Naomi Kawase – Sharasojyu aka Shara (2003)

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A film about mourning and its eventual passing. Like in Antonioni’s L’avventura and in Fahrhadi’s About Elly, the unexplained, unresolved disappearance of a central character puts into motion the complex interplay between the public and personal dimension of mourning. Kawase herself plays the mother who, seven years after the disappearance of one of her twins, is heavily pregnant again. This coincides with upsetting news from the authorities. The family and neighbours and friends are plunged once more into the work of mourning. But by means of an extraordinary street festival, a family ceremony of acceptance in which the curse of the disappeared is at last transformed into a benign omen for the coming birth, and the birth of a new family member the trance-like state of collective dissociation is broken. Ultimately, it is not just the disappeared twin who can pass on to the next life in peace, but the entire family. The three core scenes, the festival, the ceremony, and the birth are overwhelmingly effective, in part due to Kawase’s (and her team’s) subtle control, in part due to the impossible admixture of calm and joyous exuberance. If the ending does suggest notions of rebirth, release from the curse of eternal return and memory, it is accomplished, like the entire film, in the absence of dogma. There is no lesson here other than that life ought to be gentle. Continue reading

Takashi Ishii – Hana to hebi aka Flower and Snake (2004)

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Synopsis
In this erotically charged drama, Shizuko (Aya Sugimoto) is a beautiful and talented dancer who feels like her husband no longer cares for her, and has begun to indulge in sexual fantasies of sadomasochistic edge play. When her husband falls deep in debt to a powerful gangster, Shizuko is kidnapped by members of the yakuza and held for ransom until he makes good on what he owes. To prove they mean business, the gangsters force Shizuko to take part in a series of perverse S & M performances, but Shizuko finds that her “punishment” is beginning to reflect the rough treatment of which she’s been dreaming. Hana to Hebi (aka Flower and Snake) was written and directed by Japanese underground auteur Takashi Ishii, adapted from a novel by Oniroku Dan. ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide Continue reading

Keigo Kimura – Fûten Rôjin nikki aka Diary of a Mad Old Man (1962)

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Diary of a Mad Old Man is the journal of Utsugi, a seventy-seven-year-old man of refined tastes who is recovering from a stroke. He discovers that, while his body is decaying, his libido still rages on — unwittingly sparked by the gentle, kindly attentions of his daughter-in-law Satsuko, a chic, flashy dancer with a shady past. Pitiful and ridiculous as he is, Utsugi is without a trace of self-pity, and his diary shines with self-effacing good humor. At once hilarious and of a sadness, Diary of a Mad Old Man is a brilliant depiction of the relationship between eros and the will to live — a film of the tragicomedy of human existence. Continue reading

Kazuo Kuroki – Ashita AKA Tomorrow (1988)

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On August 9, 1945, the Americans dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki. This film, based on a story by Mitsukaru Inoue, describes the daily life of people in Nagasaki the day before that fateful event. It presents the human drama of people’s lives, and their feelings of joy and sadness. These include a newlywed couple, an expectant mother, and lovers who must say farewell because the boy is called to serve in the army. Each of these people, like others in the city, hoped to live with their dreams for ‘tomorrow’. But tomorrow never comes for them, as their lives are brought to an abrupt and unexpected end. Knowing how the story ends, in this case, doesn’t detract from it at all; rather, it enhances the emotional impact, which is further heightened by the poignant musical score from Teizo Matsumura. ‘Ashita’ is the first film in Kazuo Kuroki’s ‘War Requiem Trilogy,’ which also includes ‘Utsukushii Natsu Kirishima’ (2002) and ‘Chichi to Kuraseba’ (2004) Continue reading

Takashi Miike – Kenka no hanamichi: Oosaka saikyô densetsu AKA The Way to Fight (1996)

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Kazuyoshi Tamai, a High School student in Osaka is a street fighter who can do serious damage. So far he has had no trouble wiping up the floor with the competition. One night, he sees several young men getting beaten up on the street. When he finds out the ringleader behind the beating is Takeshi of Tennan High School, he rushes to challenge him. But through a series of events, he is unable to fight him. Years later, Kazuyoshi has become Japan’s bantamweight boxing champ, while Takeshi is the toast of the pro-wrestling world. The two brawlers are about to meet at last in the match of their lives! Continue reading

Yôji Yamada – Otôto AKA About Her Brother (2010)

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Ginko (Yoshinaga Sayuri) seems to be living the good life: She’s the respectable owner of a neighborhood drug store in Tokyo, and her daughter Kaharu (Aoi Yu) is about to get married to a doctor. However, Koharu’s wedding day also brings homes Ginko’s younger brother Tetsuro (Tsurube Shofukutei), a failed actor and a hard drinker who shows up causing trouble. Having covered for him all her life, Ginko is ready to disown her burdensome younger brother, but some things are easier said than done… Continue reading

Yasujirô Ozu – Akibiyori AKA Late Autumn (1960) (HD)

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When college nostalgia inspires a group of middle-aged businessmen to match-make for the widow – played with measured dignity by Setsuko Hara – of one of their friends and her daughter, they have no idea of the strife their careless interference will cause. Late Autumn’s examination of familial upheaval moves effortlessly from comedy to pathos and is amongst the finest of legendary director Yasujiro Ozu’s post-war films. (-BFi) Continue reading