I read a review of the DVD of Fellini's Juliet Of The Spirits (1965) in which the reviewer said this film is both a positive and negative example of the term "Feliniesque." There are some wonderfully filmed set pieces, but at times it seems a bit too whimsical. Perhaps, it can be seen as a reflection of the times and the interest in the Orient and spiritualism.
I recently read Natsume Soseki's comic novel, Botchan, in preparation for a trip to Matusyama in Shikoku and really enjoyed it. So I thought I should also give, Kokoro (1914) a read since it is one of the common texts (with Botchan) that all Japanese read in school. I have to say I was a bit disappointed with this novel since it didn't have the charming comic tone of the former, which seemed like a distant relation to Twain's Huckleberry Finn. It was much more serious and earnest and probably represented what Soseki was like in reality. That being said it is probably indicative of the great transformation that was taking place between the end of the Meiji era and the beginning of the Taisho era in psychological terms. I am interested to see what Kon Ichikawa has done with this material in his film adaptation of this classic Japanese novel.
Kleber Mendoca Filho's eerie Neighboring Sounds (2012) is the latest seen in preparation for my visit to Brazil. I think it gives a good idea of what life is like for the middle class in a large Brazilian city with ominous feeling of security or insecurity, class, and the threat of violence in everyday life. However, at the end of the film there is a twist and it becomes a different film entirely. It reminds me a lot of Michael Handke's Cache in the building sense of dread and anticipation for violence or action throughout the film. A fascinating look at life in modern Brazil.
This is the second year in which I am teaching a course on Japanese film in English and I will begin the course with Kenji Mizoguchi's sublime Ugetsu. I was reviewing the reading I assign with the film, Phillip Lopate's essay, "Ugetsu:From the Other Shore." Although I have seen 5-6 films by Mizoguchi, I hadn't seen The Story Of The Last Chrysanthemums (1939) yet and it is the film that Lopate singles out as the film where, "he perfected his signature 'flowing scroll,' 'one-shot-one-scene' style of long-duration takes, which, by keeping the camera well back, avoiding close-ups, and linking the characters to their environment, generated hypnotic tension and psychological density." It is all that Lopate says and more. I can see that it was a prestige film at that time with all the elaborate sets, costumes, and long takes on the kabuki acting. It is also just under two and a half hours, perhaps, adding tot he prestige. this allows Mizoguchi to draw out the performances form his cast and develop the story at a pace that showcases the director's artistry. Luckily, there are stil several films available for me to study in the future. Mizoguchi remains one of my all-time favorite directors.
I had originally read and enjoyed some excerpts from Donald Richie's The Inland Sea (1971) in The Donald Richie Reader (2002). I have always thought that Richie has done some of the best writing about Japan from a foreigner's perspective and have been sympathetic to many of his opinions about Japan and the Japanese. After reading his journals last year after his death, I decided that there were several complete works that are worthwhile searching out and reading and this was at the top of the list. However, there are still several others to explore. It is at once a travel memoir, a love letter to a region and way of life that no longer exists, and a mediation on life in a strange country that he was not born in but elected to live in despite the fact it would never truly accept him. Richie also has musing about life in Tokyo versus the country, puritanism, the individual's place in the world, and the things he appreciates about living in Japan. He also makes some revelatory observations about his marriage and sexuality. Some of the experiences he has with locals have to be read between the lines and are not explicit admissions of couplings, but obviously are. Here are some of the more interesting observations that I largely agree with and find true even today some 40 plus years later:
So the people are indeed backward, if this means a people living eternally in the present, a people for whom becoming means little and being everything.
Words make you visible in Japan. Until you speak, until you commit yourself to communication, you are not visible at all. You might travel from one end and, unless you open your mouth or get set upon by English-speaking students, be assured of the most complete privacy.
But to believe this is to disregard a great truth that all of Asia knows: appearances are the only reality.
Japan is the most modern of all countries perhaps because, having a full secure past, it can afford to live in the instantaneous present.
I answer as best as I can, aware-as one is always in Japan-that I have ceased being myself. Rather, I have become-once again-a Representative of My Country.
The white man who goes native in Samoa or Marrakesh, the Japanese who goes native in New York or Paris-this is possible, but it is, I think impossible for anyone but a Japanese to go Japanese.
Japanese loyalty. I cannot approve of it, and I certainly do not like it. Mindless devotion-whether of samurai or kamikaze-leaves me as unmoved as does the less spectacular variety from I come from. It is actually a kind of laziness.
The Japanese carry it one step further. Nothing is anyone's fault. This is because no one will take responsibility for anything.
Asia does not, I think, hoard and treasure life as we do. Life, to be sure, is nto considered cheap, but at the same time, one does not see the tenacious clinging to it that is one of the distinguishing marks of the West.
There is no tradition of anything but a politely hidden suspicion of the unknown wanderer. To be anonymous is in Japan, to be nothing. Only after your name, occupation, family, history are known do you become real.
Here, I thought, is a glimpse into the real Japan. This is the way the Japanese mind works. Appearances are reality without a doubt, and if the reality is not sufficient, then change the appearances.
An early symptom (of the influence of the West) was that everything somehow had to become respectable-not according to Japanese standards, where everything was already respectable, but according to the half-understood and even the dissolving standards of the West.
(As someone has remarked, the Japanese have fifty-three words for "prostitute" and yet do not distinguish between "lock" and "key"-which must be a commentary of some sort upon the importance they assign to things).
This nightly closing of all forms of public transportation is, I suggest, but one of the many forms that Japanese puritanism takes.
Europe , America-these lands are also inferior, but their ideas and products may be put to good use if they are first run through the Japanese mill and emerge unrecognizableand therefore very Japanese.
I really enjoyed tagging along with Richie on his journey to the Inland Sea and within himself. Luckily, there is more by him for me to explore.
I am continuing my education in the films of Frederico Fellini and the latest film watched was the coming of age story, I Vitelloni (1953). It tells the story of a group of five young men growing up and coming of age in a small coastal Italian town-said to resemble the one that Fellini grew up in. Compared to his later films this one is somewhat conventional in technique. But IVitelloni ushers in many of Fellini’s dominant themes and preoccupations: arrested development in men, marriage and infidelity, the life in small towns versus the city, the melancholy and mystery of deserted nighttime streets, the seashore, and the movies themselves. Another entertaining and interesting film in the director's oeuvre.
I was surprised to find out that there was a 1995 British Film Institute Film Classics edition of Kon Ichikawa's 1963 visual masterpiece. This edition was written by Ian Breakwell a multi-media artist, diarist and video-maker. It seems to be shorter than most books in the I serious and begins by weaving in personal connections to his first viewing in Bristol in 1967 and the subsequent second viewing in London in 1994 and his descriptions of what took place in the film. Then he writs an epilogue merging his personal reactions with Ichikawa's vision. I think he is particularly good on pointing out the effective uses of sound in the film. However, I think there could have been more background on the origins of the film, Kabuki theater, and Japanese history and its context in the film.
It seems that Mikio Naruse's 1935 film, Wife! Be Like A Rose! is considered one of his breakthrough films. It is a typical Naruse film in that it is mostly about the unhappiness of women in families. However each story has its specific causes for unhappiness. In this story of a man who has left a cold, artistic wife for a more earthy woman causes complications for the daughter he has left behind. The daughter wants to marry her fiance, but needs her father to act as a go-between for the marriage. Thus, the daughter seeks him out and gets him to return briefly in order to ensure her marriage can take place. The daughter finds sympathy for her father as she sees how he is a devoted father to his other family and sees how cold and indifferently her mother treats him as they are opposites and unable to understand one another. The film quality of the version I saw was not so good, but one can still see the virtues of Naruse's style: editing, framing shots, and different camera angles used for specific dramatic purposes.