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.
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!
Away From Her
In one the first scenes of “Away From Her,” Fiona Anderson (Julie Christie) puts a pan on a freezer. There’s no music to put this action in context. Fiona’s obliviousness and her husband Grant’s (Gordon Pinsent, voice of God) confusion add to the mix of what I felt as an audience. Do I react in shock? Burst in inappropriate laughter?
After that scene in the kitchen and other after that she is aware of being hit by Alzheimer’s and its consequences and warns Grant about the latter. At times she walks within a room like a ghost, mourning lost memory without crying over it. There is a repeated shot of her looking lost in her vast snowy backyard. The minimal use of the film score, the lack of overwrought crying scenes. Mostly, this movie’s approach is about what’s not being given nor shown nor heard, letting the audience react in their personal way.
I’m thinking of other actresses that might be able to pull of the character, Canadian ones. Mary Walsh would rock the skiing scene. But Julie Christie is a solid statue as Fiona and doesn’t let go, as they say. No one can do elegance like the kind she puts into her character.
That sounds a little dreary to many of you, but there’s some verbally aggressive yet sometimes comic anger from the characters, especially the women. Fiona gives Grant the worst goodbye ever. Miss Montpellier (Wendy Crewson) condescends to him. Kristy gives him a torrential speech about the obliviousness of men, out of character for archetypal customer service characters. Marian’s (Olympia Dukakis) is just rough yet likable. The men get in on the action too. Grant comments on seeing his wife in the aged home, and Fiona’s new boyfriend Aubrey (Michael Murphy) can do so much with a look.
You can look at the film as Grant’s world crumbling just as much as its implied gender dynamics. He’s learning about women and female anger and unwritten institutions of womanhood that he’s been oblivious to. Through Fiona’s degenerative condition, Fiona, Grant and the supporting characters in their lives are feeling the end, and therefore things must be said and revealed.
It’s also a ‘Canadian story for Americans’ narrative, which shows especially in Marion’s words like ‘Kamloops, BC’ ‘Canadian Tire.’ The whole room knew where Kamloops is. There’s also the retired hockey commentator who gives some of the best moments of the film.
The only flaw of this movie is when Grant uses a metaphor to describe Alzheimer’s, like light switches in the house turning off one at a time. Then the film shows their house and the lights turn off the way Grant has described. I believe in showing or telling by not both. The rest of it is a story about loss with comic relief, surprising for director Sarah Polley’s reputation.
I saw “Mid-August Lunch” at its last day at the Royal, and I really hope it gets a second life in this city. Looking like a complex postcard, it succinctly tells the audience what they needs to know about the movie’s characters, who can present enough back story with a sentence or two.
Nonetheless this movie’s also a double-handed text in gender, with an unemployed Gianni and the four elderly women in his rustic condominium. He reluctantly lets them stay over for two days in the Ferragosto holiday, but he already has a lot on his hands. The women dominate him and he tries to keep their medications and diets in mind. At the same time they’re trying to dominate each other with passive aggressive talk about how Gianni’s mother Valeria raised him.
We do have to consider that men did leave three other elderly women for him to take care for. The special arrangements are negotiated because Gianni owes money to them. His doctor prefers to spend time with his wife and children, while his property manager says what the doctor is saying while running off with a blond woman who can’t possibly be his daughter. The grandmothers then, feel a little abandoned. In essence this movie’s about men dominating women dominating a man left behind.
The exquisite nature of the movie relies on how they deal with these emotions, sometimes distilling them or dissociating them. They eat and smoke not with purpose but as routine. Gianni downs his drinks without looking like an alcoholic – he’s in control but he really needs this break, now. And they try to have fun with the little things they do have like meals and dances.
And for a last thought, forget “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” because this movie’s perfect for a Hollywood remake. I don’t know how the holidays and the business rules are gonna translate, but the main plot and cast is good enough. Try it, suits!
Pre-Thoughts: Harry Brown
My friend Matt once talked to me about this cinematic trend of old people beating the shit out of everyone. Awesome.
But the critics are supposed to our older brothers, holding our hands through contemporary culture and tell us that “Harry Brown” is either an accurate portrayal of the changing social mores of Britain/the West. Or talk to us like A.O. ‘Call Me’ Scott and Michael Philips in “At The Movies,” who threw around the words ‘gratuitous’ and ‘dumb’ in describing the movie. I’ll respect that. “Harry Brown” continues to be a divisive film for the critics from its festival runs last year until its theatrical release last week/today.
The two camps of opinions about this movie and the two ways of seeing it make me ambivalent. These days I just wanna sit back and let the movie happen, but at the same time I don’t wanna be manipulated.
It made the trailer rounds last week, and it looks decent. It shows Michael Caine talking to people who sound like grime rappers. ‘Bout time.
Speaking of Michael Caine, he’s made crap after making masterpieces, but he’s been the go-to British guy since “The Quiet American,” well, at least for those actors who had their first outing in the 60’s/70’s. He can pull of looking upper class but has a little Cockney tinge making him versatile. His status will probably stay with him no matter how this movie turns out. It’s the last round for the ‘go-to British guy’ battle to be honest, and I don’t know what the likes of Ian McKellen or Michael Gambon can do to surge ahead.
So I’m probably gonna get paid by the time this post goes on the interwebs but I do have bills. So will I see this? Sure.
I saw this movie at the barbershop, eleven months after its theatrical release. Can I rank that higher or lower than seeing a movie on an airplane?
I only go to the barber twice a year. Either way he’s five subway stations and two buses all the way to the East End, which is a whole ‘nother universe where I could have gotten beaten up in high school. Most of the movies my barber shows are Uwe Boll movies, which are less repulsive than their reputation but woah are they bland.
Instead he had “Up.” The shop was popular and comfortable enough for me to wait for the duration of the film. I couldn’t get half of the dialogue because there were blow dryers all over the place but you know, that’s their livelihood.
Whatever dialogue I could grasp was very sophisticated. And it’s visual enough of a movie anyway – it’s gorgeous animation and Pixar to boot – that the balloons and Mr. Fredrickson’s (Ed Asner) Spencer Tracy-esque face was enough for me. The married life sequence melts the heart. The soundtrack accompanying said sequence and the whole movie has this optimism that could only be imagined at that of an earlier time. Weight and volume are also taken into consideration in this movie – the house, the balloons and the clouds seem to be fleshed out objects instead of drawings. And it’s agenda free unlike “Wall-E.”
Then the movie finished, and I’m getting my haircut, and the barber suggests to put on a UFC fight. For a child to watch.
Image: My Fellow Americans
I love watching people in movies who are past their prime. Not like Meryl who gets offered roles like she’s still in her thirties, not that there’s anything wrong with that. The characters I am talking about are old and will not shut up about it. “I’m John Wayne, I’m old and I have cancer, make sex with me!” Lauren Bacall, who pretty much takes Wayne in as her second movie-husband, ain’t having none of it.
Surprisingly John Wayne comes off as a benevolent figure in “The Shootist,” when he retreats to Carson City and wants to go out without an elegy. He’s a cowboy with the same practiced drawl, and we can’t take that away from him. He can go from hot to realist to sensitive father to psycho to now this, a man who wants to be left alone without being misanthropic.
Since other amateur shootists will not leave him alone, he decides to leave the world with a five man seppuku. SPOILER, he invites three other shootists to a saloon, a less claustrophobic version of the run down taverns in the Old West. This rub out is happening in 1901 after all, not 1871. We might think that he wants to test the three at who is deserving to take out the big man himself. But none of these guys fit the bill, he eventually outlives these guys by a few seconds. He’s gonna die and take four with him (three a bartender who, by traditionalist creeds, is a bad agent in society). His purgation of the bad elements in the burgeoning Carson City is his dying wish and gift to his Christian landlady, Bond (Lauren Bacall).
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.