Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Pale Flower

This Thursday (April 1st) in Kent 413 at 8:30 PM.

Pale Flower (Kawaita Hana)
Shinoda Masahiro, 1964.
Don't bring the kids.

From one of the Japanese New Wave's most prominent directors, a powerful study (according to Shinoda) of the ways in which the hierarchical and ritualistic qualities of Japanese society survived post-World War II in the life of the yakuza. Stunning lighting (reminiscent of an American noir), beautiful camerawork, an excellent soundtrack from Toru Takemitsu, and powerful acting from Ryo Ikebe and Marika Kaga.

"Masahiro Shinoda’s brilliant film opens with mobster Murakami just getting released from prison for murdering a member of a rival clan, only to learn that during his internment, the two syndicates arranged a truce. Not unlike the protagonist in Albert Camus’ The Stranger, Murakami’s motives for killing were vague and that life holds little value for him. At an illegal gambling parlor, he finds himself drawn to a mysterious waif-like young woman named Saeko (Mariko Kaga) who lives life from one thrill to the next. Though she seems remarkably adept at losing large sums of money, she asks Murakami to find games with larger and larger stakes. Soon they become involved in an intense mutually destructive relationship." -allmovieguide

More on Shinoda:
Masahiro Shinoda is one of the most prominent filmmakers of the Japanese New Wave, along with Nagisa Oshima and Shohei Imamura. While Oshima’s films were often a venue for political provocation and Imamura’s work seemed to be a bawdy refutation of Yasujiro Ozu’s refined passivity, Shinoda’s movies detail the spiritual emptiness of post-war Japanese life and search for some essence of the Japanese character.

Shinoda was born into one of the most illustrious families in central Gifu Prefecture in 1931. His ancestors were large landowners and village leaders of a small town that is now part of Gifu City. They also had a long literary and cultural heritage. His great uncle was the model for the main character in one of Toson Shimazaki’s novels, and Shinoda’s cousin is one of Japan’s leading abstract calligraphers. As a child, Shinoda was studious, applying himself to mathematics and physics; but by the end of World War II, he experienced the same sort of bitter disillusionment as many of his generation. Shinoda came to view the cold rationality of science as instrumental in Japan’s ability to wage the war. Later, Shinoda entered Waseda University and was one of only three students enrolled in its theatre history program. There he studied under some of the most renowned experts in such traditional Japanese forms of drama as Noh, Kabuki, and Bunraku (puppet theatre). As he continued to study, he felt a passionate need to understand what quirk in the Japanese character lead to the disaster of the Second World War.

In 1953, Shinoda was forced to withdraw from university after his mother died. Though his family had a distinguished lineage, its financial status was depleted after the war, and he had to find work. In desperation, he took and passed the Shochiku studios entrance exam and soon became an assistant director. After the financial success of Oshima’s Town of Love and Hope (1959), Shinoda was given permission to write and direct his first film. The result was One Way Ticket for Love (1960), which proved to be a box office failure, and Shinoda soon found himself in the assistant director’s chair again; this did not last long, though. The critical and commercial success of Oshima’s shockingly bleak Cruel Story of Youth (1960) both strengthened Shochiku’s willingness to take risks on young directors and heralded the beginning of the Japanese New Wave. Shinoda’s first success occurred not long afterwards, when he teamed up with poet (and later, filmmaker) Shuji Terayama to create Youth in Fury (1960). Shinoda’s films are populated with people who passionately, irrationally sacrifice themselves for love and beauty, be it the nihilist gangster who risks jail for a beautiful young thrill-seeker in Pale Flower (1963), the jealous apprentice consumed with love for her painting teacher in With Beauty and Sorrow (1965), or the lovers who choose death over separation in Double Suicide. In a manner akin to the films of Kenji Mizoguchi, Shinoda presents this self-destruction with a sense of unavoidable fate; his protagonists are unwilling or unable to break themselves from the spiral towards the abyss, their respective journeys accentuated by the filmmaker’s bold experimentation with narrative and visuals. This fusion of traditional plot elements with a challenging formal style is best exemplified in his masterpiece Double Suicide, which reworked a classic Bunraku play into a modernist work of art. The black-clothed stagehands that animate the dolls in traditional Puppet Theatre are recast here as agents of fate manipulating the film’s characters towards their inevitable bloody end. Since then, Shinoda has made a number of well-received films including Himiko (1974), MacArthur’s Children (1984), and Sharaku (1995). Shinoda’s wife, actress Shima Iwashita, appears in many of his films. —allmovie guide

Monday, March 15, 2010

Tokyo Twilight (東京暮色)

3/15, 8:30 PM in Kent 413

"One of Ozu's most piercing portraits of family strife, Tokyo Twilight follows the parallel paths of two sisters contending with an absent mother, unwanted pregnancy, and marital discord."
-Criterion Collection

On March 25, we will be kicking off the Japanese Film Club with a film from 1957, Ozu Yasujiro's Tokyo Twilight. For those of you who've seen some of Ozu's better-known films (Tokyo Story, Late Spring), I think you'll find this a really interesting departure from his normal style. It is definitely more "dark" than anything else I've seen by him (as the review below points out) and this does seem to put somewhat of a strain on all of the actors that Ozu generally casts with a restrained emotional palette (i.e. Ryu Chishu, Hara Setsuko). However, I think that in many ways it is one of Ozu's most spiritually redemptive films. The development of his style of framing, with multiple distinct planes of action (usually marked by tatami), and his meticulous placement of people and objects in every shot is at such a high point here that it lends the film a sort of second progression underlying the surface narrative. That narrative, however, is very powerful in and of itself, and although the film is over two hours, it is one of Ozu's most gripping. For those of you who've never seen any Ozu before, you may be frustrated by the lack of confrontation (which is actually much less apparent here than in his other films) and the repetition of sequences (mahjong games, meaningless conversations over saké), but I think if you are interested in film you will come to appreciate the meaning behind this repetition. Tokyo Twilight casts the intense drama of a young woman coming to grips with identity over the backdrop of a society that always repeats its mundane errors and consigns the meaningful to a world of fiction (see the scene in the mahjong bar when one player tells the story of Akiko's pregnancy). The suffering of that woman seems to stun the characters around her out of their selfishness and accidental malice, which is really just a kind of laziness. A supremely mature piece from Ozu, and in my opinion one of his best.


If you want to read more on Tokyo Twilight and Ozu's other films, click here.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Japanese Film Club

Starting after spring break, we will be showing a different Japanese film every week. Screenings will be on Thursdays in 413 Kent Hall at 8:30 PM. Posters will be hung around campus every week. Current plans are to start with Ozu's Tokyo Twilight.