Sunday, December 16, 2012

Evangelion after Fukushima (Part 2)

"Mega-Ray Tank"

This is Part 2 of the series. Part 1 is here.

As we learned about the true extent of Fukushima accident and nuclear fallout, our feeling toward the government, the energy industries and the media shifted from distress to distrust, then to disgust. Many people, from independent journalists to political activists, from artists to housewives, used the term “the Great HQ Announcement” to describe this failure of major media to deliver vital information and critical view of the Fukushima incident.

Friday, December 14, 2012

San Francisco, December 9, 1941

via Shorpy

This is the photograph of Cafe Ginza at Buchanan Street in San Francisco on December 9 1941. 
(The photograph is found at Shorpy, the ever-inspiring photograph archive site.)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Bluebird Photoplays Ad

One of the reader of this site, Beth, gave me this tip for the full-page ad for Bluebird Photoplays in Internet Archive

I like the use of minimum set of colors, abstract background and quiet, yet evocative typeface. As I discussed before, Bluebird Photoplays had a tremendous effect on early Japanese film-making.

The accompanying text on the next page is interesting as well. ".. BLUEBIRD Photoplays (Inc.) was the first producer to buck the star system - the ruinous practice that has been responsible for the high-priced but low-grade features that have wrecked many an Exhibitor." If this is true (it seems to be), this lack of movie stars, focus on drama, might have appealed to the pioneers of Japanese cinema searching for their vision.

Thanks, Beth.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Evangelion after Fukushima (Part 1)

"At noon today, the state of emergency was declared for all the area of Tokai, Kanto and Chubu areas. We will report the detail information as soon as it is available." From NEON GENESIS EVANGELION

"Right now, we are at the crossroad - until recently, Japanese public believed almost anything mass media said. However, they begin to distrust media, which failed to report the extent of nuclear fallout, didn’t disclose the SPEEDI data, and did nothing on food safety issues. There is a large gap between Japanese public and Mega-media. “Mega-media is not with us” - that’s how most of the public feel today. 3.11 started all. I have never seen the distrust of this magnitude before."

- Martin Fackler, the Tokyo bureau chief for the New York Times

It was a rather slow tremor.

I was idly chatting with one of my colleagues in the spacious office on the 5th floor, when we felt this slow tremor started.
“Another one”, he said.
“Whenever you show up at my desk, there is an earthquake. You are a bad omen.” he grunted. It’s true. A couple of weeks before, when we had been talking about the side-project at his desk, a fairly large earthquake hit.
 But this one was different.
It was a slow swinging, at low frequency, deep but steadily increasing in its amplitude. It didn’t stop.
“No, this isn’t funny.” He ducked under the desk. So did I.
The whole floor, windows, ceiling, walls, cabinets, everything was making strange noise I had never heard before. Vibration was gaining momentum every second.

It was around 14:50, March 11, 2011.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

All About Setsuko Hara

Since last year, Shincho 45+, the Japanese magazine catering to the conservative readership, ran Setsuko Hara retrospective, not only once, but twice. A couple of articles on the actress were featured, but their marketing ploy for both occasions was the DVD packaged with the magazine, very rare silent films never released before (and of course, starring Setsuko Hara). I fell for the ploy on both occasions. Yet, Shinchosha decided to release another publication, this time whole book dedicated to Setsuko Hara, with another rare, never-released film on DVD. I decided to fall for their ploy again.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Nikkatsu 100: A Century of Japanese Cinema

The letter “Katsu (活)” means “kinetic” as in Kinematograph and was the recurring Kanji character in vocabulary of Japanese cinema culture. As Katsudo-shasin (活動写真) is the almost literal translation of Kinematograph, many film studios had the letter “Katsu(活)” in their brand name. Tenkatsu (天活) was one of the earliest cinema studios, Tennnenn-shoku Katsudo-shasin Kabusikikaisha (天然色活動写真株式会社, 1914 - 1919), specialized in hand-painted color features. Kokusai-Katsuei (国際活映, 1919 - 1925), dubbed as Kokkatsu (国活), inherited Tenkatsu in 1919, while Taisho-Katsuei (大正活映, 1920 - 1927) or Tai-Katsu (大活) was another studio with artistic flavor. While these studios were all short-lived, spanning less than a decade, one company with “Katsu (活)” in its name was still (though barely) alive. Nikkatsu (日活), originally named Nihon-Katsudo-Shasin-Kabusikikaisha (日本活動写真株式会社), is the hallmark of Japanese cinema along with Shochiku and Toho studios. It was formed in 1912, merging four major studios at the time. Up until seventies, Nikkatsu was the most influential, certainly popular, though not always profitable, film studio in Japan. Its filmography represents the best and worst of Japanese cinema. As “Katsu” means “kinetic”, Nikkatsu was perpetually in motion, from breathtaking chases in “Chuji Tabinikki” to almost absurd gun-slinging in “Kenju-burai-cho” series, from Matsugoro Onoe in “Goketsu Jiraiya” to Yujiro Ishihara in “Crazed Fruits”. On the occasion of the centennial celebration, the National Film Center in Tokyo is running the Nikkatsu retrospective in this fall. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Drive (2011)

He is a man, who is idle, uneducated, lonely and knows he bears a cross.
- Shin Hasegawa

The air is diffused with slightly burned smell of melted cheese and cellulose - the fluorescent sign, "Nino's Pizzeria", illuminates the cool dry night. The driver parks his car silently in front of the place. He pulls out a SPFX mask, a shabby plain-looking face made for movie stunt job. Let's wait and see, until Nino comes out. Let's wait and see. Pretty soon, he would come out, carrying smell of alcohol, rotten stomach and saliva around him. He would come out of that front door. The printing shop next to Nino’s has the same front door, so does the shoe repair, and the eyewear retail, too. But this one is different. Not because Nino put checker-board patterns on it. Silly-looking thing, Nino thinks the patterns would block the view from outside. No, the eyes buried in the SPFX mask can see him through it. Millions of strip-mall restaurants and nail-salons across the country have the same front doors, but this one is different. Because, pretty soon, Nino will come out through that door, and go straight to hell.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Musashino, the Landscape That Never Was (Part 3)

Lady of Musashino, The Murayama Reservoir

In THE LADY OF MUSASHINO, Mizoguchi features various images of water. When Tsutomu and Michiko take a long idle stroll in the area for the first time, clear water running in the canal introduces us to the world of Musashino. Later, a trip to the large reservoir (the Murayama Reservoir) definitely changes the fates of their lives. Transition from quiet water of the reservoir to violent, turbulent storm eloquently speaks the evolving emotions of the protagonists. These images remind us that the Musashino is abundant with natural water resources, as the mountainous area far north supplies the massive amount of underground water throughout the year. Consequently, the area has become the lifeline of the Greater Tokyo since late 19th century.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Dark Side of the Nation

Matsukawa Incident
This is part eight of "Films of 1949" series (Part 123456 and 7).

In the previous post “Mistresses and Lovers”, I mentioned “There were many bloody incidents involving assassinations and terrorism, all linked to underground operatives of U.S. secret agency.” Alex in Florida asked me what this “underground operatives of U.S. secret agency” means. I’m afraid I dropped this historical trivia too casually, so I try to explain this.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Chinese Film Pulled From Tokyo International Film Festival

I feared something like this would happen.

Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) issued a statement that it canceled the screening of the Hong-Kong Chinese production, Yim Ho’s FLOATING CITY.
“It is with great regret that we have to announce the cancellation of the scheduled screening of Floating City in the Winds of Asia-Middle East section at the 25th Tokyo International Film Festival due to certain reasons on the production side. Although we have strongly made request to those involved not to call off the plan to take part in the festival, the cancellation has unfortunately been finalized.”

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Key of Life

An attempted suicide and a discreet assassination.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Musashino, the Landscape That Never Was (Part 2)




Though it might sound odd to non-Japanese readers, THE LADY OF MUSASHINO reminds me of Hayao Miyazaki's 1988 animated film, MY NEIGHBOR, TOTORO. This animation is notable for its charming atmosphere, its tranquility of the countryside and, most of all, the group of fascinating characters, including the mysterious troll of the neighborhood, TOTORO. On its surface, MY NEIGHBOR, TOTORO would seem to have little in common with the tormented sexual relationships in THE LADY OF MUSASHINO.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Musashino, the Landscape That Never Was (Part 1)


The film opens with distant roar of heavy bombing, as thick ribbons of smoke drift over the horizon. The war is at its last stage. A couple fleeing from the inner city is Michiyo (Kinuyo Tanaka) and Tadao (Masayuki Mori), who seek refuge in Michiyo’s parent’s home in Musashino. An old large estate with long history of Samurai family, the place is deeply etched with pride of the prestigious clan. Tadao, a sarcastic and decadent French literature professor, finds this luxurious atmosphere comfortable but feels alienated at the same time. He finds agreeable fellow citizens next door; Michiko’s cousin Eiji, a businessman, and his wife Tomiko. Tension is already building up.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Kinoshita's Blu-Ray and DVD released

Let's Toast the Young Lady (お嬢さん乾杯, 1949)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Mistresses and Lovers

Beni Imada Kiezu (1949) Inebriated SanaeTakasugi demands more drink.

This is part seven of "Films of 1949" series (Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6).

Though Imai’s “Green Mountain” captured the new spirit of the time, liberation from old era, the year 1949 was also at the entrance into another long turmoil; the Cold War. Joseph McCarthy gave his “Wheeling Speech” in February of 1950. Korean War also broke out in 1950. Yes, U.S. was also heading for the dark age. Inevitably, U.S. policy toward Japanese democracy quickly shifted to that of anti-communist. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Keiko Tsushima (1926 - 2012)

Keiko Tsushima as Shino in Seven Samurai
Keiko Tshushima, a Japanese actress starred in many films and TV during 1950's to 2000's, died of cancer on August 1. She was 86.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Sight & Sound; The Greatest Films of All Time

Tokyo Story

Sight & Sound released its “The Greatest Films of All Time 2012” on its website. The first place went to Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”, while “Citizen Kane” slipped down to second. Ozu’s Tokyo Story made the third place. Separate poll by film directors placed Ozu’s film the first.

Sight & Sound Top 10
1. Vertigo (Hitchcock)
2. Citizen Kane (Welles)
3. Tokyo Story (Ozu)
4. La Règle du jeu (Renoir)
5. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (Murnau)
6. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick)
7. The Searchers (Ford)
8. Man with a Movie Camera (Vertov)
9. The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer)
10. 8½ (Fellini)

Sight & Sound The Director’s Top Ten
1. Tokyo Story (Ozu)
2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick)
3. Citizen Kane (Welles)
4. 8½ (Fellini)
5. Taxi Driver (Scorsese)
6. Apocalypse Now (Coppola)
7. The Godfather (Coppola)
8. Vertigo (Hitchcock)
9. Mirror (Tarkovsky)
10. Bicycle Thieves (De Sica)

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Daisuke Ito's Masterpiece Discovered

Issatsu-Tasho-Ken (1929)

The print of “Issatu-Tasho-Ken (一殺多生剣)”, Daisuke Ito’s 1929 film, was discovered and is scheduled to be screened at Kyoto Film Festival in October.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Kenji Mizoguchi: The Life of a Film Director (1975)

We sometimes forget that history is statistical approximation of collected experiences. And this process of collection is heavily biased by the political view, cultural understanding or artistic taste of each individual collector. When it comes to the life of a complex man, the collection tends to diverge, then we start to wonder how much of the story is actually reflection of each collector. Welcome to the world of "Citizen Mizoguchi".

Friday, July 20, 2012

Isuzu Yamada (1917 - 2012)

Isuzu Yamada in Sisters of the Gion (1936)

Isuzu Yamada, one of the most renowned actresses in Japanese cinema history, passed away on July 9, 2012. She was 95.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Sakura Tai Chiru (1988)

Kaneto Shindo, one of the prominent filmmaker and writer, passed away on May 29, 2012. He was 100 years old. He was the last to live through the golden age of Japanese cinema and his film career spans over almost 8 decades. He has directed numerous masterpieces such as "The Naked Island" or "Children of Hiroshima", to name the few. He also engaged in documenting some (Japanese-cinema related) historical events. This documentary is at the crossroad of his interests; it is about the troop of independent film actors and also about tragic event in Hiroshima, Shindo’s hometown.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Ich bei Tag und du bei Nacht (1932)

A nightclub waiter and a manicurist share the small apartment room. Though they share the closet, the furniture, even sleep in the same bed, they have never met. Why? He has the room during the day and she the night. They hate each other and complain about other's belongings in their hair all the time. The story gets complicated when they do meet each other and fall in love, without knowing who they are....

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Into Eternity (2010)

A few weeks ago, I read the article in "American Scientist" about how modern humans outnumbered Neanderthals because they enabled efficient hunting using domesticated dogs. Its authors speculate that our ability to domesticate dogs may have to do with our white sclerae (other primates have darker sclerae). Dogs communicate with us through exchange of gazes, among other things, while other primates do not. White sclerae might have enhanced the communication through gazes. Fascinating. 

That was more than 40,000 years ago.

Monday, June 25, 2012

"Bobtail" Reviews

Japanese Bobtail and normal tailed cat. (Wikipedia)

Here, in "Vermillion and One Nights", most of the articles have been long and serialized. It is my habit to write long, big materials, which tend to end up unorganized.

Well, I decided to write those "capsule reviews" more often. Let those be compact and readable. Three paragraphs maximum. Some of the reviews will not be on Japanese cinema, but I will keep repertoire varied and less cinecon oriented.

I decided to call these reviews "bobtail reviews", because "capsule reviews" sound too journalistic and professional. "Bobtail" is as in "Japanese Bobtail", popular cat bleed in U.S. with distinctive short tails (some researchers believe those Japanese Bobtail cats in U.S. are more genetically pure-bred than Japanese domestic cats).

On-going "Films of 1949" will continue, though. Next up is about sexual revolution.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Someone Who Looks Like Gary Cooper (cont.)

Late Spring

This is part six of "Films of 1949" series (Part 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5).

Nobuyoshi Araki, a renowned photographer and an artist, admires young Setsuko Hara in "Late Spring" in his own particular way. He considers her sturdy build and impressive physique the most “photogenic”, very favorable human (female) features in visual arts. For Hara was uniquely “different” from other actresses of the era in this regard, Araki notes, she radiates her visual presence on the screen tremendously. He comments rather jokingly on the scene in which Hara was readied for wedding in the last of “Late Spring”(1); “It looks like a transvestite show.” True, as placed in traditional Japanese architectural frames, she looks utterly awkward and moves cautiously. This remark reminded me of another metaphorical image; a butterfly grown too big for her cocoon.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Someone Who Looks Like Gary Cooper

Green Mountains (1949)
This is part five of "Films of 1949" series (Part 1, 2 3 and 4).

In his “Truth of Cinema”, Tadao Sato vividly describes (1) the conversation among young workers in the office immediately after the war; What will be your choice? Arranged marriage or "romantic marriage"? Arranged marriage is the marriage in which partners are introduced through parents or relations; it does not require romantic relationship prior to marriage. “Romantic marriage” is realized through the romantic relationship between partners. Many old folks, such as my uncles and aunts, or those who had been in their teens or twenties in late 40’s or early 50’s, told me the similar discussions had taken place everywhere from living rooms to classrooms. For example, majority of the students, especially female students, were for "romantic marriage", some told me. They thought marriage after romantic relationship would bring gender equality and respect in family, which had not been a top priority in “traditional” Japanese families. In younger minds, there was more weight on individual, independence, dignity and respect while less on politics of family structure. Arranged marriage was something of old, archaic, and most of all, chauvinism. It was linked to failure of the old society, of the patriarch system ominously dictated in the Imperial legal system.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

88 Keys

Here's to the Girls (1949)

This is part four of "Films of 1949" series (Part 1, 2 and 3).

The Ikedas lost all the glitters and glamor they once had. A decade ago, they were the respectable clan of respectable society. The end of the war brought them a period of humiliation, disgrace and loss, enormous loss. The head of the family was thrown into jail, their properties were liquidated and prospect of regaining the past glory is dim. Their beautiful daughter, Kyoko, whom her parents and grandparents had envisioned bright future, and possibly a marriage with a handsome young man from a family of at least their caliber or preferably much more distinguished, is now dating some fellow from streets (Keizo). Then, this uneducated man surprised them with an unexpected gift; a piano. They lost their piano when they had to raise money, and since then, it had become the unhealed scar among them, especially to Kyoko. It must have been a symbol of Kyoko’s unadulterated childhood, of better days with echoes of Chopin, Mozart or Beethoven ringing in their faded memory. When a piano is delivered unannounced, Kyoko is visibly bewildered. It is not a bewilderment of pleasure. It’s a scar wide open.

Monday, April 9, 2012


Number of Bicycles Produced in Japan (1945 - 1955)
This is part three of "Films of 1949" series. (Part 1 and 2)

On July 1, 1949, Japan Industrial Standard was enacted. It became the foundation of Japanese Industrial Revolution of late 20th century, defining standard of quality in all industrial products.

The production of bicycles saw triple-digit growth in late 40’s. This statistics is a fine example of economic resurrection from the ashes. First of all, the capacity for any industrial production in 1945 was decimal. There was a large room to grow. Also, demand for bicycles was paramount, being relatively (though marginally) affordable for many Japanese.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Botanical Puzzle

Crape Myrtle (Wang Ruoshui)
This is part two of "Films of 1949" series. (Part 1 is here)

“Crape Myrtle always brings bad luck.”

Until I saw Kurosawa’s “Stray Dog”, I had never heard of Crape Myrtle being the omen of bad luck. This line occurs as a part of the audio montage during the pivotal scene in the film. A woman was brutally murdered in a quiet house in upper-class neighborhood. Her husband, a well-to-do businessman, Nakamura, had been away on a business trip, The Police was working on fingerprints and other clues in the murder scene, ransacked by the murderer. They knew instinctively the weapon used in the crime, though; the Colt automatic stolen from the young detective (Toshiro Mifune). Neighbors curiously peering into the house, exchanging whispers. How chummy the Nakamura’s were, and it is that house with Crape Myrtle. This superstitious whisper made lasting impression on me. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012


This is the first part of "Films of 1949" series.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

100 Million Idiots

Mondrian-like composition in "Ohayo (1959)"

Over the cups of sake, Chishu Ryu and others in the Izakaya murmur “TV creates 100 million idiots”. Yes, TV will blow their intellect out of all Japanese brains. Somebody said that.
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