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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Yama No Oto (The Sound of The Mountain)


It was time to go back and immerse myself in the fabulous world of earlier Japanese cinema and I did with this incredibly interesting 1954 film by Mikio Naruse. Considered by some as possibly Naruse’s most perfect entry in his preferred genre of shomin-geki (films about the daily lives of the lower middle-classes – and I mention this even when what I saw in here it does not seem to me lower middle class-), possessed of a measured pace and a melancholy, lyrical undercurrent and they couldn’t be more right.

Based on the novel with the same name by Yasunari Kawabata, tells the story of the Ogata family with the events witnessed from the perspective of its aging patriarch, Shingo who begins to observe and question more closely his relations with the other members of his family who include his wife Yasuko, his philandering son Shuichi (who, in traditional Japanese custom, lives with his wife in his parents’ house), his daughter-in-law Kikuko, and his married daughter Fusako, who has left her husband and returned to her family home with her two young daughter.

Knowing that his son is having an affair he quietly puts pressure upon Shuichi to quit his infidelity. At the same time, he uncomfortably becomes aware that he has begun to experience a fatherly, yet erotic attachment to Kikuko, whose quiet suffering in the face of her husband’s unfaithfulness, physical attractiveness, and filial devotion contrast strongly with the bitter resentment and homeliness of his own daughter. It is a story with meditations about life, love and companionship.

If you wonder why I wrote so much about the story, I’ll let you know why. To my western eyes I couldn’t believe what I was seeing happening in the screen and knowing how Japanese society behave in the post-war society I was quite confused. The movie didn’t allow me to understand if what I was seeing was truth or my imagination due to the extraordinary acting. So I did some research about the novel and that’s how I finally found that what I was seeing was NOT my imagination! It is as it looks with the extremely good performances by Setsuko Hara (Kikuko) and Sô Yamamura (Shingo).

Feel like this is the best Naruse movie I have seen up-to-date as very fast engaged me in this not so traditional story (that can be very contemporary) in a magnificent black and white film with many still camera shots, long shots, and outstandingly good performances by all actors.

The best article to understand this powerful Naruse film is here and I suggest you read it after you watch this incredibly good film. Just as a teaser here is an excerpt from the article:

"If you have ever wondered what happened to the various Setsuko Hara characters from all those Ozu films after she was forced to trade her life as a daughter for a probably loveless marriage, Sound of the Mountain is the film for you. Hara, the most delicate member of the repertory company of actors gracing the works of the Japanese classicists, is here faced with slow marital suffocation, depicted with typical lucidity by director Mikio Naruse. "

Worth mention is that Sô Yamamura won the Best Actor award at the 1955 Mainichi Film Concours. This is a must be seen movie for those that want to explore the world of Mikio Naruse and want to continue their joyful voyage into earlier Japanese cinema.

Big Enjoy!!!

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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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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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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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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Day 2 - Cannes 2015




The second day comes like a cinema tsunami as there are films and activities in all the sections of the festival plus the Cannes Market is bursting with high profile projects and selling films from all over the world and for all over the world.

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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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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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Monday, June 16, 2008

Dong


This documentary is the companion piece of Jia Zhang ke film Sānxiá Hǎorén (Still Life) that follows artist and actor Liu Xiaodong as he invited Jia to film him while he paints a group of laborers near the Three Gorges Dam and later a group of women in Bangkok, Thailand.

In the Three Gorges Dam segment the documentary shares some takes from the Still Life film, so it is obvious to me that Jia was doing the film at the same time. The evident story about the big format spreads that Liu is painting in each segment is interesting as you are able to see how he sketches and some paintings transformations into the final art production.

But everything I have told you is only the excuse to do what Jia Zhang ke does like no other contemporary filmmaker I know, as he chronicles moments in the ordinary life of people, this time in China as well as in Thailand and he does it in his quiet incisive way that here flourishes so good especially in the Thailand segment.

The Three Georges Dam segment was an excellent complement to the movie as gives you more insights on the local population ordinary life. But the Thailand segment was a true surprise to me that engaged me up to the point of imagining a complete short film out of the situations presented for one of the girl’s posing for the painting; mesmerized me when followed the blind beggars couple, and totally drove me crazy with his camera moves and framing.

This is not your regular documentary, this is a fantastic film that incisively peeks at people’s lives and does it without being intrusive. Amazing! As a film has some long takes, silent majestic moments, absolutely great framing, and there are not many words involved in the 66 minutes it runs. This film is a confirmation to me that he has to be recording the contemporary lives of people as Ozu and Naruse did in their time and as I first felt with Still Life and Unknown Pleasures.

As you perhaps guessed by now this film is absolutely not for all audiences as most people expect a documentary about a painter and well, yes it is… but that’s not the true value of this film. I believe you have to be familiar with Jia Zhang ke filmmaking style to really enjoy this film and please notice that I do not call it a documentary, as this is a medium length outstanding film that serious cinema lovers cannot afford to miss if you have seen Still Life, but also if you haven’t as is a oeuvre that stands alone especially for the Thailand segment.

By the way, Dong literally means East, which to me means exactly what this film is all about, an extraordinary glimpse at the contemporary and ordinary lives of some eastern people. Now more than before, I'm "dying" to be able to see Jia Zhang ke latest movie, Er shi si cheng ji (24 City) that premeried at the 2008 Cannes.

Big Enjoy!!!

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Friday, June 06, 2008

Rèn xiāo yáo (Unknown Pleasures)


Yes another Jia Zhangke movie that is as compelling as the one I saw the other day and as I was hoping it tells a story about contemporary China and does it in his quiet incisive way.

But before talking about the movie I want to record some information about this filmmaker that is becoming more and more interesting. The following is an excerpt from an article in Senses of Cinema.

"Jia Zhangke is a leading figure of what is known as the “Sixth Generation” of film directors in the People's Republic of China, following the “Fifth Generation,” whose members include Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige. The Fifth Generation directors occupy themselves mostly with spectacle-driven mythic histories laden with pointed social criticisms that jeopardize their standing with the government censors. In contrast, the Sixth Generation filmmakers largely produce their gritty, contemporary realist films well outside of the state system, relying instead on personal or private funding, often through sources outside China."

So now we all know that definitively as I suspected with the first film I saw, Jia’s work is a contemporary raw realism and this movie has exactly that style that borders closely to a documentary look alike. Is like if he’s recording the changes that had to happen and still have to happen with the “modernization” of China. In a way recalls the work of Ozu and Naruse that today allows us to see a different Japan, but when the movies were released represented their own simple reality.

The movie tells a slice of life of two teenagers and is set in a remote city near the Mongolian border called Datong. Both Bin Bin and Xiao Ji just completed the school and are unemployed, have nothing much to do and kill time consuming mostly American pop culture from TV, movies, music and Coca-Cola (!!!), they have no future and they look and behave like sleep walkers transiting a senseless life. In the background everything is happening Beijing named for the next Olympic games, the new highway that will communicate Datong to Beijing, an US spy plane downed, etc; but they do not care and even do not become consciously aware that the explosion they heard killed people. In this explosion scene I just love what Bin Bin says that I paraphrase: Are the Americans bombing China? (Gee, did I laugh!).

As you can guess the movie is not for all audiences as actually nothing happens in this slow paced essay about uncertainty with the abandon of the ones forgotten that only are able to catch the invasive consumerism of the American ways. But of course a lot is being said in the quiet, sarcastic and outstandingly incisive silence, scene after scene. Incredible! Images and impeccable actors performances say all that words will not.

By now you know that I found another director that is becoming a must be seen director for his visual narrative and the most interesting recording of contemporary life in China. It is truly remarkable how without many words, without drama, and with excellent cinematography and performances a filmmaker can tell so much.

Anyway the movie was in competition for the Palm D’Or at the 2002 Cannes and has another award at the 2003 Singapore International Film Festival. But beyond the artistic value of this film and probably of all Jia’s body of work, this film is a must be seen for those interesting in knowing a filmmaker vision of contemporary China.

Still, because Jin Zhanke is an excellent filmmaker I strongly recommend this movie to all serious cinema lovers.

Big Enjoy!!!

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

Mogari No Mori (The Mourning Forest)


Incredibly beautiful and poignant film by Naomi Kawase that will make you feel absolutely everything very intensively, but even if is really stunning to watch, after I saw it I felt very sad not necessarily because of the story, I think that it was because the serene poetic mood that the marvelous end transmits.

The film has a simple but intense story about a young caregiver, Machiko, that while grieving the death of her son bonds with senile 70 years old Shigeki that is still grieving for his wife after 33 years and together find resolution to their own loss. There are some very Japanese symbols in this movie but I feel that the sparse dialogue allows everybody to understand the meaning of almost everything, so I suggest paying attention especially to the Buddhist priest that explains the meaning of being alive and other important things.

One thing I will include that I believe will facilitate the watching of this film in the most glorious way and is something that is said at the end of the movie that goes more or less like this: the term ‘mogari’, or period of mourning comes from an older expression ‘mo agari’ meaning the end of mourning. Consequently the amazing forest takes on a symbolic meaning as the site for ‘the resolution of the mourning process’.

The absence of words, the slow pace plus the outstanding cinematography makes a film more than stunning, breathless and the mountainous region west of Nara is unbelievably amazing to look at with the forest full of looming trees and floor thick with sasa (dwarf bamboo) and the wind-swept fields where visual poetry blends with marvelous sound. Absolutely beautiful!

As you probably guessed by now this is not a film suitable for all audiences as you really have to like art cinema and more, you have to like Japanese classic films from the masters like Ozu, Mizogushi, Naruse or Kurosawa. This is important as the outstanding performances by actors and non-actors totally recall the acting in films from those filmmakers.

Machiko Ono plays Machiko and her performance is truly awesome according to non-western standards and she was honored with the Best Actress Award at the 2007 Cannes, where the movie won the Grand Prix. Since Cannes the movie was screened at many other festivals and has won many accolades.

It is truly an impressive Japanese masterpiece that I waited almost a year to be able to see and even if I felt very sad at the end, I strongly recommend the movie as a must be seen for those that love serious cinema.

Big Enjoy!!!

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Banshun (Late Spring)


This 1949 Yasujiro Ozu film is a film that many consider as Ozu’s best and is the first one of a series of films about families. It tells the story of a widowed father and a mid twenties years old daughter that live happily together caring one for the other. But Noriko, the daughter, is well above the marriage age and has to get married even if she does not want to, as she doesn’t want to leave her father alone and assume the resposibilities of married life. That’s the story, but actually this movie is about anger, passion, humiliation, resentment and unhappiness and you’ll be able to see all this feelings with the great performance by one of Ozu’s favorite actresses Setsuko Hara that plays Noriko.

For about 45 minutes you will be able to see how happy they live in the daily postwar Japanese life, where “modern” women were just starting to emerge and Japanese society was also starting to transform itself. But traditions are traditions and as the father says (I’m paraphrasing) “that’s the way humans are and their history” meaning that there is a moment when you have to do what you’re supposed to do: get married and start your new life. So, the second part of the movie the feelings start to expose themselves in the face of Noriko that’s forcing herself to do what she does not want to do and in her father “sacrifice” that he absolutely does not want to make.

In the surface the story is very simple but the amazing performances, the slow pace, the long and medium shots, the still/fix camera and Ozu’s brilliant ability as a filmmaker and storyteller allow you to easily go deeper into the characters emotions. Then is easy to understand the reason why behind Ozu’s preference for this film, as is one of his two favorite films.

To me this is not an intense story as some of the previous Ozu movies I have seen, which I believe makes it easier to see to wider audiences that want to explore Ozu’s oeuvre. But be prepared to see many scenes where “nothing” happens in the surface.

The Criterion Collection 331 DVD comes with a second feature Tokyo-Ga a 90 minutes documentary by director Wim Weders done as a tribute to Yasujiro Ozu that shows Tokyo in the ‘80s as well as interviews with Ozu’s signature actor Chistu Ryu and long time cameraman Yuharu Atsuta. It’s like a love letter to Ozu and a must be seen.

Have to say that the movie is magnificent, but if I compare it to the previous movies I have seen by him, have to say that this one is different and with this movie he’s very different to Naruse or Mizogushi. I believe that I’m starting to really understand his unique style.

Enjoy!

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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.

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

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.

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