Friday, October 31, 2014

Fusen (1956)

Izumi Ashikawa and Tatsuya Mihashi
Almost all movies - and stories, for that matter - rely on conflicts. Conflicts between a man and a woman. Conflicts between civilization and nature. Conflicts between love and hate. Between courage and weakness, old and new, mighty and poor etc. These conflicts casually employ archetypes of many sorts, to reorient audience to the familiar path of narrative development. It helps to pose ethical theme, metaphysical theme, something meaningful without going into complex discourse of human interaction. One of the most popular device of conflict is that of generations. Teenagers look and act like bubble-headed egoists with a lot of knowledge about modern-day practicalities, while the older parents are stubborn pieces of exhausted mental capacities with a lot of knowledge about bygone day's impracticalities. And reconciliation at the end is the must. At the beginning of Fusen (Japanese for Balloon), it looks like another melodramatic tale of this sort of generation gap. A reserved, serious and gentle father, Haruki (Masayuki Mori) and his wayward, nihilistic son, Keikichi (Tatsuya Mihashi). But as the story unfolds, we realize it is not about generation, it is about empathy.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Digital Amnesia (2014)

 (You can watch the full movie.)

Did you have an account at GeoCities? I am quite sure at least you have visited more than dozens of those sites, - personal blogs or hobby exhibition, or maybe just a few pages of family photos - and probably went on to something else, without even noticing the site was hosted at GeoCities, one of the largest hosting service at the time. In 1999, Yahoo! purchased this thriving service at staggering $3.57 billion, but it turned out to be not as lucrative a business as it had hope to be. Exactly 10 years after, Yahoo! announced its closure rather suddenly. Some of the users went panic, some lamented, most just decided to let it go, and there were those who didn't even notice their sites were deleted. But people at Internet Archive, Archive Team and others took it differently. They thought this was a part of our culture. If it were deleted, it would never be remembered. No one will recall how these GeoCities sites looked like back in 1999. So several teams of Internet archivists attempted to download the whole sites. The whole GeoCities. Now, you can browse the Internet life in 2000's at Archive Team or or Wayback Machine.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Chi Wa Kawaiteru (1960)

In the dystopian world of Sidney Lumet's Network (1976), the death of the once-popular TV personality in front of camera is considered to be the best way to preserve corporate integrity in the face of fierce competition. The price of 'virtual' persona sometimes exceeds the price of person's physical life itself. The idea of a life insurance company exploiting a sensational image of death for marketing their products sounds very promising, but Yoshishige Yoshida's Chi Wa Kawaiteru (血は渇いてる, 1960) abandons the credibility and nuances in exchange for visual impact.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Hakone-Yama (1963)

"Oh, you mean, the next trend will be to live in the slower pace, in this age of hectic pace."
- Kouemon (Shuji Sano)

This film is about nothing but a hectic pace of modern life. Crisply photographed, edited and directed, Yuzo Kawashima's Hakone-Yama (1963) drives you through the world of highly-charged competition among corporations. It is fast, loud, vulgar, and mean. It is loosely based on the actual event at the time. It is timely, sensational and dirty. Most of all, it is energetic.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

We Will Never Know Their Names, But That's Fine, Too

Whenever you read books or articles on film noir, you encounter expressions like this:

Another influence on the visual style of the films was the development of camera and lighting technology in the late 'thirties: faster film stock, coated lenses (which significantly increased the light transmission) and more powerful lights.

 - 'Film Noir, Introduction', Michael Walker, in "The Book of Film Noir", edited by Ian Cameron, The Continuum Publishing Company, 1992

In fact, almost all literatures I have been reading recently reiterate the same thing: faster film stock, high-speed lens and powerful light. Some critics inserted these lines in the beginning of their writings so that they can go on rumbling about the analysis of film noir stylistics and aesthetics. I started to wonder, what are they? How did they differ from the previous technologies? So I dug a little deeper into this little problem.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Me no Kabe (1958)

[Edit 2014.6.15: Added the trailer for this film at the end of this article.]
Gray fluorescence fills a phone booth as bleakly as gray dusk outside. A pale-faced middle-aged man talks into a receiver in a rather frustrated tone: No, I can't come home tonight. I will be away for a while. How about kids? Are they good? Bye bye. He hangs up the phone. He steps out of the booth into incessant high-pitch noise outside. Above him, the brooding gray sky silently pushes him into the noises of Tokyo. It is the last day of his life.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Meito Bijomaru (1945)

The Museum of the Moving Image (New York) is hosting the Series on Mizoguchi films during this May. The program includes many Mizoguchi's works rarely seen, and one of them is war-time Jidaigeki, Meito Bijomaru (名刀美女丸, 1945).

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Nine Films from Germany, Kobe, 1925

I found this full-page ad in one of the old issues of Kinema Junpo (September 21, 1925). The ad is by a film distributor, probably specialized in German films, to inform exhibitors its new acquisition from UFA. There are nine films listed:

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

In jenen Tagen (1947)

Many film history books devote their pages on postwar German film industry to New German Cinema movement, usually citing the names of the auteurs like Fassbinder, Herzog, Schlöndorff or Wenders, and drawing a parallel with French New Wave. Both movements shouted first and shot later: they both shouted their papa's movies suck. For French New Wave, 'papa' was kindly named by François Truffois, - directors like Claude Autant-Lara, Jean Delannoy, René Clément, Yves Allègret and Marcello Pagliero, and scriptwriters like Jean Aurenche and Pierre Bost, Jacques Sigurd, Henri Jeanson, Robert Scipion, and Roland Laudenbach (1). Young Germans were much more civilized: their Overhausener Manifesto just called it "conventional German cinema" and refrained themselves from bursting into name-calling (2).

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

When A Society Drifts Further From Truth

During the production of "Bouquet in the South Seas (Nan-kai no Hanataba, 1942)"
The film was shot on location in Marshall Islands and other South Sea Islands,
the occupied territories of Japan at the time.
The caption for this photo reads "The issues of the South Sea Islands need the most urgent attention."

The nationalists not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.
- George Orwell

There's an article in Independent website about ever-growing revisionist views among the board members of NHK, the public broadcasting in Japan. 
Naoki Hyakuta says Japan was lured into the Second World War by America while liberating Asia from white colonialism.
He denies war crimes such as the 1937 Nanjing massacre, when Japanese troops killed thousands of Chinese civilians. Such views are common among revisionists in Japan. Mr Hyakuta, however, sits on the board of the nation’s public service broadcaster.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Newsreels of War (Part 3)

Southern half of Sakhalin had been a part of Japanese territory since early 20th century, and many Japanese relocated from the main islands to seek profitable opportunities. At the same time, these settlers craved for entertainment from the country they had left behind. Movies were particularly in high demand, and there was at least one theater in each settlement. Shikuka (or Shisuka, Polonysk today) was one of those towns along the Soviet border, with a population of 30,000 (in 1941). Koji Takii, a reporter from Kinema Junpo, visited the town in 1939 to document the movie business in the town. There were two movie theaters in Shikuka, but their programs were chaotic. They screened whatever available to them at the time regardless of their production companies or origins. During winter, movie print supplies from Japan main islands were so scarce that they had to screen the same old movie for weeks. Since the place was located at the very end of film distribution chain, the prints were battered from repeated screenings and broke easily. Takii brought a fresh print of a propaganda film, Koukoku Nippon (The Emperor's Country, Nippon), and proposed its screening to townspeople. They were only eager to have such a 'glorious' movie screened. The local movie theaters were running mainly commercial features such as melodramas and period films, and it is not surprising that people in Shikuka found such a propaganda film so illuminating and educational. The event was named "Anti-Communism National Defense Week" and the Women's Association of the town handled ticket sales through Geishas and Cafe waitresses. The screening was packed to the roof, with all those who had bought the tickets from girls in nightclubs and cafe, plus all the school pupils lead by teachers.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Newsreels of War (Part 2)

Akira Yamamoto (1932 - 1999), a sociologist, recalls his experience during his kindergarten days in 1937.

In the playground of elementary school in my neighborhood, I saw many newsreels in the screenings sponsored by a newspaper agency. Up on the screen, I saw the train packed with soldiers were sent off with cheers of 'Banzai, Banzai'. Cargo vessels traveling through China Sea, soldiers holding guns advancing over a river, those soldiers charging to castle wall ... and they took the castle, put up our flag and yelling 'Banzai'... I saw these newsreels among the crowd packed in the playground. Sometimes people cheered and applauded to the screen.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Newsreels of War (Part 1)

On July 8, 1937, the hostile confrontation at the Marco Polo Bridge ignited the full-scale war between China and Japan. It was the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937 - 1945), which eventually developed into the World War II in the eastern hemisphere. Japanese Imperial Army and Navy fought fierce battles in Beijin, Shanghai, Nanking and other major areas in China, expanding the Empire's territory. 'Our Soldiers Attack Enemy's Front !', 'Our Imperial Soldiers Fire Back At Hostile Enemies !', "A White Flag on the Enemy's Hill !", these audacious headlines were splashed across the newspapers almost every morning. As in many industrialized nations in the first half of 20th century, Japanese newspapers played the decisive role in forming national opinion and sentiment during the war. Their day-to-day reports from the battlefront were rarely objective data and facts, but read like fanatic pamphlet written in boiled blood.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Literary Genealogy of Rashomon (Part 2)

Robert Browning's Signature on the front page of the original Old Yellow Book
from Cornell University/

Robert Browning composed The Ring and the Book, a long dramatic poem, based on a real-life murder trial in 17th century Rome. In 1698, Count Guido Franceschini was accused of a murder of his wife and of her parents and sentenced to death. He protested and even appealed his innocence to the Pope, who denied his plea eventually. The Ring and the Book is comprised of twelve separate books, the first and the last being the narration by a third person, presumably Browning himself. The remaining ten books are testimonies and discussions by witnesses, the accused, the lawyers and the Pope. This poem was inspired by yet another book Browning found in a stall in Florence (it is called Old Yellow Book). This book was from the 17th century, the time of Franceschini case and contained the actual letters and documents relating to the case.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Literary Genealogy of Rashomon (Part 1)

The Model of Rajoumon (Rashomon) (The Museum of Kyoto)

The word 'Rashomon' has now firmly acquired the place in English vocabulary. Even a person who has never seen the Kurosawa's film uses the term. In Wikipedia, the word "Rashomon Effect" is defined as a term "to refer to contradictory interpretations of the same events by different persons, a problem that arises in the process of uncovering truth". The word also found its entry in OED in the recent edition. In the film Rashomon, there is a crime and there are witnesses (suspects and victims). Each witness tells a story about the crime, - how it happened, who did what, - but each account is different from one another. We speculate why they contradict each other, - these may have been altered by their various emotions, cheated out by their vanity or obscured by their conscience.
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