Zigeunerweisen (1980) is director Seijun Suzuki's first installment of the Taishō Roman Trilogy, and an adaptation of Disk of Sarasate written by Hayyaken Uchida, the subject of Akira Kurosawa's last film Madadayo. Zigeunerweisen is Pablo Sarasate’s violin piece, of which a recording includes a snippet of dialogue by the violinist recorded that inspired the novel and film. This film was made possible by the theater producer Genjiro Arata's help in getting backing for a fully independent financing. It is unusual for Suzuki in that it was shot entirely on location and he didn't have to adhere to the studio required 90 minute length, thus it ran 144 minutes. The film was screened in a tent near the Tokyo Dome, however. quickly found an audience. It won awards from the Japanese Academy Awards for Best Film, Best Director, Best Art Director, and Best Supporting Actress for Naoko Otani (she palys two women the geisha Koine and Harad's wife Sono). The style of the film, which is all slow pace with lengthy shots, that is character-based, has classical music, and employs a careful recreation in costume and setting of 1920s Japan, all identify Zigeunerweisen as a work of art cinema. The main protagonist is the bourgeois Toyojiro Aochi (played by Toshiya Fujita). While vacationing by the seaside, he runs into a former fellow-professor Nakasogo (Yoshio Harada). Nakasogo is by contrast wild and uncontrollable. He is a bearded vagabond, in a loose black kimono. He is almost lynched by a local mob on the beach as a suspect in a potential murder case. Aochi rescues him by asserting their bourgeois status. It may sound as if Suzuki has abandoned his yakuza pictures of the past for art cinema. Most of the art direction is impressive, however, there are some nontraditional art direction choices that are worth noting, for example, the animation crab that emerges form the dying woman's crouch early in the film. But there are jarring, disruptive aspects included as well. In the end, this is a difficult film to categorize: it is part historical drama, but is is also part supernatural thriller. It is clear that Suzuki has an artistic vision that is worth pursuing.
It seems as though Japanese director Masahiro Shinoda really hit his artistic stride in the 60s. Several of my favorite Shinoda films were made during that decade. It is hard to argue that he diidn't have an impressive run of a variety of genres and styles: starting with 1964 stylish yakuza film Pale Flower, followed that same year with the Meiji period film Assassination, followed by 1965's Yasunari Kawabata novel adaptation With Beauty and Sorrow, and then another period film that can be seen as a contemporary political fable, Samurai Spy. The next film would continue this successful trend with Captive's Island (1966). It is another film that is beautifully filmed and tells a powerful story of loss, longing, sadness, and revenge filmed on a remote island. Once again Shinoda teamed with composer extraordinaire Toru Takemitsu for an impressive soundtrack. Saburo (Akira Nitta) is a young man whose quest for revenge against Otake (Rentaro Mikuni), the man who tried to kill him while a reform school boy banished to a remote island. He also harbors revenge against the Military Police officer who brutally killed his parents and these two missions consume his life. When he finds the object of his obsession on a small Pacific island, he falls in love with the man’s daughter Aya (Shima Iwashita), which makes him give pause to his all consuming mission of revenge.
I have to admit that I read Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice (2010) mostly because I was looking forward to seeing Paul Thomas Anderson's film version. Also, a friend said it was one of Pynchon's best recent novels. I have to admit I am a fan of detective novels, and I could appreciate this on some levels, but I found the whole hippie gumshoe thing a bit "too on the nose." It was as if Pynchon was trying too hard to give the story that 60s feel. One of the joys of the novel was the Pynchon-esque naming of characters: Larry "Doc" Sportello, Mickey Wolfmann, Shasta Fay Hepworth, Tariq Khalil, Glen Charlock, Detective Christian "Bigfoot" Bjornsen, Japonica Fenway, etc. The labyrinthine plot was also a bit of a drag. That being said I am very much looking forward to what Anderson will do with this material. I think it should be be pretty groovy.
Apocalypse Now Redux (2001) is an extended version of Francis Ford Coppola's classic war film that includes 49 minutes of additional footage. I was inspired to see it after reading about the challenges Walter Murch faced with the new cut. Murch worked with Coppola to include scenes that were cut from the film. The biggest change in the new edit was the addition of the "French plantation scene," a long and dream-like interlude that was to be the last stop for Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) and his crew before his encounter with renegade Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando). This episode adds another layer to the film by steering away from nightmarish abstractions and deals with the Vietnam War more directly. It slows down the movie and was rightfully cut in my opinion. The other additions are minor, but extraneous. Two superbly proportioned episodes, one involving the monstrous, surf-crazy Kilgore (Robert Duvall) and the other a group of Playboy bunnies, have been needlessly extended into subplots. There is also a new scene in which Kurtz reads to Willard from Time magazine emphasizes Kurtz's lucidity. The parts of the film that enchant were left intact and that is where the magic of the film lies-this seems like a unnecessary exercise, the film they made in 1979 was and remains a classic.
With Beauty and Sadness (1965) is an adaptation of a Yasunari Kawabata novel by Masahiro Shinoda. Kawabata is said to have aid that he felt it was the best film adaptation of his work, I cannot concur since it was one of the first Kawabta novels I read more than 15 years ago. But it seems that Shinoda has stayed close to the source material with his film of obsessive, love, and revenge. This film originates from Shinoda's film making peak following his two finest films in 1964 Assassination and Pale Flower. In fact, this film like Pale Flower features ingenue/femme fatale Mariko Kaga as the painting protege and lesbian lover of the discarded former lover, Otoko Ueno (Karou Yachigusa), of writer Toshio Oki (So Yamamura). In flashback, it is revealed that Oki had an afair with Otoko when she was just 16 that resulted in a miscarriage and temporary insanity. Oki returns to his wife and child, but both have never forgotten each other, Oki, in a moment of sentimentality, returns to Kyoto to visit the now famous artist Otoko, and comes in contact with her fiery and passionate acolyte and lover, Keiko (Kaga), who vows revenge for the sake of Otoko. The film was said to be influenced by the pastels tones of Heian period by Shinoda, adn it is artfully conceived in the cinematography and art direction. The locations of Kyoto and Kamakura and the old Japanese house of Otoko are well used in the film as are the large paintings of Otkok and Keiko. It is anotherr impressive film from Shinoda's most productive period.
The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film (2002) by Michael Ondaatje is a stimulating look into the world of film making from the point of view of a film editor. Walter Murch is an erudite artist that has many other interests besides film and is very good at talking about his craft. In fact, I found it somewhat galling his lack of knowledge about the history of cinema, in that he doesn't like to watch films while he is working, which I can understand, but it seems he was always working. Ondaatje encountered Murch when Anthony Mighella was adapting his novel The English Patient for the screen. Murch has worked on some of the most auspicious films in recent memory due to his connection with Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas among others:The Godfather I, II, III, American Graffiti, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and The Talented Mr. Ripley among others. I was compelled to go and seek out two e-edits led by Murch when he lead a team to restore Orson Welles' classic film noir A Touch of Evil and Coppola's alternative edit, Apocalypse Now Redux. It seems to me the Welles re-edit was a success, while the re-edit of Coppola's film was largely unnecessary. Murch confirms and strengthens my notion of the importance of sound, music, and editing in the film making process. I think this book would be of great interest to any film fan or artist.
The first time I saw Orson Welles' classic film noir Touch of Evil was prior to the 1998 re-edit/restoration. I was recently inspired to revisit the film and see the 1998 edition, which film historian David Thompson calls the second greatest crime film of all-time (no doubt trailing Fritz Lang's M), since I was reading Michael Ondaatje's fascinating The Conversation: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film. This version was produced by Rick Schmidlin and edited by Murch, inspired by a 1992 article in Film Quarterly by Chicago critic Jonathan Rosenbaum. Murch helped re-edit the film according to the 58 page memo Welles wrote to the studio after watching the studio cut that Rosenbaum wrote about. Of course not all the changes could be made since some of the previous cuts and footage was no longer available, however, there was much Murch and his team could do to improve an already impressive film. For example, the famous one-take opening crane shot referenced in Robert Altman's The Player is improved by changing the Mancini score to Welles' original score and removing the credits, both were tacked on at the end of this film version. Director Peter Bogodonavic is said to have told Welles that he didn't notice the story in the film until about he sixth time he saw it, because he was so caught up in the direction in the film-and that is the most impressive aspect of the film, and it was lauded by European critics like Francois Truffant who would go onto be one of the leading film makers in the French New Wave. It is also testament to the artistry of cinematographer Russell Metty. It stand the test of time well despite the fact that Charlton Heston plays a Mexican.
Buraikan (1970) is an interesting historical comedy-drama from New Wave film maker Masahiro Shinoda that shed light on problems of Japan that were taking place when the film was released. The film is set during the “Tenpo Reforms” period of Japanese history, a time of prudish social reforms initiated by Lord Mizuno Tadakuni, with restrictive laws on the common men slowly fueling a seething rebellion inside the neighborhood that is the focus of the story. I suspect that this film amy have inspired Soehei Imamura's own Ejinaika! which is also about another popular uprising in Edo. The tension between the bold and comically theatrical style and the events within the movie are contrasted throughout the film. The movie revolves around three major characters, all living in or around the Yoshiwara red light district of Edo. The first is an infamous Buraikan (outlaw) named Kochiyama (Tetsuro Tamba) whose main job is to serve tea to Lord Mizuno himself. However, he secretly encourages actors, prostitutes and other people of the lower classes to rebel against the government and its Puritan edicts. The second major character is a wannabe actor named Naojiro, played by Tatsuya Nakadai, who who is a fortune teller and spends the rest of his time trying to escape from the domineering clutches of his mother. This minor thread involving Naojiro’s mother is an interesting one for a couple of reasons. For one, it fits in with the general theme of the film, that of ordinary people being forced to suppress their natural instincts, desires and talents by more powerful influences. The film traces a rather unconventional (to say the least) course for this relationship that is as outrageous as it is comic, with Michotose (Shinoda's wife Shima Iwashita), further complicating matters as the third point in the triangle. The outcasts of the Mizuno's reforms-the prostitutes, actors, moneylenders, and artists fruitlessly rebel and serve as a reflection of the protests that were raging in Japan in the 60s. I suspect the mix of comedy and drama and over the top acting may not be for every viewer. But the film features period appropriate costumes, props, and sets and reflects a fascinating look back at a forgotten episode in the history of Edo.