Sofia’s Lost in Translation
Sofia Coppola‘s choice of indie-trance music on Lost in Translation‘s soundtrack probably blinds me but she lyrically captures a modern, non-European city that might never be topped by a future film (correct me if I’m wrong, obviously). When slightly washed up action star Bob Harris (Bill Murray) or her heroine Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) look out of the window, there’s a reason. The fluorescent-lit signs and flashing posters depicting a calligraphic language that the don’t understand. Charlotte leisurely walks the scramble crossings in Shibuya, Tokyo and travel the city’s subway system, Sofia making both modes of transportation look less like its notoriously hectic reputation. She also visits Buddhist temples and enjoys a nightlife that somehow involves a fake shootout, in both times having fun without having to fully drain her energy.
I’ve forgiven Johansson in misjudged performances she will have after this but hers here is probably the best she’ll ever give. Charlotte uglies herself up, agonizing in moments when she feels alone, abandoned by her husband or when around B-list movie star Kelly (Anna Faris). And her rapport with Bob, her being childlike and girly, captures the spontaneous air that Sofia tries to capture. It’s easier to watch her boredom and frustration and her spark that help cure those things. Bob is the only person to make her smile, pulling out her effortless glow.
This is probably the second most beautiful movie Woody Allen never made as both writer-directors have, in their movies, bourgeois pseudo-intellectual misanthropic characters. Charlotte has a disdain for Hollywood – embodied by characters like Kelly or her husband John (Giovanni Ribisi). She, when the occasion arises, prefers to sing classic 80’s tunes as opposed to the usual Queen-Journey-top 40 often playing in karaoke bars. (Interestingly enough for Sofia to create a character who is also a Yale graduate majoring in Philosophy but is barely, if ever, seen with a book. On vacation.). Although this quiet snobbery doesn’t stop her from befriending Bob, both of them are in Tokyo for showbiz related reasons, both of them bored and wanting to get out although they’re free to do so anytime.
Most Allen films have characters or devices holding up a mirror against their protagonist’s insanity or at least find someone to cure them. But Sofia, in making these two characters meet, encourage each other’s misanthropy even to a racist level (I’m not the first one to say this) specifically on Bob’s character. It’s understandable to feel anomic in the Japanese urban landscape that equally and inadvertently exclude them as ‘foreigners’ but it shouldn’t excuse their language and attitude. “Why do they switch the ls and the rs here?” I don’t trust my interpreter. I refuse to learn the language. These people like eating body parts of white girls like Charlotte. Murray pulls these lines off with his wit and comic timing but I still feel uncomfortable with his and the movie’s xenophobia.
- Sika’s 100 Greatest Movies of All Time! 51. Lost in Translation (2003) (lunkiandsika.wordpress.com)
Ozu, Ending All Auteurs
According to iMDb, I’ve seen less than fifteen hundred movies and sometimes I wonder how the hell did I get here? How did I end up practically living in front of my television or a movie theatre? How did I end up being able to pronounce – AND spell! – Apitchatpong Weerasethakul and Jerzy Skolimowski without a bat of an eye and what possessed me and my younger selves to watch more?
I had a good foundation with healthy doses of David Fincher and Stanley Kubrick as a child (my dad actually showed Eyes Wide Shut to my older sister in high school and if any of make any jokes…). But college came. I think it was 2007, between my second and third year studying English and Art History that I realized that even though it might have been too late to switch, that I might have picked the wrong majors.
Not in any particular order, I watched my first Godard (It was Le Weekend, which is more visual than dialogue so I was ok. I still have to see Pierrot le Fou, which used to play a lot here). Then there were three films from fellow Frenchman Louis Malle for the first time. Four from Woody Allen and one from Ridley Scott on an outdoor, downtown big screen, so good that the flashing advertisements around the screen couldn’t distract me away. I’ve seen my first Lars von Trier on a big screen and of course, I drank vodka from a flash minutes after watching the movie, rethinking the sadness of my life. The first Danny Boyle I’ve seen in entirety – I’ve seen parts of and the ending of Trainspotting before. Two from Sidney Lumet, a favourite because his theatre background kept creeping up into his films. Two Johns at their later, tamer years – Waters and Frankenheimer. My first Hitchcock which should have come earlier in my life. George Cukor’s celebration of the feminine. Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket). Two from Nicholas Ray and two more from Frank Capra.
There were also the films in classes under the English major bracket, where my professors were self-loathing whites. They introduced me to George Stevens’ colonialist propaganda, although I’m pretty sure not all of them are like that. John Ford, poking criticism towards colonizers under the guise of propaganda. D.W. Griffth, who is quasi-apologetic for being a colonialist in his first and most important film. Errol Morris, Ousmane Sembene and more capturing depressed people in both developed and developing nations. Find out why I wrote this entry after the jump.
The reason why I’m prattling on about my lifetime journey in cinema so far is because recently, a few weeks before I’ve seen a movie directed by an auteur whose name everyone can pronounce but who is nonetheless elusive – Yasujiro Ozu. His last name smoothly rolling off the tongues and keyboards of the better movie critics and bloggers. When Roger Ebert – hi! – and other film critics and bloggers write about the director, the more intimidating he got. Deathbed movie intimidating. I didn’t go to regular film school so I didn’t watch Tokyo Story during 101. I also don’t do the Criterion thing like all of you – finances and clutterphobia are both to blame. I watched my first Ozu, the auteur to end all auteurs, a few weeks before my twenty-fourth birthday and I don’t feel ready.
But a film group here showed Ohayo, a film produced by Shochiku and not Toho. It’s one of his lighter, more jokey ones. Here he chooses to film in colour, giving the film a more modern feel. The film’s supporting characters have such strong impressions that I don’t feel like there’s a central character here, although I don’t see that as a bad thing. Some characters include a set of children with no female friend and housewives talking about shares of money that makes it feel like a Mamet film avant la lettre. And Ozu has a more elastic definition of the word ‘trapped.’
I might also be overreading when I notice how the camera’s so close to the ground or how the frame almost hugs the body. I’ve seen more medium shots and close-ups here than in, say, a Kurosawa (other than Kurosawa I’ve only seen one Mizoguchi and one Sion Sino. It’s really sad). I also noticed on the pictures of this film that are available on the internet, as well as my screencaps, that it focuses on the faces and figures of the targets of the jokes. It’s as if these characters look depressed, that we need sound and movement to understand that they belong within a comedy. I suppose it’s foolish for me to believe that I’ll understand everything about Ozu within a single film, that I need to see more to get a sense of the man.
- A Little Late Ozu (harmonyguy.wordpress.com)
20:10: The imitators edition
I stole this idea from Nathaniel Rogers. These are screen caps of the twentieth minute and tenth second of movies, many of which I can’t really expand on as he eloquently does. But really, this is posted because My VLC shuffle played The Kids are All Right and Shutter Island, which are already taken. [ETA; Also, I have not and will not put the names of the movies where these screen capscome from, for guessing reasons]
A rival painter observes, praises master yet talking behind the protagonist’s back.
“Excusez moi, numero two!” “HEY!”
“What happened?” “Oh, you didn’t hear…”
It’s not high school anymore. Friends dirty dancing in public…
He feels the pains of ‘adult sizing’ in a self-aware amusement park.
“…children, heaven bless them, they will look up to me and mind me…”
Los Angeles, night-time. The vandals rise and fall.
Traffic. No dialogue, obviously.
“Yeah, well, where is he? How come he takes a lousy stinkin’ job?”
At 3AM, a careless nursemaid tells the truth to a budding actor.
Top Ten Films of 2010
I’m not even properly doing this list, while just writing about the first ten awesome films off the top of my head. [ETA: Because of distribution randomness, movies like The Conspirator won’t come out so I can’t really make a proper list until April this year. Nonetheless, here I am.]
I wanna commend the naturalism of Noah Baumbach‘s latest film Greenberg. I’m not sure if I can really call this mumblecore because I feel the emotions are just as explosive as it would in a typical drama. The characters of this film underact their deliveries of empty threats and misunderstandings, but they have to come back together eventually.
It wasn’t until now that I realized that I am Love echoes Hitchcock in portraying quiet eroticism, obsession and guilt within the elegant trophy wife Emma Recchi (Tilda Swinton). The editing is snappy yet buttery from, for example, close-ups of nature scenes to close-ups of Emma’s body perfectly captures the impressionistic waves of her emotions.
The obligatory animated film spot goes to How to Train Your Dragon, again, with its rousing music score that helps portray the fantasy within Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) as he befriends a slick dragon. It’s interesting to see an animated film convey such human intimacy and freedom, its modest ambitions captivating its audiences.
A tidbit in this month’s GQ described Inception as a heist version of an Alain Resnais film, and my love for this film makes sense by reading that. The film’s intricate structure messes with your head without seeming deranged. It’s an enveloping experience combining narrative, visuals and sound. Most importantly, it’s got style.
Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a marvelous achievement in editing that translates the comic book into film. I really felt like I was flipping through the book itself. The eye-popping graphics are also lovely, making the film an esoteric experience, going hand in hand with Scott Pilgrim’s (Michael Cera)’s energy level, kicking ass.
I’ve referred to the influences that Meek’s Cutoff, illuminating its audiences with colour while presenting the Oregon Trail’s dangers in quietness. Director Kelly Reichardt shows how much she’s mastered the art of composition, where every skirted, persevering woman or tree or rock looks like artwork. I can’t wait to get the film’s DVD to screencap it.
As I’ve said in my review of this film, I’ve given mercy fives but the one movie that truly blew me away this TIFF is Confessions, which, as I’ve said earlier, is a mixture of elegy and revenge as a genre. It also exposes a society where children do the unthinkable. people don’t stop learning but don’t evolve as mature human beings neither.
Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone takes us with the tough Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) go head to head with her enemies who just happen to be on her extended family, like her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) and the matriarch (Dale Dickey). Despite the survivalist and drug-addled reputation it may give, this haunting tale put the Ozarks on the map.
I probably like The King’s Speech mostly for the quotes. Does anyone else think that the future King George VI’s (Colin Firth) words as adorable? Obviously the story about him and his unlikely mirror, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), both of whom show their inadequacies and hurdles. People who call this ‘Oscar bait’ are amateurs.
Another Oscar bait ‘guilty pleasure’ is The Fighter, a movie capturing the rustic, rupturing cadence of a working class family in Lowell Massachusets as they stick to their own mythologies through boxer and comeback hero Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg). This movie has a male protagonist surrounded by strong women and is the definition of the ensemble cast.
- Top Ten Movies of 2010 — Aaron Peck Edition (seattlepi.com)
A blogger once said that you need life experience to be a critic. That’s not true. You need life experience to be a great artist.
Zangiku Monogatari – or translated in English, The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums – is about a young actor named Kikunosuke Onoue (Shôtarô Hanayagi), an adopted child of a fifth generation actor, Kikoguro (Gonjurô Kawarazaki). The rules of the game are nepotism instead of meritocracy, and Kikonosuke gets critiqued behind his back while praised in his presence. His brother’s wet-nurse Otoku decides to break that chain by telling him that her aunt doesn’t like his acting. From this revelation, the audience knows that these kids are gonna end up being together through thick and thin, but this isn’t your typical love story. It’s just as much about Kiku’s career, the battle and benefits of both nepotism and meritocracy as they unfold in 19th century Japanese metropolises.
Mizoguchi makes the decision here to use wide shots and long takes. Yes, those long takes lost my attention span a few times, but they depict a city street or a room as a way of reminding us of the old form of the theatre. The characters are in the environment and we’re watching them for minutes without blinking, like we would on a stage. Their emotions radiating through the volumes of their voice, making close-ups unnecessary. Some of the low angles remind us of a view that a lucky audience member would have in a real theatre. Or medium angle shots between walls or tree trunks or plants, from the view of someone peeping into Kiku’s relationships and interactions with others. The most obvious instances of close-ups are of Otoku, either getting fired or reading a flyer promoting Kiku’s performance, and seriously thinking about going even if she’s forbidden.
Kiku chooses Otoku, making his surrogate father disown him. He has to go to Osaka where the competition for actors isn’t as bad. He leaves the theatre with no fans to greet him unlike the other actors. When Kiku’s family make a stop in Osaka for a performance, Otoku pleads for them to give him a chance. Kiku plays a geisha and kills it. The further the camera is from the characters, the more public the place is. That doesn’t stop Kiku from showing his joy to his father, as everyone else watches.
The actors recall the Kabuki acting of the era they’re portraying, complete with gestures and physical restrictions due to their costumes. Hanayagi’s acting choices are an acquired taste, being lifeless and wooden in the first act of the film, keeping in mind that he was playing naiveté and convinces the audience that he’s more than half his real age. He eventually evokes either mean-spiritedness or insightful pathos depending on his fortunes. The actress plays Otoku is the most consistent, caring and emotional, which counts for good acting I guess. Her heart breaks when he’s away from her, which physically manifests through illnesses. I do find her character too passive, altruistic, and distressed. Her sacrifice to petition for a better job for him doesn’t feel earned. What good does it do her that she’s a martyr?
Confessions starts like a ‘taut,’ elegiac film about the eventual loss of innocence, with images of milk cartons and Japanese school children being rambunctious while their teacher meekly prattles on. She announces her resignation for being an ineffective teacher, writes on the chalkboard a huge calligraphic symbol denoting ‘life.’ She eventually gets their attention on a sad, dreadful, unforgettable lesson.
Director Tetsuya Nakashima sometimes uses traffic reflector mirrors to show the kids walking and meeting, or slows down to watch a softball hitting someone’s head. Muted colours dominate the film, only giving breaks of warm red and yellows when characters flashback into happy moments. The music balances out the children’s chaos and eventually is in tune with the teacher’s dread-filled lesson.
Confessions can be also read as a genre film, a revenge horror, comparable to the Noh-inspired examples within the Japanese canon. By revealing that her child’s murderers are two of her students, her calm demeanour turns her into a ghostly figure. She’s a woman both victimized by men and out for revenge, her little victims eventually depicted as incorporating abject elements into their lives.
In revealing that genre spin we can talk about the performances, any of the leads can arguably be best in show, whether it’s the teacher’s slow burning vindication or the students’ evil facades and psychological pain. The transformation and genre-crossing of the film isn’t a smooth transition and the film’s long scenes makes it drag and tonally imperfect, but Confessions is both artistic and engaging. 5/5.
Two scenes in Akira Kurosawa’s swan song Madadayo say it all, and in a way the latter scene repeats the same message as the former. The first scene of the film shows the Sensei, a German professor, appearing behind a blue door and entering a classroom. He stands in a platform most Westernized classrooms are equipped with. He announces his retirement from teaching. The whole class tells him that he will always be their Sensei, stands to show their allegiance to him. He pulls a handkerchief and dries his tears.
The second scene is Sensei’s first Madadayo banquet, in a German beer hall, a party held with the constraints of postwar finances. He drinks a glass of beer as big as his arms. His former students perform some curious, culturally esoteric ritual where they ask him if he’s ready – to die – and his frail old voice confidently bellows, “Madadayo,” meaning not yet.
Both scenes show the Sensei towering over his students, then seamlessly make him short and meek and humble within five minutes or less. He’s a great man, raised by his status, but he’s human and relatable. Kurosawa’s always shown masculinity as a contest but he refreshingly shows manliness as gentle and civilized. There’s still the war context and the Westernization of Japan. None of the men in the movie are shown literally fighting, but the Sensei is defiant and has successfully taught that defiance to his students.
Also, it’s a story about a man and his cat, if you’re willing to endure something like that. As a character study, it’s difficult for Madadayo to become a great film. His students repeatedly call him “a lump of gold without impurities,” which may be applied to this film. It’s no bracelet, but you’d be a fool to dismiss its beauty.
Other critics have written about the curiously interesting film making techniques that Nobuhiko Obayashi has used in his feature debut, Hausu, which makes me question my sobriety until this moment as I’m writing this post. But I’ll talk about how marriage-obsessed this movie is. A female gym teacher’s having an arranged marriage, and audience members can deduce that the marriage had to be arranged because she didn’t have the volition to look for a man herself. A high school student, Gorgeous – seriously that’s the character’s name – is angry because Daddy’s getting remarried. Gorgeous and her friends are staying with her aunt for the summer. On the way, a poster tells then “Stay at the countryside. Get married.” The aunt’s lover died in the war but stubbornly waits for him forever, and eats young women so that she CAN wait forever.
Hausu is a part of the Japanese horror/Noh/kabuki tradition like its more coherent predecessor, Ugetsu Monogatari, since both have haunted houses with ghostly female hosts trapping new guests, national metaphor, yadda. Hausu is also a part of horror tradition in general because it kills of the useless ones. Who will survive? How many? Will it be Gorgeous, the young woman who might inherit her aunt’s house? Fantasy, the observant one, doting and waiting for her male teacher? Prof, the one who reads while cats with laser eyes – Andy Samberg oughta be sued – is attacking her and her friends? Kung Fu, her name being self-explanatory, although she presents herself as another obvious enemy against the house? Melody, who shares the aunt’s interest in the piano? Sweet, the one who cleans the house? Or Mac, the one who gives the aunt a watermelon? You have two more days, today till Thursday. Go see it!
I do like these girls, walking through the countryside like that. Girls today would be too conscious that they might be watching their pedicures while treading on their impractical Louboutin heels. Or maybe that’s just me being sexist.
I wasn’t scared in a way that I wasn’t jolted by the movie, but it’s creepy and that’s good enough for horror. Enjoy this movie.
TCM, as part of their Akira Kurosawa’s 100th birth month anniversary last April I think, was showing Kagemusha at 2 in the morning. It’s the story of an aging warlord who hires a beggar to impersonate him, or something like that. I remember the scene when a messenger runs through soldiers sleeping on the grounds outside the palace, their flags rising as they’re woken up. It’s like Riefenstahl but with a little sense of irony.Then I dozed off after ten minutes. TCM really needs to stop showing good movies so late at night.
Kagemusha‘s gonna be screening at the Cinematheque today. I gotta go to a baptism in the border of East York and Scarborough at 2, then mission downtown by 4, which is when the movie’s showing. The film’s MUBI profile hints on some intense studio lighting. Squee!
Hausu is screening at the Bloor tonight at 9:15. It started playing yesterday and is gonna be on until Thursday. I don’t know if it’s my cup of tea but there’s a lot of good visuals in it as far as I’ve heard. Don’t miss it!
Ran – a movie about an aging Japanese warlord Lord Hidetora “Tora” Ichimonji (Tatsuya Nakadai), patterned after the Shakespearean tragedy King Lear – stayed on the grassy hilltops for twenty minutes. I would like to think that I can bear with long scenes with just dialogue but maybe this movie might prove that I just can’t. Is it Kurosawa’s meditative pace again, or the language barrier?
The film’s galvanizing point is when Tora’s ex-right hand man Tango tells him that the latter’s eldest son Taro barred the villages from serving him rice just after he ordered to burn said villages for being presumptuous in their ‘charity.’ He also hears Tango’s interpretation of the third son Saburo’s actions after the latter’s estrangement. His actions alienates the villagers just as it does to his sons. The movie becomes a great one with that scene and every other scene that follows that.
I was also utterly disappointed with the replacement of daughters with sons. The only Kurosawa film I know that has the most/best female characters is his adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. I’m not an expert of Japanese culture so I wouldn’t know what would have happened to Tora’s daughters, or he married off those daughters, or if he had to made his wife and concubines suffer to produce three sons. I concede that I like the characterization of the sons. Taro is ambitious,disrespectful and affected. Jiro is weak. Saburo is coarse yet loyal. I vaguely remember Shakespeare’s characterization of Regan and Goneril, except for evil and more evil. From what I remember, Regan asks “What need one [attendant for Lear],” which can either be interpreted as cruel or cowering. She shares one or two more bitter arguments with Lear than Goneril did. And Cordelia’s, you know, silent. Back to the film, this was a wasted opportunity for Kurosawa to explore female characters.
But fine, Lady Kaede (Mieko Harada) is an audience favourite. Having read a lot about her explosive, gutsy performance from Sarah Boslaugh, Harada impresses when she reveals her hatred against Tora. I kept wondering where she was through the stretches of bloodshed that the men have committed. Then she lunges at Jiro. She closes the doors to the Lord’s room while she laughs, not caring if anyone in the palace might hear her. She blackmails Jiro, tears her own kimono with a knife, then kisses Jiro and the wounds she gave him. It’s an extraordinary scene and it feels like watching something demonic for the very first time.
Kaede, then, is Goneril and Regan lumped into one, having to marry to satisfy the lord of the household and therefore appease a patriarchal society, conniving herself from husband, finally owning her family’s castle for at least a short while. She’s also one of the characters that remind the audience of the Shakespearean tragedy’s worldview. Nothing that the hero or anti-hero owns is rightfully theirs, that any property has a lengthy history of thefts, and that just as many wars have conquered nations and killed kings, vengeance after vengeance will come. She’s also a Lady MacBeth in a sense that she’s chosen to become this evil and ruthless to survive the society that would otherwise spit her out. Lady MacBeth because Ran has a Lady MacDuff in the form of Lady Sue, the latter being pure, forgiving and altruistic even if she goes through the same thing as Kaede. The film has one great female character and her foil, but there could have been more.
Unlike Lear and the Fool, Tora and Kyoami have a strained relationship. Tora hits him. Kyoami’s the only person who calls Hidetora ‘Tora.’ At first, Kyoami is able to joke about Tora’s madness, but frustration sets in. Tango and Saburo are loyal to Tora, but it’s like Kyoami’s the only person who actually loves Tora. He wants to leave but can’t. Tora’s death devastates Kyoami while Tango’s stoic. Kyoami’s adrogyny – and Tora’s ghostly concubines – lets him emote unlike the other male characters in the film and puts a bit of subtext to the relationship, if you’re looking for one.
Almost every shot in this movie is a painting.
This was pretty badass.
I guess beginning the film in grassy hilltops makes sense. We drink in the scenery. In the end all we have are red crags, where Lady Sue’s blinded brother is stranded. He gets his land back but it feels more like limbo instead of a vindicated end. He’s a footnote in this land’s bloody history.
Kurosawa: The Idiot
Maybe early Kurosawa and me aren’t just meant to be, with the exception of “The Seven Samurai.” There’s something about “The Idiot” that I can’t fully immerse myself into. The film is about one idealistic man who finds himself involved in the lives of a few families in a Japanese city. Is it because the film doesn’t allow any of its characters a chance of full happiness? Does it try to cover and juggle too many plots and characters? Or maybe it’s because we’re seeing the work of a man who’s just starting out?
I’m part of the immature ilk whose reductive assessment of the film would be “zOMG, Japanese people in Western clothing! Loves it!” The film is a balance of post-war Japan and Dostoyevsky as the story’s source material. New, Western customs add to old customs, the caste system still exists, some people get ostracized, everyone is miserable. The audience can even over-read the three-footer snow as metaphorical of the heavy burden that society places on its characters.
If anything, this is the also the hardest Kurosawa’s actors have worked so far – I’ll find out if I’m wrong by the time I see “Ran” in three weeks. Toshiro Mifune, before his stardom, actually relaxes his face in some of the scenes. The female characters are still bitchy, but they freely flow from acidic to damaged to vulnerable. And we like bitchy, right guys?
I also borrowed my first Dostoyevsky from the library, a daunting task with all 643 pages of small print. Maybe this big, heavy key will unlock a few things and offer me more insight towards the film.
Throne of Blood
In this samurai period piece, director Akira Kurosawa features some shots of the forest. Seeing Washizu (Toshiro Mifune) and Miki’s horses gallop at such a height behind trees and branches reminded me of Japanese scrolls because of their boldness. It also reminds me of a bit of the Chinese (yes, I said Chinese) artist Fan Kuan in the distance in which the two generals place themselves within the mise-en-scene. It’s not all forests, however. He treats interior spaces with such geometry and depicts expansive arid landscapes in full screen. Yes, full screen. It’s like he rightfully proves that Hollywood didn’t need to invent the Panavision camera.
I really thought I was gonna be bitchy about this movie as an adaptation of “Macbeth.” Why aren’t they saying the right words? And they cut the MacDuffs and Edward the Confessor, characters I really like from the play. I guess if this movie was in English they wouldn’t be able to get away with that, but Kurosawa movie gets a pass. I re-read parts of “Macbeth” just to show the comparison again, and there’s a lot of sexual language in my reading of it. What Kurosawa’s film does to the story is take away the seduction and instead put rhetoric as the reason for killing, the latter being a major topic in Shakespeare’s other works. Washizu will go far as misreading the omens around him to convince himself that he’s in the right. I still have some problems with that inversion but I can appreciate it.
I’m not the biggest expert on Noh and Kabuki, but I’ve seen it done better. Here in “Throne,” Isuzu Yamada as Washizu’s wife, Asaji, does a lot of great work as the ghostly Noh character. The Old Ghost Woman was terrifying in her stoicism and portrayed her character asexually. It’s Mifune’s character and acting that killed me, being evil only because he looked the part. Yes, he’s inundated with violence, anarchy and deposed shoguns. But the arc from him dreading the predictions towards delusional leader wasn’t portrayed well enough for me. And I’m not sure if this is part of the style of acting, but I can’t stand yelling in movies.
Hot Docs – We Don’t Care About Music…
Because of financial mismanagement and boozing, I didn’t get to see anything from HotDocs until last Thursday. “We Don’t Care About Music Anyway” was my first taste of the late night screenings. The documentary portrays a few collaborative artists in the Japanese noise rock music scene. So these people make music that our grandparents think all teenagers listen to.
The first scene is that of a trash dump, rivaling apocalyptic Cormac-esque imagery. Then we see a quasi-classical musician in an abandoned school doing things to a cello that would make Yo-Yo Ma cringe. Then we have a round table of these musicians talking about the economy their weird performances, their weird performance habits, their understanding of music.
The cinematography is effectively garish, watching darkness and trash and sweat evaporating off a man’s body. Then we see a bright white sky above heaps of garbage.
The movie comes off as an interpretation of Tokyo arts and culture, and as one of the musicians featured would say, the lack thereof. It shows Tokyo as a noisy city, and the music, if you can call it that, is a commentary on urban overstimulation and anomie. It’s like watching Dadaists if they had amplifiers and guitars.
Is it a documentary? I don’t know. It doesn’t flow or narrate like one. But one of the functions of the genre is exposing the audience to people and cliques and situations that exist, and the movie accomplished that. It’s just a confused reception to something so new. I imagine to have had the same reaction to the Sex Pistols had I lived in the 1970’s.
Bad Day at Black Rock
“I thought the tradition of the old West was hospitality.” O hale no, Spencer Tracy.
Instead of hoodwinking us into making us feel comfortable about violent acts (“The Searchers”) or outright lying to us (“Avatar”), “Bad Day at Black Rock” keeps on message. It’s pretty much the 1955 equivalent of ‘We’re assholes, man’ without any sugar-coating. This movie also doesn’t have the annoying speeches that other politically inclined movies do. The characters are just doing and saying what’s necessary to survive against their enemy.
Mysterious John J. MacReedy (Tracy) goes to Black Rock and realizes that the attitude of some inhabitants is as dry as the desert. The town is just as mysterious as MacReedy, and it’s that mysterious element that allows oppression to occur. Both MacReedy and the man he’s looking for, Komoko, didn’t know what wa sin store for them when they went to Black Rock. When MacReedy asks Reno Smith (Robert Ryan) what happened to Komoko, Smith answers that the government shipped Komoko to a relocation camp, which couldn’t have been in the city. I’m not saying that small towns are racist. Instead it’s the population’s instinct to tuck horrific activities where no one can see them, and whoever’s the last in the exchange of hands would have to wash those horrors quietly.
Like the other movies in mentioned in this post, this movie doesn’t really paint any racial group with the same brush. Some white characters defend the oppressed minority as much as a handful of white ones oppress them. Smith could have relied on MacReedy to keep their secret if they had some unspoken bond. But no, MacReedy’s an outsider and could even have some authority beyond the small town of Black Rock, therefore the secret, as well as MacReedy, can’t possibly get out.
MacReedy finds out that Komoko, is dead. SPOILER, so is Komoko’s son, the man who saved MacReedy’s life. Apparently MacReedy should read as part Japanese – he kinds does look like Cotton Hill in this movie, after all, even if I don’t buy it. The film defending the Japanese is bittersweet in a way that it
doesn’t visually represent them and are not allowed to speak for themselves.
I also wanna say that this movie years ago was my introduction to the star-studded cast (Tracy, Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Marvin). And I kinda have this thing about Lee Marvin, like what is wrong with me? This movie made us expect cowboys in plain clothes, and thankfully we got people who talk and think like cowboys. And who better to play cowboys than these four.
I am inclined to compare the cinematography of “Dersu Uzala” to a Hiroshige, but the film’s visuals come into their own, original being. Hiroshige would show us blossoms bordering the view, while other artwork and films about forests would show the vertical properties of the trees, blocking the sunlight. There are not a lot of animals shown in this film’s version of Siberia, but the two or three that show up do end up being like characters instead of just props.
Kurosawa is hailed as a master in black and white cinematography, but I am probably one of the daft ones who think that colour is his best friend. I like the films he made in the 70’s and 80’s compared to the dusty look his classic material. In this film, the trees crowd in and cozy up on the Russian surveyors and their eponymous Mongolian guide, although there is enough sunlight to make the footmen feel safe, for a while.
That’s the reason why I like this film – I don’t mind the good samurai versus bad samurai, but I love that nature can turn from pretty backdrop to harsh villain. The exact opposite of the crowded forests is the barren lakeside during winter, the object of Arseniev’s expedition. Getting lost from their colleagues, Dersu warns Arseniev to work fast and cut the grass before the sun disappears. The sunset looks just as menacing as the one that takes over the frame in “Lawrence of Arabia.” Arseniev faints a few times from exhaustion and cold and Dersu is there to save his life.
“Dersu Uzala” is not just a study of nature. The titular character is a great addition to great characters of colour in film, being more stern than your average Uncle Tom. It is also a study in friendship, and how friendships are more about the circumstances that begin them instead of the two parties involved. Just like friendships it is how some people are only fit for certain environments and certain times, and how the hostile forests and the urban order can do to those people.
Through the Toronto Japanese Short Film Festival that wrapped up this past weekend, I finally saw the Oscar-winning “La Maison en Petit Cubes,” which is what I imagine what “Up” would be. Yes, I haven’t seen “Up.” It can wait when it premieres on Teletoon. Shoot me.
It’s about a self-sufficient old man who has outlived his adult children. It’s about seeing a man and as he scuba dives down to submerged foundations of his home, we come with him and see his lives the way he does and the way we never get to towards other people. He looks at the foundations of the homes around him and imagines them as the scattered farm houses of his youth. At first we ask why this fictional world exists in this state, but eventually we just go with the emotional ride. Screening this short after “Gaki” puts in context the Japanese skill in parchment, because stereotyping is faster. Or I could be an asshole and say that this movie is about global warming.
La Maison in Petit Cubes is part of a program in the festival I assume as the animated short category. Also in the program is the cute overload of “Komaneko -The Curious Cat- ‘The First Step’ ” and “Mitsuko’s Freedom,” which is by far the weirdest homoerotic thing I’ve ever seen in my life.
The Thin Red Line
(screen cap from iTunes download)
Because I am a masochist, I followed up the sobbing in “Secrets and Lies” last Saturday night with the elegies of “The Thin Red Line.” I saw it in parts for the first time, its entirety at UofT for the second time, so this third time is for the emotional experience.
The images that caught me the first time are the bayonets puncturing both the American and the Japanese as the former attacks the latter’s hilltop base at Guadalcanal. The film mixes these close-ups with shot where young privates and corporals run towards the camera or the faceless Japanese soldiers running across the screen. Despite of the grand scale that war films have, most deaths in them are still shown on the personal level, although quickly done so. The close-up on the men’s uniformed bodies stress that, and we as the audience feel the pain there even if we don’t see their faces’ anguish. If we do see their faces, as we did in the first act of the film, it’s like watching a eulogy instead of seeing a special effects cadaver with a bomb attached to it.
There are also Pvt. Bell’s (Ben Chaplin) flashbacks of his wife (Miranda Otto), handled with such intimacy. She looks towards the ocean with a breeze surrounding her, she sensual when they’re together, her memory keeps him sane. Their marriage seems less familial and more romantic, as she’s alone or with him in public spaces. When she’s outside, she barely speaks but is smiling and laughing. The breeze in the scenes featuring her has the same touch as that on the grassy war zone. The similarities between home territory and the island remind us that she’s still far away.
I blogged about “Days of Heaven” and said that it’s a lighter precursor to “The Thin Red Line” when it comes to its depiction of nature. Nature’s screen time equals that of the cast, but the former does take a passive role in the film, being affected by human actions instead of nature affecting human lives the way it did in “Days of Heaven.” Director Terry Malick does not show craters like there would have been on Dieppe, although there are forest fires in the island as the American have come. What we see are little birds blackened with oil as well as other creatures and plants damaged within the island’s ecosystem, their pain more poignant than human ones.
And with the talk of nature, the problematic symbolism in race in the movie comes in as well. To be honest I haven’t figured out the nuances in this symbolism or if the film has deeper strategies in its definition of “blackness.” The natives act like nature, innocent characters whose lives and attitudes will change after the battle fought on their home soil. Pvt. Witt (Jim Caviezel) idealized the Natives and their children’s communal spirit, as he points out that the same children never fight. After the American takeover, conflict becomes an occurrence into these people’s lives.
Strangely enough the Japanese, who had the stronghold in the island, do not have the same negative effect on the Natives. In fact, there’s the same kind of depiction given to both races. In the “close to nature” aspect, the Japanese wear leaves on top of their uniforms, a tactic the Americans never use. And like the Natives’ innocence, younger, skinnier actors play the Japanese soldiers. Some of the Japanese look like infants when the Americans capture them in their underwear. The Americans, while talking to them, do not try to make themselves understood to the Japanese. While speaking, the Japanese aren’t subtitled, unable to communicate with us.
The film portrays Americans as military strategists like Bell and Lt. Col. Gordon Tall (Nick Nolte). The dissenters within the group are Witt and Capt. James Staros (Elias Koteas), the latter being more of a paternal figure who would rather not see his men killed. Witt is a special case, creolized by his idealization and his short stay with the Natives. Had he lived to the end of his mission in Guadalcanal, he might not have been unfit to return to America or to stay with the Natives. These notions of race within the film aren’t 100% perfect, but it still has a lot of realism and nuance to them.
One last thing about this film is that it kind of reminded me of “Avatar.” Both celebrated beauty and condemned violence, although “The Thin Red Line” uses real animal and plant life and is more dazzling and more complex in its depiction of race relations.
In which my blog’s name becomes kinda ironic
(A lot of fish in the sea? ph. screencaps from iTunes download)
I saw “The Cove” this past Thursday. To call it a documentary fits the rudimentary description, but the word “documentary” however implies certain qualities among the film that might make those prejudiced against it turn away. “The Cove” shows shots of people talking or groups of people doing fascinating or horrifying things, but that’s not all there is to the movie. Instead it actually has a deeper aesthetic value and pattern.
The first shots in the film are, if I’m right, taken from infrared cameras, then a few more from night vision. We hear the deep, benevolent voice of Louie Psihoyos, telling his audience that he did his best to try to make the movie legally. This first scene, both in visuals and words, warns us of not being allowed to see and roadblocks and denials. The movie also shows other people who have tried to do what Psihoyos as his team are doing, and failing. Some get murdered, as indicated by stills of web pages announcing these deaths.
Psihoyos’s documentary tells the story of dolphins being hunted in the coastal town of Taiji, Japan. He learns about this from Rick O’Barry, an Alfred Nobel figure in his transformation from TV show producer to dolphin activist. Seeing some of the action, he assembles a group with different skills helping him expose what’s happening. They have to do everything at night, which explains the infrared and the night vision. SPOILER ALERT, but they use the infrared cameras to install regular digital ones and hide it in the right places, they go back to the hotel rooms to look at the footage, the screen goes black, we as the audience go underwater, and the infrared and night vision fully contrast the clarity of what’s recorded.
And this movie makes me jealous that this guy only went to one week of film school.
And this movie makes me unable to hate Hayden Panettiere, not that I did in the first place.
(Just like a wavin’ flag. ph. secret)
I also saw “All The President’s Men” on TCM the same night, and I’m not sure whether I would be equally erudite with this movie as I was on “The Cove.”
The movie stars Dustin Hoffman (playing Carl Bernstein), the greatest American actor in the New Hollywood era. The first few scenes of the film made me think that he’s unfairly playing second fiddle to Robert Redford (playing Bob Woodward), but both men even out eventually. Not to mention that this is the first time I’ve seen Robert Redford act, and I feel shitty and reductive for saying that but I haven’t checked out his oeuvre yet. It still seems that Redford gets a 60/40 in the movie because he gets mano-a-mano with Hal Holbrook’s Deep Throat, their meetings sprinkled with neo-noir elements. I guess it’s more cinematic that way for a person to meet another instead of being interrogated by two.
The reason I bring up the Deep Throat meetings is because the first movie I’ve seen of the subject is “Dick,” where both Woodward and Bernstein meet “Deep Throat.”
Both movies show how the little guys are intelligent and can beat the bullying big guys with a rock and slingshot. and in “All the President’s Men,” Bernstein’s friendliness and hunger and Woodward’s innocence complement each other. They’re both underestimated but as we realize, one brain’s as good as the next, as both guys meticulously look at details and scour the right interviewees and follow the money, as Deep Throat has said.