I'm a big fan of British director Stephen Frears, so when I noticed that his first film, The Hit (1984) was available in a Criterion edition I immediately ordered it. It has a compelling cast with Tim Roth in his film debut with outstanding established actors like John Hurt, Terence Stamp, and Fernando Rey (known for his appearances in Luis Bunuel films). This is the story of a career criminal, Willie Parker (Terence Stamp) who rats out his associates on a caper that allows for him to get immunity in Spain for his efforts. When the boss gets out of prison he dispatches two hit men (John Hurt and Tim Roth) to bring Parker to him in Paris so that he can have the pleasure of having the last word as he is dispatched. The setting and crime angle brought to mind Jonathan Glazer's 2000 Sexy Beast starring Ray Winterstone and Ben Kingsley, which also concerns British gangsters in Spain and was produced by TheHit's producer, Jermey Thomas (Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence and The Last Emperor). It is one of those films that is many things at once: a suspense crime story, a philosophical story of the contemplation of life and death, and a road film. It also has a great soundtrack with an opening sequence by Eric Clapton and Spanish Flamenco guitarist Paco de Luca. Overall it si a very accomplished first film, one that deserved to seen by more people than those who originally saw it. The Criterion features are:a commentary featuring director Stephen Frears and actors John Hurt and Tim Roth, Parkinson One-to-One: Terence Stamp, a 1988 television interview with the actor, and a booklet featuring an essay by film critic Graham Fuller.
There's a great new little breakfast and brunch place in Hiroo, Jade 5. I had the breakfast burrito, but I'll be back to try the omelet, eggs benedict, and burgers.
Update: Two more visits and I'm happy to say the omlet is top notch as well, still need to try eggs benedict.
The burgers are above average, but not as good as those at nearby Homework's or Burger Mania. The fries were tasteless. I was intrigued by the bacon chicken sandwich, and that would be the next lunch time choice.
it makes sense that Criterion decided to release Yasujiro Ozu's two films, The Only Son (1937) & There Was A Father (1941), together since thematically there are some similarities. In The Only Son the story of a hardworking widow putting her son through school leads to dashed expectations for the son. Although he manages to get a degree the economic conditions of the 30s saw to it that a degree was not surefire prerequisite for economic success. His school teacher Okubo (Chishu Ryu) has also failed in Tokyo and runs a lowly restaurant to survive. The son has had to to go to Tokyo and leave his mother behind in Nagano and the result is a low paying job as a night school teacher. Dissolution of the family is a favorite theme of Ozu's. However, along with the separation the son has married and is now supporting his first child-all of which he hasn't bothered mentioning to his mother before she arrived. After a pep talk from his mother he vows to go back to school to get an accreditation to teach at high school. In There Was A Father, the situation concerns a widower (ubiquitous Chishu Ryu) who resigns from a position as a middle school teacher after a pupil under his care dies on a school excursion to Hakone. He decides to return to his hometown to start over. He is committed to educating his son, but this result in having to send him to boarding school to allow him to work in a factory and later separation is necessary as he moves to Tokyo for work while his son completes his studies in Sendai, before landing a job in the northern province of Akita. Again, we have the dissolution of the family. however, the two remain close and are able to meet now and then. The son wants to quit his job and join his father in Tokyo, but urges his son to do his duty (a subtle reference to the wartime production where greater sacrifices were taking place all over the Japanese empire). His father sees to it that he is married to a nice girl who is the daughter of his old headmaster. In the end a new family is forged. Both films have examples of Ozu's famous pillow shots, exquisitely framed compositions, and the tatami view conversations and drinking sessions that are found throughout all of his films over the years. The Criterion edition features video interviews with film scholars Tadao Sato, David Bordwell, and Kristin Thompson as well as a booklet with an essay by critic and historian Tony Rayns on The Only Son.There Was A Father also has a video interview with film scholars David Borwell and Kristin Thompson and a essay by Tony Rayns as well as an appreciation of actor Chishu Ryu by Japanese film scholar Donald Richie and comments by Ryu on director Ozu.
Paul Bowles, has been one of my favorite modern American writers for some time and, Days: A Tangier Diary (1987) was inspired by a friend for a journal article. Bowles claims that his daily life is boring, but it seems as though he has some interesting observations about things as disparate as the root of the political troubles that were plaguing Sri Lanka at the time, visits from print and TV journalists, musings on the violent effects of ramadan fasting on some individuals, meeting famous vistors such as Patrica Highsmith and Mick Jagger among other personal anecdotes and observations. I would certianly have read more of his journals, had he kept them.
Gate Of Hell (1953) directed by Teinosuke Kinugusa, a former actor, is notable for being one of the first color productions as well as a winner of an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1954 among other awards. It is a stunning visual achievement and an epic period piece set in the medieval past, specifically the Heiji Rebellion of 1160. However, it is a story of love and obsession rather than court intrigue or as much as that is outside of court politics. Morimoto (played by the popular Kazuo Hasegawa), a loyal and powerful warrior falls deeply in love with Lady Kesa (Machiko Kyo) who is already married to the kind and humble Kiyomori (Koreya Senda). Morimoto refuses to concede his love for the already married woman and tragedy ensues. Is a gorgeous visual spectacle. This Criterion 2013 edition is based on the new digital remaster of the 2011 2K restoration and includes an essay by film historian Stephen Prince.
I was inspired to read Yasunari Kawabata's collection of short stories, Palm-Of-The-Hand-Stories (1988), when I learned that one of them, "Mr. Thank You," inspired Hiroshi Shimizu's film of the same name. It is a brief four page story that was expanded into a full length feature. It was said that kawabata felt these stories were the essence of his craft and I can see the lyricism that infuses his novels in many of these stories. However, some of them are so brief they are quickly forgotten, but others are strange and memorable. Many of the later stories are more elaborate, in fact, the last one, "Gleanings from Snow Country" is a story version of the novel of the same title.
Hiroshi Shimizu was a contemporary of Yasujiro Ozu during the heyday of the silent films of the 30s and is virtually unknown outside of Japan. Criterion has collected four of his films in Eclipse Series 15: Travels with Hiroshi Shimizu. The films are: Japanese Girls At The Harbor (1933), Mr. Thank You (1936), The Masseurs And A Woman (1938), and Ornamental Hairpin (1941). Shimizu has a flair for framing scenes, mise-en-scene, using outdoor locations, and editing that brought the narrative together. It seems that the prodigious Shimizu (he made over 100 films and often as many as ten a year) often focused on outsiders and made social commentary in most of his films. All the films have informative essays written by Michael Koresky, a staff writer for Criterion.
In his silent film, Japanes Girls At The Harbor, Shimizu telsl the story of a love triangle that has its origins in Yokohoma. There are many sumptuous shots of the surrounding hills and harbor of Yokohoma throughout the film as we see Sunako's (Michiko Oikawa) downfall related to her relationship with a petty criminal, Henry (Urero Ugawa). She wounds her rival, the worldly Yoko Sheridan (Ranko Sawa), with Henry's pistol in a fit of jealousy. Sunako has no choice but to go on the run and to work as a bar hostess to survive. Meanwhile, Henry goes straight and marries Sunako's best friend Dora (Yukiko Inuoe). Sunako returns to Yokohoma with a starving artist in tow and reunites with the couple causing strife in their relationship. They urge her to give up her wicked ways and go straight, which she finally tries to do in the end as she leaves Yokohoma for her new life.
Mr. Thank You (1936) is based on a four page short story by writer Yasunari Kawabata. The "Mr. Thank You" in this story is a kindly bus driver who shouts "Thank you!" to everyone who yields right of way to his bus, he also delivers messages for people living along the route, and even delivers records to those who can't afford to take the bus into the city to buy them. Among the passengers on this particular trip are: an open-minded modern girl, a close-minded lecherous mustachioed insurance salesman, and a mother accompanying a young daughter whom she intends to sell into prostitution. This is not Ozu territory, furthermore, according to the accompanying essay Shimizu made an impromptu scene, after a chance encounter with Korean laborers on the shoot, in which the driver has a nice conversation with a young Korean woman. As Koresky states, the inclusion alone is worthy for representing a dispossessed and marginalized minority on screen and their essentialist for clearing a road for the Japanese-showing Shimizu's humanity. Shimizu has utilized these road encounters by showing the under developed countryside that was still living in the past. In the end the girl is saved from her fate as a plaything for men. The film is another triumph for the director.
The Masseurs And A Woman (1938) is another story of a fallen woman. In this story that takes place at an onsen inn in Izu, two blind masseurs have several encounters with guests: a mysterious woman from Tokyo, a man with his adopted nephew, and some students out on a hiking trip. There is a rash of thefts and one of the masseurs suspects the mysterious woman who turns out to be running from her benefactor, as she is a kept woman. The film ends on an ambiguous note ala Naruse. The film has lots of great location shots from Izu.
Shimizu's masterpiece might be Ornamental Hair Pin (1941), which is another film set at a hot springs inn and concerns another fallen women, Kinuyo Tanaka, playing a geisha that has left her patron and hopes to start a new life. There are a whole host of characters: a cranky professor, an aging grandfather and his two grandsons, a henpecked husband and wife, and most importantly a wounded soldier played by a youthful Chisu Ryu-who later go onto to become one of Ozu's favorite actors. The slight fare of this films can be contrasted with the fact that Japan was at war at the time of the filming, but seems far removed from this slice of life at an onsen and the suspense of whether the soldier will propose to the one time geisha. The ambiguous endings remind one of Ozu and Naruse, but the constant use of fallen women is more reminiscent of Mizoguchi. Shimizu deserve greater recognition, hopefully, more films will be released and seen in the west in the future.