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5 Film Jobs that Give Sisyphus No Right to Complain

Sisyphus

Does working naked make it look harder? Probably, because google keeps giving me naked Sisyphus pics

Some people complain about their jobs being boring. Some people complain about being treated like robots. Some people just don’t like working. Well, Sisyphus was an unlucky bastard who didn’t have a choice, and had to roll a boulder up a hill for the rest of his life. Sucky, yes, but the jobs in these films give even Sisyphus a run for his money if only he got paid.

1. Teshigahara Hiroshi – Suna no onna / Woman in the Dunes (1964)

The Job: Shoveling sand out of a large pit for the rest of your life.
The Pay: Free stuff from the villagers (food, cigs, etc) and a nympho roommate.
The Problem: Take a day off and you wake up 30 feet under a sand dune. Also, you’re technically a hostage.

Pushing a rock up a hill sounds tough, but at least it doesn’t require much concentration. Being a myth, I also assume Sisyphus is built like the Incredible Hulk, which means he’s just phoning it in all day. Well, you’re probably an entomologist (I doubt this requires much physical training) like Jumpei, and you’re stuck in a remote village that’s being eaten up by the desert. By stuck, I mean held against your will, with a giant wall of sand, quicksand pits, and angry villagers blocking your escape. Well, at least the roommate’s hot (or will be once you get desperate).

Suna no onna / Woman in the Dunes

Sand, sand, desperate entomologist, sand, etc

2. Ichikawa Kon – Biruma no tategoto / The Burmese Harp (1956)

The Job: Burying all the people who died during World War 2 in Burma.
The Pay: A reservation for 1 in Heaven, a cartload of karma, an all expense paid trip to Jannah or any other form of payment in the afterlife.
The Problem: Dead bodies don’t smell like roses and are rife with disease. Officially, 272,000 (Two Hundred Seventy Two frickin’ Thousand) Burmese died during WW2. Add to that the number of Allied and Japanese troops who met their end there, and.. well, let’s just say that if you really want to finish you might have to spend the afterlife burying dead dudes too.

Though this one’s by free choice and the pay is unparalleled, this has to be the suckiest job in the history of forever. I also forgot to mention above that you have to become a monk, and pretty much give up all worldly pleasure, unlike the job above. Which means your schedule is pretty much: 6 hours of sleep, 3 hour of meditation, 10 hours burying dead people, 5 hours trying to get that smell off. At least you’ll get into heaven. Eventually.

Biruma no tategoto / The Burmese Harp

Seventy-three down three hundred thousand to go

3. Shindô Kaneto – Hadaka no shima / The Naked Island (1960)

The Job: Farming on a barren island, with the closest water source a cliff away. For the rest of your life of course.
The Pay: Food on the table and pretty much nothing else.
The Problem: The island sucks and there’s no way to irrigate. Carrying bucketloads of water from the sea up cliffs everyday is the only option if you want to survive. The pay sucks too.

You’re a farmer and you pretty much don’t know anything else. You also don’t own anything–no land and barely any equipment–so moving isn’t a very likely option either. So, you’re stuck on an island that no one else wants. Although with the potential of becoming mega-buff from carrying buckets of water all day, you could one day become a Mister Universe contender (best case scenario), a professional body builder (decent case scenario) or a circus performer (worst case scenario). That last one might still be better than this though.

Hadaka no shima / The Naked Island

This job is so boring I can't even think of anything witty to say

4. Zhang Lu – Hyazgar / Desert Dream (2007)

The Job: Planting trees in the desert to stop desertification or something
The Pay: Not living in the desert or a world for your children that isn’t entirely crap
The Problem: Your family is pissed with your job, the desert is huge, and trees take a long time to grow. Basically you’re already screwed.

Desertification, especially in timelapse, is SCARY. It pretty much engulfs anything in its way and turns it into a sand dune or a camel parking lot. Imagine living right on the edge of this desert, planting a bunch of trees, and hoping for them to grow in time to stop the advance. Not fun, especially since trees enjoy growing slowly, and can’t defend themselves at all. Your family will eventually get tired of this life and leave you. Add strange travelers, North Korean refugees and possibly bandits.. and actually it doesn’t sound so boring. It still sucks though.

Hyazgar / Desert Dream

All we have to do now is wait another 50 years!

5. Sekiguchi Gen – Survive Style 5+ (2005) [Asano and Hashimoto Reika segment]

The Job: Kill your wife.
The Pay: I assume: a new, hotter wife.
The Problem: She revives after you kill her, more insane than the last time. Also, possibly hotter. See below.

Survive Style 5+

*drool*

Do any activity for too long and it will get boring. Even something as crazy and potentially fun as killing your wife. Who just won’t die. Sure, you can probably imagine 7,396 novel ways to kill her, but that’d only take around three years (at 3 hours per murder and 6 hours of rest/sleep a day). Eventually it’ll just be a routine strangling or gunshot for the rest of eternity. This effectively makes even murder boring. Also, this is the opposite of Biruma no tategoto, because, after killing your wife 100,000 times, you’re definitely going to hell and have ferrets feed on your eyeballs and be forced to watch the Teletubbies til the end of time.

Why you’d ever want to kill Hashimoto Reika in the first place, instead of making out with her for the rest of forever, is beyond me though. Seriously?

Survive Style 5+

Seriously.

~~~~~

My Choice: Survive Style 5+, if only for the possibility of fixing that marriage and making out with Reika the rest of my life. If not, well, looking at her everyday is at least a bazillion times better than shoveling sand, burying dead people, watching trees grow or carrying buckets of water.

Hashimoto Reika

I really just wanted to post another picture

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Hadaka no shima / The Naked Island

Shindô Kaneto - Hadaka no shima / The Naked Island (1960)

An upgrade over nude beaches? Sadly, no.

Director: Shindô Kaneto
Writers: Shindô Kaneto
Date: 1960

Genre: Drama
Description: Stuck on an island, not so ordinary ordinary life, same shit different day, tragedy of life, uphill climb, the difficulties of life, trying to survive, life, living on, Sisyphusian

Cast: Tonoyama Taiji, Otowa Nobuko, Tanaka Shinji, Horimoto Masanori

Crew of note:

Runtime: 95 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia:

summary
A farmer’s family of 4 lives on an island in the Japan sea. Everyday they go to work, carrying soil and water from near the shores, and lugs them up the steep cliffs of their island. This is their life, everyday, for the rest of their lives.

review
Really, a poem more than a film, if that were possible; poetry in laborious motions. It is only fair that I admit, though, that the lack of dialogue can be a bit tiring for one’s attention, and it does take a certain attitude and disposition to do away with the contrivances of a seemingly imposed silence. The music tries to make up for it, and though a little melodramatic, it adds enough insight into each scene that dialogue is often hardly missed. The sounds of pikes cracking the ground, the blasting wind, the beaten shores, the flowing water, the chug of the motor… in fact there are few moments of absolute quiet, with the long spaces between the handful of words filled with ambient noises of their island.

The movie is shot with an almost documentary-ghost-observer like perspective. The intro and outro swoops are an interesting touch–almost like an introduction to National Geographic specials. There are many scenes to be admired, such as the boat scenes and the several long distance shots throughout the film. Documentary film making is supposed to show things as it is, with as little cinematic manipulation as conceivable. I don’t think such a thing is possible though (let’s not get into too theoretical a discussion), but Shindô truly tries to show the island naked of artifice. Again, not entirely possibly, but the effort sure is there.

This is, again (I seem to like reviewing movies like these), one with a very bare plot. The summary is pretty much it, with a few interesting events here and there. Though the looping and repetitive nature of the film feels tiresome, it does so to perfect effect because it is able to emphasize the redundant, never-ending cycle of their Sisyphusian lives. It is a difficult life, indeed, and Shindô is able to help us grasp that feeling of trappedness, the ennui of a tedious life of labor. Yet, at the same time, it is possible to understand the characters, their diligence in the face of a neverending task, and be affected by the great drama that Shindô shows us.

conclusion
With an economy of words like no other, this movie is able to move. Shindô uses this silence, this resignation to fate, not only to humanize his characters, but to empathize with them as well. The lack of dialogue may be a deterrent for some–and I concede that there are one or two moments when the moment absolutely called for words–but the movie’s charm comes from this reservation. What more can be said?

things to take note of
Shots from long distances
The sounds of the island
Facial expressions

best moment
Boat rides
Climbing the cliffs

why you should watch this
Poetry in motion–this phrase finally makes some sense
If you think your life sucks, think again

rating: 8.6

scorecard
Plot: B+
Cast: B
Cinematography: A
Music: B
Entertainment: C+

similar movies, maybe:
Imamura Shohei’s “Profound Desire of the Gods”, only with crazy thrown into the mix and in color

Lang tao sha / Waves Washing the Sand

Lang tao sha / Waves Washing the Sand (1936)

Not on the island: food

Director: Wu Yonggang
Writers: Wu Yonggang (uncertain)
Date: 1936

Genre: Drama
Description: Criminals and cops, good people, different circumstances yield different results, change of fortune, tragedy, a hard life

Cast: Jin Yan, Zhang Zhizhi (imdB doesn’t list him in the other movies I’ve seen with him, so I’m not sure if this is him)

Crew of note:

Runtime: 70 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia:

summary
A sailor comes home from a voyage to find his wife with another man. Their argument escalates, and the other man dies. A detective arrives to solve the case, and goes to the ends of the Earth to track him down and bring him to justice.

review
I was laughing while writing that summary, because it sounds more like a Hollywood blockbuster than a great Chinese drama. That really is the premise though, and from it we get one of my favorites from this age.

The focus of this film is not so much the chase, but the characters involved in it. In fact, the case itself is rather uneventful, and takes place over several years; not exactly the makings of an action flick. By focusing on the characters though, Wu sets up a great dynamic for their eventually meeting. Without all the characterization, without showing the long and arduous path towards their conjoined fates, the movie’s conclusion would just not be as effective.

I was able to find a review of this film that focuses more on its technical aspects, and I don’t think I can do much better than it. It has spoilers though, so be warned. Clickity-click.

While that review focused on camera, framing, narrative structure, etc, what I was most impressed with was the meaning of Wu’s tale. The reversal of fortunes, the final circumstances, and a great tragedy played out by two well-defined, well acted characters. Solidarity, unity, ironies of class struggle, how changes of circumstance can change one’s perspective… all of these themes can clearly be seen, especially in the illuminating ending.

conclusion
The film is artful, honest, and meaningful, three things that propaganda films (a norm at the time) rarely do in unison. This film has so far escaped even the cinephile public (lang tao sha 1936 yields only 86 non-redundant results, some of which contain little or no information), and that’s a shame. Great movies like this should never be left forgotten.

things to take note of
The two main characters– their backgrounds, personalities, fortunes, etc.
The sounds–wind, water, waves crashing, etc.

best moment
The opening scenes
The island

why you should watch this
One of the best plots, with an intelligent proposition
Wu Yonggang might be my favorite Chinese director from the silent era

rating: 8.5

scorecard
Plot: B+
Cast: B
Cinematography: B
Music: B
Entertainment: B

similar movies, maybe:
Reminds me of Sun Yu’s “Huoshan Qingxie / Loving Blood of the Volcano” for some reason

Shen nü / The Goddess

Shen nü / The Goddess (1934)

Woman god = Street walker? Obviously, the cover translators were either sexists or failed Chinese class

Director: Wu Yonggang
Writers: Wu Yonggang
Date: 1934

Genre: Drama, Silent
Description: a woman, a hard life, prostitution, Depression-Era China, tragedy

Cast: Ruan Lingyu, Tian Jian, Li Keng, Li Junpan, Tang Huaiqiu

Crew of note:

Runtime: 85 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia:

summary
Ruan Lingyu is a single mother and a woman of the night. Yep, a prostitute (take note, in this day prostitution was a taboo subject in China and pretty much everywhere else in the world). Life is difficult in Depression-era China, especially when you have a manipulative, abusive man acting as your self-appointed pimp. He’s also fat and greedy, and isn’t about to let them go. And all she wants is for her son to get an education.

review
Look through all the films made in or before 1934, and try to find films starring a prostitute. Not just a co-star or tragic role player, but the actual center of the movie. I don’t think you’ll find many. And how many of these films will treat their heroine with as much humanity, with as much grace and understanding as “The Goddess”? Scratch that–look at the title, they’re actually calling her a Goddess, despite having an occupation that is seen with abundant derision and shame.

Yet Ruan Lingyu’s character proves that she is, indeed, a Goddess. She works, despite her shame (and the camera follows suit, with panning down to her feet as she stands on a street corner), not for her own lavishness.. and not even just to make ends meet. All this is to send her son to school, so that he can have a good life that she could otherwise not provide. Her occupation isn’t commendable, but her motives and unflinching desire to give her son everything that she can is overwhelming.

This is the real strength of this film: her character. In a day (in an entire country even!) when women were still seen as pretty dressed up dolls, when single-motherhood was an absurd concept and all women needed a man to survive, The Goddess grants us a woman unlike any other from this era. Faced with tragedy, and even more obstacles that stand in her way (literally blocking her doorway), she does not crumble, does not run away. She works, she fights, she puts on a brave face. After seeing this film, I am sure you will agree: Ruan Lingyu is a Goddess.

conclusion
In Ruan Lingyu’s short but storied career, many films stand out. However Lingyu as the eponymous Goddess, an appropriate title that she proves she is worth, stands as one of her most memorable roles. She is reknowned for her strong, independent, and “modern” portrayals of women, and this is perhaps one of the best from this era.

things to take note of
Lingyu’s facial expressions
The calm humanism Wu Yonggang’s script and Lingyu’s acting give the main character
Notice how almost every paragraph starts with “Bla bla Ruan Lingyu blabla”?

best moment
Whenever Lingyu is able to make ends meet, and when she’s with her kid

why you should watch this
Ruan Lingyu is a legend of Chinese cinema, and rightfully so. Plus, this is one of her best performances.

rating: 8.8

scorecard
Plot: C+
Cast: A+++
Cinematography: B
Music: C+
Entertainment: B

similar movies, maybe:
Yuen Ling-yuk / Center Stage, the 1992 movie about her life starring Maggie Cheung
Other tragic films starring Ruan Lingyu, such as:
Xiao Wanyi / Small Toys (1933)
Xin nü xing / New Woman (1934)
Tao hua qi xue ji / The Peach Girl (1931)
and her last film, Guo feng / National Pride (1935)

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