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.
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