Kondo Kaoru is a serious young woman who makes a living as a real estate agent. A bit too cold and serious, Kaoru is told to lighten up after a customer complains about her attitude. Even her younger brother finds her stony disposition to be too much to take. However, Kaoru is a kind young woman at heart, and one day while she is taking a day of mandatory vacation, the viewer learns why Kaoru has become so hard edged.
Roughly around the time Kaoru was ten years old, her father left his secure company job to take up the shady occupation of a used car salesman, an industry often linked with criminal elements in Japan, and his wife, a rigid and uncompromising woman, leaves him and her children one morning without saying a word. Kaoru and family live for a short duration of time off junk food while her father's gambling buddies/business partners fill the house with cigarette smoke and empty beer bottles. One day, a long-haired slender woman sporting garish clothing makes her presence at the Kondo household, stating that she is there to make meals for Kaoru and her brother Makoto. This woman is Yoko, a chain-smoking, tough-talking woman who, unbeknownst to Kaoru and her brother, is her father's mistress.
Kaoru is reluctant to strike up a relationship with Yoko at first, because her stodgy mother and conservative school have instilled within her a proper way to act, which is not necessarily a bad thing considering her weak-willed fun loving father, but she begins to loosen up and enjoy herself with Yoko who does such things as teach the timid Kaoru how to ride a bike in order to gain freedom. Soon, Kaoru accepts Yoko into her life, but with her father doing shady business deals and the chance of her mother will return can such happiness stay for long? Dog in a Sidecar is a short, thoughtful movie about growing up and taking the bumps life gives. Kaoru is earnest and sweet, but her environment and parents do not allow her to fully grow as a person and it is a woman from outside the fold of her daily life that changes her. It is these interactions with the other, the unknown and unfamiliar that change Kaoru. Would she have been the same hard-nosed woman if she had not met Yoko or would she have become as weak-willed as her father if her mother had stayed with the family? This question is unanswerable, but at least she learned that Coca Cola does not melt her teeth as her mother had informed her.
Almost three years ago I was lucky enough to receive a scholarship to study Chinese at the University of Hawaii. Being that I was going to be in Honolulu for three months, I wanted to explore as much as possible while avoiding the large number of tourist traps. I and a couple of my classmates would go to beaches used by locals and small hole in the wall restaurants that served some of the best food that I had ever tasted. While there, I noticed a number of people with long hair and beards whose skin was as dark and tough as old leather. I talked to a few of them and learned that they hailed from back in the mainland, but had lived in Hawaii for years unable to truly fit in with everyday, mundane society. Last year I went to Okinawa for my girlfriend's sister's wedding and I noticed a few people who fit the same description as those I saw in Hawaii: people who had come to an island paradise away from the hustle and bustle of daily life to do there own thing even if it meant being poor. Coming across Shinohara Tetsuo's Breathe In, Breathe Out brought a number of these memories back to me, thoughts of the loneliness that can be found in paradise.
Breathe In, Breathe Out centers on six, later seven, individuals who have gotten jobs harvesting sugarcane on a small Okinawan island. Each individual comes from distinct backgrounds, but because there is a rule that no one will pry into the pasts of the workers, little is known about each individual, but from their personalities, it seems, that they are all either searching for something more or have given up that search and are content just to exist and fill time. The work is hard and there are few thrills, but the small group of individuals learn how to work together and to enjoy a simpler life away from the big city, but as traces of their past lives begin to rise from the depths of their memories, can they stay happy and will they truly be able to harvest such a large amount of sugarcane in only 35 days?
One of the reasons why I enjoy Japanese cinema as much as I do is because of films like Breathe In, Breathe Out. There is little action, no sex scenes, nor violence, but instead a film that is dedicated to character study and the complex relationships between memory and the formation of self. Highly enjoyable.
The nameless protagonist of The Insects Unlisted in the Encyclopedia works for a trashy magazine called Black Book which attempts to publish stories about the bizarre happenings with the environs of Japan. One day his pretty albeit quite flatulent editor and chief tells him, under the threat of death, to find a substance called Deathfix which supposedly kills the individual, but after a few minutes the drug user comes back to life. The writer is supposed to take the drug, die, return to life, and then write about his experience being dead for his audience. The editor gives him a hefty sum to support his month long search. The first thing the writer does is enlist his buddy Endo to help him in his search. Endo, a modern day hippie and several years older than the writer, lives day to day in either a drug-induced or alcohol induced haze and busies himself trying to do things as create his own mermaid by tying the upper half of a doll to a fish. He also sets his own vomit on fire. With this being in tow, the writer goes in search of his cameraman Majima, but has little luck in doing so. The only clue he finds is a magnetic band. The writer and Endo's adventures continue and along the way they pick up a yakuza called Mr. Eyeball, a former dominatrix named Sayoko, and Mr. Eyeball's androgynous underling, things just continue to get stranger and stranger. However, maybe things get a bit too strange. While some of the gags found in The Insects Unlisted in the Encyclopedia are quite creative albeit disgusting and vulgar, they begin to grow old after awhile and with each gag trying to outdo the previous gag, it becomes just too much and the slender thread of the story evaporates.
During the 1960s quite a number of young Japanese men moved from their homes in the country to Tokyo in order to make better money and/or to try to make something better of their lives by chasing after idealistic dreams. Inudo's Yellow Tears follows the lives of four young men who have moved from the country to the big city in order to obtain their goals of stardom. First there is Muraoka Eisuke who dreams of writing and drawing literary manga instead of the violent, pornographic type he is forced to do to support himself. Second, these is Mukai Ryuzo, a long-haired glasses wearing young man who dreams of becoming a novelist but has yet to write a word. Third, there is Shimokawa Kei who is an oil painter and finally there is Inoue Shoichi who wants to write pop songs. Of these four men, only Eisuke is able to support himself with his desired work, so one day, after the group performs a ruse to trick Eisuke's mom to go to a hospital in Tokyo, the four friends split up, but not for long.
Eisuke, having paid for his mother's hospital bills is nearly broke, still refuses to accept certain work because it is not the work that he wishes to pursue, is shocked one day, two months after the group separated, when a soaking wet Kei appears at his door, but the fun doesn't stop there because soon Ryuzo and Shoichi also arrive to share Eisuke's tiny apartment. Things are rough at first because of the shortage of money, but after Kei and Eisuke come into some money from various means, the group, albeit somewhat begrudgingly, agree to be tight with the money so they will have enough to eat while pursuing their dreams, however, will any of them be successful? Yellow Tears stars the Japanese boy band Arashi, but being unfamiliar with the group or their music, I only had the movie's story to drag me into its over two hour length. While I must say that the film is definitely not a great film, there are some genuinely touching moments and there are some points quite painful for those of us who are a bit too idealistic as the years continue to trickle on by.
Having only watched Go, Go Second Time Virgin (1969) and Violent Virgin (1969) I can hardly be considered well versed in the films of Wakamatsu Koji, but of what I have seen so far, it seems that he tried to create films within the lowly genre of pink films that could have artistic merit, but sometimes seemingly within the throes of his own artistic intentions, Wakamatsu might have left his viewers in quite a confused state at the end of his films. Confusion is good. Please do not get me wrong there, but it can be taken a bit too far and a film full of artistic intentions might be nothing more that a vacuous entity, for example, in my opinion at least, Alejandro Jodorowsky's Fando y Lis. I do not feel that Wakamatsu's films are a waste because they epitomize the potential of films made on a limited amount of money and actors and actresses with limited talent. Also, his films tend to have a pulsating soundtrack of rock music that really adds something favorable to the chaos of the films themselves. Therefore, when I heard the classical harpsichord music playing at the beginning of The Embryo Hunts in Secret (1966), I knew that this film was going to be something different from the Wakamatsu films that I had viewed earlier.
The film begins simply enough with Yuka, a salesgirl, making out with her manager in the back of his car after a party. After things get a bit heavier, Yuka asks the manager if it would be possible for them to go inside his apartment. Yuka is quite impressed by the apartment, but finds it a bit odd that there is very little décor. Eventually the two begin making out again, but now the manager has become a bit rougher and begins to interrogate the girl concerning such things as how many men she has slept with, she eventually answers maybe seven or eight, and this causes the manager to grow a bit angrier because Yuka is the spitting image of his ex-wife. The manager eventually drugs the girl and beats her with a whip which leaves huge welts on her body. However, being drugged, Yuka eventually passes out and when she wakes the next morning her memories are quite foggy, but soon the pain of last night's beating flares up. To shut her up, the manager tosses 30,000 yen in front of her. Later, while Yuka straightens her hair, the manager promises her the apartment, etc., but soon his memories flare up again and he beats her with the whip again. He becomes determined to "train" Yuka and make her his "dog" which he repeatedly calls her and forces her to call herself.
Sadomasochism and rape are common features within the pink film genre and, as a small sampling anyway, a good number of the sex scenes within them are nonconsensual and they rarely stem from a desire of pleasure, but more from a desire to inflict pain or to seek revenge on a surrogate for past "wrongs." The manager shifts from being a brutal tyrant who beats Yuka with a whip and his closed fists to a man whimpering and telling the beaten girl how much he loves her and begs her to be his wife. These scenes reflect his relationships with his ex-wife and mother. Wakamatsu includes a scene in which the manager beats his then wife with a belt after she becomes pregnant by another "man" which infuriates him because she belongs to him.
Some have called this film "poetic" because of the Manager's dialogue, but for me the true impact of the film is the claustrophobic feeling it produces within the two rooms of the apartment. The viewer can almost sense the destruction of the human qualities of Yuka when the manager beats her like a "dog." The sense of helplessness that she feels really comes through in the film, and this helplessness help create one of the most heinous villains I have ever come across in film.
Definitely not a film for those who shy away from films with unbridled cruelty, I am not sure if I could actually recommend this film to anyone, but if the viewer desires to see a film that made Wakamatsu one of Japan's most infamous directors, this would be it.
While it might be too much to say that the Japanese film industry was in shambles by the late 1960s because of the popularity of television and Western films, it is indeed appropriate to say that it had fallen on hard times. Kurosawa and a number of his contemporaries were either no longer making films or, because their needed budgets were quite high, had their films produced in foreign countries. Even independent film directors such as Oshima Nagisa directed television documentaries in order to support their film endeavors? So what type of film dominated theater screens during the late sixties and the early seventies? Pink films, or soft core porn. While they were viewed as the lowest form of film art, they did draw (male) audiences and a few of the starlets from these films did in fact become quite recognizable.
As for content, most of these films were quite vacuous and, of course, the aim of titillation was more important than plot or true innovativeness. Yet, there were some pink film directors such as Wakamatsu Koji who tried to add an artistic treatment to his pink films. With extraordinarily low budgets, say around one million yen per film which was valued then in the late sixties around five thousand dollars, which led to him using non top of the line pink film starlets, Wakamatsu created films that to some might seem philosophical and to others nothing more than porn with airs of something higher, but it should be noted that his film effort, Affairs Within Walls (1965) did receive acclaim from the judges at the Berlin Film Festival, but it also led to his being fired by Nikkatsu in 1965.In 1969 Wakamatsu directed ten films, including Go, Go, Second Time Virgin and the film I am about to review Violent Virgin or Gewalt! Gewalt: shojo geba-geba.
Filmed entirely in a desolate field, Violent Virgin opens with two cars traveling along a dusty road. Three men and three women, apparently members of a gang, have a couple bound and blindfolded. After they reach their demonstration, they drag the man and woman, whose names we soon learn are Hoshi and Hanako, out of the cars and dump them on the ground. It seems that Hanako was the boss's girl, but she eloped with Hoshi. Captured, it seems that they are going to be murdered, but not before they are humiliated by the other gang members. Their clothes are eventually stripped off and Hanako is tied to a cross. Hoshi is informed that the big boss has ordered that he be made into the "boss" for the day. The male members of the gang refer to Hoshi as "boss" and each of the female members intend to have sex with him before he is killed. However, Hoshi strangles the first prostitute and runs. After this, things really begin to become bizarre.
It would be too easy to call Violent Virgin a disturbing film. The quality of acting and the surreal setting of the setting keeps the viewer from being truly drawn into the film, but the film does touch on a number of issues that the viewer cannot help but ponder after the film, almost mercifully, comes to an end, such as the distinction between man and beast and how thin the wall separating the two might truly be. While I cannot recommend this film to the casual viewer of Japanese film, it might be an interesting film to view for those interested in Japanese New Wave films or those interested in a director who is often considered to be an outcast amongst outcasts.
When I was young I would go with my grandparents to my uncle's farm to pick fresh vegetables. The main vegetable that I remember picking is okra. Armed with my pocket knife, I was informed by my grandmother to only gather the medium sized okra pods because they were the best ones to eat. I was a bit bothered by this because I felt that the other ones would go to waste. I am not sure what my uncle did with remaining vegetables, but I assume they were often left to rot in his fields without serving their purpose to feed the populace.
Varda's film The Gleaners and I is a documentary depicting her travels throughout the countryside of France in her pursuit to find individuals who live off of the items cast off by others. Gleaning used to be a normal activity of woman in the countryside who gathered the remaining grain in the fields after the harvest came to an end, but this practice almost ceased to be after heavy machinery came to gather the food. Now, gleaners are quite often the destitute who gather the leftovers of the harvest in order to add to their meager diets. However, there are also those who glean because the activity was passed down in their blood or it is something they enjoy doing.
Traveling from vineyards to potato fields, apple orchards to the urban sprawl, and the seaside to museums, Varda's documentary encompasses the waste that is common in capitalist societies and how many farmers, winemakers, store owners prefer the excess to rot, spoil, and be thrown away instead of being used to help the down and out. However, the mood of the film is not entirely dark, because Varda does a wonderful job of depicting the beauty of castoff items and how some individuals, the castoffs of society, make due in a society that would prefer them just to disappear.
A few weeks ago I was talking with a good friend of mine about films from the 1970s and 1980s. One of these films concerned mutant ants, so the conversation eventually led to my friend asking me if I watched a 1954 film titled Them which concerned the havoc caused by mutant ants. I said no and my friend loaned me the DVD a couple of days later and I was repeatedly asked over the last few weeks if I has watched said film. I wasn't intentionally putting off watching the film, but the opportunity just didn't arise for a few weeks. However, tonight I finally sat down to watch this old piece of science fiction and I must say that I am quite glad that I did.
Patrol officers Sgt. Ben Peterson and Trooper Ed Blackburn are called into the depths of the deserts of New Mexico after it is reported that a young girl had been spotted wandering the desert alone. After finding the girl, whose doll's head is missing quite a chunk, the officers find the girl's parents' vacation trailer which has been completely destroyed on one side. There are a few strange things about the wreckage, however, the trailer looks to have been ripper from the inside out, no money is missing, and sugar cubes are scattered about. Also there is a strange footprint found. The officers then travel to a nearby dry goods store and find the proprietor dead his body having been slung into a cellar. Peterson goes for backup, but during his absence Blackburn is killed by a strange creature that makes a high pitched screeching noise. It is eventually discovered that the owner of the trailer was a member of the FBI so an agent, Robert Graham, is sent in. He has the footprint sent to Washington D.C. and two doctors from the ministry of agriculture arrive and we soon learn that a human is the not the culprit, but instead giant ants.
Filmed some nine years after the atomic bomb testing in New Mexico, Them is a film that displays the fear of how nature and society are affected by the presence of such abominable objects of mass destruction. Similar to Godzilla in Japan, Them shows nature fighting back against the devastations that man has brought on himself. While this film could have easily just have been another bad B movie from the 1950s, Them is actually quite creepy in some parts especially with its use of audio and darkness. Those of us who are creeped out by bugs in general might received an additional watching this film.
For the past week I've shown Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers in the Eastern Religions class that I am teaching and one day before turning on the film my students and I discussed the films of Bill Murray. Having grown up during the 1980s, I still associate Murray primarily with films like Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, and the like, however, a good portion of Murray's films have becomes the darlings on the independent film circuit. A couple of my students asked me if I had watched The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and I said that I had not, so today one of them loaned me his roommate's copy of the DVD.
The Aquatic Life of Steve Zissou opens with a viewing of the title character's latest documentary in which his best friend Esteban is devoured by a Jaguar Shark. During the questionnaire after the films showing Steve Zissou informs the audience that in his next film he plans to kill the shark for revenge. However, these words are easier said than done because Zissou's ratings have been dropping over the last decade and companies are reluctant to finance his films. His falling popularity leads Zissou to indulge in alcohol to become more and more distant from his wife. Yet, it seems that Zissou's life is going to change when he meets Ned, a thirty year old man who claims to be Zissou's son. While neither affirming or denying being Ned's father, Zissou invites the younger man to come to his private island and later invites him to become part of his crew, however, how will the rest of the crew respond to this and how will Steve and Ned get along when they both have eyes for the same blonde, British reporter? The Aquatic Life of Steve Zissou consists of an interesting mix of live action and animation. While all the humans are flesh and blood, most of the aquatic life is animated and animated in quite bright, vivid colors thereby giving the film a magical realistic, surreal quality. Top this off with a soundtrack primarily made up of David Bowie songs, sung by the man himself and in Portuguese by one of the films actors: Seu Jorge, make the film a visual and aural delight, however, is the film enjoyable itself? I say yes, yes it is, but it is a film that tends to move a bit slow at some points and at others might seem quite pointless as a whole. Yet, it does touch on softening the heart of a man who was afraid to love and care for others and a couple of scenes within the film are quite heartbreaking.
I have now watched Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan twice in the last two days and I am still left a bit undecided on the film. Now, I must admit that the film definitely did make me laugh and that it did make me laugh quite loudly a some points, but I wonder if the laughter was a product of the actual comedic content of the film or to what lengths Sacha Baron Cohen would go to entertain his audience and after viewing this film it is quite obvious that he will go to some extreme lengths for some laughs even if those lengths can turn out to be quite tasteless and crude.
Playing the character Borat from his popular cable television show Da Ali G Show, Cohen's character embodies every stereotype held by a number of Americans for individuals from a "third world" country: heavily accented English, unfamiliar with a number of modern appliances, and quite barbaric in issues concerning equality of women, etc. Add to that a thick mustache and black, curly hair Cohen comes across as "Muslim" which is an image that is oftentimes synonymous with "terrorist" in the minds of a number of Americans. To add an even stronger sense of realism to his character Cohen does in fact speak in a foreign language, Hebrew, at various scenes in the film and his partner Ken Davitian speaks Armenian adding gloss to the two men's already impressive acting jobs.
The film itself is quite simple. Borat along with his producer Azamat, Davitian, travel to the U. S. and A. to acquire knowledge in order to benefit their home. These problems include economic, social, and Jew (Cohen was called anti-Semitic by a number of individuals, but he is Jewish himself). After arriving in America after a lovely tour of his home village, Borat hits the streets of New York and tries to introduce himself to a number of individuals which often result in open acts of hostility towards our lanky host. Such scenes continue throughout the film when Borat visits Washington D.C., Atlanta, GA, etc., which results in a number of people revealing their prejudices unawares on camera, and some of their sentiments can be quite harsh especially the owner of the rodeo and the frat boys.
Did Cohen play fair when he and director Larry Charles or can Borat be seen as a film in which a number of Americans expose their warts and all on film for an audience of millions to see? It is hard to say, but with all honesty, some of the individuals showed a great deal of patience with Cohen's character when he was pushing them to their limits. An interesting film that could be viewed from a number of perspectives, Borat definitely is not a film intended for wholesome family entertainment, but one that might show the prejudice and bigotry rampant that hides beneath the wholesomeness
Fat Girl opens with a scene depicting the sister Anais, 13, and Elena, 15, walking to town from their vacation how to get a drink. At first it appears as a seemingly innocent scene until their conversation is overheard. Of course, the topic is sex. While this topic is nothing new for teenagers going through the difficult years of puberty, what strikes the viewer is that the conversation goes far beyond mere curiosity. Elena, slim and pretty, has already engaged in a number of amorous activities besides actual penetration and Anais, overweight, plain, and deadpan, while still a virgin, is convinced that she wants her first sexual encounter to be with someone that she does not love so that she will be "broken in" for the man that she will one day love. This conversation devolves until Elena challenges Anais to see who can get a boy first.
Arriving at a small outdoor café, an Italian university student invites to Anais and Elena to sit at his table with him. Anais is quick to sit beside the student, whose name is Fernando, but is ordered to stand by Elena. Fernando assures the girls that it is perfectly alright to sit with him and Elena quickly takes the seat next to him and soon, after ordering some refreshments and making small talk the two are kissing. Because of her beauty and character, Elena's parents made a rule that Anais must be with her at all times away from the vacation home, but Elena is quick to abandon her sister for a short getaway with her new boyfriend.
Later in the film, after sharing a meal with Elena and Anais and their parents, Fernando sneaks into the vacation home and puts the move on Elena and she is more than willing to do anything for Fernando outside of intercourse. On this point, Fernando's demeanor changes and he tries to convince Elena to give herself to him as a "proof of love" because if she does not he will have to go off and find another woman which he does not want to do because he "loves" her. To appease Fernando, Elena consents to another route of intimacy which leaves her feeling ashamed, but Fernando assures her that it was "beautiful and "a proof of her love" for him. During this entire process, Anais has been watching the young couple. She was not spying on them per se because the activities were taking place within the bedroom that she shares with her sister. More mature than her amorously inclined but naïve older sister, Anais can see that things are leading to disaster.
Always a controversial director because of her filmic depictions of sexuality that borderline on the pornographic, some would say dive right into the pornographic, Breillat delved into new ground and faced even more controversy because of its depictions of underage sexuality. However, the sexual acts depicted in the film are not meant to titillate but to make the viewer feel uncomfortable, because it is one of the few films that reflect the suffering of a young girl who has been suckered by a man she "loves," she is already talking to Fernando about getting married which he fully supports to reach his "goal," and the damaging effects that it has. Also, the film does a wonderful job depicting children who grow up too quickly and the highly uncomfortable situations that it can create. The scenes depicting the drive home are almost exhausting because of the high sense of tension that they create.
While I cannot recommend Fat Girl to everyone, I can recommend it to film viewers who want to delve into a film that depicts sexuality, especially on the part of the male, at its mot base and the resulting psychological and sociological effects that it has.
In 1995 or so a group of friends and I decided that we wanted to form a band. Being the mid 1990s and all we were all into pop-punk bands such as Green Day, The Offspring, Rancid, etc and we strove at first to play music like these groups, however, being that only one of us could marginally play his instrument, we mainly turned up our amps as high as they would go and made as much noise as we possibly could. I was the bassist for the group, at the time I really had no great desire to play the bass but I was the last member of the group to choose an instrument, so I began to pay attention to various bass players' styles, including Mike Dirnt of Green Day, Matt Freeman of Rancid and Operation Ivy, Michael McKeegan of my favorite band Therapy?, and various other bass players. It was around that time that I heard The Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" for the first time. Entranced with the song, I went out that very day and bought one of The Ramones greatest hits albums and listened to blistering fast bass licks of Dee Dee Ramone. It was an amazing experience and although my personal bass playing style would follow the slower pace of Creedence Clearwater Revival's Stu Cook, The Ramones quickly became one of my favorite bands and I have constantly listened to their music for over the last decade.
The early years of the twenty-first century were hard times for Ramones fans. In 2001 Joey Ramone died after a long battle with lymphoma, In 2002 Dee Dee Ramone died from a heroin overdose, and in 2004 Johnny Ramone died from prostate cancer, leaving drummer Tommy Ramone as the only surviving original member. It might seem very cliché to write this, but The Ramones's musical influence is so permeated through rock, especially punk rock, music today that their legacy will definitely live on for decades to come.
Although I have been a fan of The Ramones for many years, I knew little about the history of the band, so, with that in mind, I was glad to come by this documentary at my local independent movie rental shop. Like most documentaries, this one begins with the early days of The Ramones when they all attended the same high school. At the time, rock music in the United States was pretty dead and most of the music released was by marketed pop groups. Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy, considered to be "freaks" by their classmates, especially the 6' 8" socially awkward Joey, had no outlet for their frustrations. However, the New York Dolls soon came to the scene and revived rock music in New York. The four guys, one cannot say friends Joey and Johnny were never friends and Johnny had an open dislike for the bands singer throughout the band's twenty plus years, formed their own group and created a style of music that would consist of a rapid barrage of two minute songs that would be the polar opposite of such groups as Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, etc.
The documentary is quite strong giving a history of the Ramones during their early years, especially the 1970s and their involvement with CBGB's and their influence on the London punk rock scene, however, the second half of the film delves much more into the band's personal relationships with each other than the actual music that they created and several albums are not even mentioned. The documentary is good overall though and it is definitely a recommend watch for fans of the Ramones.
From 1968 to 1971 Oshima Nagisa would direct five films that would not only receive critical acclaim in his native Japan, but would also spread his name to foreign markets, especially America and France. These films were: Death by Hanging, Diary of a Shinjuku Thief, Boy, The Man Who Left His Will on Film, and Ceremony. Of these five films Boy is considered to be the most straightforward while the others, especially The Man Who Left His Will on Film which is considered to be Oshima's most difficult film, were entrenched in the traditions of modern Japanese theater and the theatrical craft of Bertolt Brecht. Whereas the other four films have a very limited plot and the cohesion of their various stories seems weak, Boy is very cohesive and, for Oshima Nagisa at least, almost formulaic. However, being that this is an Oshima film; the film might not be quite as formulaic as it first appears.
Like many of his films, Boy is grounded in fact. In the year 1966 a couple was arrested for faking traffic accidents, they would pretend to be hit by cars while "crossing" the street, and extorting money from the drivers. However, what truly struck the Japanese populace as outrageous was that they used their ten-year-old son as a tool in this scheme. Newspaper headlines read: Accident-Faking Couple Uses Child," "The Criminal Journey of the Demonic Accident-Faking Couple," and "Five Months of Strange Devotion in the Parent-Child Accident-Faker Scheme." The story faded from the headlines in a couple of weeks, but the story rooted itself in Oshima's brain and he was determined to create a filmic version of the odd series of crimes even going as far to scrounge orphanages to find the perfect "Boy" in the figure of Abe Tetsuo.
Starring the always impressive Watanabe Fumio as the father and Oshima's wife Koyama Akiko as the (step) mother, the story unfolds from the perspective of the Boy as his family travels around Japan ripping off unsuspecting victims. Actually it is only the mother and the boy who do the actual ripping off, because the father has old war wounds and is unable to "work." However, this definitely does not prevent him from indulging in the money that his son and wife "worked" for. Normally living in squalid, rented homes, after the boy or his mother earns a fair amount of money, the father is quite quick to spend it on fine hotels, food, and alcohol. Being well aware that the boy is unhappy ripping off unsuspecting people and moving from place to place, the father tries to instill in his son that his grandmother and friends have already forgotten him and that they were glad that he left. Despite these words, the boy does run away a few times, but he can never get too far from the oppression of his father.
While seemingly not as artistic or complex as some of Oshima's other films, Boy does examine such topics as the powers of imagination and guilt driven obedience in good detail. Definitely a film not to be missed by fans of Japanese New Wave Cinema.
During Japan's occupation of Korea (1910-45) over two million Koreans, both voluntarily and forcefully, went to Japan to work. After World War II ended and Korea was released from Japan's imperialism, most of the Koreans returned to their homeland. However, some six hundred thousand decided to remain in Japan for such reasons as if they returned to Korea they could only bring a certain number of belongings and that Korea was in political shambles. Almost one fourth of the Koreans who stayed in Japan worked in the mining industry, but as the Japanese soldiers returned home from the war most of the Koreans lost their jobs to these returning soldiers. Imamura Shohei's 1959 film concerns a small village of miners and centers on one family: The Yasumotos My Second Brother opens with the funeral of the father of the Yasumoto family, leaving the elder brother Kiichi, elder sister Ryoko, younger brother Koichi, and younger sister Sueko orphans. Already extremely poor, the death of the father and the loss of his income really puts the family in a bind. Kiichi works as a miner, but with almost daily worker cuts his position is less than sure. In order to try to make ends meet he engages in a number of contests to win money, but of course meets with little success. Ryoko is a serious, hard working girl who is indeed much more of a mother t her younger siblings than an older sister. Koichi, the films second brother, is the focus of the film. Full of spunk and easily angered, he carries a lot on his thin shoulders. Much more responsible than his elder brother, he worries constantly about the welfare of his family, especially that of his younger sister. Sueko is a sweet, kind-hearted girl whose main concern is that her family can stay together. Imamura supposedly based the film on the diary of a young Korean girl and it is from Sueko's writing that the story unfolds.
In order to survive, Kiichi leaves for Nagasaki to work and Ryoko goes to a nearby town to work at a butcher shop. With their older siblings gone, Koichi and Sueko stay with a kind man named Gengoro, but they receive quite a cool reception from his wife. It is not malicious, but the woman is concerned about being able to support her own family. The two children move around quite a bit during the film and although they meet up with their elder siblings a couple of times in the film, this film is full of unease and uncertainty.
Like his fellow Japanese New Wave director, Oshima Nagisa, Imamura Shohei was concerned with poverty in postwar Japan, I recommend watching this film in conjunction with Oshima Nagisa's A Street of Love and Hope which was released the same year to get a filmic view of poverty of the urban sprawl, and the ordeals of Japan's minority groups. Unlike Oshima's Death by Hanging (1968), Imamura's treatment of resident Koreans is not quite as political. His is more of a "slice of life" film and much more earthy than the creations of Oshima Nagisa. However, for those unaware of certain aspects of Korean culture, food, clothing, et., and the presence of the large Korean population in Japan, it might not be apparent that the Yasumotos, many Koreans adopted Japanese names such as changing the name Kim which is written with the character for gold, 金、to Kaneda, 金田, and the rest of the villagers are Korean until an old woman mentions that Sueko and her family does not have it as bad as earlier generations of Koreans in Japan.
While considered a minor work by Imamura My Second Brother is a good film to watch for those interested in Japanese minority studies and the early films of the Japanese New Wave.
From 1968 until the year 1971 Oshima Nagisa would direct five films that would not solidify his presence as the leader of the Japanese New Wave movement, but would also introduce this highly innovative filmmaker to Western countries, especially France and America. These films are Death by Hanging (1968), Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (1968), Boy (1969), The Man Who Left His Will on Film (1970), and Ceremonies (1971). Both Death by Hanging and Diary of a Shinjuku Thief originate from the same event: the Komatsugawa High School Murders.
In 1958 a young resident Korean named Ri Chin'u raped and killed two Japanese high school girls and as a result was executed in 1962. Ri drew the attention of a number of Japanese leftist intellectuals because of his vast intelligence and his correspondence with North Korean affiliated female journalist Bok Junan. Eventually a book of Ri and Bok's letters was published under the name Crime, Death, and Love. Because of his crimes Ri became the figurehead of a movement denouncing the Japanese Government's treatment of resident Koreans. In Death by Hanging entire sections of Ri and Bok's letters are included in the film and in Diary of a Shinjuku thief the protagonist Birdy Hilltop shares a common trait with Ri: they both steal books.
Much of the film's action takes place within the environs of the massive Kinokuniya bookstore in Shinjuku, a recent construct at the time this film was made. After seeing a bizarre display outside the bookstore, Birdy selects a few books to steal and makes his way out of the bookstore without paying. It seems that at first he is going to be able to make a clean break, but he is stopped by Suzuki Umeko, a young clerk at the bookstore who then takes him to the manager of the bookstore, in both the film and in reality: Tanabe Michio. However, instead of turning Birdy over to the police, Tanabe releases him and Birdy tells Umeko that he will return the nest day.
When the next day comes, Birdy returns to the bookstore and is once again caught by Umeko. This time around, instead of picking up books by French Writers, Birdy stole books of a much more sexual nature. Again Umeko takes Birdy to the manager who gives Birdy a copy of his book, it does not sell anyway, and gives the young couple money so that they can go out on a date.
As Birdy and Umeko leave the building, the viewer learns that Birdy gets his jollies from theft and that he almost climaxed when Umeko caught him. They then go to a fashion boutique in which Umeko steals an article of clothing of clothing so that she can experience the same feeling that Birdy had. It is after this point that the film gets truly odd.
One of Oshima's goals when he became a film director was to create films that could not be lumped into a genre and that would truly make the film viewer think about what he or she was watching. Whereas Death by Hanging dealt with discrimination and the death sentence, Diary of a Shinjuku Thief deals with sex and female-male interaction. One of the most interesting scenes in the film consists of a roundtable discussion filled with alcohol and cigarette smoke involving Watanabe Fumio, Toura Rokko, both playing themselves, but also playing other roles in the film, Sato Kei, and Oshima himself on the topic of sex and whether or now each member of the group had a fulfilling sex life and if the word "sex" meant the same to men and women.
Intermingling within the film are the Juro Karo Situation players an acting troupe who add an even more theatrical aspect to an already highly theatrical film. Juro Karo, who acts as a type of minstrel throughout the film, was determined to revive kabuki to its older form when it used to be performed by ruffians on a dry riverbed instead of the highly sanitized, aesthetic smorgasbord that it would later become.
While it might not be one of Oshima's most accessible films, Diary of a Shinjuku Thief is definitely an interesting ride and a must for those interested in Japanese New Wave films.
Because I am now currently working on an essay concerning Japanese New Wave cinema, I have been delving into a number of films directed by the likes of Oshima Nagisa, Wakamatsu Koji, and Masumura Yasuzo as well as films by the French directors Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Melville whose own films in France's New Wave movement paralleled that of the Japanese movement resulting in influences crossing between the filmic world of the two countries. Oshima is normally the standard bearer for the Japanese New Wave movement after the release of his debut film Streets of Love and Hope (1959) and his work throughout the sixties would have a powerful intellectual leftist bent confronting such issues as discrimination, poverty, and disgust with Stalinist influenced violence. On the other end of the spectrum Wakamatsu Koji would be written off by many critics because of his primary involvement in pink films, including such disturbing works as The Embryo Hunts in Secret (1968) and Go Go Second Time Virgin (1969). Masumura's works would often straddle between intellectual leftist cinema and pink films, but such films as Kisses (1957) would open the doors for new directors trying to escape from the filmic ideals of Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, and Kobayashi.
Amongst these New Wave directors was the figure of Imamura Shohei. Comparing himself to Oshima Nagisa it is reported that Imamura said, "I'm a country farmer; Oshima Nagisa is a samurai." While this quote can be read on many different levels, one way it can be interpreted is that Imamura's films tend to be more earthy than Oshima's and while still threaded throughout with intelligence they are not quite as highbrow as some of Oshima's films, i.e. Death By Hanging (1968), Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (1968), and The Man Who Left His Will on Film (1970). Supporting this earthly quality of his films, Imamura has stated that his films generally deal with the lower extremities of the body rather than the upper extremities.
Hogs and Warships concerns the daily life of Kinta, a smalltime gangster in Yokosuka who spends most of his time hustling American sailors and taking them to the local brothels. In fact, the world of Kinta and those around him are completely linked with the naval base, because the American sailors are who bring the money into the squalid town. When not acting as a gopher for his superiors, Kinta spends his time lounging around or seeing his eighteen-year old girlfriend Haruko. Haruko, much more practical minded than her boyfriend, wants Kinta to give up his life as a gangster and become a factory worker with her uncle in Kawasaki. However, Kinta is completely against the idea because he does not want to end up like a wage-slave like his father who was dumped by his company after he got sick. Therefore, he wants to make money instead through being a band leader or a pimp instead of living a complete hand-to-mouth existence as a factory worker.
Kinta believes that he has received a good opportunity to improve his and Haruko's standard in life when his boss appoints him as chief of a piggery. However, there are several complications because of the difficulties receiving scraps to feed the pigs and this leads to a number of problems for Kinta and Haruko.
While on first glance, Hogs and Warships might seem to be typical yakuza film fare, it is fact laced with a strong social commentary on Japan's reliance on America and its "support" of America's further military actions within Asia, especially the Korean War. While there are indeed some quite comic moments in the film, there are also some brutal ones as well such as when a drunken Haruko has her run in with three sailors. While not always a pleasant viewing, Hogs and Warships is a must for those who are interested in the films of Imamura Shohei or Japanese New Wave cinema as a whole.
After having viewed Mizoguchi's Sisters of Gion, I decided that I really wanted to delve deeper and watch a number of his other films. Knowing that Osaka Elegy in some ways is considered the "prequel" to Sisters of Gion, I decided that it would be the next Mizoguchi film that I would watch.
Unlike Sisters of Gion, Osaka Elegy does not revolve around the lives of Geisha and their patrons, but instead on the lives of those living in the bustling industrial center of Japan: Osaka. The opening sequence is quite amazing with the rapidly sped up film displaying the bright nightlife of Osaka, but upon daybreak the city looks quite dreary. While this can be said for many other large cities as well, this opening displays many of the disparities within the film especially those dealing with the poor and the rich and, of course this being a Mizoguchi film, those between men and women.
Once again Mizoguchi's star actress Yamada Isuzu plays the central role in this film. However, instead of being a young geisha, Yamada's character Murai Ayako is a telephone girl at a large pharmaceutical company. However, one theme runs through these two roles: the main female character is poor and virtually the only way she can help herself is through a male.
Young and attractive, Ayako gains the attention of her boss Asai, a stickler for propriety and who seems to enjoy bossing people around, however, she continues to wield off his "affections" because she is in love with Nishimura. However, Ayako's family is in quite a situation. Her father has embezzled some money from his company and if he does not pay it back he will go to jail. Being that Nishimura is unable, or maybe unwilling, to raise the money, Ayako accepts Asai's offer to become his mistress for money. However, this is only the beginning.
Like Sisters of Gion, Osaka Elegy shows the role money and power have in the control of relationships and the precarious tightrope that many poor women had to walk during this period of Japanese history. Ayako is doing her best to support her family, a father, younger sister, and she even pays the tuition for her older brother, but saving face plays a more important role in her family than her actions to help save it. A wonderful film from one of Japan's early masters, Osaka Elegy is a must for those interested in pre-1945 Japanese film.
While I have of course heard the name Mizoguchi Kenji, the only films of his that I have watched are Ugetsu (1953) and The New Tale of the Heike (1955) and while I did enjoy both of them, mainly the former, for the most part I did not have a particularly strong interest in watching Mizoguchi's films because at the time I was embroiled within the filmic worlds of Kitano Takeshi, Iwai Shunji, Miike Takashi, etc. However, as time passed my interest in older Japanese films began to increase, so now I am trying to broaden my knowledge of classic Japanese films, especially those that were filmed before 1945 of which I have only seen a handful.
Mizoguchi is well known in the world of Japanese film, because he was one of the first Japanese directors to put the role of women in Japanese society on the center stage. He is often criticized by later film viewers and critics because his women, while strong, only could find true security in the world of men by adaptation to the males around them. However, of course, it should be noted that for his time the films he created were quite different than the casual fare. Like Imamura Shohei, Mizoguchi Kenji tended to make films about those in the lower strata of society and the ways in which the rich can destroy these individuals' lives.
Sisters of Gion tells the story of Umekichi and Omocha an older and younger geisha trying to make the best of their lives in a time in which the patronage of geisha is on the downswing. Gentle and kind, Umekichi takes in her lover Furusawa after his business goes bankrupt. She states that she only does so because she owes him for helping her become a full fledged geisha, but it is obvious that she loves the destitute ma. Omocha, young, better educated, and brash dislikes Furusawa because he is sponging off Umekichi and decides that she needs to be rid of him. However, her methods might lead to a bad conclusion.
A wonderful film that clocks in at a little less than seventy minutes, Sisters of Gion has a dark theme. Both Umekichi and Omocha, while being of complete different personalities, are both victims of their positions in society. Without a rich patron to depend on, their lives are quite vicarious, and as in the case of Umekichi, as the women get older their positions become even more precarious.
Lately I have been interested in watching films that have a strong leftist political feel to them. In the realm of Japanese film I have been viewing and purchasing films from the 1960s that have connections with the leftist theatrical troupes and student and social movements. Of course directors like Oshima Nagisa, Imamura Shohei, and Susumu Hani play an important role during this movement so I have picked up a number of their films. Anyway, I am slowly, but surely, developing an interest in films from America, France, etc. that also deal with this same time period and it is quite interesting to compare both diverse and intermingling themes within these films.
In the realm of French cinema, especially that of French New Wave Cinema, the director who has some of the strongest leftist sensibilities is Jean-Luc Godard. I have been trying to watch quite a number of Godard's films and some of them have left me completely cold, but perhaps that is due to general lack of interest on my part when I attempted t view said films, while others I enjoyed quite a bit. Band of Outsiders is still my favorite Godard film. Anyway, the most recent Godard film that I watched is Alphaville (1965).
Alphaville is a Sci-Fi mystery film that honestly has very few elements that can label it a Sci-Fi film. There are no futuristic settings and one does not witness any spectacular scientific inventions. However, there is one glaring exception to this, and that is the presence of Alpha 60: a massive, sentient computer with a nearly omniscient mind about the happenings with Alphaville and with a voice that might remind one of a French Hal who has smoked way too many cigarettes. Whatever its purposes might be, Alpha 60 represents the ultimate in mind control. Basing everything on logic, Alpha 60 eliminates anyone who displays emotion, including a man who cried after his wife died. Such a lovely place to live, isn't it? Well for most of the people who live in Alphaville this is the only world that they know. A world in which words are constantly being eliminated, such as tenderness, because they call up emotions and one in which the dictionary, which is always changing because words are constantly being changed, has replaced the bible as the key "holy" book.
However, in the Outlands people still have that own thoughts and feelings and the spy Lemmy Caution, disguised as the reporter Ivan Johnson, has received orders to find his fellow spy Henri Dickson, a Dr. Von Braun, who he is either to return to the Outlands or liquidate, and destroy Alpha 60. Around forty-five, dressed in a beat up trench coat, and a chain smoker, Lemmy Caution looks more like a gumshoe than a spy from the future, but he is highly capable: At least, until he meets Natasha Von Braun, the daughter of Dr. Van Braun and an example of someone who might possibly be extricated from the power of Alpha 60.
The first fifteen minutes or so of Alphaville were hard for me to watch because I had a hard time getting into the right frame of mind for a Sci-Fi film that looked like it was filmed in the backstreets of Paris, which it was, but I was able to get drawn into the film a bit more as it continued. Godard's film is not only an attack on Communist policies, i.e. Stalinist policies, but it is also an attack on Capitalism as well. While brainwashed, most of the residents of Alphaville material desires are satiated by the system. However, can material items truly replace deeply engrained human emotion? Hopefully not, but Godard's film shows how an oppressive government attempts to mold the minds of its citizens. A must for fans of New Wave cinema and recommended for casual foreign movie fans, Alphaville might not be an enjoyable movie experience, but it will at least get the brain juices flowing.
Tae-suk is an interesting fellow. Apparently making a living posting fliers on the doors of people's homes, Tae-suk in fact uses the fliers to detect who is away from home (if the flier is still on the door after he has been away for several hours, Tae-suk assumes the residents of the house are away so it is safe for him to break in). While this description would at first peg Tae-suk for a thief he, in fact, does not steal a thing from the residences he enters. He normally prepares himself a meal, fixes any broken appliances, does the laundry, wears the occupant's pajamas, and stays for the night before making his exit and repeating the process over again. Tae-suk also takes photos of himself beside family portraits and other photos that portray the true occupants of the home. Why does he do such a thing? That information is never actually disclosed, because like the protagonists of several other Kim Ki-duk films, Tae-suk never utters a single word throughout the duration of the entire film. It is possible that Tae-suk would have continued this same pattern if he had not finally been caught.
One day after returning to a sprawling mansion, Tae-suk enters the residence while someone is still there because the flier he left earlier is still in place. The person still at the residence is Sun-hwa whose black eye and busted lip markedly show that she is the victim of domestic violence. However, instead of calling the police when she first notices Tae-suk in her home, she instead quietly follows him and watches him go about his normal routine until Tae-suk makes himself a bit too comfortable in her bed. Yet, even after that Tae-suk does not leave and in his silent way he looks after Sun-hwa who also is silent throughout the duration of most of the film. This quiet, sweet dance is interrupted, however, when Sun-hwa's husband returns home, but this time instead of getting to beat his wife he meets Tae-suk and the younger man puts him out of commission with three well shot golf balls. Leaving her home, Sun-hwa joins Tae-suk in his bizarre rituals, but for how long can they keep up such a routine? Before viewing 3 Iron I've watched Kim Ki-duk's The Bow, The Isle, and Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring and while each of those films had their odd moments, I must say that I believe 3 Iron was odder than these three other films. However, despite being quite odd, I found 3 Iron to be quite sweet as well. Although they do not talk, the chemistry between Tae-suk and the older Sun-hwa is quite good and through their movements and such small touches such as when Sun Hwa rubs her foot on Tae-suk's the viewer can feel the love growing between the characters and how they fill what the other one lacks. Kim Ki-duk, of course, is one of South Korea's most popular directors in his homeland and in the West, especially France, and he rightly deserves to be so. 3 Iron is a splendid film that should be viewed not only by fans of South Korean cinema, but also by those who like their romance films with a twist.
Although moist of the films that I watch derive from Japan, China, or South Korea, I have decided in recent months that I want to expand the number of movies that I watch from Western countries. While I still have a hard time stomaching a number of American films, I have been watching a few French films that I have enjoyed. I found Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samouraï to be quite outstanding and I enjoyed Catherine Breillat's Fat Girl. Also, being that my nearby independent DVD rental place carries many of his films, I have rented a few of Godard's films. The first one I watched was Band of Outsiders which I found to be quite enjoyable, but the next two films, Tout va bien and Contempt left me quite cold, the former because I found it to be pretentious schlock and the latter because simply I was not in the mood to watch the film. I did enjoy Masculin féminin: 15 faits précis though although, at first, I thought it was a bit pretentious as well. Another film that I watched was Godard's debut feature length film À bout de soufflé or Breathless.
Now, I am far from an expert when it comes to French film, but I understood that Breathless was the film that set off the French New Wave of cinema and that it and Godard also had a major impact on Japanese New Wave directors such as Oshima Nagisa and Imamura Shohei. If this is truly the case or not is not important, what is important though is that this film has had such an impact on not just French film, but it supposedly revolutionized film-making in general. However, while watching the film the first time, all I could think was "what is the big deal?" Breathless tells the story of Michel Poiccard, a young car thief who lives day by day engaging in petty crimes and trying to sleep with as many women as possible. One day Poiccard is spotted speeding by a cop on a motorcycle. Being that he is in a stolen car at the time, Poiccard shoots the policeman and hurries off to Paris. Broke, Poiccard tries to get money from his girlfriends who include the twenty-year old American Patricia Franchini who works as a journalist. Poiccard desires Patricia to hurry off to Rome with him, but without money this is nothing more than a pipedream. With the police hot on his trail, how much time does Poiccard have and does Patricia truly want to go with him and, although she is supposedly pregnant with his child, does she truly love him? Supposedly one of the key points of Godard's style of filming was the importance hand-held cameras played in that they were used on location and removed the making of the film from the studio so it lost some of the overly slick look of films made in the studio. Also Godard's use of jump shots is to be noted as well as the film's slick jazz soundtrack. Does all of this equal an enjoyable film? I think it leads to a passable one with some good moments and a film that opened doors for the New Wave of film sweeping France.
Having been on a bit of a dry spell watching my collection of South Korean movies I decided that today would be a good day to select one from amongst the pile and go for it. Feeling that I was in the mood for a good laugh, I just looked at the front of each DVD case until I found one that I thought would be humorous. Ssunday Seoul was the one I decided on and while the film is humorous in some parts I found it leaning more towards the bizarre.
Consisting of three shorts that are loosely connected by a couple of reoccurring characters, Ssunday Seoul delves deep into the supernatural which is beneath the mundane happenings in Seoul. While the film has an overall campy, and somewhat cheesy, feel to it, it is quite fun and in some parts it can be quite chilling as well. Here are the stories: The Werewolf: In the opening short the viewer is introduced to Bong Do-yeon a hapless young man who is continuously tortured by the school bullies. To make matters worse he is also in love with the most beautiful girl in the class and, of course, his love is unrequited. However, Bong Do-yeon's life is going through some changes. If these changes will actually make his life better remains to be seen, but it is definitely going to make his life interesting.
The Visitor: With his car broken down on the side of the road and with his cell phone's battery dead, Lee is desperate to make a phone call home. When he is unable to get help from a couple of delivery boys, he makes his way to a large, luxurious home and knocks at the door. A beautiful girl dressed in white allows him to enter her home so that he can make his phone call. While inside the home, Lee listens to a television broadcast and the viewer learns that there is a serial killer afoot. Lee then goes into a long monologue describing how a person would react in their last moments of life. The most chilling segment of Ssunday Seoul, The Visitor is quite graphic in a number of ways, but it is tinged with dark humor and has quite a twist at the end.
The Young Adventurer: This segment opens with a single passenger plane pulling up to a gas station. The young female attendant not quite sure what kind of fuel the plane needs puts light gas into the tank: she reasons that a light plane needs light fuel. The plane soon explodes. Later, a young man named Tae-pung, typhoon, arrives riding on a motorcycle tugging along a coffin on wheels. Planning only to stop briefly, Tae-pung is forced to return to the station because the girl put kerosene in his tank instead of gas. There he is beaten unconscious by a gang. The girl takes him to her father's Daoist temple and after he awakes Tae-pung begins his training to seek revenge for his father.
Ssunday Seoul is an enjoyable film overall and, as I stated before, The Visitor is in fact quite chilling. However, there are definitely many other South Korean films that are of much higher quality and provide better entertainment. Yet if you have this film and need to kill 95 minutes, go for it!
In 1937 Chiang Kai-shek's KMT and Chairman Mao's Communist Party created an uneasy alliance because of the looming collective threat of the Japanese. Steeped in archaic traditions and KMT rule many areas of China especially in poorer, northern areas such as the upper half of Shanxi province still existed in a pre-modern time without having being enlightened by the changing times occurring in the south. Although pitied by the Communists, there was also a begrudging respect for some of the customs held by the peasants. In Yellow Earth the custom brought to the fore is folk singing.
A Communist soldier brimming with enthusiasm for the teachings of Chairman Mao and belief that the said teachings will revolutionize China and bring equality to the downtrodden classes, Gu Quing, or Brother Gu, travels to Shanxi in order to gather folk songs that can be sung by the Communists to inspire others of the plight of the poor peasants. Arriving at a time in which a wedding is taking place, Brother Gu witnesses what he believes to be the oppression of tradition on the populace: fourteen year old girls being married off to old men in which sustenance and dowries are more important than true affection.
Despite his differences of opinion, Brother Gu is quite an amiable fellow and takes residence with an old, weather-beaten farmer and his children. He works with the farmer and helps plow the fields while attempting to engage in conversation with the farmer. Most of his conversations center upon the changing times and how girls are now becoming soldiers and are learning how to read and young couples are able to marry out of affection instead of being matched together. The farmer listens politely, but his concerns primarily fall within practical matters such as if it will rain soon and the engagement of his young daughter Cuiqiao. However, the words do have a greater impact on Cuiqiao, a hardworking girl with an incredible singing voice. Through the kind being of Brother Gu she learns that there is another world where girls can read and men know how to sew. Engaged to a man many years her senior, Cuiqiao desires to join Brother Gu when it is time for him to return to his home. Yet, because of the Communist party's strict rules, she cannot join the party unless asked to do so. Therefore, she must wait for Brother Gu's return. However, can she wait long enough? The only two Chen Kaige films that I have watched before Yellow Earth are the magnificent Farewell My Concubine and the magnificent travesty The Promise, so I was quite interested in viewing the respected director's landmark, debut film. Like seemingly most Chinese films that have been released in America, Yellow Earth is quite a sad film that shows a people torn between two conflicting times. However, like many of the other films created by the 5th generation film directors, which also includes the luminary Zhang Yimou who was the cinematographer for Yellow Earth, oftentimes the new and modern revolution of the old is just as bad as or worse than what was before. An important film for those interested in Chinese film and modern China, Yellow Earth does not make for an enjoyable film experience, but it does make for a poignant one.
What happens after one dies? Does one's soul ascend to heaven, descend to hell, or is it reincarnated into yet another earthly form? Does an individual simply cease to exist after he or she dies? In Kore-eda's second feature length film Afterlife one goes to a way station where one selects his or her favorite memory to be filmed and then one takes that memory and that memory alone to one's final destination.
In order to help individuals decide which memory to keep counselors help individuals comb through their lives to find important memories. Many of the individuals, of course, select times from their childhoods as their best memories. One man selects a summer day in which he rode a tram and enjoyed the scenery and the cool breeze that blew through the window. A radiant older woman chooses a time in which she was dressed in a red, Western dress and danced for her older brother and dined on chicken rice afterwards. One bitter man chooses a time in his life when he had a small fort and was able to hide away from the world.
On its surface Afterlife might seem a bit hokey and one wonders why spirits have to create videos of their memories, they also eat and drink, to take to the next world. However, isn't it true that are life experiences are nothing but memories and besides the current moment we live everything else is a memory? Kore-eda, whose other feature length films Maboroshi and Distance focus on death and memory and memory as well, delves into mankind's worry of being forgotten. One character in the film, an older man who considers every aspect of his life to be so-so, is reluctant to select a memory because he does not believe that he had a life affirming moment that will be remembered by others, but, as one of the counselors states very few people do.
Slow moving, darkly filmed, and melancholy Afterlife is a deep film that takes an interesting stance to life and death and makes one reflect on one's own life and those small moments that makes each of us who we are.
After China opened itself to the world in 1980, and especially after Tiananmen, it began a huge process of modernization to fuel the potential for its economic growth; however, everyone was not involved in this whirlwind of development. While many younger entrepreneurs were able to take advantage of the massive changes, many older individuals who were steeped within the system of government subsidized businesses and depended on the "iron rice bowl" for housing and food were left out in the cold. A group of these individuals make up the core characters of Zhang Yimou's 2000 film Happy Times.
Noted for films such as The Road Home and Red Sorghum which show off the beauties of the Chinese countryside, Zhang Yimou also created films such as Not One Less and The Story of Qiu Ju which display the clash between the urban and the rural. However, Happy Times is different because it focuses entirely on the urban and the displacement some individuals can feel when their homes go through rapid changes.
Old Zhao seems like a decent enough fellow. He is friendly and humorous, but has yet to get married. However, with the appearance of Chunky Mama in his life it seems that maybe he will finally get married, it is the 18th time that he has attempted to do so. The problem is that Chunky Mama desires an expensive wedding that would cost Zhao 50,000 Yuan or so: an amount of money that is quite out of his reach. However, determined to marry Chunky Mama he goes to his friend Fu for help and they establish the Happy Times Hut which is nothing more than a broken down bus where young couples can make out. Being a chronic liar, Zhao tells Chunky Mama that he is in the hotel business and that he is making lots of money. Believing him, Chunky Mama dumps her unwanted blind stepdaughter Wu Ying onto him. Having no true place for the girl to work, Zhao and his friends build a "massage parlor" for the girl to work at so Zhao can keep his promise to Chunky Mama that he will look after the girl, but for how long can he keep up such a subterfuge? While it was panned by many critics, in my opinion, Happy Times is quite a delightful film. Zhao Benshan is absolutely hilarious and Dong Jie as the blind Wu Ying is magnificent. Full of humor and sadness Happy Times contains some extraordinarily touching moments. A great film for those who enjoy Zhang Yimou's films or Chinese film in general.