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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Saikaku Ichidai Onna (Life of Oharu)


The more I learn about Japanese directors the more I become puzzled about their body of work and the more I wish I was able to absorb all of them in a few movies. But that is impossible as I am finding more and more interesting and key information about an era that produced magnificent movies and incredible directors.

Then I think that less than two weeks ago I was wishing to get into an unknown world, today I have seen at least one movie by each of these directors Naruse and Ozu. I extensively knew one director Akira Kurosawa, whom I consider an extraordinary filmmaker. Now I understand that during those decades there was more than Kurosawa and that the Japanese studios era played a major role in facilitating the creation of extraordinary cinema.

This time is Kenji Mizoguchi. This is a different kind of director and probably the most interesting to me as many of his movies are about women and his outcry against the brutalization of women by Japanese society. I am quoting a film critic: “In his films women are stronger than men, partly it’s because suffering strengthens them. It’s the injustice of the suffering to which Mizoguchi kept returning in a long string of films ranging from Osaka Elegy to Street of Shame. In film after film, Mizoguchi conveyed social and emotional tempests boiling beneath immaculately formal surfaces”. This quote makes me even more curious to see more Mizoguchi’s films.

Seems like the early ‘50s decade was difficult for Mizoguchi as his work was barely appreciated in Japan (unlike Ozu’s popularity) and the filming of Life of Oharu was uphill from the beginning as was hard to find funds and hard to film as due to budget constrains he had to use a warehouse instead of a studio’s regular sound stage. The story of the harsh times to film this movie is as fascinating as the story the film tells. Even with all the limitations Mizoguchi managed to create a movie that most critics and movie historians consider a masterpiece that turned around his career and life (he even tuned down his drinking).

To quote another critic: “This is a portrait of a 17th century woman’s repeated humiliation by her patriarchal society and is devastating from beginning to end, but its genius is not so much Mizoguchi’s caustic criticism of a money-obsessed society’s refusal to acknowledge its accountability for her degradation, but that Mizoguchi uses Oharu’s life to peel back layers of the physical self and reveal the soul that lies bruised beneath”. Absolutely agree.

This 1952 film tells the story of Oharu that went from a lady-in-waiting in the imperial court in Kyoto to a street prostitute due to a series of the most unfortunate circumstances triggered since she falls in love with a lower rank man, Katsunosuke played by a very young Toshirô Mifune. But what I call the “most unfortunate circumstances” is no other than the traditions of a society that places women in the lowest possible rank.

The story is an adaptation from the Tokugawa shogunate-era novel Koshoku Ichidai Onna (Life of an Amorous Woman) by Saikaku Ihara (1686) and Mizoguchi started to write this screenplay before the WWII and during the American occupation it was impossible that studios will film this movie, so he had to wait after the Americans left to be able to start production.

This film went to represent Japan at the 1952 Venice film festival and Mizoguchi won the International Award and was nominated for the Golden Lion.

Mizoguchi technique is impressive with his long takes and highly controlled camera producing an hypnotic film.

If in 1952 when the movie was released in Japan, Japanese audiences did not embraced this movie because among other things it was too long, nowadays I think that only western audiences that like oeuvres of art and/or are interested in women stories could really enjoy this movie.

One of the most amazing women stories and movies I have ever seen. Most recommended to every woman in the world.

I have to share with you that learning about this movie and Mizoguchi work helped me to understand even more the intention behind Hou’s Café Lumière and realize the amazing evolution of women’s role within Japanese society.

Last I have to admit that I remembered watching this movie before. Then I like it, but now under a different context, life stage and with this Japanese cycle I have immersed into, I like it a lot more.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Sanshô Dayû (The Legend of Bailiff Sansho)


Another very intense Japanese movie this time by Kenji Mizoguchi. This black and white 1954 masterpiece is the most touching epic folk tale that I have ever seen, but I know that is Mizoguchi master storyteller and filmmaker abilities that make this film outstanding with astonishing images of visual beauty that never deadens the power of this human drama and Mizoguchi’s sense of outrage against oppression.

I’m including some words from a 2002 article that will help me to give an idea of what an incredible movie I just have seen.

Sanshô Dayû, in any case, transcends all reservations. It is the triumphant summation of Mizoguchi's style and themes, as well as the most compassionate response imaginable to those atrocities which had been committed in then very recent years, in Japan and all over the world. It is the most humanist of films, but it asserts that humanism is powerless without politics, just as politics is purposeless without humanism. The last sequence is the most perfect ending in cinema, so broad in implication, so exquisite in form. The reunion of mother and son – the revelation of human love – is at once the most important thing in the world, and an event insignificant against the panorama of human suffering. The double perspective – never to see things in isolation, always in context – is assured by Mizoguchi's style, and defines his art. Sanshô Dayû is, in Gilbert Adair's words, “one of those films for whose sake the cinema exists” If any art has justified this medium, so often crude, thoughtless and mundane, it is the art of Kenji Mizoguchi.

Truth is that I’m exhausted. This film gave so many intense emotions and couldn’t help but think that it has so many parallelism to today, as what it was said in the article, “humanism is powerless without politics, just as politics is purposeless without humanism”, very wise words and powerful insight about the world’s past, the world’s present and the world’s future.

The film is incredibly sad but I am not one little bit sorry for seeing this high quality drama that since the beginning will take you into a voyage of seeing what’s happening, imagining what comes next, wanting to stop what you’re seeing in the screen, feel relief, feel angst, feel devastated, the end.

My true feeling right now is that I’m glad that I was able to see this film before dying and I know I will revisit this film once and hopefully many more times in the future. Yes, probably is the best movie I have ever seen, the one with the most higher production values, the most complete, and the most perfect. This is perfect symbiosis of substance and style.

I’m still full of emotions, but let me tell you about the story that is based on a tale by Ogai Mori with screenplay by Fuji Yahiro Yishikata Yoda. It starts by telling you that “the origin of this legend of Sanshô Dayû goes back to medieval times when Japan had not yet emerged from the Dark Ages and mankind had yet to awaken as human beings. It has been retold by the people for centuries and it’s treasured today as one of the epic folk tales of our history”. Basically is about a kind governor that looses power for being so kind; his wife, son and daughter that have to go to live with the wife's brother and when the kids are older decide to reunite with the former governor who is in exile. From there on a series of misfortunes happens to the wife Tamaki, the son Zushio and the daughter Anju.

The mother is played by Kinuyo Tanaka that is another of the female Mizoguchi icons and she was also in Flowing and The Life of Oharu. The film won the Silver Lion in the 1954 Venice Film Festival.

Last, I read a review from a critic that said that this film is “Serious as a heart attack and so emotionally wrenching that it's almost difficult to watch” and believe me is totally true.

This is the ONE movie you have to see at least once in your lifetime.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Gion Bayashi (A Geisha aka Gion Festival Music)


I needed to watch a Japanese movie as all I have seen, no matter how intense they are, bring me interior peace and I was not disappointed at all with this 1953 Kenji Mizoguchi film even when it has the somber aura of a postwar film has a quite interesting story about what women can do to and feel for other women.

The basic story is about a geisha, Miyoharu, that accepts a young girl, Eiko, as her apprentice when the girl asks for Miyoharu’s help to avoid having to sleep with her uncle that paid for her grandmother’s expensive funeral and is requesting payment. After about a year Eiko is ready to make her debut and Miyoharu incur in debt to be able to pay for the expenses of Eiko’s costume. At Eiko’s debut both meet Kusuda, a scheming entrepreneur that will manipulate them for the sake of winning a vital business contract with Kanzaki a head of a department slanted for promotion to the position of company director. Kanzaki develops an intense attraction to Miyoharu. All is happening at the teahouse of powerful Okimi where Kusuda is a regular and valuable customer. What happens next is the development of a web knitted by all the characters that will trap both older and younger geishas, until Miyoharu is forced to the maximum Geisha sacrifice (go to the dark side) to save Eiko and herself.

But actually the story is about how women in power positions (Okimi) can destroy the life of other women to save her business and how a family-less woman (Miyoharu) is willing to do the ultimate sacrifice for the love of a girl (Eiko) that she loves as if she was her own daughter. So you have that the main characters are strong women that will do anything to save what they care for. Still, there is another story layer and is related to how younger geisha generations started to change after the war because women started to question what they were doing and to have rights in Japanese society; and another story layer, how after the war many geishas had to become prostitutes. So it is a movie with a story that has many layers parallel running in front of you as smooth as most typical Japanese movies do, as in this movie that has an excellent women drama, there are not many dramatic scenes (but there are a few excellent ones), everything is done with the smoother and polite tone and manner that is peculiar to their culture.

When reading about this movie I got all confused as seems this movie is regarded by some as ‘not a good’ Mizoguchi movie and they dismiss it with the most unusual comments that I absolutely cannot relate to the movie I saw. In my opinion this is a very good Mizoguchi movie that masterfully deals with a complex and layered story and presents it in the easiest way for viewers pleasure, as absolutely is the reflection of what I want to call the Japanese quotidian post war life.

I loved the movie and find it different to the other Mizoguchi movies I have seen but not for a moment I considered that this was not an excellent Mizoguchi movie that I’m certain he impregnated his style and vision to the novel by Matsutarô Kawaguchi, who also wrote the screenplay. I say that the movie is different because looks and feels like studio movies with no outdoors scenes and still straight angle camera takes, and also like a western stage play.

Performances by the lead and supporting actors are impeccable and the actors’ that played Okimi, Chieko Naniwa, and Eiko’s father, Eitarô Shindô, won the 1954 Blue Ribbon awards for Best Supporting Actress and Actor respectively.

This is one Mizoguchi movie that I highly recommend to all that like his movies, that like to watch the women stories in his films as well as in Naruse and Ozu films and to those that have to see the movies of that long go era of excellent Japanese cinema.

Big Enjoy!!!

P.S. The picture is the original poster of the movie.

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Nagareru (Flowing)


Naruse is quite different to Mizoguchi even if both profusely created the so-called “women’s films” or films about women stories. My feeling –after seeing only two movies by Naruse and one by Mizoguchi- is that Naruse narrative is more mundane.

But that does not mean that in Flowing Naruse storytelling technique and camera exploration of the everyday moments with a detailed observation (medium shots and close-ups) of performers -that all awareness of acting totally disappears- is not an extraordinarily mundane art film that many today filmmakers of the mundane can learn from.

This 1956 black and white film tells the story of the decline of a formerly first-class Tokyo geisha house owned by middle-aged Tsutayakko. But to me, it tells the raw story of two women living in times when one generation values and traditions are in decline, while the other generation values are emerging. This generation clash is represented by Tsutayakko and her daughter Katsuyo and shows the emotions, the arguments and the denial of both women to give up their own beliefs.

For some reason I feel this movie is full of pessimism and reading about this movie, found out that the postwar era represented to Naruse a period of strong pessimism in most of his work. Even if I could find some pessimism in When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, here is where with his long shots and the way the story develops that you as viewer get the feeling that everyone is sort of welcoming the inevitable.

Please do not get me wrong, there is nothing tragic in here and as a matter of fact when the film ends, the only main character that knows what the future will bring is the maid and she is leaving the house, then you see a river with boats leaving or coming suggesting the decline or the emerging ways within Japanese society.

I recommend this movie to all women that had to or decided to not to live the same life as their mothers did.

Enjoy!

P.S. So I do not forget, Naruse’s Late Chrysanthemums is his next movie after this one and according to historians plays as a sort of “after the fall” sequel to Flowing.

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Day 6 - Cannes 2015




After the tumultuous yesterday, today feels like a very tranquil day in Cannes. Still today there are films that are must-be-seen for me. Perhaps what someone say in social media is true, today is the best cinema-day of the year as in one day some of you lucky Cannes people will be able to watch films by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Miguel Gomes; me, I add Mizoguchi and Costa Gavras to the mix in an excellent cinema-day.

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Monday, August 07, 2017

74th Venice International Film Festival Lineup


Today, August 7, 2017 organizers announce three (3) more films in the selection, one is out of competition, another is a special screening and the last one is a documentary in Venezia Classici section.

The two films are by well-known directors, first is the much-awaited return of John Woo to the crime thriller which made him famous and second, outstanding filmmaker Andrea Segre latest opus which hope has his peculiar storytelling style even when story is about immigration to Europe.

Just noticed la Biennale di Venezia changed its website, so have to find where is everything as not being able to find where is the Special Screenings or maybe the movie announced today is the only one (probably not).  While learn about the site will write the Andrea Segre film data in the following paragraph.

Special Screening: L'ordine delle Cose, Andrea Segre, Italy

To check the news at official site go here

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Saturday, April 23, 2016

Cannes Classics 2016


Last Wednesday fest organizers announced the Cannes Classics program for this edition and later on Friday, April 22 the news were updated. This post has the updated news for the section and yes, it's almost a cut and paste with all the info released as have added some comments when applicable. If you wish to read it at the official site go here.

Bertrand Tavernier with a world premiere preview, a conversation with William Friedkin, a 1966 celebration, the 70th anniversary of the Fipresci prize, Wiseman & Depardon, two giant documentary filmmakers, unknown features from far away countries, film libraries honored, Eastern Europe movies, documentaries about cinema, great popular films, genre films, science fiction, comedies, an animation film, gothic horror, westerns: this is Cannes Classics 2016.

Most of the films which will be presented will be released in theaters and on DVD/Blu-ray. In whole or in part, the Cannes Classics program will be screened at Les Fauvettes theater (Paris), at the festival Cinema Rittrovato (Bologna), at the Institut Lumière (Lyon).

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

2015 Cannes Classics Lineup


As there are too many films and wish not to make even more larger the official selection post decided to do one post just for today's announcement with all the films in Cannes Classics, including those that will be screened at the Cinéma de la Plage. So will update Official Selection post by deleting everything about this section of the festival.

As the work for restorations is going on actively on all continents, one may only be overcome in our present time by regained vivid shadows, blacks and whites and colors of the history which is exposed every year at Cannes Classics. Being the inspiration for numerous initiatives in the whole world, Cannes Classics keeps on working visiting the history of cinema, indisputable masterpieces or precious rarities. They will be distributed in theaters, on DVD, Blu-Ray or VOD. A boiling of features and documentaries which will be screened in 35mm, DCP 2K or 4K and which makes a program which will take place at Buñuel, salle du Soixantième or at the Cinéma de la plage.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2012

一枚のハガキ Ichimai no hagak (Postcard)


Perhaps Kaneto Shindo is less-known than other Japanese classic filmmakers, maybe is because he started as an art director in the late 1930's and became a scriptwriter in the mid-1940's; but after a few years far away from filmmaking (his military service) he became a director. Then today he is also known from those before the war years because he was Kenji Mizoguchi's assistant on some of the master filmmaker films.

I have seen some Shindo films, many he wrote less he directed; maybe his most acclaimed as a director is 1960 Hadaka no shima (The Naked Island) a black and white, no-dialogue film that still haunts me for the visuals and story. But he is also known as the director of Children of Hiroshima that premiered in 1953 Cannes and is the first Japanese film to deal with the subject of the atomic bomb, which had been forbidden under postwar American censorship. Maybe that is why he is also known as "post-war chronicler" for this and other atomic bomb related films he did.

Shindo passed away on May, 2012, two months after his 100 birthday; but after many screenplays (around 160 or more, depending source) and directing approximately 49 films, the last film he wrote and directed is 2010 Postcard, a WWII drama loosely based on his own war experience where from his navy unit of 100 men, he was one of six survivors.

Film story essentially is detonated when Sadazo Morikawa asks Keita, a fellow soldier, that if he dies to give back a postcard to his wife, Tomoko, which he was unable to properly answer -due to censorship- and tell her that he got it. Story moves -back and forth in time- to tell the story of Tomoko and the Morikawa family. Then after the bomb, tells the story of Keita returning home and eventually Tomoko and Keita story becomes one. It is a war story but thankfully you do not see anything graphic about the war.

Postcard is an interesting film not only because story is clearly anti-war and about how to survive after everything is lost, but because has several filmmaking styles. Film starts with us seeing the 100 men unit being instructed about their next assignment which will be executed by officials using a lottery system. These scenes use a filmmaking style that I find belongs more to the one used with huge casts where performers discipline is essential; a style Shindo repeats when Keita tells Tomoko about the night the unit leaves to their certain destiny.

While telling the story of the Morikawa family set before the atomic bomb, film looks really classic Japanese cinema as has many visually fantastic scenes with camera moves, long shots, zooms, wipes and compositions that clearly recall Japanese cinema from the master filmmakers. What surprises is the wry humor that some scenes have not only because scenes are telling about waste of life but also because humor was unusual in Japanese classic cinema.

Style changes when story continues after the bomb to become a lot more contemporary, especially in the use of space and movement. Still, there are a few scenes like when Keita and Tomoko vividly discuss or when Tomoko goes wild before burning her house, that are clearly theatrical, Japanese theater style of course.

In the end what could have been a melodrama thanks to story becomes an unsentimental drama dealing with very unsettling issues and presented with an interesting mixture of Japanese cinema styles that will please your eyes and make the cinema experience easier to ride. Then we cannot forget the unexpected use of wry and theatrical humor in key scenes along the entire film that surely will surprise many familiar with Japanese cinema.

Film was premiered at 2010 Tokyo fest were won the Special Jury Prize, continue collecting honors at 2011 Moscow fest plus other Japanese fests/awards, and was Japan's submission to 2012 Oscar. After watching film wonder why Japan sent this film to Oscar as definitively film is not for general audiences -much less for foreign-language committee Academy members- and if you read mainly viewers reviews you will find that most viewers did not liked film, especially younger ones.

Tend to agree with younger audiences as believe that this film is not for them, this is a film for those that enjoy Japanese cinema, especially films from the Golden Age of Japan cinema and those that for sentimental reasons -or not- have to see the last film by Shindo where he returned to visit the storytelling style of his beginnings after also traveling genres like horror, erotic films, crime, comedy and more.

Absolutely recommend film and this post is also my little homage to a great filmmaker that left us this year but will continue to live throughout his extensive oeuvre. R.I.P.

Enjoy!!!

Watch trailer @MOC

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Brune/Blonde


Was going to leave information only in facebook but this exposition is one that strongly suggests you watch live in Paris –the lucky ones- and/or via the virtual exposition that for the pleasure of many is available in French and English.

Just to tease you all into exploring the amazing virtual exposition here is the first paragraph of the expo foreword.

The cinema is a medium that made women's hair a privileged motif for its aesthetics and its mythology. Heir to painting and literature, it protracted this fascination for women's hair and its associated gestures. From the very beginning, film-makers and their directors of photography realised the full potential of the form and matter of hair which could be exploited in the luminous construction of their shots. They appropriated the pictorial and mythological richness of hair and bestowed it, for the very first time, with the excitement of motion. The great immortalisers of women's hair (Hitchcock, Mizoguchi, Buñuel, Antonioni, Bergman, Godard, Lynch, Fassbinder and others) are intersected by the singular emotion aroused in them by women's hair, which holds a part of the mystery that makes their creativity so remarkable and intimate.

The virtual exposition is for you to discover, but I suggest you don’t miss the following clips: Veronica Lake, Safety Styles (hilarious), Buñuel in Mexico, Chantal Akerman plus Hitchcok; well, ALL are so good and more will be available soon.

Hope you enjoy the online exhibition that is an extension to the temporary exhibition Brune/Blonde, an Arts and Cinema exhibition at the Cinémathèque française from 6 October 2010 to 16 January 2011.

To visit the online exhibition go here.  To check the fifty films that will be presented during the three months go here and to read all about this amazing exposition go here and check the catalogue, the gigantic sculpture and more.

This is the video that promotes the exposition.



Enjoy!!!

Photos from Le Vernissage


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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Yukinojo Henge (An Actor’s Revenge)


My spontaneous reaction to this 1963 film by Kon Ichikawa is that is very different to any other Japanese movie I’ve have seen, but as fascinating as the works of Kurosawa, Ozu, Mizoguchi and Naruse. The film is really ‘different’ not only as a film but also because the story it tells.

Tells the story of female impersonator Yukinojo Nakamura that works with a Kabuki troupe that arrives to Edo where Yukinojo is finally able to implement his revenge against three greedy man that ruined his family while he was a little kid. Honestly is a simple story but the way that is presented makes it one of the most complex stories I have seen lately, as the mise-en-scene, the performances and the director style makes a simple tale to become outstandingly complex, mesmerizing and very interesting.

According to what I have been reading, Kabuki female impersonators (onnagta) used to dress as women even when they were not in the stage; so in this movie you have Yukinojo always dressed as a woman with the most beautiful kimonos you can imagine. She truly looks like a woman (with some masculine facial features) and the character attracts other women that instantly fall in love with him (or her?). In the translation Yukinojo is called “half man, half woman” by the woman thief, Ohatsu, that falls for her/him. By the way, Ohatsu is called a ‘man hater’, but nevertheless she falls for Yukinojo.

Yukinojo in the beginning because of the revenge machinations seduces very beautiful Namiji, the daughter of Dobe a powerful man in Edo and one of the objects of his revenge; but in the end is willing to accept that she’s an innocent bystander. So you are able to watch what looks like two women in tender seduction and tormented romance.

The movie was sort of a ‘punishment’ given to Ichikawa because previous films failure to achieve commercial success and it’s a remake of a 1935 film by Teinousuke Kinugasa of the same name in Japanese but with a different translation as it is called Yukinojo Revenge. In the original film actor Kazuo Hasegawa plays Yukinojo, Yamitaro the Thief and Yukinojo’s mother. In Ichikawa film the same actor plays Yukinojo (always a woman) and Yamitaro (always a man). So, this adds another layer to the film that makes it quite playful because you have one Yamitaro monologue where the character really is saying that he is a good actor! But also makes it look like mirror characters with clearly plural intertextuality as James Quandt calls it in his book, Kon Ichikawa, that if you feel like reading some excerpts regarding this movie go here.

But what really blew my mind is the film as a film. With very few exceptions, the film had outdoor scenes that purposely look like unrealistic outdoors or like Kabuki stage montages. The end product is fascinating especially when the film is in cinemascope and takes all the possible advantages of the then new technique in many scenes, like when Yamitaro is ‘captured’ by a rope that you just see it goes into infinite dark. Also the lighting is very stage alike, which allows great dramatization of moments and playful kind of ‘silly’ sword fights. Some serious cinema historians consider his theater-to-cinema style to be a precursor inspiration to future anime/manga. One hallucinating extra is the eclectic use of background music that includes traditional kabuki accompaniment, folk music, jazz, and avant-garde ambient sounds. Amazing style that has all the elements of a disaster and only in Ichikawa hands became not only outstandingly beautiful to watch but also flawlessly cinematic art. Bravo!

The movie is the winner of the Best Art Direction at the 1964 Mainichi Film Concours and truly deserves the award and more.

Yes, I’m very impressed by this film that came as a total surprise as I found it while doing the research for the lesbian cinema project and had the great opportunity to find it in a friend’s collection. I’m really torn to assign this movie the lesbian label, as while watching the movie even when I saw a woman with another woman, I knew it was a man! But well, the movie is so interesting, different and fascinating that I will assign the label so perhaps some of you readers decide to give it a try, but definitively is not your regular lesbian interest movie.

If you feel like reading more about the movie I suggest you check this article in the Senses of Cinema site.

I imagine that most of you serious cinema and Japanese cinema lovers have already seen this movie that is one of Ichikawa most famous films in the west. But if you have not, I strongly suggest you consider it as a must be seen.

Big Enjoy!!!

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Nijushi No Hitomi (Twenty-Four Eyes)


After seeing quite a few Japanese movies I decided to take a break as I found them very intense and my emotions started to tremble. But today I decided that it was time to start again and find out how long can I go seeing marvelous Japanese masterpieces. When I started to see this movie I was sort of relieved as it was a nice and happy story, but a little before the end of the first half the drama picked up and became as intense as the others I have seen.

This 1954 Keisuke Kinoshita movie tells the story of a young schoolteacher and her pupils. The movie stars in the first day of school and her first time ever teaching, her 12 pupils are first graders. Set in a picturesque island in the Inland Sea, the story covers a 20-year time span embracing prewar, wartime and early postwar Japan. Adapted from a novel by female writer Sakae Tsuboi the story is a strong bittersweet melodrama that goes from happiness and simple life to the hardships of still young girls forced by economic privation and/or death of their parents to leave school and support their families and young boys becoming cannon fodder.

But the story is actually about war and the sorrow that always comes from it; all done without one war scene, just showing how life developed in that isolated region while the world and Japan were fighting far away from there.

This black and white movie has nice cinematography and very nice long shots. Stars marvelous Hideko Takamine (also the lead in Naruse’s When a Woman Ascends the Stairs and Flowing) as the schoolteacher and her performance is sweet as the young teacher, dry and dramatic as she gets older to end up bittersweet at postwar time.

When released in Japan it became a blockbuster that also won important Japanese awards, with Kinoshita winning in a year that also had great masterpieces from Mizoguchi, Naruse and Kurosawa. Also won the 1955 Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film.

From the good Japanese movies I have seen since I started this blog, this is the easier to watch as is less dramatic on the surface and you have to sort of read between the lines to uncover the war related drama. Then, this is exactly what makes this movie outstanding.

Lastly, Kinoshita is noted for his films about the suffering of women and for the strong performances of female stars in them.

Enjoy!

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Kôhî Jikô (Café Lumière)


Yesterday I stopped by the very good video club near home and they had new titles so I picked up some (many) movies to watch during this weekend. Hate to wear my reading glasses –without them I cannot see a thing-, so I chose them by the cover. Go home, pick one and start watching. Café Lumière is the first one.

When I finished watching this movie my honest spontaneous reaction was, what a strange movie… but during its 135 (or so) minutes I could not get my eyes from the screen. By half the movie I said: where is the story? By the third quarter I said: there is no story; this is a slice of life. By the end I jumped and exclaimed fantastic! And strange. Little did I knew.

What I found mesmerizing are the many scenes that look like they were filmed in real time and show those meaningless moments of life in such a marvelous way. Loved the urban chaos and the serenity of indoor takes. And I could go on and on but lets get into business.

This film is co written and directed by famous Taiwanese Hsiao-hsien Hou, stars half Japanese and half Taiwanese Yo Hitoto –in her screen debut- and Japanese Tadanobu Asano. The film is shot in Tokyo and is a very Japanese story … and film. So we have a Taiwanese director/writer that does not speak Japanese nor lives in Japan, filming in Japanese and with a Japanese story?? Strange, isn’t?

Well, this film was commissioned by a Japanese studio to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great Japanese director Yosujiro Ozu! With one specific instruction, it had to be a true Japanese movie. According to the studio Hsiao-hsien Hou did a masterpiece that represents Japan today and the future.

With this knowledge the story started to appear in my mind. This is about a young woman, Yoko (played by Yo Hitoto) that after spending a few years in Taiwan teaching Japanese comes back to Tokyo pregnant and finds again her friend Hajime Takeuchi (played by Asano) that loves her, her father and wife that do not know how to communicate with her and continues her life. She is an independent and strong woman that does not want to marry the Taiwanese father of her child because he is too close to his mother. She wants to raise her child alone.

According to most marvelous French produced documentary I have seen recently, Ozu’s films were very popular in his time as they reflected Japanese society extremely well and is today when they are considered art cinema. The above story is a story that Ozu could never tell as it was impossible in the Japanese culture of the ‘50’s/’60s or earlier. The industrialization and economic growth has been changing Japanese society and today there are two extremely different generations living together. The role that probably has changed more is women role in society.

According to me, Hou did the same as Ozu but with today standards and he did it brilliantly!

Just yesterday I was hoping to learn more about Naruse, Ozu and Mizoguchi. My biggest surprise is to watch in that fabulous documentary many clips from Ozu films!! Today there are two Ozu’s movies I HAVE TO see Higanbana (Equinox Flower) 1958 and Sanma No Aji (An Autumn Afternoon or Le Goût du Sake) 1962.

I have to admit that after watching the dvd’s extras everything came into place and I understood why I just was hypnotized by this movie.

Last but not least, Yo Hitoto won her fist award as Newcomer of the Year in the 2005 Awards of the Japanese Academy and Hsiao-hsien Hou won the Golden Tulip at the 2005 Istambul International Film Festival and was nominated for the Golden Lion in the 2004 Venice Film Festival.

Do not miss this movie if the dvd is near you and please watch the documentary called Métro Lumière as well as the interviews with the two main actors and the director.

This is absolutely an art house cinema not for all audiences.

P.S. In the documentary Hsiao-hsien Hou mentions how difficult is to make a film about a culture that is so different to his and succeed, this make me think about My Blueberry Nights that is getting so-so reviews.

Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Mizoguchi. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query Mizoguchi. Sort by date Show all posts

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Onna Ga Kaidan Wo Agaru Toki (When a Woman Ascends the Stairs)


What an outstanding beautiful and interesting movie!! Let me elaborate on what I mean, as this is not your regular beauty.

This 1960 black and white movie by Mikio Naruse tells a very interesting story about one woman, Mama, that works in the Ginza district where Japanese business men go after work to drink and whatever else they can get. She is approaching the age of thirty, an age where she has to make a choice, get married or open a bar of her own.

What I find very interesting is not only her story full of bittersweet disappointments but also the opportunity to see the rituals of the Ginza district -that include girl-client and business ways- and how different, yet similar, Japanese culture is from western culture in many more ways than the evident ones they show in the movie. This movie has layers and layers of hidden messages –those that depend on the eyes of the viewer- without the use of metaphors, simply interwoven into the story by mean of an excellent performance and the most incredible director.

First let me tell you about Hideko Takamine that plays Mama –her professional name- or Keiko Yashido –the character name. According to the imDb this actress, born in 1924, has many honors from different Japanese and international awards for best actress. The last one is from 1996 and is a Lifetime Achievement Award of the Japanese Academy.

In this movie, one of the 179 she made –wow-, her performance is so believable, suave and simply great that it will impress you strongly as definitively she steals the movie, she is the movie. This is the first time I watch a movie with her and hopefully in the future I will watch more with her.

Then there is Mikio Naruse. This is also my first movie by him out of 89 he has directed, to be sure of this hard statement, I checked my collection of oriental movies just to make sure that I have never seen something by him, because I could not believe I never watched any of his movies!!

Mikio Naruse is a poet with images! Took a story -that could have been as many others- and converted into pure poetry. What a great filmmaker and storyteller. But most of all, he is a true artist that created a masterpiece and a great work of art.

Now I am wondering about his body of work. I need to watch more movies by him… and if this is not enough, now I want to see work by other Naruse contemporary directors, Ozu and Mizoguchi. If you are interested in learning more about Mikio Naruse check here.

This is a breathtaking film.

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