Entries tagged with “Japanese cinema”.


The artistic path of the Japanese master  spreads over 35 years, from the latest period of silent cinema until 1962.  It’s the first time that I see ‘Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice‘ which belongs to the immediate post-war period in his career. Between 1947 and 1957 Ozu, back from the war and the army where he had spent seven years, made one film each year. A couple of them are considered among his masterpieces and among the best films ever made. It is not exactly the case with ’Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice‘ which has its flaws and shows signs of aging, but it’s still a remarkable movie from many points of view.

 

source https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0044982

source https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0044982

 

Ozu wrote the first script of the film in 1939 and tried to push it through the Japanese Army cinema unit he was working with, but could not adapt it to the requests of censorship in times of war. Released 13 years later it belongs to the series of movies in which the director catches the process of transition that the Japanese society, its people and its institutions went through during the years after the defeat of Japan and during the American occupation. The external landscape is much changed, normality of peaceful, even comfortable life seem to be back, we see no visible signs of the destruction brought by war, and there is only one scene in which the main hero meets with a former army comrade which does not look too traumatic, neither too different from similar scenes that would have been done in other countries after WWII. The changes are at the level of the basic components of the society. While at the work place the working methods and technology have embraced some Western characteristics, the hierarchy and the paternalistic approach continue to dominate the work relations. The family keeps the male-dominated structure, but under the surface there is a revolution under way in what concerns the role of women. Two generations are being presented in the story on screen. The elder one still tries to keep the appearances and cheats the old way. The younger one would not accept the old ways and traditions including the arrangements of marriages. The crisis of the family in the two generations under the pressure of changes around is the main topic of the film.

 

(video source SocraticTruths)

 

The style of Ozu’s story telling and film making is present and easily identifiable. Camera barely moves if at all, and each scene is a composition with the characters moving in elaborate sets which are a pleasure to enjoy visually. Much of the action takes place in the home of the mid-upper class heroes couple, and Ozu has no equal in filming inside the house with camera placed lower than most other directors locate it, in order to create the feeling of intimacy and the perspective of the inhabitants of the Japanese houses. His selection of actors includes in the role of the apparently dull hard-working husband whose hidden secrets and deep humanity is gradually revealed and  as the wife (I liked less her interpretation). The ending is a combination of a great idea with the main reason why this film partly fails. On one side the idea of the family reconciliation through traditional food (rice) and tea is bright, and Ozu opens here a path in the Japanese and Far East cinema that will be followed and will reach exceptional achievements in the works of other film makers many years and even decades later. Unfortunately, this beautiful and sensible scene is followed by a badly scripted dialog in which the wife explains to her friends the reasons of the reconciliation. The conclusion seems both very conventional and unjustifiable submissive from the feminine perspective, and the way it is being told is also surprisingly bad cinema for a film by Ozu. Luckily there is one more final scene, showing the younger couple, which opens the gate for the future and the feeling that transformation is on its way and is nothing but unstoppable. Even the fix camera perspective is abandoned in this final sequence. The continuation however, belongs to another movie.

Is Kim Ki-duk making to many movies lately? The Haifa International Film Festival brought two the viewers here two of his recent films, and if we look at his filmography we can see that since the beginning of the decade he made at least one film this year. Certainly, it is impossible to keep the quality level as high as a masterpiece like Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring, and this may be one reason that some of his fans are disappointed with part of his latest films. I actually see him looking permanently at diverse themes, exploring new techniques of telling relevant stories. This is the case with this ecological movie (one way to describe it) with the action set in Japan.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4876094/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4876094/

 

The story starts in the area located around the Fukushima reactor accident five years ago and follows the life of a young couple who are expecting their first baby. The authorities decide mandatory evacuation, and the fears about the child bearing the consequences of the exposure of the parents to radiation materialize as a mysterious character who obsessively follows the couple trying to influence them into making an abortion. Kim describes with sensibility the relation between the two, their doubts, their agony as the balance of insanity swings between the woman and the man. The vision gradually broadens as the implications of the nature disaster transcend the small family circle. Are we dealing with a naive ecologist message, or is this a more universal set of questions about what we (as in mankind) do to nature, to the planet, to ourselves?

 

(video source Cihad Türksoy)

 

I liked the film, both because Kim keeps enough mystery and does not force his conclusions on us. He is helped by the delicate acting of his actors and . If it would be just for the final scene, all the rest would be made insignificant, but the rest is not bad either, or at least I should say – I liked it; it’s for the first time that the Korean master of philosophy, of dialog between man and nature and their spiritual dimensions dives into the very immediate but so urgent and critical issues related to politics and the relation between our industrial and social life and the environment. Some may find the combination non-wining. I am not among them

 

 

The principal flaw of Harmonium directed by may be its length. At more than two hours the film is by 20 to 30 minutes longer than the standard, and the extra time is not necessarily best used. Yet, this stylish combination between family drama, thriller and crime story has enough interesting elements in the story, and is so well acted and filmed that it eventually justifies itself and needs not make too many excuses.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5182856/

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5182856/

 

We can admire from opening scenes the mastering of the art of describing the characters and the background with very little means, in a few beautifully filmed takes, with even fewer words. We see a family in Tokyo working hard for their living. The father has a metal shop and seems to be an agnostic. The mother is deeply religious and she drives the education of their daughter around ten years old, who tries to learn playing the harmonium. A stranger shows up, he is well mannered, accepted by the father and then by the rest of the family. There are secrets in the relation between the two men, and these secrets of the past will take over the situations that follow.

There are two different parts in the story separated by a jump in time which is one of the several techniques of story telling that are being experimented and combined in a well dosed mix. The story telling is built in a very interesting manner. Two acts of violence happen out of the screen, and viewers as well as most of the characters do not know exactly what happened. The first took place eleven year before the story starts. The second wraps up the first part and triggers the events of the second part, with another gap of eight years. None of them is represented on the screen, the story is not about violence but about its consequences. The final is also open ended, we see what happens, but the interpretation is left to the viewers.

 

(video source Film Fest Gent)

 

I liked more the first part, with its more constraint setting and only with the four characters present on the screen. The development is necessary in the logic of commercial film making nowadays, the jumps and gaps are intentional, but they lack balance. There is wonderful acting from  in the role of the dedicated mother but also of the feminine presence that triggers passion, and from as the dignified and yet mysterious stranger. This film is not flawless, it lasts too long and its changes of direction may not be on everybody’s taste, but it’s a good example about how the Japanese school of cinema continues its great aesthetic tradition, how it combines it with the popular culture genres (like thriller and horror stories) and how it looks carefully to new means of expression in an evolutionary rather than revolutionary approach.

 

 

Blood and Bones is a violent epic story whose hero is a Zainichi Korean which is the name of the ethnic Koreans settled in Japan, many of them during the first half of the 20th century when Korea was under Japanese rule. Director Yoichi Sai‘s father was a Zainichi Korean, so the social medium must be well known to him. His ambitious project describes the tough life of the community through the story of the life of Joon-pyong Kim who comes as a young and hopeful immigrant before WWII to get enrolled in the Japanese army, and at the return to embark in a life of crime, violence and family abuse which sees his ascension to and decay, while confining most of the action in the space of the same street in the Korean immigrants district.

 

source http://www.asiatorrents.com

 

The ambition of the project and the breath of the epic brought me to mind the parallel to ‘The Godfather’. The combination between a family saga and the crime environment may be the same, but there is one crucial difference between Sai’s and Coppola’s films – while both characters are similarly despicable in crime, the attitudes to their families are radically different. For Coppola’s characters family values are at the highest possible level, while Sai’s character (magistrally acted by Takeshi Kitano) is a violent tyrant, causing suffering to everybody he gets in touch with, harming them physically and psychically and destroying their lives. It is almost the most perfect study in evil I have seen since Hannibal Lecter, just missing his wit and sophistication.

 

 

(video source http://www.nipponcinema.com/trailers/blood-and-bones-trailer)

 

There is a lot to appreciate in this film, starting with Kitano’s performance and that of the rest of the team, passing through the fluent story telling, and ending with the refined cinematography which uses basically the same set for the duration of the action (which spreads on many decades) marking the passing of time with small changes in colors or accessories. It is not easy to follow if you do not absorb easily violence on screen, but otherwise it is a good story and a credible cinematographic reflection of a piece in the history of Japan whose details I at least have become aware about only now.