues the pretext of leaving for work with his briefcase each morning, spending his days alternately lining up at a job placement office and a charity lunch service on the park. Continue reading

Kon Ichikawa – Bonchi (1960)

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Where Ichikawa skewered patriarchal family values in Her Brother, in this savage satire he hoists the matriarchal system on its own apron strings. Raizo Ichikawa (“in his best role yet”-Variety) is the scion of an Osaka merchant family whose traditional power is matrilineal. Instructed by his overbearing mother and grandmother to give them an heiress for the family business, he stands by helplessly as wife after wife is thrown out of the house for producing sons. Driven to a life of dissipation-his mistresses also fail to produce daughters-in the end he is just too tired to care. Ichikawa’s frighteningly funny picture of the matriarchy’s efforts to perpetuate itself was received as antifeminist, if not downright misogynistic, but Joan Mellon suggests that the target once again is “the institution of the family [which] places its own survival ahead of the needs and feelings of individuals.” If this looks forward to The Makioka Sisters, so does Donald Richie’s comment, “We find this cruel matriarchal story…told in terms of the most transcendental beauty.” Continue reading

Mikio Naruse – Tsuma no kokoro aka A Wife’s Heart (1956)

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The best moments of A Wife’s Heart involve things not said or seen and this is most explicit in the interactions between Kiyoko (Hideko Takamine) and her bank clerk bachelor confidant Kenkichi (Toshiro Mifune). Kiyoko, along with her husband Shinji (Keiju Kobayashi), wants to open a coffee shop and so goes to Kenkichi to ask for a loan. Director Mikio Naruse never focuses on the duo’s talk of money; as filmed, their entire relationship is a series of beginnings and endings with the middles cut out. It is at first purely a business association, though after Shinji (at the manipulative behest of his matchmaker mother) gives a majority of the loan to his deadbeat brother Zenichi, Kiyoko starts to think that her feelings for Kenkichi may be more then platonic. Following through on his setup, Naruse never lets either character nakedly confess their heart’s desire. The closest they come is during a sequence, set against the backdrop of a torrential downpour, where Kenkichi utters the first few words of a thought that he will never finish. In other hands this scene might have played as masochistic repression, but Naruse allows the rainstorm to act as an expressive emotional outlet—nature thus concludes what Kenkichi cannot. Continue reading

Hiroshi Shimizu – Hanagata senshu aka A Star Athlete (1937)

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From acquarello at Strictly Film School Blog: Hiroshi Shimizu’s government-pressured, militarism-era film A Star Athlete is a breezy, refreshingly lighthearted, and subtly subversive slice-of-life comedy that centers on an all-day student march in formation and armed combat drills through the rural countryside for military training exercises. Shimizu demonstrates his deceptively facile adeptness and virtuoso camerawork through a series of extraordinarily choreographed plan sequence shots: a track-and-field race around the campus track between the school’s start athlete Seki (Shuji Sano) and his constantly spurring – and sparring – team mate (Chishu Ryu); an extended dolly sequence of the students’ march as bemused villagers and flirtatious, love-struck young women alternately respectfully step aside, playfully trail, obliviously obstruct, and amorously chase the dashing students in uniform; a mock battlefield charge assault through muddy fields as a guilt-ridden motley crew of travelers on the road scramble to flee from the students in a mistaken belief of being chased in retribution for their petty transgressions during their brief stay in the village. Continue reading

Katsuhiro Otomo & Yoshiaki Kawajiri & Rintaro – Meikyû monogatari AKA Neo-Tokyo (1987)

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From AMG:
Neo-Tokyo consists of three fast-paced tales set in a surreal cyberpunk landscape. Most of the tales center around either cops pursuing criminals or criminals running from the cops — none of the stories has a great deal of psychological depth. What makes this film an essential part of the animae canon is its particularly wonderful and inventive envisioning of the Tokyo of the future (which, in America, always seems like the Tokyo of today). As the late twentieth century counterpart to early modernist city symphonies and mid-century noirs, Neo-Tokyo has a good deal to say about 21st century metropolitan life and its effects on the human condition. It’s merely icing on the cake that it does so with a fabulous blend of humor and technological terror. – Continue reading