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Mujo / This Transient Life

Jissoji Akio - Mujo / This Transient Life (1970)

Tons of nudity, if you like that I guess

Director: Jissoji Akio
Writers: Ishido Yashiro
Date: 1970

Genre: Drama
Description: Buddhism, incest, life and death, meaning of life, sculpture, sex, desire

Cast: Tamura Ryo, Tsukasa Michiko, Hananomoto Kotobuki, Kobayashi Akiji, Okada Eiji, Sugai Kin, Terada Minori

Crew of note: Music by Takemitsu Toru. Cinematography by Inagaki Youzo

Runtime: 2 hrs 23 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia:

summary
Masao wants nothing out of life, until one day he encounters a sculptor obsessed with creating statues of the Kannon (Goddess of mercy). He and his sister live in a large estate, and isolated there, develop a forbidden love affair.

review
I’m very squeamish and I easily get upset. I have to admit that it’s my great weakness when watching movies; it greatly limits what I can see and appreciate. Nudity in most movies rarely feels right or natural to me, and I try to avoid topics like rape or incest or torture. I enjoy experimental cinema, yeah, but when films start pushing the bounds of taste… I’m often left far behind.

That’s why Mujo came as such a pleasant surprise. It combines a few things that I’m not particularly fond of–incest, lots of nudity and sex, and a ton of abstractness–yet somehow I was captivated. This was actually my third Jissoji (after Mandara and Uta, two films that I didn’t quite enjoy and merely appreciated in their craft), so I wasn’t expecting to have a good time. But I did.

Jissoji Akio - Mujo / This Transient Life (1970)

If you have any interest in Buddhism, in existentialism, in philosophy, Mujo is pretty much required viewing. The dialogue between the different characters–Masao, the Buddhist priest, the Kannon sculptor…–is very deep and intelligent. It will take some concentration and some pauses (to do some research maybe), but their conversations do bring up important points and important questions. And even when they try to elaborate answers, only more questions surface.

Don’t blink or spend too much time staring into space as you think though, because you’ll end up missing half of the film, maybe half of its meaning. Jissoji’s films are well known for their pictures, and Mujo is probably his best work. His use of angles, architecture, shadows and shape, negative space, whiteness and movement is brilliant, and the film does deserve to be seen twice or more; once to understand the story, and once to simply watch the camera and listen to the music. If you can pay attention to the story and dialogue and the pictures at the same time though, then you will also be treated to great cinematic lyricism: Nothingness and negative space, tradition/religion and architecture, desire and shadows, sexuality and shape, transition and movement. It is no exaggeration to say that this is one of the most brilliantly shot movies I’ve ever seen, because the pictures not only supplement the plot; in fact they may be essential to it.

Jissoji Akio - Mujo / This Transient Life (1970)

The music in the film is also a delight: a very SNES Castlevania: Symphony of the Night MIDI cornfest that somehow works perfectly. Well, at least that’s what it sounded like to me. Takemitsu Toru’s work is quite varied, but always appropriate and beautiful, and he does some of his finest work on Mujo.

conclusion
This film is almost as hard to understand as it is to locate (ok honestly it’s harder to understand). It’s really difficult, but if you can get past the objectionable content and commit some brain power to try and understand the plot, dialogue, and philosophy of Mujo, the experience can be deeply rewarding. In the right frame of mind, Mujo can be mind blowing, but it can also be silly, overwrought and meaningless to many (fair enough, it just isn’t very easy). It’s still pretty to look at though, and that soundtrack is awesome.

Jissoji Akio - Mujo / This Transient Life (1970)

Wow, I didn't even have anything funny to say for the screencaps

things to take note of
Shadows
Carving Kannon
Negative spaces
Try your best to understand their crazy complicated dialogue?

best moment
Man, just watch that camera move
Let’s talk Buddhism/life and death/existentialism

why you should watch this
One of the most beautifully shot films ever
The discussions on Buddhism, life and death, and other issues are some of the best

rating: 8.5 – it would be much higher, but I’m kinda over sensitive about nudity and the incest; it’d be 9 otherwise

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

similar movies, maybe:
Other Jissoji films from that era, like Uta and Mandara. Also, Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East for some more Buddhism-y goodness.

Taifû kurabu / Typhoon Club (1985)

Taifû kurabu / Typhoon Club (1985)

Sucks not to be part of the cool club

Director: Sômai Shinji
Writers: Kato Yuji
Date: 1985

Genre: Drama
Description: Ordinary life, highschool, growing up, coming-of-age film, desire, life

Cast: Mikami Yuichi, Kudoh Youki, Ônishi Yuka, Miura Tomokazu, Benibayashi Shigeru, Date Saburo, etc.

Crew of note:

Runtime: 1 hr 55 mins.
Color: Color
Trivia: Number 59 on Kinema Jumpo’s 100 Greatest Japanese Films

summary
In a high school somewhere outside Tokyo, a bunch of kids are growing up. One day a storm hits, and five of them get stuck inside the school at night while one takes an adventure to Tokyo.

review
I find it somewhat strange how difficult it is to find a review of this highly regarded film. 5 pages of results for both “taifu kurabu” and “typhoon club somai” only reveal 1 review: a thoroughly misguided NYTimes review from 1986, that likens it to a “more solemn… ‘Breakfast Club'”. What was this dude watching?

Taifû kurabu / Typhoon Club (1985)

Obviously not this movie

For a film considered among the best in Japanese cinema (in fact, number 59 on Kinema Jumpo’s list), there sure is very little about it in English. Yet I can understand this to some degree, because even I find it hard to say much about it. That isn’t to say that nothing in the film stands out to be remembered and discussed, but rather I am left with the question, “What else is to be discussed?” Sure, there are the conceits of cinema (such as the surprisingly articulate, philosophical, and detached Mikami), but for the most part, Taifu kurabu feels more like a documentary than anything else.

He shows you the world of these adolescents, in a common time, in a common place. Yes, the subject matter is difficult and maybe complicated; the events that take place are far from ordinary. Yet Somai treats his subject with such respect and sincerity that even the most sensitive scenes have a certain tenderness to them. Some will pan him for his “distance”, but not only does it show that said respect, but it also puts his characters in context, and allows a very meaningful emptiness to permeate the screen. The tenderness I speak of isn’t one that is manufactured by cuts, close ups and other cinematic techniques. Instead it is achieved because Somai allows everything space to breathe and time to build, settle, and linger in one’s memory. Those who demand a closeup don’t understand his intention. *

Taifû kurabu / Typhoon Club (1985)

Definitely not a common classroom

Maybe I am right to think that really, I have nothing to say about Taifu kurabu that isn’t pseudo-intellectual nonsense. Yet perhaps the desire to say something, to give this under-appreciated film a page just to say its name, is the best endorsement I can hope to give Somai’s creation.

conclusion
Japanese cinema has a great tradition of making ordinary life seem so meaningful and fascinating. Taifu kurabu might not be about the ordinary, but everyone will find something here that will remind them or their youth. It is not because of generality–Somai’s world is one of a kind–but rather, because of the sincerity and tenderness, and occasionally ire, that we all, Somai included, feel for our own youth that is extended towards these characters.

things to take note of
The characters’ conflicts and pains
How Somai shoots sensitive scenes
Do you see yourself in one of them?

Taifû kurabu / Typhoon Club (1985)

Well, I'm definitely not the naked embarrassed guy!

best moment
Let’s dance!

why you should watch this
Great coming-of-age tale
Discusses many issues we all had while growing up
Maybe you’ll find something that reminds you of your youth

rating: 8

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

similar movies, maybe:
Can’t think of anything now, but it isn’t hard to find good movies about ordinary people and their not-so-ordinary lives

Note: I just did a google search 10 seconds after posting this review, and this review is number 1 for “taifu kurabu review” and on the first page for “typhoon club review”. Good news, I guess, but also somewhat disappointing, internetland!

* If you insist on knowing what I’m alluding to, then fine I’ll tell you. It’s the underwear dance numbers. Somai shoots these scenes from afar, and offers no close ups. I’m pretty sure a ton of people will squint, and even offer a zoomed image of it as the film’s best scene, but that’s pretty sad.

Samurai Revolution Trilogy:
Juusan-nin no shikaku / The Thirteen Assassins
Dai satsujin / The Great Duel
Ju-ichinin no samurai / Eleven Samurai

Kudo Eiichi - Samurai Revolution Trilogy (1963 - 1966)

Obviously, there will be tons of people with swords

Director: Kudo Eiichi
Writers: Ikegami Kaneo, Kunihiro Takeo, Suzuki Norifumi, Matsudaira Norimichi
Date: 1963, 1964, 1966

Genre: Chambara, Jidaigeki
Description: Dudes go assassinating, evil politicians, cruel lords, justice beyond the law, revenge

Cast:
– Kataoka Chiezo, Nishimura Ko, Uchida Ryohei, Arashi Kanjuro, Satomi Kotaro, cameo by Tamba Tetsuro, Natsuyagi Isao, etc.
– Satomi Kotaro, Kawarasaki Choichiro, Hira Mikijiro, Inaba Yoshio, Yamamoto Rinichi, Munakata Nami, Ohki Minoru, Osaka Shiro, Abe Toru, Otomo Ryutaro, Kato Go, Kataoka Chiezo
– Natsuyagi Isao, Satomi Kotaro, Nambara Koji, Sato Kei, Suga Kantaro, Nishimura Ko, Otomo Ryutaro, etc.

Crew of note: Music by Ifukube Akira.

Runtime: 125 mins + 119 mins + 95 mins = 339 mins or 5 hours and 39 minutes.
Color: Black and White
Trivia:

summary
Three different assholes, three different assassinations. Though the three films are similar in their main premise (be a jerk official and there’ll be some assassinatin’), there are variations on the theme.

In Juusan-nin no shikaku, the Shogun’s younger brother, Lord of the Akashi clan, rapes a woman and kills her and her husband over the affair. It becomes quite clear in the first 5 minutes that the lord is rotten and foul, and to save Japan from his rule, 13 samurai take it upon themselves to rid the world of this menace.

In the next film, Lord Yutanokami Sakai is pretty much your average politician, and by that I mean he was trying to set up a puppet shogunate with himself as ultimate mastermind, a.k.a. the “regent”, by influencing the choice of the shogun’s successor to some obscure relative whom he had sway over. Of course, this pisses off a bunch of “rightful” samurai, who swear to stop the plot.

Finally, in the last film, we get a straight-up revenge story. Lord Noriatsu is an asshole (I think it’s clear all the villains here are), who trespasses on Oishi territory killing a wandering peasant while on a deer hunt. Lord Abe of Oishi spots the madman and scolds him, warning him to go back to his own land before things get messy. Being the asshole that he is, Noriatsu sends an arrow into Abe’s head, striking him dead. Obviously, his vassals want revenge.

Natsuyagi Isao

Natsuyagi Isao. I assume this is the third film. I.. honestly don't remember anymore?

review
Kudo Eiichi sadly didn’t have much sway over the studios, unlike his more famous contemporaries. Aside from TV work, he was pretty much stuck with doing studio-assigned jobs with about as much freedom as an Economy class airplane seat. Which is, really, very unfortunate because the three films now remembered as his “Samurai Revolution Trilogy” are some of the most beautifully shot chambara out there.

Of course, you’re probably more interested in the action, and oh boy, this one really satisfies your bloodlust, although a majority of the goodness is crammed in the ends. Most of the films follow a similar outline, and make it necessary that we understand, somehow, what the assassination is about and how they’re going to do it. The planning process is half the battle, and the movie dedicates as much time in following the assassins on their preparations for the epic showdowns. It’s a cruel, cruel world, and Kudo’s heroes are equally subject to man’s faults and weaknesses. In fact, despite on a quest for justice, many of the protagonists might as well be as bad as their intended victims. The second movie is the darkest, bleakest of the three portraying the good guys as.. well, not very good at all. This surprisingly makes the story even more interesting, and the conclusion even more satisfying.

Ju-ichinin no samurai / Eleven Samurai (1966)

Did I mention there were bamboo cannons?

All three films finish with three of the most drawn out (in a good way?), complicated, messy and gruesome battles from 60’s chambara. These guys aren’t Mifunes or Nakadais that can dispatch foes with one clean strike; they stumble, make mistakes and often miss their target. That isn’t to say that they flunked kendo class, but killing’s never as pretty as many Golden Age movies make them look, and the zankoku* jidaigeki of the 60’s (such as the previously reviewed Bakumatsu zankoku monogatari) are as refreshing as a Bloody Mary before lunch. Which is to say: very much so!

There is also quite a bit of a history behind these films (do some research, dudes), and it’s interesting how Kudo tries to create his plausible historical epics. Many of the officials and lords in the film are real people, and Kudo’s suggestion of “what may have happened” can actually make sense. Though unlikely, they are about as historically probable as fiction gets.

Not that it matters, as long as people get chopped up to bits, right?

I don't remember where this is from?

Or, possible, people blown to bits

conclusion
Sure, the three movies are a little too samey in their plots and timelines (official does evil stuff – plan the job – get in some trouble – execute the plan – finale), but they are all great action movies with interesting twists and explosive swordplay. Their respective final scenes are reasons enough to watch these films, as they try to match Shichinin no samurai’s ambition in creating a huge climax, only with a much more gruesome, merciless taste. You might not remember the story long after watching (I had a tough time making those shitty summaries 😦 ), and you probably won’t remember any of the characters (except ones of famous actors), but you’ll definitely remember the action, the bloodshed, the excitement of sword ripping flesh and the satisfaction of an assassination done successfully. Well, sort of.

Samurai Revolution Trilogy

This is a metaphor for how I always seem lost and rambling while writing reviews. 😦

things to take note of
The history behind each movie
The differences between each film (because they are kinda the same?)

best moment
Their respective final showdowns
The EXPLOSION?

why you should watch this
Contains some of the best action sequences in chambara which are meticulously planned and excellently shot
Great example of this zankoku jidaigeki thing

rating: 8.4

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

similar movies, maybe:
I already gave you three and you still want more?
Samurai / Samurai Assassin directed by Okamoto Kihachi, which is also integrated into history quite interestingly

*Zankoku pretty much means “cruel”, therefore, “cruel period film” characterized by realistic bloodshed, dark characters and.. well, cruelty I guess

Jigoku / Hell

Jigoku / Hell (1960)

Apparently there's no need to elaborate

Director: Nakagawa Nobuo
Writers: Nakagawa Nobuo, Miyagawa Ichirô
Date: 1960

Genre: Horror
Description: Hell, hell on earth, man’s sins, man is an animal, other evil things

Cast: Amachi Shigeru, Numata Yoichi, Mitsuya Utako, Arashi Kanjuro, Nakamura Torahiko, Miyata Fumiko, Ono Akiko

Crew of note:

Runtime: 101 mins.
Color: Color
Trivia: I got this film by mistake, confusing it with Jigokumon. Hm, actually that doesn’t count as movie trivia.

summary
Shirô and Tamura are classmates in university and friends. Sort of but not really, because Tamura’s pretty creepy and is also an asshole. One evening, on some remote dirt road, they accidentally run over a thug and quickly drive away from their crime. The thug’s mother and girlfriend vow to avenge the lowlife’s death, and with the growing guilt, Tamura’s weirdness, family troubles and some really terrible turn-of-events, the world slowly turns into HELL.

review
First of all, WTF was I thinking? I absolutely hate watching scary films, because seriously, why would I want to voluntarily give myself nightmares? Still, I have a long-standing curiosity about films with “Jigoku” in the title, and I somehow convinced myself to see this, knowing it was an important film.

So, was it worth it? Sort of, but not really (for me anyway). The movie is a difficult watch, even though it doesn’t involve any common horror tropes like monsters or ghosts or axe murderers. However, it becomes pretty obvious that outright scares isn’t the point of this movie at all. Rather, Nakagawa tries to create a depiction of Hell and Hell On Earth, not only with astounding visuals, but with mood and atmosphere as well.

The second half of the film usually gets the most attention because of its truly visionary and unparalleled representation of hell. Seriously, it’s pretty crazy. There are tons of things commonly associated with hell, but watch out for the water wheel–it’s possibly the scariest thing in hell, evar.

That said, the first part of the movie is also quite important. Before entering into hell, the world Shirô inhabits slowly turns for the worst; as I’ve said, turns into hell on earth. There is a sense of absurdity, of irrationality in many of the events that take place in the first half. And while it is somewhat annoying and way too depressing (and a little sappy), the message is quite clear. In fact, I found myself more disturbed during the first half than the second–life is what it is and is closer to fact, hell here is an interpretation.

Arashi Kanjuro in Jigoku / Hell

30 years to get from Tengu to Enma? Advancement opportunities my ass*

Thinking about this film is giving me the creeps so I’ll stop now. See this though if you aren’t a sissy?

conclusion
I was thoroughly, completely freaked out while watching this film. It isn’t at all gorey, and really doesn’t have many horror-y moments. But it’s such an assault on your senses with its version of hell that it’s hard not to be a bit unnerved by the whole experience. Which is exactly the purpose of this movie, I guess. Not exactly a fun film to watch (unless you’re Satan, maybe), but certainly accomplished and significant in the development of the (psychological?) horror genre.

things to take note of
The many symbols and things, like the number 9
Hell on Earth
This is Buddhist hell, not Christian hell
Absurdity

best moment
Hell, duh

why you should watch this
Nakagawa Nobuo is the father is this thing called J-Horror, probably
This is the strangest, and possibly most precise depiction of not only Hell itself, but hell on Earth as well

rating: 7.9 but only because I don’t like scary movies

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

similar movies, maybe:
For some reason, I get the same creepy vibe from Onibaba

* The “tengu”, used in Kurama Tengu (which Arashi starred in in 1928), is a Japanese folklore monster. Normally it’s translated as “goblin”, but this isn’t very accurate. The tengu is usually depicted as a man-like bird monster, or a dude with a really long nose. Imagine Adrien Brody with feathers and a scowl, maybe. Enma is the king of Buddhist hell. Also, do your own damn research.

Jujiro / Crossroads

No cover art available. However…

Kinugasa Teinosuke - Jujiro / Crossroads (1928)

Why he found this chick hot, I'll never understand

Director: Kinugasa Teinosuke
Writers: Kinugasa Teinosuke
Date: 1928

Genre: Drama
Description: Brother-sister relationship, love story (with another lady crazy), obsession, blindness, evil men, tragedy, impressionism

Cast: Bando Junosuko, Chihaya Akiko, Ogawa Yukiko, Sohma Ippei, Hasegawa Kazuo

Crew of note: Cinematography by Kôhei Sugiyama

Runtime: 80 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia:

summary
Rikiya and Okiku are two siblings living in a rundown tenement in the Yoshiwara district (Red Light District + Gambling dens and other mischief) of Edo. They barely live a life of subsistence, and theirs is a world of perpetual darkness. One day, Rikiya eyes O-yume (depending on the kanji which isn’t shown, this could possibly mean “Miss Dream”), a girl who works at one of the gaming stands, and becomes madly obsessed with her. However, O-yume is admired by many powerful men, including samurai, government officials and many others. Rikiya, driven by his obsession, must find a way to defeat them all and claim O-yume as his own.

review
Obsession over women, ahh the age old folly of man. Stories of dudes going crazy for chicks and ruining their lives with dumbass decision go as far back as I care to remember. Outsiders condemn these people for their irrational behavior and poor decision making, and a common exclamation for these instances is “What were they thinking?!” Jujiro, in my opinion, acts as a sort of exploration into the mind of obsession. With understandably crazy results.Instead of trying to weave a complicated story (the plot is still good in this one though, with siblings and social hierarchies), which wouldn’t quite have achieved much on its own, Kinugasa focuses on the visuals–a representation of obsession.

Using an amazing array of camera and editing techniques–superimposition, ambiguous close-ups, rapid pans, creeping zooms, a spinning camera, rapid jump cuts, successive shots of random everyday objects, an emphasis on shadows in an already dark world…–Kinugasa is able to recreate Rikiyo’s mind and posits it as the real world that the siblings inhabit. The characters become mad exaggerations–the cackle of wandering courtesans, the white faces of geisha, the pompous samurai, the swelling crowds–and only Okiku, the lone sympathetic character in the film, almost a voice of reason or reality, seems apart from this nightmare, and she is the source of most of the film’s more tender moments. While the rest of Japan was busy making jidaigekis and Chaplin copies, Kinugasa was pushing the boundaries of artistic expression.

The only slight problem in Kinugasa’s picture is that there are occasions when the screen is a little too dark. It adds to the nightmarish quality of the film, but for people with dark screens or poor eyesight, it might be a problem trying to figure out who’s who or who’s doing what. Still, it’s amazing how Kinugasa was able to get such a variety of shots with such little light.

As Rikiyo grows in his obsession of the equally strange O-yume, the film becomes more and more an elaboration of his condition, a dingy illumination of his world. It’s frightening, confusing, and fascinating.

Note: Saw this with no accompaniment. I’m curious how it’d be with an equally impressionistic score.

conclusion
Along with Kurutta ippeji / Page of Madness, Kinugasa’s work in cinematic impressionism is, at the very least, a landmark in Asian cinema. You will be hardpressed to find anything as forward thinking and modern as these two films (which were made at the same time as the French Impressionist Film movement), showing that Asia was barely, if at all, lagging behind in the art of film during the silent period. Beautiful, technically impressive and surprisingly emotional, Jujiro / Crossroads is not just a picture for film students, but something any hobbyist can marvel at and enjoy.

things to take note of
The perpetual night
Impressionist images of everyday objects
The madness
All those crazy visuals
There are a lot of symbols here, I was just too lazy to explain them

best moment
On the streets, and all the random items made to seem crazy

why you should watch this
I don’t think anyone in Japan, maybe the world, did anything quite like this during the 20’s
It’s crazy!!

rating: 8.4

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

similar movies, maybe:
You should also watch Kinugasa’s Kurutta ippeji / Page of Madness

genres

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