Under The Skin (2013) directed by Jonathan Glazer starring Scarlet Johansson is a haunting film experience. Galzer has directed two other films, notably the foreboding Sexy Beast. This film is more art film than mainstream and I suspect people who were motivated to see the film because of Johansson may have walked away unsatisfied. However, Johansson is excellent as the laconic and emotionless alien that is harvesting young men with no attachments. It seems that it is somewhat of a departure from the source material, Michael Farber's 2000 novel of the same name. The barren and haunting film score and the Scottish locations add to the sense of doom and unease created in the film.
Yasujiro Ozu's second postwar film, A Hen In The Wind (1948) is unusual in that it deals with some melodramatic content. A married woman (Kinuyo Tanaka also starred in Mizoguchi's Fallen Women in 1948) prostitutes herself for a single night in order to earn money to pay for hospital bills for her son while waiting for her husband, (Shuji Sano) to be repatriated to Japan. When he returns she tells him and he has trouble accepting the fact, but after he meets a younger woman who was forced into prostitution and after he has injured his wife in a domestic incident can he forgive her and move on. Critic David Bordwell suggests that this film deserves to be better known for the unusual treatment of its conventional material and partly for the ways that it uses stylistic choices that would become common in his later films. In essence the film asks: what did Japan lose in losing the war? The postwar struggle of survival is laid bare. Bordwell points out that the film ends with a quiet resolve to ignore past mistakes and to face the future with an 'impure', but realistic hope.
It's a shame that David Borwell's Ozu And The Poetics Of Cinema (1988) is out-of-print, since it is the definitive book in English on Japanese master director Yasujiro Ozu. Donald Richie's book, Ozu: His Life and Films, is also indispensable, but it only focuses on the late films of Ozu. Bordwell has studied all surviving films and therefore has a greater overall analysis of the complete career of Ozu. The first part of the book focuses on "Problems of Poetics" and is organized into eight chapters: 1. "Career" 2. "Backgrounds" 3. "Materials" 4. "Structures, Strictures, and Stratagems" 5. "Towards Intrinsic Norms" 6. "Freedom and Order" 7. "Pillows and Curtains" and 8. "Uses and Effects." In these sections Bordwell discusses the entire career of Ozu, his development, and other aspects of his film making. In the course of the general career discussion of Ozu he analyzes previous critics of Ozu, such as Paul Schrader, Donald Richie, and Noel Burch. Bordwell discusses their criticism and makes observations and judgements as well. In such discussion eh dismisses Burch's idea of "pillow shots," which are more accurately described as placing shots and point-of-view cutaways. It is largely easily readable for the general reader, however, there is a certain amount of academic jargon used when discussing the more technical aspects of filming. It was intriguing to learn that Ozu's three greatest influences were Charles Chaplin, Ernst Lubitsch, and Harold Lloyd. And that he was influenced by many more Hollywood directors such as John Ford and Leo Cary.
In the second part of the book he discusses the films individually and even has notes about non-existing films that have been lost. He makes several interesting and noteworthy observations about many of Ozu's films. For example, he uses Woman of Tokyo (1933) as a test case of Noel Burch's arguments of Ozu's work, since it is the film that he most frequently referred to in his study of the aesthetics of Ozu. Bordwell finds that most of his arguments are weakened by the number of omissions and inaccuracies regarding the film. Also, it was observed in the passage discussing There Was A Father (1942) by Masahiro Shinoda, a former assistant director for Ozu, that when the things that were in the frame at the beginning had disappeared or the position had changed; these were considered to be very dramatic by Ozu. It is something that he does often his films. I was surprised to see Bordwell's laudatory judgement about of one of Ozu's overlooked postwar films, Record of a Tenement Gentleman (1947): "If Ozu had made only this seventy-two minute film, he would have to be considered one of the world's greatest directors." In discussing Late Spring (1949) Bordwell notes that this film introduces Ozu the liberal who acknowledges the need for change despite the regret of the damage it will cause (rather than Ozu the conservative morning the loss of a way of life). He then points out that stylistically the film crystallizes intrinsic norms that will be central to the later films. In Early Summer (1951) Bordwell breaks down what he calls "the most stupendous camera movement in Ozu's career: a perfectly perpendicular rising which reveals Noriko and Fumiko as almost identical columns in a rippling expanse of sand." The effect is that it refuses the conventional high angle of the ordinary crane shot. It is a shot which Bordwell insists was quite worth the three days needed to set up. And he notes that in Green Tea Over Rice (1952), that he would never employ such flagrant camera movements seen in the film-the later films would be much more static in camera movements. To sum up, Bordwell has written a useful and revealing major study of one of the giants of cinema that is accessible to the general reader.
Spy Sorge (2003) is the most recent film from New Wave auteur Masahiro Shinoda, then aged 74, about the famous Russian spy Richard Sorge. Sorge (played by Scottish actor Iain Glen) is a fascinating figure who was spying in Shanghai when he made Japanese contacts that led him to be based in Tokyo from 1940-1941 before being arrested by the Keimptai (Japanese secret police). His Japanese agents Ozaki (played by Masahiro Motoki most well-know for his role in the Oscar award winning Departures) and Miyagi (Toshiya Nagasawa) were also capture and executed. it seems Shinoda has taken some liberties with the story,but it is generally accurate in the depiction of the secrets Sorge was able unearth-most notably the Nazi attack on Russia in 1941, which the Russians (i.e. Stalin) dismissed and which subsequently caught them off guard. Another important report let the Russians know that the Japanese were not going to attack the Russian at that time allowing the Russians to consolidate their resources in repelling the Nazis. There was some romantic intrigue involved as well in that Sorge has a Russian wife, a German mistress, and a Japanese mistress played by Shinoda regular Riona Hazuki. One of the other spies falls in love and marries a Japanese woman, Yoshiko Yamazaki, played by Koyuki the same year of her breakout role in The Last Samurai. The historical content of the film is compelling,but he film drags in that it is over three hours in length. Also, some CGI off backgrounds come off looking artificial, perhaps, it would have been better to set scenes up with documentary footage as Shinoda uses elsewhere.
Rikugien has night illumination twice a year during cherry blossom season and when the trees change color in the fall. This is my first night view visit to this spectacular park-one of Tokyo's finest. Perhaps, needless to say, but, for a weeknight it was pretty crowded.
The Munekata Sisters (1950) is the first and last adaptation of a novel that Yasujiro Ozu would make. Shin Toho was created in 1947 focused on films by established directors like Naruse (Mother 1952) and Mizoguchi (Life of Oharu 1952). They offered Ozu the project of adapting a melodramatic novel by popular writer Jiro Osaragi's and cast some of Japan's biggest stars in Hideko Takamine, Kinuyo Tanaka and Ken Uehara, to star in it. Ironically, it was So Yamamura's performance that was singled out for excellence as the besotted failure Mimura. The story comes off as melodramatic even after a rewrite by Ozu and longtime collaborator Kogo Noda. Tanaka would star as the traditional sister, Setsuko, who is conservative and wears kimonos throughout the film. While Takamine plays her modern, western clothes wearing younger sister, Mariko, who is prone ot stick out her tongue at teh drop of a hat. Mariko is trying to reunite Setsuko with her passive former love, the ineffectual Hiroshi (Uehara), in lieu of divorce from the brooding, jobless drunk Mimura. She wavers from trying to marry Setsuko off to trying to marry Hiroshi herself to bring them closer together. Even when Mimura collapses and dies at home-provoking only the scream in the Ozu oeuvre-Setsuko refuses Hiroshi, because she feels that the burden of having let Mimura down with her plans to leave him will cast a pall on the new relationship. There is a contrast between modern locations like bars in Tokyo and the antique shop in Kobe that is contrasted with temples in Kyoto and Nara as well as a villa in Hakone. The opening and closing of the film take place at Yakushi Temple in Nara is significant in that it is identified with the god of healing. It ends with the two sisters admiring the mountains in Kyoto caught between oppositions of tradition and modernity as well as past and present.