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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.

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Joen / The Affair

Joen / The Affair (1967)

Not a bad affair if you ask me

Director: Yoshida Yoshishige (or Kiju)
Writers: Tamura Tsutomu, Yoshida Yoshishige
Date: 1967

Genre: Drama
Description: Love affair, love, marriage, extra-marrital affair, rape, identity, freedom

Cast: Okada Mariko, Minami Yoshie, Sugano Tadahiko, Shimegi Shigako, Kimura Isao, Takahashi Etsushi

Crew of note:

Runtime: 1 hour 32 mins
Color: Black and White
Trivia:

summary
Oriko’s and her mother had a difficult relationship. She knew of her mother’s relationships with men, and insisted she stop, interfering in the affair. Now that her mother has passed away, Oriko attempts to find out more about her from her lovers. Oriko herself is in an unhappy marriage; one without love. She wishes to divorce him, but her husband refuses. Through this dilemma she begins to understand her mother more and more, and that they are more alike than she thinks.

Joen / The Affair (1967)

'Oh mom you're such a slut'

review
Admittedly, this didn’t start that well for me. I’m not sure why, but I found myself uninterested for the first few minutes. The movie starts rather slow, and already comes out with an affair: Oriko’s mother and a much younger man. Okada Mariko, in fact, is just there to complain. Another movie about sarcastic, petulant women? Okay, probably not.

The film’s events are launched by her mother’s affair, and much of it revolves around love and love affairs. Yet what the film is truly about is Oriko’s discovery of herself, both as her mother’s daughter and as a woman. Her relationships with men–with her husband and with her mother’s lovers–all represent different parts of Oriko’s life. The juxtaposition of events (and rather clear dialogue) and character relationships creates a web of meaning brought about by contrast: freedom and comfort; submission and animal desires; choice and depth. We discover with Oriko who she really is, and what she really wants–one or the other, both, all, or none at all.

This is all created with about as much silence as conversation, and Yoshida proves himself a worthy student of Ozu in how he strings together images to surround events with more meaning and context. The beach, the forest, those long walks alone or with a companion, the smalled room (through close up), the cabin, her large but seemingly empty house… the camera is also one of the principal story tellers.

Joen / The Affair (1967)

I guess she isn't a fan of furniture

If the film has one flaw, it is that it may be hard to follow. The sequence of events feels somewhat confusing, even though they occur chronologically (I think), but I am unsure why I experienced this difficulty. Everything seemed to be next to one another, which, in my mind, merged one event with those around it, even if they were with different characters or in different settings. Perhaps this is a reflection of Oriko’s character.

Or perhaps this a reflection of my fickle attention span. :p

Joen / The Affair (1967)

This would be an awesome chambara scene if only they had katanas

conclusion
Despite my terrible attention span (that’s only really good enough for chambara), for the most part, I was captivated by this film. The images are very strong, and many scenes will linger long after they are seen. It is because of the way Yoshida combines his pictures and scenes that the movie is able to be more than a sappy melodrama, and maybe one of his most memorable films.

things to take note of
The excellent cinematography
The hand-held camera going around
Pay attention because the chronology of events and the cutting is a little confusing maybe

best moment
In the log cabin: meaning + great cinematography = good movietimes

why you should watch this
That log cabin scene alone is worth it, really
Okada Mariko!

rating: 8.8

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

similar movies, maybe:
Many of Yoshida’s films have the same feel, so probably those. Akitsu onsen, Arashi o yobu juhachi-nin, Juhyo no yoromeki… etc.
New wave-era directors like Shindô Kaneto and Kinoshita Keisuke, but not Oshima, Shinoda, Masumura

Daisatsujin orochi / The Betrayal

Daisatsujin orochi / The Betrayal (1966)

Raizo looks pissed, which is never good news for bad guys

Director: Tanaka Tokuzo
Writers: Hoshikawa Seiji
Date: 1966

Genre: Jidaigeki, Chambara
Description: Samurai life sucks, corrupt officials, traitors and backstabbers, a hard life

Cast: Ichikawa Raizo, Yuchigusa Kaoru, Fujimura Shiho, Nakaya Ichiro, Naito Taketoshi

Crew of note: Music by Ifukube Akira

Runtime: 88 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia: This is a remake of Futagawa Buntaro’s “Orochi” originally starring Bando Tsumasaburo back in 1925.

summary
A samurai enters the Minazuki clan’s school of Issaka Yaichiro to challenge the master to a fight, but he is currently away. Kobuse Takuma (Raizo) receives him, and the samurai, from the Iwashiro Clan, calls him into a duel. Kobuse refuses, and the samurai leaves. On his way home, however, he is followed by two members of the Minazuki clan and is slayed from behind.* His clan discovers his murder, and calls for the perpetrator to be arrested and punished, whoever he may be. A Minazuki clan official, Kobuse’s soon to be father-in-law, proposes a solution/cover-up: Kobuse should take the blame and disappear for a year while he tries to iron things out. Obviously, this doesn’t work out.

review
Dude, being a samurai sucks balls. I think there have been enough movies to prove this point. For some reason, movies about how samurai life was terrible seem to be of higher quality, of greater interest, indeed, are usually better than movies about cool and badass samurai. I’m looking at you Ogami Itto (you’re still cool though).

Daisatsujin orochi is a remake of one of the original movies with that premise, the similarly named Orochi** from 1925. The stories are pretty similar (though not exactly the same especially the ending), but seeing both is by no means redundant. In fact, seeing the two versions is probably more enjoyable than seeing just one.

So see it. Daisatsujin orochi isn’t a very famous film, and that’s unfortunate. It has a good story, great acting, beautiful black and white cinematography (using a lot of somewhat unconventional shots, maybe you’ll notice), and music by Ifukube (which means it’ll be great, you know). A good movie, until about an hour or so. I’m just too lazy to explain. Then BAM! Raizo draws his sword and the inevitable final showdown begins. And, it’s pretty amazing.

The climax of the film is one of the most detailed, well planned and well executed ones I have ever seen. The integration of a variety of props (a water well and bucket, ladders, wooden boards, carts, ropes, different kinds of weapons), the use of superb still shots (the one where Raizo moves under a wooden railing, watch for it), Raizo’s swordfighting worthy of Bantsuma’s legendary status, etc are all pretty awesome. Long drawn-out fights usually tend to become redundant after a while, especially when the hero seems to never tire, but here, after wave upon wave of assailants, Raizo deteriorates, starting on his feet and eventually rolling around in the dirt. He becomes thirsty, his hair disheveled, his hand tense and uncooperative, his body exhausted and his face in agony. It’s not only a fight, it is a transformation, an epiphany for Kobuse.

Warrior vs Snake painting

My computer refuses to make screencaps or I'm just very very lazy

conclusion
A majority of chambara fans (especially those who love samurai for their “exoticism”) probably just watch for the slicing-and-dicing, and really don’t care about the nuances of culture and history. This is a film that can be appreciated by that lot, and also by those who have a more serious, more academic interest in samurai life on film. How this isn’t as famous as some other chambara from the 60s is beyond me, because this is clearly one of the best. Maybe even Raizo’s best performance.

things to take note of
Amazing climax
Similarities with Orochi (1925)
The realism and detail of the climax, and Raizo’s acting
The importance of pride (Denshichiro’s resolution)
Some amazing shots in there too
Ifukube’s subtle but brilliant score

best moment
The climactic super-fight obviously

why you should watch this
A great remake of a classic chambara
I lost count of how many people Raizo ends up killing
These “samurai life sucks dude” movies are always interesting

rating: 8.7

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

similar movies, maybe:
Orochi (1925), obviously.
Other “samurai life sucks dude” movies such as Harakiri, Joi-uchi: Hairyo tsuma shimatsu, etc.

* It is deemed cowardly to attack a samurai from behind or without his knowledge. This is pretty much the reason why in most one-vs-many battles the assailants behind the lone samurai are simply standing around. Without properly engaging and acknowledging each other in combat, it’s considered plain murder and not a duel or a legitimate fight. So, you know, they aren’t standing around coz they’re idiots. They’re actually following bushido.

** Since I’m unlikely to write a whole review for Orochi (it’s included in a feature about classic chambara though), I’ll squeeze in a little trivia here. The title sort of doesn’t make sense (orochi means snake or serpent) without an explanation. Originally, the title of the film was supposed to be something like “Outlaw” or “Rebel”, but Japanese censors refused to allow an anti-government, anti-establishment outlaw to be considered a hero. Futagawa decided to give the film its name to describe how Bantsuma moves (slithering and sliding) like a snake, and how even in death a serpent still looks pretty menacing. This is according to renowned film historian Sato Tadao, so I’m not pulling this outta my ass. Also, I’m the one who added this trivia on imdb.

Nemuru otoko / Sleeping Man

Nemuru otoko / Sleeping Man (1996)

He literally just lies there the whole movie and still gets paid

Director: Oguri Kôhei
Writers: Kenmochi Kiyoshi, Oguri Kôhei
Date: 1996

Genre: Drama, Nothing?
Description: Man in a coma, man and nature

Cast: Ahn Sung-kee, Christine Hakim, Yakusho Kôji, Hidari Tokie, Hamamura Jun, Imafuku Masao, Kobayashi Toshie, Watanabe Tetsu, Kishibe Ittoku, etc.

Crew of note:

Runtime: 103 mins.
Color: Color
Trivia: The film was funded by Gunma Prefecture, where the film was shot on location. It’s north west of Tokyo, about an hour or two away. I’ve never been, though I think I passed a bit of it on the way to Nikko.

summary
Takuji’s been in a coma for quite some time after an accident in the mountains, where he often wandered wistfully. His family and friends have been coping rather well with his condition, and he lies in bed at home where everyone can visit him.

Nemuru otoko / Sleeping Man (1996)

Or just stare at him if they want

review
Nothing much really happens, but the film examines relationships through juxtaposition rather than plot. In fact, other than relationships between characters, some of the strongest moments in the film relate characters and specific things in nature, either by suggestion, or by simply putting them together in a silent, still scene. It works quite well, because the result is a natural association between the character and the image. It’s a beautiful suggestion; we often feel a certain affinity towards the odd thing, in this case, nature. Oguri uses this living metaphor throughout the film, and works both as characterization and subtle meaning.

Nemuru otoko / Sleeping Man (1996)

Water wheel = old lady, possibly because of the creaking sound they both make when they move

However, films that use images at the slight expense of a tradition plot (many things still happen after all, but do not follow Freytag’s triangle) can become somewhat boring, and perhaps this love of “ordinary life” is something that needs to be conditioned. That isn’t to say that people who love films like this are necessarily special, necessarily “greater fans of cinema”. There’s no such thing. What I mean is, the approach to these films is different, and the “tourist” vs. the “traveler” is an appropriate analogy. The tourist visits all the great monuments, all the national treasures, goes to the biggest festivals, stays at hotels, eats at the finest restaurants. The traveler goes through the countryside, meets regular people, sees what the they see, lives where they live, eats what they eat. It’s that kind of mentality that’s required to understand, appreciate.. love films about ordinary people, about ordinary lives.

Certainly though, there is also something magical about Gunma Prefecture and her Sleeping Man; it is not ordinary. But it’s something that can’t be described, only experienced. Oguri takes you through Gunma to meet his family, his neighbors, to see what they see, to live where they live, to eat what they eat. To live how they live.

Be a traveler.

conclusion
This film, Oguri’s portrait of his home, reminds me so much of Gabriel Garcia Marquez for some reason. Perhaps it is magic realism, that genre of art where amazing, otherworldly things are treated as part of everyday life. Indeed, there is something truly magical about Oguri’s Gunma Prefecture: that giant moon, the ghostly sea, the ancient water wheel, that brilliant sun, those animated trees, and of course, the mountains. The events in the film could have happened anywhere else, indeed, they happen everywhere else, yet in the singularly beautiful Gunma prefecture, it feels as though they gain a whole ‘nother meaning.

Nemuru otoko / Sleeping Man (1996)

Conclusion #2: Getting paid to sleep is the best job ever

things to take note of
The characters’ relationships with nature
The metaphors and stuff and those pretty pictures
The smile

best moment
Making noise!

why you should watch this
There are so many frames here that I want to hang on my wall
It feels like actually visiting Gunma
That was probably my most artsy-ish review so far right?

rating: 8.6

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

similar movies, maybe:
Mizu no onna / Woman of Water

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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