Friday, August 03, 2007

A Bloody Spear on Mt. Fuji 血槍富士 (Uchida Tomu 内田吐夢, 1955)

A Bloody Spear on Mt Fuji's plot is basic; a group of travellers (Samurai and two servants, shamisen player and daughter, highway policeman, thief, miner) interact and become closer through stressful and comedic situations (also, some tragedy). Ostensibly a road movie, a lot of the interaction and activity takes place in inns and city streets, very little on roads (though what does is memorable, such as Gonpachi becoming acquainted with an young orphan boy admirer, pictured above.) Most of the plot revolves around the samurai, whose character reminds one of Yamanaka taking a stand against society and paying the price. I wonder if this inference was an accident (Yamanaka made popular films that questioned the status quo in the 30s, was sent to Manchuria and died at the front shortly after; only three of his films survive today.)

There are many great moments in the film, which is as comedic in dialogue as it is in editing and tone. Daisuke Kato plays one of the servants, and his sake drinking and philosophizing scenes are everyman humor at its best. The playful looks, dialogue, and subtle attraction between the shamisen player and Gonpachi (Chiezo Katoaka), lords sitting on a busy highway to Edo shutting down traffic for a tea ceremony, and the lancer's final battle all stick close to my memory. I can't think of any other postwar Samurai film that does this kind of action, comedy, and drama as entertainingly (my favorite postwar jidai-geki films are the Anti-Samurai ones, such as Okamoto's Sword of Doom).

If you, like me, were taken wholly by surprise while watching Yamanaka Sadao's Tange Sazen and the Million Ryo Pot then you'll greatly appreciate this film (only available as a bootleg with english subtitles here, though there are rumors this and more Yamanaka could get an North American release soon). It shares with the 1935 genre picture a sense of humor and lightheartedness that few films have done as well. In fact, since Uchida Tomu directed this jidai-geki with the help of Shimizu Hiroshi and Ozu Yasujiro, I can only imagine it's a heavy homage to their lost friends Yamanaka and Itami Mansaku. Itami's film Capricious Young Man can be felt all over, especially in it's depiction of the samurai servants mingling with each other and arguing about their duties. Ozu and Shimizu's touch can also be felt with the depiction of the child, as it's characteristically their own. He's rebellious and witty, but also retains childish attention getting ways, and lack of self restraint in all matters. Ozu and Shimizu used this type of childish antics in their films regularly to great effect (particularly in Ozu's I Was Born But... and Shimizu's Children in the Wind.)

Uchida's history is an interesting one. He went to war, and after 1940 spent ten years in a prison camp in China (more on this part of his life, and some notes by Craig Watts about Bloody Spear at Bright Lights Film Journal). He began directing silents and moved on to become one of the late thirties preeminent social realist directors, making a powerful play with Earth (1936), made almost entirely with extra film stock from other productions. His other late thirties work, Theater of Life, Police, and Unending Advance were preferred by Donald Richie and have garnered critical appreciation from critics like David Bordwell, Keiko McDonald, and (any information on where to find those three films on video would be greatly appreciated by me, by the way). His samurai films from the 50s and 60s have aged relatively well, especially this and his Musashi Miyamoto pentalogy. Toei made mostly low grade cheesefests, but were known to throw in a "prestige" film every now and then, of which Bloody Spear at Mt Fuji definitely categorizes itself. With the big name writer/directors, and headlining actor Chiezo Kataoka, this was surely a success.

You can buy this film with french subtitles at Amazon France, though I found a copy with an english translation by fishing around. Also, there's a great overview of Uchida's career at Senses of Cinema by Alexander Jacoby. Also, be sure and pick up Masters of Cinema's absolutely necessary DVD of Yamanaka's Humanity and Paper Balloons. I'll hopefully get a chance to see his other acclaimed 1955 film Twilight Saloon, but first I'll have to save up some cash to get the unsubbed import.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Age of Assassins 殺人狂時代 (Okamoto Kihachi 岡本喜八, 1967)

We begin with exposition as a lunatic asylum "mad scientist" ex-Nazi played by Amamoto Eisei discusses (he and his pals switch back and forth between menacing Japanese and scary German the whole film) how a massive diamond was lost and a young Japanese (Nakadai Tatsuya) has it in his possession- within his body, actually. A league of professional, and would-be, assassins make comedic attempts at Nakadai's life which are all thwarted, naturally, since even playing a little bit of a "dweeb", Nakadai is naturally graced with luck, charisma, wit, and a respectable fighting (or dodging) abilty. Turns out the diamond is a stolen Nazi item which was placed in Nakadai's body when he was eight. Nakadai is accompanied by a girl (Dan Reiko pictured above, fairly well known as Yuriko from Ozu's The End of Summer) and a goofy pal, who seems childishly eager for action.

Its telling that Okamoto's wildly hilarious, and sadly overlooked, film Age of Assassins (also known as The Epoch of Murder and Madness) shares its title, 殺人狂時代, with the Japanese translation of Charles Chaplin's blue beard Monsieur Verdoux. Both are the blackest of dry comedies, with a lack of sentimentality, light treatment of murder, and globe trotting anti-heroes making their way through piles of awkward situations and exotic, bizarre characters, both making oblique or vague swipes at politics. Chaplin plays for keeps more often than Nakadai, but Nakadai has a geeky coolness which seems to cross his dead stare from Teshigahara's Face of Another with the jaunty confidence of his character from Kill! that in some ways trumps Chaplin's foppish creepiness.

Though as much of a spoof of the spy film, with sultry femme fatales, gunplay, and strange gadgets, as a continuation of the "everyman" character Okamoto was so much a fan of, Age of Assassins manages to be fun and seemingly timeless, in a way few comedies can be. Watching this grasping even the smallest bit of dialogue is still entertaining after a handful of viewings. The same can be said of his other comedies that I've seen, including the sometimes maligned Oh, Bomb!, which is certainly among the most unique films of the 60s (something to be said for that, I believe.) It, like many dark comedies, defies categorization, and absolutely sets in stone what is commonly called the "Kihachi Spirit" in Japan, a sort of untouchable and undefinable quality Okamoto's films have, which is oh so modern.

The credits feature a DePatie-Freleng styled animated segment, which is probably the closest it comes to being dated. Concerning the visual style, Okamoto used the same cinematographer for this as Kill!, so it has a similar crisp detail, but it's a bit more high contrast (inspired by the black and white film noir underworld of assassins and spies, I suppose.) The score is almost inappropriately "emotional" at times, but enhances the odd factor. The action is believable, in a "chase film" sort of way, but the real greatness of Epoch of Murder and Madness is in the comedy. Not too broad (though Nakadai's small-enough-to-pedal-with-your-feet car, which emits burps and farts as it runs, runs counter to that claim) and like most of his films anti-authority and anti-war, a fair bit of cynicism and a love for the details of human nature seem to be the ideas behind it. A bit of his earlier The Elegant Mr. Everyman can be seen in the way Nakadai uses his voice as a blunt instrument of humor, streamlining dialogue in a way that almost sounds like narration. The cynical soldier, with aims at the ridiculousness of war, is then best exemplified in his Nikudan, or The Human Bullet, where Nakadai's Assassins character, Kikyo Shinji seems to be transposed into the Special Attack Forces. Properly enough, Nakadai narrated Human Bullet and the evil as hell Amamoto Eisei plays the main character's father (i.e. the villain). Worth noting that the "main character" of Human Bullet, played by Terada Minori, goes unnamed.

Someone needs to bring this, and the rest of Okamoto's comedic sixties work, to DVD badly. These films are so good (Oh, bomb!, The Elegant Life of Mr. Everyman, and The Human Bullet), they must be seen to be believed.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Coup d'etat 戒厳令 (Yoshida Kiju 吉田喜重, 1973)

Firstly, apologies for being so long out of touch.

Yoshida "Kiju" Yoshida (whose Eros Plus Massacre this blog is named after) directed his last film for some time in 1973. This was a strange biopic about a military obsessive and nationalist socialist named Ikki Kita, somewhat in the style of Hitler, who encouraged a coup against the Japanese government in 1936 (infamously known as the "February 26th incident".) I say strange because a number of choices were made which gave the
film a unique place in the history of biopics and specifically historical reenactments of the coup. Rarely has a biographical film been done with such a confident and dramatic touch.

Yoshida's framing is the stuff of film legend, nearly always placing figures at the edges of cinema (and therefore not altogether video friendly, before the advent of DVD that is.) It's a nearly dizzying effect handled graciously, which lends the events a larger than life feeling, that feels artistically justified instead of rammed down your throat. The black and white colors are used to their most effective ends, with entrancing expressionistic details. Textures of wood and granite play a large part in setting moods, along with a lack of establishing shots and action sequences, making this a more quiet film than anyone would expect of its reputation and name.

The music choices of Ichiyanagi Sei, who worked on a number of Yoshida films, recalls Jissouji's Mujo (or This Transient Life) which seems as interested in minor key fiddle flourishes as Takemitsu styled percussion explosions. The score also boasts a twice repeated analog keyboard motif, which shows the melancholy and absence of life among the militarists. It underscores both a reprehensibly dour dream sequence, and channels an avant funeral march before the credits roll. Watkins' Edward Munch and 32 Short Films about Glenn Gould come to mind in the use of music effectively rendering someone's life story to film.

In regards to its place among reenactments, as Joan Mellen noted in Waves at Genji's Door, most filmed versions of this story encourage a sentimentalism of the officers involved, as they were merely doing the most honorable thing they could imagine by assisting the Emperor in getting rid of the waste of civilian bureaucracy. The officers are treated with sympathy, but more for their naivete in the face of the unknown future, rather than Yoshida siding with their proto-fascists ways.

The major emotional issues in the film stem from Ikki's childhood and paternal issues towards his stepson, and how that carries over into his dealings with one of the more inept but sincere acolytes. Ikki's dealings with authority figures is flippant at best, and he seems to regard society as a mere gesture, with martial law being the only true way for humanity to progress. Yoshida's rendering of these beliefs should be held up with his even more powerful Eros Plus Massacre, where Taisho anarchism and the late 60s student movement are entangled and commenting on one another. There, Yoshida appears to be telling us something about the nature of humanity, in that it doesn't really change, but only cons one into thinking it will. In Coup d'etat, Yoshida seems to be saying not only will things remain the same, but they're usually worse than you realize.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Battle Royale バトル・ロワイアル (Fukasaku Kinji 深作 欣二, 2000)

I've been lagging a bit in posting, for a number of reasons, but they are all extremely boring (family, work, sickness, and laziness among them.) I did manage to catch something truly bizarre and interesting out of left field the other day, a film that I had written off a few years ago without having seen it (usually a good thing), but went looking for it after having it recommended in a couple of different books: Fukasaku Kinji's Battle Royale. Fukasaku, having lived through WWII, and experienced senseless violence and innocent deaths all around him, is obviously making a political point in this still very entertaining action/adventure film. What the point exactly is, I'm not sure, but maybe a closer look will help. There will surely be spoilers here.

Battle Royale begins by showing some statistics: Japan faces %15 unemployment at the turn of the millennium, and the rebellious youth are the first scapegoats and victims of the government's reaction. It then races to a shot of various military and media figures surrounding a single, bloody, smiling girl, referred to as the "survivor". We're then in a school, and a teacher (Kitano Takeshi) is stabbed by a wild male student running through a school corridor. A female student watches in curious horror, and meets the teacher's gaze. As the film progresses, a busload of kids are drugged during their class trip, taken to a deserted island, and told that they will have to kill each other until one is left, or they will all die.

As one student after another dies at the hands of a previous friend, or foe, we see a barrage of cliches, old and new, taken to a brutal extreme. Fukasaku seems to be poking fun at some of the popular Shouju films where boys are embarrassed to talk to girls, whole plotlines revolve around whether a friend is really a friend, and rich and attractive youth walk over the modest and poor. We see double suicides, deathbed confessions, extreme loyalty, and false loyalty all play out in macabre blood splattering violence. Even in this extreme environment, with the end of their lives nigh upon them, these people cannot let go of the social constraints placed on them by tradition. But this island, much like Golding's Lord of the Flies (the film has many similarities), is also a microcosm of Fukasaku's current perception of society, greatly influenced by his war years: A government will not hesitate to sacrifice you to preserve itself.

Kitano's teacher, ostensibly in charge of the operation, seems to know this, but is so jaded and emotionless about carrying out his country's duty, that only toward the end does he falter. Whatever strange ideas possess this character remains a mystery. His obsession with the major female lead, Noriko (she seems to stand out as the most delicate and innocent of the film's female roles) also seems to lead to a dead end. Maybe more viewings will help.

But in the end, two people walk away alive, and they are wanted for murder (certainly a shot at the idea of War Crimes implicating the common soldier and letting the real criminals in charge go free in postwar Japan.) The adult world has indeed completely sold out the younger generation. In a way, this reminds me of the 50s and 60s Ampo and Zengakuren demonstrations held in Japan by the leftist student movement, and how the government eventually reigned them in by working with the dominant corporations and blacklisting those involved from eventual employment. And just as with the Zengakuren, there were martys for the cause. By blaming the youth, and their rebellious activities, the adult world can forgive itself and it's economic and social errors. Again, all these ideas are thinly veiled within an entertaining and character driven action film.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Charisma カリスマ (Kurosawa Kiyoshi 黒沢清, 1999)

Charisma is easily described as "bizarre", and I believe it warrants such a claim more than many other films which are described as such. The storyline follows an ex-cop named Yakuibe (which translates as "grove" and "pond", and is played by Yakusho Koji) as he seeks redemption, or understanding, for why he seemingly caused the death of a hostage earlier in the film. Most of the plot is difficult, and maybe pointless, to describe but a good deal of it encircles a mysterious tree, named Charisma, which is guarded by a lunatic. Around it, is a forest that's being poisoned by either a deranged botanist or said mysterious tree. There's also a brigade of mercenaries attempting to steal Charisma. The botanist's sister is an out of place (within the film and the cast) and disenchanted young girl, who seems to be the only sexually charged being around. Charisma seems sophomorically thrown together, and even the director admits in an interview that he's not sure it all "works".

As odd as this all sounds, what really attracts is the visceral experience. The forest is framed in such a way that it seems endless. Earth and trees have never seemed so creepy in broad daylight, and, as one of the characters in the film remarks, it's a dangerous place. Shots of trees slowly dying, or humans eating mushrooms and slithering away in agony remain. The soundtrack is airtight, and never intrudes. The scenes are edited at a glacial pace, and you feel as alone and seperate from the world as the characters seem to. The plot of Charisma, and the environmental, psychological, or philosophical ideas that it attempts to dip into, are not the main attraction. That being said, they do intrude, and I've liked some of Kurosawa's other films a bit more (particularly Cure.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Harp of Burma ビルマの竪琴 (Ichikawa Kon 市川崑, 1956)

Since this is a relatively well known, and much discussed, Japanese film, I'm going to concentrate more on what's been written about it, and what I've found the most valuable or interesting. I'll start with a quote from Donald Richie and Joseph Anderson's The Japanese Film:

[The Harp of Burma] was based on a novel originally written to introduce children to certain Buddhist tenets, which was about a Japanese soldier's decision to remain in Burma after the war and not to return home with his unit so that he can become a mendicant priest, traveling about the country and tending to the unburied war dead.

Originally the film was to have been directed by Tomotaka Tasaka, who had made Japan's best war pictures, but because of his continuing illness the picture was given to Kon Ichikawa. In spite of the many various vicissitudes which the film underwent, including a hack editing job by Nikkatsu, the picture was thought good enough to win the 1956 San Giorgio Prize in Venice, an award given the film which best shows "men's capacity to live ane with another."

Richie mentioned Nikkatsu's "hack editing job", but the specifics of this are laid out in Tony Rayns' excellent essay included with the Criterion Collection DVD of the film:

Nikkatsu treated The Burmese Harp as what we would now call an “event movie” and released it in two parts, three weeks apart. Part one (running 63 minutes) opened on January 21, 1956, and part two (80 minutes) opened on February 12, both with B features. The total running time of 143 minutes was cut to the current 116 minutes when the two parts were combined for rerelease and export—reputedly to Ichikawa’s dissatisfaction.

Rayns doesn't mention that part one actually had a subtitle, called "Part 1, Nostalgia", or "Homesickness".

There's an illuminating exchange between Joan Mellen and Ichikawa in her Voices From the Japanese Cinema:

Mellen:Is there any similarity between your Private Mizushima in The Harp of Burma and Goichi of Conflagration?
Ichikawa: They represent the youth of Japan. In the case of Mizushima the time was the middle of the war, and with Goichi it was just after the war. In his sense both, whether a soldier or not, represent Japanese youth.
Mellen: What is the origin of their disillusionment with the world? Are they each disillusioned about the same things and could we define exactly what they are disillusioned about in a general way?...
Ichikawa: Both are very young and both are in search of something. Neither knows exactly what he is after, as they are still young. Both thrust themselves against the thick wall of reality and disillusionment trying to find out what they desire.
Mellen: As in the burning of the temple. What do they desire?
Ichikawa: Truth.
Mellen: Is it the truth of themselves or of the world?
Ichikawa: The truth of their own lives.

And a quote from Keiko McDonald's From Book To Screen: Modern Japanese Literature in Films sums up a general conclusion about the politics of the film:

Right from the start [Ichikawa] shows two different responses to defeat in the war. The singing company represents a new kind of soldier, one motivated by the individualism that will characterize postwar Japanese society. Accepting defeat as part of the human condition, they hope to survive confinement in a POW camp and work for the reconstruction of their country, each in his own way.

Another company is made up of old-style Japanese soldiers. Their values are traditional, collective. They feel a moral imperative to fight on to the bitter end, preferring a dutiful death to the shame of surviving defeat.

Mizushima's role is to bridge the two. His mission is to persuade the diehard traditional soldiers to adopt his company's strategy of accepting defeat and surviving it.

But what I really love is this quote from Sato Tadao about the art of the film, translated by Anne McKnight and included in Quandt's Kon Ichikawa volume:

Harp of Burma becomes the story of the soldiers who stay. Their interior lives are not depicted through exaggerated emotion, but inferred from the compositions. The positioning of characters within the landscape or against each other subtly guides the spectator's feeling-for example, by the way a figure dominates the image; bears down on another from the top of the screen; or approaches the centre of the composition. Ichikawa's skill with compositional layout renders the entire image extremely beautiful, to the point that it becomes a craft of good graphic design.

I found myself affected by the film more for it's use of imagery than as a reference for war guilt or postwar humanism. The many shots of Mizushima or his comrades emerging from the forest, covering his eyes at the sight of the dead, or scanning the barren countryside will linger for some time. I'm glad that the Criterion Collection finally got around to releasing this and Fires on the Plain on DVD, but I can't help but feel that Ichikawa's Enjo (AKA Conflagration) was ignored. It would have made a perfect pairing with the other two, and I feel a chance has been missed to get this film out there.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Japanese Most Wanted

Here's a relatively short list of some films that I'm trying to locate, with or without subtitles. I keep lists for a lot of things. It's a great way to organize my thoughts, and if you toss this sort of thing out there enough someone might bounce one back. I'm leaving off the films that I know are available on DVD, which I might eventually purchase.

I Want to be a Shellfish (Hashimoto Shinobu, 1959)
Night Drum (Imai Tadashi, 1958)
Darkness At Noon (Imai Tadashi, 1956)
A Full Life (Hani Susumu, 1962)
Song of Bwana Toshi (Hani Susumu, 1965)
Bride of the Andes (Hani Susumu, 1966)
Aido: Slave of Love (Hani Susumu, 1969)
A Triumph of Wings (Yamamoto Satsuo, 1941)
Police (Uchida Tomu, 1933)
Theater of Life (Uchida Tomu, 1936)
A Girl at Dojo Temple (Ichikawa Kon, 1946)
Design of a Human Being (Ichikawa Kon, 1949)
The Woman Who Touched The Legs (Ichikawa Kon, 1952)
Pu-San (Ichikawa Kon, 1953)
Tale of Genji (Ichikawa Kon, 1966)
Crab Canning Ship (So Yamamura, 1953)
Life of a Country Doctor (Inagaki Hiroshi, 1960)
Diary of Chuji's Travels (Ito Daisuke, 1927)
Clouds at Sunset (Shinoda Masahiro, 1967)
Our Marriage (Shinoda Masahiro, 1961)
Shimisen and Motorcycle (Shinoda Masahiro, 1961)
My Face in the Red Sunset (Shinoda Masahiro, 1961)
Epitaph to My Love (Shinoda Masahiro, 1961)
Glory on the Summit: Burning Youth (Shinoda Masahiro, 1962)
Tears on the Lion's Mane (Shinoda Masahiro, 1962)
Operation: Sewer Rats (Okamoto Kihachi, 1962)
Procurer of Hell (Okamoto Kihachi, 1961)
Bigshots Die at Dawn (Okamoto Kihachi, 1961)
The Last Gunfight (Okamoto Kihachi, 1960)
One Day I... (Okamoto Kihachi, 1959)
Young Daughters (Okamoto Kihachi, 1958)
All About Marriage (Okamoto Kihachi, 1958)
Sain (Adachi Masao, 1966)
Young People (Toyoda Shiro, 1937)
The Narita Films (Ogawa Shinsuke, 60s)
Underworld Series (Yamamoto Hajiro/Okamoto Kihachi, 60s)

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Tales of Chivalrous Women: The Chivalrous Geisha 日本女侠伝 侠客芸者 (Yamashita Kosaku 山下耕作, 1969)

In this film a Fuji Junko plays the extremely popular, principled, and extremely attractive geisha Shinji, who rejects the advances of coal baron, played sleazily by Kaneko Nobuo (perhaps best known as Boss Yamamori in Fukasaku's Battles Without Honor and Humanity.) As she spurns his advances, as well as an early Meiji era imperial army general's, she begins to fall for a local mine owner named Shimada, played by Fuji's regular opposite Takakura Ken, whose mine is desired by the powerful Kaneko. This conflict eventually leads to death and destruction, as competition between Takakura and Kaneko mounts, with Fuji in the middle.

This film, like the Red Peony Gambler series, is pure entertainment, with some leftist anti-capitalist notes (funny that Yamashita isn't given nearly the hard time Yamamoto and Imai are). Fuji is a delight, and not for one second do you believe she's not nearly as attractive and interesting a geisha as the film is making her out to be. There are some interesting directorial flourishes, particularly in one of the last scenes where Fuji does Kabuki, with the red hair of the mythological lion, a being that protects against evil spirits and brings peace. This "dance" is countered with a long battle between Takakura and the rival gang protecting Kaneko's coal baron, lead by Tomisaburu Wakayama, flashing to one then back to the other. It's a powerful and effective use of editing.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Myth and Masculinity in Japanese Film

I recently finshed reading Isolde Standish's Myth and Masculinity in the Japanese Cinema (available for a large sum of money at, and I gained quite a bit from it. It went after three main periods and types of filmmaking in Japan during the 20th century: the Kokutai within chushingura movies, films about the Special Attack Forces (AKA Kamikaze Pilots) and War Crimes Trials during WWII and the postwar era, and yakuza films of the modern era (after 1970). She draws her critique of the films not from an auteurist point of view, but rather sociological, often citing such social philosophers as Roland Barthes, Joseph Campbell, and Claude Levi-Strauss. Her grasp of their work, and others, helps you not only understand the films in question, but a little more about the world in general through this mutual interest in Japanese film.

Some of the highlights include a few scenes of dialogue and reappraisal of the seemingly forgotten Okamoto Kihachi gem Nikudan (AKA The Human Bullet, 1968.) This ATG film made by one of Japan's more well known 60s directors is hilarious, stylish, and universal in theme even if it's about something so specifically "Japanese" as the hypocrisy within the Special Attack Forces (pictured above Terada Minori as the nameless and illfated protagonist). She also explicates wonderfully the 1995 version of I Want to be a Shellfish (which sent me on a chase to find the 1959 Hashimoto Shinobu directed version, to no avail.) Her reading of Kobayashi Masaki's Human Condition Trilogy will hopefully find it's way into the extra material accompanying the upcoming Criterion Collection DVD of the film (not yet announced, but in the works), as I found it extremely useful in understanding the War Crimes metaphor to be found within the trilogy (she also delves into Kobayashi's 1983 documentary about the War Crimes Tribunal.) Inagaki Hiroshi's Wartime era version of The Rickshaw Man (or the Life of Mohumatsu the Untamed) and Fukasaku Kinji's exciting and enjoyable yakuza series Battles Without Honor and Humanity (available on DVD in the US, fortunately) are also eye opening.

I'm a few chapters into her more recent book A New History of Japanese Film: A Century of Narrative Film (, and I've already learned a great deal about Shochiku studios "Ofuna" style, and Kido Shiro (whose autobiography would be a prize possession if ever translated into english) and I'm chomping at the bit to read the rest. She's also working on a new book, and in her own words, this is what it's about: "My next project, War on Film, takes as its starting point Paul Virilio's statement 'War is cinema and cinema is war'. A cross-cultural analysis, this study focuses on the relationship between war and cinema as an exploratory paradigm. The aim of the study is to further our understanding of the relationship of changing technological developments in the visual media, and the shaping of individual subjectivity in the image and likeness of the globalized 'military-industrial-media-entertainment-networks' that increasingly influence our lives."

Sounds great to me.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Revenge 仇討 (Imai Tadashi 今井正, 1964)

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Imai's Adauchi (AKA Revenge) is surely one of the best samurai films to come out of Toei, (a prolific company that didn't seem to mind if it's product devolved into mediocrity) and maybe one of the best period. Toei has done much less to impress me than the other major studios of the 50s and 60s, yet they did give many amazing directors shots at high gloss period pieces, including the somewhat maligned Imai Tadashi, which accounts for some very interesting work. The direction in this film is beautiful, and I have a feeling that if the presentation was correct I would be praising it more highly (I believe the film was presented at around 1:90 AR on the video I viewed, in black and white, while it was intended, according to JMDB to be color cinemascope, or 2:35, a huge difference.) The flow and rhythm of the film is striking for a samurai picture. Imai holds on moments for what seems like forever (it's amazing how long ten seconds can feel when everything is motionless), and it creates a startling effect. It's unfortunate that the film's only weak link is it's Toei stable of actors: Tanba is hollow and useless bluster in a supporting role and Nakamura Kinnosuke pathetically attemps some sort of realistic acting as the unfortunate Ezaki Shinpei, a samurai and second son, who's pride and class resentment begin a series of events that lead to death. The plot is predictable to a point, but certainly has some surprises.

One of the fascinating things about the film was it's political and anti-feudal aspect. It showed everyone in power to be conceited and hypocritical, abusing the Bushido code for their own purposes, and ignoring it when they see fit. It's worth it to note that Imai's previous film period, Cruel Story of Bushido, also lambastes the feudal ethos. The main character, Ezoki Shinpei, feels compelled to give up everything he wants to maintain his honor. His alternating bluster and sacrifice come out of confusion and desperation, only leading to ruin for himself, his family, and the adversary's family as well. This belongs amongst the ranks of Kobayashi's Seppuku, Tanaka's The Betrayal, and Yamamoto's Tengu-to as films that rate Bushido and the samurai way as completely useless at best, but closer to evil incarnate.

I mentioned above that Imai is often maligned. I first heard of Imai through Anderson and Richie's The Japanese Film, where he was almost as lambasted as Yamamoto Satsuo for being a left wing propagandist (sure his Kome, AKA Rice, comes to mind, as it's basically a remake of Uchida's social realist film Earth, from 1939). But times have changed. There's no longer a cold war, and the old prejudices that seemed so important against far left ideologies now seem quaint. Frankly, the more I see of either director the less I can account for propaganda, and the more I see extremely pleasant qualities of fine filmmaking. I look forward to seeing as much of this director's work as I can find.

I bought this film from, and the image quality left a bit to be desired (it seems that it's taped off of television, among the previous issues), but was still a fine product considering there aren't any other resources for this available (hopefully a DVD will be released soon.)

edit: this movie is meant for 2:35 black and white, not color.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


This is a blog dedicated to Japanese film. Hopefully I can find the time to update this regularly, for mainly my own benefit, because if I can't, it probably means I'm too busy to watch and meditate on some of the many rare and interesting films I've been lucky enough to have a chance to view. I plan on doing mostly reviews, either of films or DVDs, though I may often write about scholarly (or not so scholarly) books concerning this subject, or curious reviews and webpages that I come across. If you're not satisfied with my take on something, consult some of the "Also on Japanese Film" links, and you may find people who are much better at explaining their reasons for liking or disliking something. Also, I've been bouncing around on the internet for a while now, and I've posted on and many times over.

If you're also blogging about Japanese film, let me know and I'll add you to the "links" list.