Repast (1951) directed by Mikio Naruse is the third film of his that I have seen and certain patterns are starting to emerge. I think most of these patterns are related to story and theme. However, it is also fair to say that technically Naruse is an accomplished director as well in terms of framing, editing, and the overall flow of the film is impressive. In this story, the heroine, Michiyo (Setsuko Hara), laments the drudgery of housework while married to a steady but slightly complacent, oblivious husband Hatsu, played by Ken Uehara. The household is shaken up when the young, nubile niece Satoko (Yukiko Shimazaki) shows up unannounced fleeing from expectations to get married and captures Hatsu's attention. However, I found it difficult to sympathize with Michiyo, because even though her husband may be a bit boring he isn't out carousing, beating her, or chasing women. In fact several women put themselves in his path and he still stays true to his wife. But she is constnatly complaining about her lot in life and when he offers to take Satoko and his wife sightseeing his wife begs out saying that she is too busy. I find tha thar dot believe in a household of two--she doesn't even have any children to burden. To her credit, when she goes to Tokyo to see her mother she begins to reevaluate her situation in comparison with a childhood friend struggling to raising a child on her own and her own mother's suggestion that Hatsu ought to divorce her for running back home. It is somewhat of a simple drama of strife in a young marriage similar to Ozu's Early Spring, and executed in just as a convincing manner-Naruse is on the same level as Ozu in my opinion.
Pistol Opera (2001) is the belated companion piece to Seijun Suzuki's notorious 1967 film Branded To Kill. That was the film that got him fired from Nikkatsu and is probably his best know film outside of Japan. Pistol Opera is also about the third ranked Japanese assassin trying to move up the ranks and avoid being killed by other lower ranked assassins. The plot seems secondary to Suzuki's extraordinary visual montages that allow the lithe Makiko Esumi to strut around in kimonos and leather booths in a variety of settings and poses. It seems like an unlikely role after her minimalist performance in Hirokozu Korea's Marobosi. It seems like an exercise in excess this time around, perhaps, an indulgence in style for Suzuki who was 78 at the time of the film.
Ian Buruma has written an excellent companion to Max Hastings' two most recent books on WWII, Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45 and Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945. Year Zero (2013) was inspired by Buruma's desire to explore what the end of the war was like for his father who was a displaced person sent to work in Germany during the war in factory after Holland was occupied by the Nazis. He also previously wrote a book on the wartime guilt of Japan and Germany in The Wages of Guilt: Memories Of War In Germany And Japan. The book is divided into three sections: "Liberation Complex," "Clearing The Rubble," and "Never Again." Each section is then further divided into three sub sections, in "Liberation Complex" there are three chapters: 1. "Exultation," 2. "Hunger," 3. "Revenge." For Part Two the three chapters are: 4. "Going Home," 5. "Draining the poison," and 6. "The Rule of Law." And the last section has the following chapters: 7. "Bright Confident Morning," 8. "Civilizing the Brutes," and 9. "One World." And Buruma concludes the book with an epilogue. He does an excellent job of providing an overview of all the issues related to the end of the war such as occupation, repatriation, laws regarding justice, issues of displaced people, the formation of the United Nations, issues of liberation for former colonies, and more. Buruma also does an excellent job of incorporating primary sources from journals and letters from prominent people, like authors or political figures, as well as ordinary citizens. Once again Buruma proves he is one of the most diverse and consistent public intellectuals writing today.
Under The Flag Of The Rising Sun (1972) is something of a departure for director Kinji Fukusaku from the yakuza films that he is known for (most notably the five Battles Without Honor Or Humanity). In this Rashomon-like telling of the fate of a war widow's (a standout performance by Sachiko Hidari) husband (Tetsuro Tanba) is an examination of guilt, truth, and justice in a postwar world where most of Japan has pushed aside questions about the war . The widow is trying to find out the truth about the incident; she and her child have been denied a war pension because her husband was officially said to have received a court martial and to have been executed and for killing an officer in Papa New Guinea. The is film examines how many regular soldiers were scapegoats in the war, while many officers went unpunished and even prospered in the postwar years. Fukusaku develops the visual technique that he is known for by employing color, black and white, freeze-frames, negative images, documentary photographs, and shocking violence to tell the powerful story. It draws to mind several films such as Kobayashi's The Human Condition as mentioned Kurosawa's Rashomon. It is an unflinching look at some major social issues done in a visually impressive manner.
Mark Schilling has written the only comprehensive yakuza book to date in English with The Yakuza Movie Book (2003). It is a genre that I mostly know from masters like Kinji Fukusaku, Takashi Miike, Seijun Suzuki, and Takeshi Kitano. After an informative short history of the genre, Schilling has a section of "Director Profiles & Interviews" with the likes of Fukasaku, Miike, Suzuki, and Kitano among lesser know directors like Teru Ishii, Tai Kato, and Rokuro Mochizuki. This section is followed by a number of "Actor Profiles & Interviews" with stars like Shintaro Katsu, Akira Koyabashi, Jo Shisido, Bunta Sugawara, Ken Takakura, Tetsuya Watari among others. The final section is a number of "Film Reviews." Many of them divided into "Story" and "Critique" sections. I have to admit I skimmed this section reading reviews of films I had seen and those that I was interested in seeing. It is a useful guide for anyone interested in the genre. I was impressed that he included international productions that were join ventures between US and Japanese companies like Sydney Pollack The Yakuza starring Robert Mitchum among others. However, it is now 10 years old and somewhat outdated in that doesn't include newer films from the likes of Kitano.
Crisscross is another branch of the T.Y Harbor empire, a causal lunch place with outdoor seating in Omotesando. I got the Clubhouse sandwich with smoked chicken, ham, bacon, avocado, lettuce and tomato with shoestring fries for ¥1700.
I was inspired to search out Jean-luc Godard's Contempt (1963) after reading this article on Slate that suggests that it is the coolest film of all time. I'm not sure I can fully concur, but it s a very stylish film starring Bridgett Bardot, Jack Palance, director Fritz Lang, and Michel Piccoli. It was enough tot get me to seek it out for consideration. It seems that Scorcese and Tarantino are both fans of it. This film is well-known for drawing the ire of the American producer who wanted Bardot naked in the film, so Godard shot the opening sequence after completing the film. I made a point of seeing Lang's M, after learning that he had a major role in the film. The film is beautifully shot, by frequent Goddard collaborator Raoul Coutard in CinemaScope. This is a sort of in-joke, in the film Lang states that it is great for "snakes and funerals." The sequences in Capri are amazing to behold. It is essentially the story of a disintegrating marriage, but it is also about the film making process. The Criterion edition includes audio commentary from film scholar Robert Stam, The Dinosaur and the Baby (1967) a conversation between Godard and lang, Encounter With Fritz Lang (1963) a short film by Peter Fleischmann, two 1963 documentaries by Jacques Rozier, featuring Goddard on the set of Contempt: Bardot Et Godard and Paprazzi, 1964 Godard interview excerpt from French TV program Cinepanorama, and a video interview with cinematographer Coutard.
I am slowly making my way through Joan Didion's oeuvre and Democracy (1984) is easily one of her best works of fiction. I think it incorporates many of her interests and themes. For example, Inez victory is unhappily married to a politician and gets involved with a former lover, a behind-the-scenes fixer in faraway locales, Jack Lovett. She shuttles from Honolulu (Hawaii is special place for Didion), California, to distant capitals in SE Asia: Manila, Jakarta, and Kula Lumpur. The novel is set in 1975 as America disgracefully disengages from Vietnam and the repercussion that are felt in Cambodia and throughout the world. It is a turbulent time in world history as well as Inez's personal history. The story is being told by a confidant of Inez, a certain writer named Joan Didion. Some people might find the author inserting themselves into a novel as a character as narcissistic, but I find it interesting--creating a sort of meta-narrative. Inez's children also offer a insight into the troubled would of youth culture in the mid 70s: Jessie is a recovering heroin addict who seems adrift in the world and her soon Aldali is idealistic and somewhat unfocused in his attempts to be political, but unconventionally form his politician father. This was a compelling and somewhat fractured chronicle of a the private life of a public person with complicated relationships with her family and the world in general.