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.
Carrying a gun
If there were awards for great titles then Bullet Ballet would surely be up for a gong or two. At once suggesting both violence and elegance, it sounds like the perfect Hong Kong era John Woo film, an all-action but balletic explosion of slow-motion gunplay that became the director’s trademark. But this isn’t John Woo, this is Shinya Tsukamoto, a director whose deeply personal style is a million miles from Woo’s slickly filmed action works. Tsukamoto’s concerns are far more localised, to the city in which he lives, to his neighbourhood, to his own body, and his cinematic style is far edgier and more dangerous. Which is not to knock Woo in any way, but nowadays when Woo is making the vacuous Paycheck, Tsukamoto is making the extraordinary A Snake of June. He is one of those rare directors who has never sold out and never compromised his vision. Tsukamoto is the very personification of a great outsider film-maker. Continue reading
An impressive documentary in which Kazuo Hara tackles an unusual and highly personal subject: his former girlfriend, Takeda Miyuki. In many ways this film feels like a home movie, with the eventual out of sync sound and the occasionally blurry cinematography. It is also, however, an impressive personal and subjective documentation of a relationship as well as an example of alternative lifestyles in 70’s Japan. During 3 years Kazuo Hara follows his ex-lover, a feminist, bisexual and independent woman. The most impressive parts come from the highly personal moments (and some could argue, for the voyeuristic pleasure of the spectator) such as when Miyuki is having a new relationship with a black American man and when she gives birth to his child, all alone in her bed. Even at a time today when the personal lives of many people are bared in all fronts, from internet to reality shows, this film still stands out. After all, there is a major difference to simply being shown someone else’s life for TV ratings and having it candidly discussed from a first person point of view. Continue reading
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
In the past, screenings of silent films in Japan were extremely lively events that featured various sounds. Katsudo benshi, or motion picture narrators delivered passionate and eloquent narrations. Live music accompanied their performance. The period drama films in particular featured a new performance format that combined music played on Western and Japanese instruments, a collaboration impossible in a normal concert. The music of trumpets and violins blended with the sounds of shamisen and Japanese drums. In the climax scene, when our hero, the righteous samurai Kurama Tengu, rushed in on his horse to fight the Shinsengumi, the audience erupted in applause. Between sets, children selling rice crackers and other delicacies crisscrossed the theater shouting “Senbei, caramels” at the top of their lungs. In the Kurama Tengu series, the plot revolved around the adventures of the brave samurai Kurama Tengu and his loyal friend, the boy Sugisaku, so crowds of enthusiastic children loudly applauded the feats of their heroes. Continue reading
The Lady and the Beard, directed by Yasujiro Ozu and starring Tokihiko Okada, is a charming light comedy about a young man who graduates from college, falls in love, shaves his beard at his lady’s suggestion, and finds a job. It’s very charming, and very light. Even my brief summary suggests more plot than actually exists. The film is largely a series of comic vignettes about a vibrant young man and three young women of differing temperaments who take an interest in him. [commentarytrack.com]
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