Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)

THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA (KAGUYA-HIME NO MONOGATARI, かぐや姫の物語) is based on the oldest Japanese fiction called 'Taketori Monogatari (Spoilers)' written in late 9th century. The author is unknown and the original text didn't survive. Set in the peaceful era of the Fujiwara regency, the story revolves around a 'princess', who was found inside a bamboo tree, when she was a baby. Raised by the old childless couple, she grew up to be the most beautiful lady on earth. So begins the story. Almost all Japanese know the story by heart, at least the beginning and the ending. But I wouldn't go further, for I presume many of my readers are not familiar with this old Japanese tale of wonder, and I don't want to spoil your excitement when you see it.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Why I Hate 110th Anniversary of Yasujiro Ozu

This is 110th anniversary of Yasujiro Ozu. Not so many artists receive recognition at the centenary of their birth, even less do at the 110th. But it is good to know that there will be a new generation of audience who will discover his works for the first time in this occasion. During the past months, I saw many books published, magazines running special issues, his prints newly restored, theaters holding Ozu festivals, and Blurays released. But somehow, my interests have faded away. Maybe it is a temporary thing, but I am fed up with this hype. Then I started to hate this anniversary thing after reading some pathetic articles. Sort of.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Song of the Flower Basket (1937)

Kinuyo Tanaka and Shuji Sano in HANAKAGO NO UTA (Song of the Flower Basket, 1937)
The story of HANAKAGO NO UTA ("Song of the Flower Basket", 花籠の歌, 1937) revolves around a pork-cutlet diner along a cluttered back street of Ginza, Tokyo. Keizo (Reikichi Kawamura), the owner and the master of the diner, and his daughter Yoko (Kinuyo Tanaka) are running a small but successful business. The Chinese chef, Mr. Lee (Shin Tokudaiji), cooks the best pork-cutlet, as they say. Two of the most frequent customers are Ono (Shuji Sano) and Hotta (Chishu Ryu), a pair of rather lazy collage students. The story goes into a wicked spiral when Ono is arrested for a murder of a girl he once knew. Yoko becomes frustrated and nervous, while Hotta tries every possible means for his friend's release.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Lunchbox and Life Insurance


Michael Koresky explains the word 'flunky' from the title of Naruse's silent film as 'a loose translation of koshiben, which denotes a low-wage earner who brings his lunch to work'. I think this is excellent translation to capture the essence of the film in a single word. To help us understand how an insurance agent Okabe would have lived back in 1931, I explore a little bit more.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Ozu Goes to Nanking

Ozu and two gentlemen from I WAS BORN, BUT... (1932)

I posted some photographs of directors and one young actress from prewar Japanese cinema magazines in the past weeks. Today, I post three daring photographs of Yasujiro Ozu, to commemorate his 110th anniversary.

The first photograph is from 1932. This was taken during the shooting of I WAS BORN, BUT ... (1932), the film I consider the best among his extant silent works. According to the caption, these two kids had fallen ill during the shooting of the film previous year, and the production had to be stopped. Now, apparently these rascals were feeling better (is that a cigarette?) and Ozu was getting ready to shoot these pivotal scenes near the railroad. This photograph was on the March 21 issue of Kinema Junpo. The fuse of war was ignited in January in Shanghai and its flashes flew all the way to the theater screens as the film frames flickered.

Ozu was drafted to Army twice. From 1937 to 1939, he was dragged around in China, as a soldier in a chemical weapon unit. He was discharged in June 1939, and this photograph was taken upon his return to the good old Shochiku Studio in July. The guy greeting him is Yasujiro Shimazu. A man must have experienced so much when his face shows a twinkle of relief but carved with unspeakable.

Two Yasujiros

In the photo below, the guy in the center is not Ryu Chishu from TOKYO STORY (1951), but cunning resemblance tells us that his style grew out of himself. Ozu's colleagues, film critics and publishers threw a welcome-back party in a typical Ozu setting with Sushi and beer. Lots of beer. Several months after this photo, Ozu's script, HE GOES TO NANKING, was rejected by the Censorship Office. There was a scene in the script that a man is to go to the war and his last supper at home was Ochazuke (green tea over rice). They didn't like it. The Censorship Officer told Ozu that this guy's family should send him off with more ceremonial meals, like Sekihan. When idiocy is given a voice, it shrieks triumphs of obscenity. 

Copyrighted materials, if any, on this web page are included as "fair use". These are used for the purpose of research, review or critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Unter den Brücken (1945)

As I was leafing through the pages of Felix Moeller's 'The Film Minister: Goebbels and the Cinema in the "Third Reich"', I stumbled upon a name I had hardly ever heard: Helmut Käutner. Typing his name in several search boxes and clicking numerous links, I soon found enough about him. Käutner started his directorial career in 1939, though his first film, KITTY UND DIE WELTKONFERENZ, was banned in Germany for its supposedly pro-British views. He continued to work throughout the war years, eight films in total. After the war, he directed some notable films such as DIE LETZE BRÜCKE (1954), LURWIG II: GLANZ UND ENDE EINES KÖNIGS (1955), and DER HAUPTMANN VON KÖPENICK (1956), with a couple of award nominations, including Oscar nomination for the last one. Now, Moeller mentions that Goebbels developed fairly reasonable critical eyes for the art of filmmaking after overseeing German film industry for several years, and rightly praised Käutner's ROMANZE IN MOLL (1943) and UNTER DEN BRÜCKEN (1945) as the 'exceptional works of art'. As I have been exploring some films under Nazi Germany and Japanese Imperial regime, naturally I was intrigued by such a statement. Not many films under such totalitarian regimes are likes of JUD SÜSS (1940), and that's exactly why it is all the more frightening.

UNTER DEN BRÜCKEN is an exceptional work of art. It was filmed in 1944, as the Allies bombed Berlin and other major cities night after night. It passed censors in March 1945, but never released until 1950. In 1945, there was no theater to open it. However, in this film, there is no hint of devastation, confusion or tragedy taking place in the real world outside the frame. This is the world with no war, no bombing, no Nazi officer, no casualty, no, none of that. It is a tranquil world of poetic serenity, flowing water rhyming with creaking of a rudder. Nothing happens, except two buddies - Hendrik and Willi - working on a barge, fall in love with the same girl, Anna. Their encounter was at a bridge in Potsdam, with the girl on the bridge and the guys underneath it. They thought she would jump but she threw a 10 mark bill over the rail instead, oblivious of two men under the bridge. This mysterious incident acts as a solvent for their story, which eventually evaporates off as they share the sense of loneliness. A series of episodes tell us much more about their soul and life, which is filled with simplicity and honesty. One of the most moving moments is when Hendrik tells Anna the story of noises you hear on the barge during the night. Anna is nervous of the unfamiliar surroundings of the barge and cannot sleep. Hendrik tells her these noises are not noises, but nice music to fall asleep to, if you know what they are: wind in the reeds, water in the hull, flogs, rubbing ropes... it's a moment of tender intimacy told with the most delicate visuals.

The film derives its tempo from the flow of the river, - slow but continuous. Occasional bridges cast shadow over the barge, quietly pausing for crotchet rests. The images, shot on location, are incredibly naturalistic, full of sun and water. It seems Käutner and his crew painstakingly removed any evidence of the war out of their way. His assistant director, Rudolf Jugert, had worked for Alessandro Blasetti in Cinecitta in late 1930's, whose 1860 (1934) and QUATTRO PASSI FRA LE NUVOLE (1943) are considered as forerunners of Italian Neorealism. This is not realism, though. This is a fairy tale - a tale of a parallel world, which probably many Germans realized they should have had chosen. It is no coincidence that, in this 'other' world, Hendrik and Willi have been on the barge since 1933 - the year Nazi seized power. They must have experienced none of the Nazi frenzies, of the quick descent into nightmare. During the night, real Berliners were afraid of real noises - distant roars of the Allied bombers, hollowing inhumanity of sirens, shrieking of menacing bombs ... it's a regret 12 years too late. So all the more, it reflects back to us that we should never regret such a regret. We should never let anyone regret such a regret. Käutner longed for this world, which had branched off from their own many years ago, and made sure to preserve it in the frames of the film.

When I was a graduate student, I was hunting for old papers on chemistry of a rare compound in University library. As I smelled the dingy adhesive of old bindings (it was before internet and electric journals), I wondered what it was like to publish scientific papers in Nazi Germany, especially during the last days of the war. There wouldn't be anything revealing, no atomic bomb or rocket propulsion, I was sure, but what could they publish, then? I looked up one of the German scientific journals, and browsed through the issues published in 1940's. As I progressed from 1940 on, each issue got thinner, with less pages and less reports. In the last issue before the end of the war, published sometime in 1944, there was only one paper. I cannot recall the title, but it was about the ecology of butterflies. I could pick up only several of German words, but there were a few figures of butterflies, probably of very rare bleeds, I suppose. Staring at these figures, I was spellbound for a while. Where did they come from? Were they for real? Among the burning buildings, collapsed houses, rabbles in the streets, these pages had been printed. As if there had been no war. As if they were printed in another world. I could feel the surface of the paper, smell of the ink, but felt unreal.

The strange thing is, I can't find that paper anymore. 

Unter den Brücken (1945)
Directed by Helmut Käutner
Written by  Leo de Laforgue, Helmut Käutner, Walter Ulbrich
Music by Bernhard Eichhorn
Cinematography by Igor Oberberg
Starring Hannelore Schroth, Carl Raddat, Gustav Knuth

Copyrighted materials, if any, on this web page are included as "fair use". These are used for the purpose of research, review or critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Friday, October 25, 2013

Three Aviation Propaganda Films


Hayao Miyazaki, whose THE WIND RISES (2013) gathered various praises and criticisms over last few months, made a particularly harsh remark about the coming Zero fighter movie, EI-EN NO ZERO (2013) due open this winter. Based on the bestseller novel of the same title by Naoki Hyakuta, the story is about the brother and sister who investigate their grandfather's past as a Zero fighter Kamikaze pilot. Miyazaki criticized it is "packed with inaccuracies" and "filled with the same old sentiment". To me, this morbid obsession with this particular type of warplane, - Zero fighter -, by both of these men is more puzzling. I can see that its history and its technologies might interest some, but is it necessary to invite such a public debate - or an argument, rather - on this issue? I think it is more worthwhile to look at how people were drawn into this myth of Japanese aviation superiority, through propaganda films, for example.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Campaign (2007)

In THE DISTINGUISHED GENTLEMAN (1992), a con-man-turned-candidate-for-the-Congress (Eddie Murphy) runs the shameless election campaign on a low budget. He drives a car fitted with loudspeakers around the town, just to sell his 'name'. "Jeff Johnson, the name you know". He figures that most voters wouldn't care and vote for him simply because the name sounds familiar (Jeff Johnson is the name of a dead Congressman). He cruises around the town in a van, advertising his name through the speakers in different accents to appeal to different ethnic groups. Well, THE DISTINGUISHED GENTLEMAN was a comedy. It was supposed to be funny. When I saw that scene back in 1992, I couldn't laugh. Not because it was an awful, poorly-made movie (well, it is).

Because it is exactly the way the election is run in Japan.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

More photographs : Ozu, Eisenstein, and others

Yasujiro Ozu (1937)

All right, another sets of photographs. Actually I don't know if these are rarely seen or not, but just I haven't seen them before.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Rare Snapshots of Setsuko Hara

Setuko Hara during shooting of HIKARI TO KAGE (1939)
I found some rare snapshots of Setsuko Hara in Japanese movie magazines from 1930's and 1940's.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

About the Meal Prepared by the Cultural Elites and its Nutritional Merits

Promotional Advertisement for URLAUB AUF EHRENWORT
in Japanese Film Magazine, NIHON EIGA, June 1941

While UNTERNEHMEN MICHAEL (1938) was released after Japanese censorship had butchered it, another Karl Ritter's film, URLAUB AUF EHRENWORT (1938) was banned in its entirety. According to Akira Iwasaki, the official reason given was that film depicted the officer's insubordination to the orders. However, by the time its ban was announced, this film had already been screened to directors, producers, writers and critics in film industries, and some magazines published their reviews and discussions on their pages even. These insiders praised URLAUB AUF EHRENWORT unanimously, some calling it a masterpiece. Around the same time, Marlene Dietrich's DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (1939) was being shown in theaters. Many critics despised DESTRY, calling it an empty-headed, escapist, silly entertainment. Superficially, the contrast seems obvious: Hollywood films (the potential enemy state) were deemed as 'degenerate' entertainment, while the Germans (our ally) provided 'high art' firmly deeply rooted in centuries of their culture. However, there seems to be more than that.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Sometime ago, I posted the LITTLE LORD FAUNTRELOY advertisement page from an ancient Kinema Jumpo and the leaflet I found between its pages. Here are some other pages from the same issue.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

'Mis'-interpretting UNTERNEHMEN MICHAEL


Karl Ritter's direction is skillful, but it is the soul of filmmaking that shine through more brilliantly than skill. The soul to make something complete is within him. A great filmmaker.
- Kenji Mizoguchi on Karl Ritter (1940)

I think Karl Ritter is overrated tremendously. When he handles a patriotic subject, he uses an extremely vulgar approach.
- Joseph Goebbels on Karl Ritter (1939)

In 1940, a German UFA production, UNTERNEHMEN MICHAEL was imported to Japanese market, only to be censored by the Japanese officials before its release in theaters. One of the leading movie magazines at the time, STAR, printed the round-table discussion on the film by prominent film artists - Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu, Tomotaka Tasaka, Tomu Uchida and Isamu Kosugi. They saw the original version before the censorship, and from their experience, they knew this film would be exorcised by Japanese censorship.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Two Totalitarian Regimes, Two films

From June 1941 issue of NIHON EIGA

As I mentioned before, foreign film market in 1930's Japan was very lively and energetic, even in the eve of Pearl Harbor attack. Especially German and Austrian cinema were quite popular, not just because Japan had a political alliance with the Nazi regime, but also because people simply loved sweet scent of Hapsburg Empire and of German clinical efficiency. As I read through several literatures and contemporary periodicals, I find many of their observations on certain films, aesthetics, film techniques or directors were radically different from our views today. One of such examples is the case for Karl Ritter.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Little Leaflet from 90 Years Ago

A few days ago, I received the package from the bookstore specialized in vintage movie magazines. I won several issues of Kinema Junpo from 1920's and '30s from the online auction. Kinema Junpo is one of the oldest periodical publication on movies, dating back to 1919, and still in business. One of the issues in the package was dated March 11, 1924. It's only 28 pages, including covers, but to me, it contains a wealth of information about the movie experience almost 90 years ago. Between its pages, I found a small sheet of paper. It is printed on both sides, then folded in half at the center. It is a leaf from a movie theater program. Titled "ORIENTAL NEWS" in excessively decorated letters, this somewhat yellowing paper informs us movie experience at TOYO KINEMA, one of the most prestigious theaters in Tokyo area before World War II. The original owner of the magazine must have stuck it between the pages of the magazine, and forgotten about it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Tokyo Olympic

Well, it's final.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Foreign Films during the War Years

Japan had been one of the largest market for European and Hollywood films in the Eastern hemisphere until its totalitarian regime attacked the Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941. Though the government was hostile toward the Allies, Japanese film exhibitors were still importing and marketing Hollywood films even in 1941.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

For the Love of Robots

From Guillermo del Toro's Sketchbook (via.film.com)
Japanese love robots. It is a nation of AIBO (remember the Sony dog robots?), ASIMO and NAO. Japanese literally created thousands of robot animes, starting from ASTRO BOY in 1950s. Now, it was foreseeable that Japanese fans of robots would be captivated by Guillermo del Toro's PACIFIC RIM. And we are. There is a report of rather disappointing box office results from the opening weekend, but the reactions from its audience are exceptionally better. Twitter is filled with illustrations drawn by the fans of the film, some of which are simply amazing. As I have discussed before, Japanese consumed incredible amount of robot/monster-related action animes, TV shows and films in last fifty years. I am not a particularly into this genre like other hardcore fans, but still, have seen the share of these inspiring (and uninspiring) works. Guillermo del Toro is a self-admitted fan (otaku) of all these works, and his vast knowledge of the genre resonates with Japanese audience (including me). By the way, my personal favorite of del Toro's work is still CRONOS (1993), a hypnotic horror fantasy film.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Early Wakamatsu's Work Discovered

Kouji Wakamatsu (CATERPILLAR(2010), UNITED RED ARMY(2008)) died last October by car accident. His unfortunate, premature death has created the huge void in Japanese cinema industry today. One of his earliest works, OSORUBEKI ISAN, HADAKA NO KAGE (恐るべき遺産 裸の影, 1963) was discovered recently and screened at SHINDO KANETO FILM FESTIVAL last week. Its premiere was 50 years ago and it has never been screened since. The film, according to Chunichi Shinbun, is about a girl in Hiroshima, who lost her parents in atomic bomb and herself was exposed to nuclear radiation. The trailer shows the small segment from the film, which indicates the noticeable decay. I hope the film go wider circulation, just not to commemorate the artist, but to bring his immortal message to the younger generations today.

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Hoodlum Soldier (1965)

It's the year 1943, near the northern border of Manchuria. The infantry division of Japanese Army stationed in the midst of this barren land, quietly waiting for Soviet invasion (which actually took place in August 1945). Arita, a wary 3-year private, was dodging any hint of death as much as possible. He hates Army. He hates Soldiers. He had intentionally franked the promotion exam, so that he wouldn't have to order something horrible to the other soldiers. All he wanted was to go home. However, he was not a weakling nor an idealist. He was much more experienced, cunning and clever. He knew all the unpleasantness of the life in barracks, violent bullying, bloody punishment and incoherent command structures. He knew how to survive, not in the actual battle field, but in the barracks of abrasive Japanese Army. He knew how to be quiet. He could take unnecessary, sadistic beating from the superior, without flinching. He knew how to avoid troubles. Then, he was assigned to look after the new recruit fresh from Japan. Omiya was a hoodlum, a Yakuza bodyguard with zero tolerance to anything. Now, Arita had to really look after Omiya, otherwise he would be in trouble.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Kaze Tachinu (2013)

We all know that Hayao Miyazaki is deeply obsessed with airplanes, blimps, or any machinery of aviation. This obsession reveals itself as various flying objects in his works. Sometimes, they are merely products of his imagination, such as Möwe in NAISICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND, the castle in HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE, or Kiki's broom in KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE, but in many cases, his obsession with early aviation history manifests, as amphibians and speed planes in PORCO ROSSO. He likes to draw large biplanes, triplanes, or any other exotic airplanes from the first half of 20th century, paying extra attentions to details. He painstakingly animates this sense of 'lift', weightlessness at takeoff, or sense of wonder during flying. So, it is no surprise that Hayao Miyazaki's new film is based on the true story of Jiro Horikoshi, the legendary Japanese aircraft designer. It has been debated, however, how Miyazaki would handle the most critical topic about this hero of Japanese aviation technology: he designed many of the successful fighter airplanes during Sino-Japan War and Pacific War, including Mitsubishi A5M fighter, 'Claude' and A6M fighter, 'Zero'. The latter has gained notoriety for being the instrument of military madness; they were the symbol of Kamikaze attacks in the last days of the Pacific Theatre. We speculated how Miyazaki, known for his strong pacifist philosophy, would handle this topic, especially when the current political climate in Japan is leaning toward 're-militarization', i.e. enabling 'the right of collective self-defense'. In essence, his inner child loves to draw planes, to animate them, and to make them fly in his imagined world, while his adult mind tells him they are the devilish instruments of mass murder. How does he resolve this conflict?

Well, he didn't. Sort of. And come to think of it, he didn't have to.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

New Film by Hayao Miyazaki

KAZE TACIHNU (風立ちぬ, The Wind Has Risen), the new film by Hayao Miyazaki in 5 years, opened in theaters today. Miyazaki, the creator of notable anime films such as MY NEIGHBOR, TOTORO and SPIRITED AWAY, wrote and directed this story of the real airplane designer, Jiro Horikoshi (1903 - 1982). Jiro Horikoshi revolutionized fighter airplanes of Japanese Imperial Army and Navy, the most notable example being Mitsubishi A6M carrier fighter, 'Zero'. The story follows Horikoshi's life in the time of Kanto Earthquake, subsequent totalitarian regime and the war.

Ozu's color films to be restored

According to Tokyo Shinbun, NFC (National Film Center) in Tokyo announced the plan to restore Yosujiro Ozu's four color films, such as AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON and LATE AUTUMN, using the state-of-art digital technology. These films are already showing some decay and fading. To restore the color of these films, it is necessary to collect the knowledge of the people who were involved in Ozu's production directly. Archivists are alarmed of the loss of such knowledge, since these ex-staffs are becoming too old.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Undying Pearls (1928)

Hiroshi Shimizu's UNDYING PEARLS (1928) is the story of two sisters, who live two different life styles, but want the same thing: being loved. This is another Shochiku's "women's picture", full of melodramatic twists, colorful characters, and fashionable clothes. Toshie, the elder sister, fell in love with Shozo Narita, a rising entrepreneur, but her introverted nature and extreme shyness prevented her from expressing her emotions. The best she could do is to write a very polite letter to Narita, with a reserved expression like "I would like to have a conversation with you". Reiko, the younger sister, is a "modern girl", the Japanese version of flappers, acting strikingly contrast to Toshie's manner. She flirts with this dashing handsome young man, even going out a long trip with him. Narita asks Reiko to marry, without knowing her sister is also hopelessly in love with him.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Conversion to Talkies : Case for Foreign Films

Newspaper ad for MOROCCO (1930), Note the subtitles in the image. Japanese is written vertically.
One of the problems unique to Japanese cinema industry in early 1930s was demise of Benshis, interpreter/lecturer/storyteller of movies. During the silent film era, a Benshi was an essential part of movie experience. He stood right next to the screen and provided live speech to audience, explaining and coloring up the events up on the screen. He gave the background of the story, imitated conversation between characters, or supplemented anecdotes of the film. Popularity of a Benshi was an important ingredient for movie business, sometimes making a substantial difference in box office especially for competitive urban markets.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Conversion to Talkies: Price of Technology

Projection room in 1931 (Loew's Valencia Theatre, Jamaica NY)
In the interview published in Jiji Shinpo, July 3, 1932, T.D. Cochran, the head of Paramount Tokyo Branch, condescendingly pointed out the miserable state of talkie in Japan. He recommended Japanese motion picture studios to quit developing their own "inferior technologies" and to use superior U.S. technologies instead. "It is true that Western-Electric system's license fee is expensive," he said. "But we have a discount for Japanese market at $200 per reel. You have to pay $500 per reel in New York." It's 60% off. It sounds terribly a good deal. But very few Japanese companies actually adapted the Western Electric system. Why?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Conversion to Talkies: Japanese Studios

The Poster for FURUSATO, the first Nikkatsu talkie feature directed by Kenji Mizoguchi

In the last post, I discussed about the overall transition from silent to talkies in 1930's Japanese cinema industry: number of theaters and total number of motion picture consumption. In this entry, let's look at the talkie transitions at individual motion picture studios. Data is from "Annual Report of Motion Picture Censorship".

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Conversion to Talkies

Talkie Production in Japan (1933)
You may wonder why Yasujiro Ozu was still shooting silent films well into 1936. It's true that he was one of the most hesitant to adapt to sound films, but the conversion from silents to talkies was very slow process in Japanese cinema industry anyway. It took almost a decade for all the theaters to be equipped with sound film projection. There were many reasons for this relatively slow process. Film projection narrators, Benshis, were integral part of silent film projection and had strong influence on motion picture business. They demanded the production companies to support and preserve their businesses and the art of film live narration. Backed by huge fan base, their voices echoed loud. At the same time, the economy was not in good shape. The waves of depression from the Wall Street were hitting hard on Japanese market since 1929. Even though motion picture business expanded its horizon for three decades, many theater owners were still on a shoestring, not being able to afford another expensive investment. The technologies from Hollywood were well beyond their means, while the domestic technology was still immature. They all loved to see talkies (most of the Hollywood films were talkies), but Japanese production and market was cautious and reluctant.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Another "Yasujiro" in Shochiku


For past weeks, I reviewed two films by Yasujiro Shimazu, THE TRIO'S ENGAGEMENT (1937) and LOVE, BE WITH HUMANITY (1931). I assume his name is not as familiar as another Yasujiro (Ozu) among the readers. Maybe some of you know MY LITTLE NEIGHBOR, YAE (1934), which has circulated among various film festivals around the globe in recent years. Though relatively unknown today, he was the most reliable and professional director during 20s and 30s at the Shochiku and deserves more attention. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

5 Lost Films by 5 Masters of Japanese Cinema

The Title Card for ISO NO GENTA, DAKINE NO NAGADOSU (1932)

Here is the list of lost films by 5 Japanese masters: Shozo Makino, Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu, Sadao Yamanaka and Akira Kurosawa. I guess you may pick other films, but I will state my case.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Love, Be With Humanity (1931)

Love, Be With Humanity (1931)
Experience in a movie theater is not about the movie itself sometimes. It is about sharing time and space with total strangers. Most of the time, you don't know who this person is sitting in the next seat. Sometimes it's a guy munching on popcorn, sputtering the salver-coated debris whenever he finds something funny on the screen. Sometimes it's an old fat lady who wiggles in the seat uncomfortably whenever a sexually-explicit scene comes up. Of course, there is always a soul who just snores through whole 2 hours of matinée. But somehow we share the time and space, - and anticipation. We buy tickets to be captivated by something extraordinary. And if the movie is a silent film from 1931, directed by a lesser-known figure of Japanese cinema, screened with live piano accompaniment, you have the audience dedicated to the joy of cinematic experience. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Trio's Engagements (1937)

Ken Uehara, Shin Saburi, Shuji Sano in THE TRIO'S ENGAGEMENTS

Star system is always the central piece of movie industry. A big star muttering horrible lines in an awful script is still better than unknown actors playing the performance of the decade in an excellent indie movie. At least in box office terms. When you need a boost in numbers, you are better off with two stars instead of one. Let's make it three, then you have a sure hit. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Seven Seas (1931, 1932)

SEVEN SEAS, the opening shot

Until recently, Hiroshi Shimizu was not a familiar name even among Japanese cinema aficionados. Though he had been well-regarded in Japanese movie industry during 1930's and 40's, and his works had been extremely popular among domestic movie-going public, Hiroshi Shimizu was eclipsed by his contemporaries after the war: Yasujiro Ozu, Mikio Naruse and Kenji Mizoguchi. How many movies did he direct in his lifetime? Ever-exhaustive IMDb lists 57 titles as of today. More complete database for Japanese movies, jmdb, lists 166 tiles as his directorial works, large part of which are from 20's and 30's. As typical of Japanese films of the era, the body of his works were largely forgotten, neglected and lost. Even in Japan, his movies were mainly history book curiosities or nostalgic memorabilia until recently. In his memoir, Chishu Ryu lamented about the fact that little attention was paid to Shimizu's works. In recent years, his surviving movies are receiving the appraisal they should have. In 2009, Criterion released his pivotal works from 30's to early 40's on DVD. These four titles, JAPANESE GIRLS AT HARBOR (1933), MR. THANK YOU (1936), THE MASSEURS AND A WOMAN (1938) and ORNAMENTAL HAIRPIN (1941) are not only his masterpieces, but also the very example of the quality of 30's Japanese cinema.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Memory is A Requiem for the Dead Neurons (Part 2)


The Replicants in BLADERUNNER tried to fabricate the past by collecting photographs of some distant past. They did not have actual memories of those moments captured in photographs. Then, why do they need to have these external artifacts? If I have a photograph taken 20 years ago, and if I have no recollection of having that particular moment depicted in it, then what does that prove? Did I lose the memory of the event? Or did someone fabricate the photograph using Photoshop? If you can believe what you see in a photograph rather than you remember, then are you a Replicant?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Memory is A Requiem for the Dead Neurons (Part 1)

You are talking about memories.
Rick Deckard, Bladerunner.

William Gibson's most controversial work to date, "Agrippa (A Book of the Dead)", was supposed to exist only in the memories of those who experienced it. The work would not be physically accessible after its initial encounter with a reader. I mean, you cannot read it twice. And this needs a little bit of explaining. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Evangelion after Fukushima (Part 5)

Kaiten, human torpedoes, on the submarine

This is final installment of the series. Part 123 and 4.

They told me I was going to be in one of the Ultimate Secret Weapon. I didn't know what it was. I was excited. Then I found out it was the Human Torpedo.

- A Japanese Imperial Navy ex-trainee, who stationed in the secret Navy base near Hiroshima during the last days of the Pacific War.

The image of Shinji (and Asuka or Rei) in Eva may bear little resemblance to it, but it is the image of a suicide weapon nonetheless - Kamikaze fighters, Human torpedoes and other atrocious machinery of perverted ideas. You and your weapon are the one and the same. You pilot your weapon and you are not allowed to abandon it whatever happens to you. This weapon-pilot relationship amplifies the sense of density, despair, and above all, deadly sense of intoxication.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Evangelion after Fukushima (Part 4)

Günter Anders

This is Part 4 of the series. Part 1, 2 and 3.
There is a vital difference between the empty streets of ULTRAMAN or EVANGELION and the empty streets in Fukushima. In fiction, these empty streets demand you to kill your imagination. Don’t think about them. They act as bits of the propaganda, which coerce you not to contemplate. But, the empty streets in Fukushima demand us to imagine the absence of the society - lives destroyed, families torn apart, businesses crumbled, promises crashed, smiles forgotten, and hopes demolished. Parhaps we should remember, - as Hiroaki Koide pointed out - that this is much worse than war. After the war, you can rebuild the society again. This disaster is different. It does not allow us to re-enter the land of our own. The part of Fukushima is totally lost to us and remains so for more than 100 years to come. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Evangelion after Fukushima (Part 3)

The Empty Streets of Tomioka Town,
inside the exclusion zone around the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Plant
(via. Reuters)
This is Part 3 of the series. Part 1 and 2.

"MAZINGER Z", the first and the most influential Robot/Mecha Anime was aired in 1972. It was the time of consumerism, aftermath of turbulent sixties, the entrance to the highway of economic boom, Japanese technology revolution. In MAZINGER Z, the question of “perfect” only applied to the perfectness of the machines. The viewers of the program were kids born in sixties, the generation too far removed from the days of the Imperial military. The archenemies in MAZINGER Z are the worst kind of worst ex-Nazis, who are grotesque, sadistic and horrifyingly evil. It didn’t occur to the young viewers (including me) that Nazis were the partners to our grandfathers military. The series was one of the first to exploit the power of franchise business model through the medium of TV. All we kids cared about was this new, cool toy figures of Mazinger Z, made of "Super Alloy Z", whatever that was. This 60cm tall toy, armored with the “Rocket Punch”, became a standard Christmas or birthday gift for the pre-teen boys, and was the perfect product of imagination which came true.

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