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Eburi manshi no yûga-na seikatsu / The Elegant Life of Mr. Everyman

Eburi manshi no yûga-na seikatsu / The Elegant Life of Mr. Everyman (1963)

The poster just screams most hilarious boring movie ever

Director: Okamoto Kihachi
Writers: Ide Toshiro, Yamaguchi Hitomi
Date: 1963

Genre: Drama, Comedy, Satire
Description: Salaryman, narration, docudrama

Cast: Kobayashi Keiju, Aratama Michiyo, Ehara Tatsuyoshi, Tachikawa Hiroshi, Tôno Eijirô, Nakamaru Tadao,

Crew of note:

Runtime: 103 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia:

summary
Eburi is a salaryman in Tokyo, living an ordinary life. He works at an ad agency as a writer, tends to talk nonstop when he drinks, and unconsciously aspires to become a real writer. One day, after having one too many drinks at a bar, he comes home having promised two editors the best story they’ve ever read, except he doesn’t remember he promised anything and doesn’t even know what to write! Eburi, and his otherwise boring, average, uninteresting life, run through the filter of his perceptive and babbling brain, becomes the topic of his soon-to-be popular semi-autobiographical novel.

review
The salaryman is modern Japan’s version of the Edo period’s lowly samurai footsoldier classes (yeah there were many subclasses within samurai). Stuck in a dead end job, with no opportunities for anything better, and not many options other than what they already have, they usually lead very boring, meaningless lives. At the very least, samurai had infrequent battles, wars and clan conflict to make things exciting, and to give them a glimmer of hope in achieving anything worthwhile. It also makes for enjoyable action movies for audiences. But what do salarymen have? Well, in Eburi’s case, he gets to write a story about his boring, meaningless life. And what the audience gets is a movie about him writing about his boring, meaningless life.

Eburi manshi no yûga-na seikatsu / The Elegant Life of Mr. Everyman (1963)

The boring face or boredom

Okay, that sounds a LOT worse than it is, but that’s really what the Eburi manshi… is about. On paper it sounds like this should be the most boring movie imaginable: it’s about a boring guy, with his boring voice narrating his boring life about his boring book. Yet if you pay attention to just how boring everything is–I mean, really LISTEN to what Eburi is saying about himself and about his life–it actually is quite fascinating.

Eburi manshi no yûga-na seikatsu / The Elegant Life of Mr. Everyman (1963)

Oh Eburi, you and your silly silly life

And its the dialogue, the narration, that truly shines, along with Kobayashi’s delivery. He says SO MUCH and talks about so many things so fluidly that it’s hard to imagine that these were not Kobayashi’s own thoughts, and that he was not actually drunk while being filmed. The observations he makes are incredibly detailed to the point of nonsense and his descriptions of everyday Tokyo life are so full of vibrancy and energy that he sounds like he’s hallucinating. How could this man, living this life (I’ve used the word boring so many times sheesh) have such a rich and powerful vision of this city? When he describes his life it’s almost as if every moment is magical, every event important. But he’s just another faceless, ordinary salaryman, right?

Well, maybe he isn’t, and maybe behind every seemingly common man is an interesting story. Maybe all of us are like Eburi, and all of us have led fascinating lives worth ink on a page. Or maybe we’re all just delusional. Huh.

Eburi manshi no yûga-na seikatsu / The Elegant Life of Mr. Everyman (1963)

..And the predator has his prey trapped, backed against the corner.. and he TALKS. Nonstop. About his mom

conclusion
Eburi proves that the salaryman is an interesting and worthwhile subject despite the dead-end life that one lives. In fact, it probably is because of his seemingly meaningless (to everyone but those around him) existence that his life is given meaning in the context of cinema and [insert related academic field here]. Hats off to Okamoto for another brilliant satire. I still don’t want to become a corporate slave though.

things to take note of
The many, many jokes and descriptions
The narration

best moment
Eburi is drunk and talks nonstop. Really.

why you should watch this
This is Kobayashi Keiju’s best work as a leading man

rating: 8.6

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

similar movies, maybe:
Other deadpan comedies/satires from Okamoto, maybe Satsujin kyo jidai / Age of Assassins or Nikudan / Human Bullet

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Dou niu / Cow

Dou niu / Cow (2009)

Oh wait I think it's a comedy. With a cow. And bombs.

Director: Guan Hu
Writers: Guan Hu
Date: 2009

Genre: Drama, War
Description: Anti-war, survival, man and beast, Sino-Japanese War, rural China

Cast: Huang Bo, Ni Yan, Gao Hu, Hua Zi… and a large cow.

Crew of note:

Runtime: 110 mins.
Color: Color
Trivia: Huang Bo’s Mandarin is difficult to understand because he is from the province of Shandong, where the film was shot.

summary
Niu’er, a slightly slow, slightly odd farmer in a remote Shandong town, is assigned the task of taking care of the town’s brand new 8th Route Army-provided Foreign Cow which produces more milk than their regular cows. He resents the task, but when he wakes up one day to find himself and the cow alone in the village, their tale of survival and friendship begins.

Dou niu / Cow (2009)

Is it still friendship when the cow gets a little frisky?

review
At first I thought this was going to be a movie about a dude and his cow, in some small town, hanging out and doing nothing. I was sort of right, but I didn’t expect there to be explosions. Lots of explosions. And while that may be an exaggeration, I honestly didn’t expect this to be a movie about war (I tend to decide to watch movies without knowing anything about them). Come on, seriously. The cover has the face of a cow at a funny angle and a bunch of funny-faced peasants. And it’s about a COW. I don’t think you can blame me for being (pleasantly) surprised–which tends to happen really often, huh?

Dou niu / Cow (2009)

What?! I thought we were having beef for dinner?

After watching hours upon hours of Chinese Communist propaganda films from the 50s and 60s, I’d sort of gotten tired of the Sino-Japanese war. It had been a long time since seeing Guizi lai le, and really strong, poignant, intelligent war films from China just didn’t seem very common. Perhaps if I’d known this was going to be about the same war, I would have passed it off for later viewing. Luckily I didn’t, and decided to see it. And while it may not be as great as the aforementioned film, it comes pretty damn close. That’s a huge compliment, and I wouldn’t mind if you stopped reading right at that sentence to go look for the movie. Seriously stop reading and just get it.

The film’s greatest strength is its two stars, Huang Bo and the cow. It might seem a bit frivolous to say this, but their chemistry is fantastic. Credit has to go to Huang for his slightly deranged, out-of-touch, and tender portrayal of Niu’er, though I can understand that some people may be turned off by perceived over-acting, or simply because they can’t connect with such a weirdo protagonist. But it’s his strange character that makes his relationship with “Jiu” (the cow, formerly the name of his wife) work so damn well, and without it the film’s charm is lost. Their story of survival against the odds may not be epic in terms of distance or scope or body count, but the way they are able to transcend this interspecies barrier towards real friendship in the midst or war is a colossal achievement.

conclusion
War sucks, everyone knows that. But after the 100th movie about the same sucky war, with the same themes, same plots, and same ideas, the movies themselves tend to get sucky as well. That’s why when a film with a genuinely unique premise such as Dou niu comes around, you gotta take notice. Full of charm, affection, and pathos, this one is definitely not sucky. War still sucks though.

things to take note of
Huang Bo’s weird accent
Huang Bo is weird
The silliness of it all
The different groups of people they encounter

Dou niu / Cow (2009)

Huang Bo is watching you not watching his movie. Tsk.

best moment
Up in the mountains, oh
A man and a cow is actually really sweet

why you should watch this
Best movie about a cow ever made? Possibly!

rating: 8.2

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

similar movies, maybe:
Guizi lai le / Devils in the Doorstep
Other black comedies set during war

Tange Sazen yowa: Hyakuman ryo no tsubo / Tange Sazen and the Pot Worth a Million Ryo

Tange Sazen yowa: Hyakuman ryo no tsubo / Tange Sazen and the Pot Worth a Million Ryo (1935)

Yup, this is actually mostly a comedy

Director: Yamanaka Sadao
Writers: Mimura Shintarô
Date: 1935

Genre: Jidaigeki, Comedy
Description: A pot worth a million ryo, looking for the item, humanity, different and unique characters, whatever it takes, what is really valuable

Cast: Ôkôchi Denjirô, Kiyozo, Sawamura Kunitaro, etc.

Crew of note:

Runtime: 95 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia: There are tons of Tange Sazen films, but this is the oldest one still extant, I believe.

summary
Tange Sazen is a lazy samurai bum working at a Tokugawa-era Japanese arcade, where customers routinely waste their money trying to hit absurdly large targets with a small bow and floppy arrows. Across town, the infamous Yagyu clan is in crisis–they need cash quick! Luckily, there is an old legend that states that older generations of the Yagyu had stashed a million ryo-worth of gold in the mountains. The tricky part: the map is inside an old pot, and no one knows where the heck it is after Genzaburo’s wife sells the crummy old antique to a local dealer. Naturally, Sazen eventually gets involve in this mess. Not a bad deal, since a million ryo is a pretty sweet pay-off if he can outsmart the Yagyu and find the pot before they do.

review
Sounds like an epic McGuffin hunt with swordfights and counterplots galore, but you really should expect more from Yamanaka. More than the pot itself, the story revolves around man’s desires, what he would do to fulfill those desires, and the discovery of what is truly valuable. In the hunt for the prized piece of pottery are well developed, unique characters–I doubt you will find many others like them. The hero himself is described, and describes himself, as a monster, a demon, an outcast of society. There are moments when he gives credence to this claim, especially with such a fearsome scowl. Yet he also allows himself moments of tenderness, moments of wit and comedy, and even kindness. In the 30’s, when all heroes were noble samurai warriors with distinguished service records and an irreproachable character, Tange stood, awkwardly, as a symbolic anti-hero. The lady proprietor of the arcade, the young child who gets mixed up in the mess, Yagyu Genzaburo who must find the pot to save his clan, his amusingly paranoid wife.. all memorable and authentic characters that inhabit Tange Sazen’s accurately depicted setting.

Surprisingly, the music also stands out at a time when few directors in Japan were using sound quite as assuredly as Yamanaka. In fact, sound would not become ubiquitous until years later. Light and airy during funny bits, an extra punch during the action, a calm background fuzz during intermediate scenes, yet cohesive and never a sore thumb. The film also uses a good number of cuts, angle changes, and close ups to highlight the action, even though there aren’t really many fights. What there are, however, are reassessments of goals and desires; I suppose it’s safe to say that most of the main characters actually go through some kind of change during the movie. Sazen’s still a wise-crackin’ badass though.

Did I mention Sazen only has ONE eye and ONE arm? It’s a good thing he looks like he could be the frontman for any tr00 satanic black metal band:

Ôkôchi Denjirô as Tange Sazen

He can name his band Tange Sazen and the Hairy Potters

No wonder no one wants to fight with him.

conclusion
You really won’t find many films from this age quite as good, quite as satisfying as this one. It should be clear by now that Yamanaka Sadao is one of my favorite directors, and even though only 3 of his films have survived, all of them are wonderful. A handful of directors have tried tackling Tange Sazen and his adventures, but even after 70 years (the most recent remake was in 2004) Yamanaka’s effort is still the best.

things to take note of
Ôkôchi Denjirô’s movements and posture, and his absolutely hilarious swordstyle
Sazen’s sassy smart-assyness
The comedy
The introspection?

best moment
It’s a pot, so why not use it as a… ?

why you should watch this
One of the most completely satisfying jidaigeki, with character development, comedy, action, a little suspense, and even insight into man and his desires

rating: 9.1

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

similar movies, maybe:
I don’t think any of the future Tange Sazen films are as good as this one, but some stand-outs are:
Matsuda Sadatsugu’s Tange Sazen: Mystery of the Twin Dragons
Gosha Hideo’s Ken fu! Hyakumanryo no tsubo / Tange Sazen: One Million Ryo (stars Nakadai and Natsuyagi Isao!)
Gosha Hideo’s Tange Sazen: Secret of the Urn (stars Nakamura Kinnosuke and Tamba Tetsuro!)

Ooe-yama Shuten-dôji / Demon of Mt. Oe

Ooe-yama Shuten-dôji / Demon of Mt. Oe (1960)

As usual these old covers make absolutely no sense to me

Director: Tanaka Tokuzo
Writers: Kawaguchi Matsutaro, Yahiro Fuji
Date: 1960

Genre: Jidaigeki, Kaiju eiga
Description: Demon mountain, Minamoto no Yorimitsu and the gang, protecting the people, fight against bandits, funny monster

Cast: Ichikawa Raizo, Hasegawa Kazuo, Katsu Shintaro, Hongo Kojiro, Nakamura Ganjiro, Nakamura Yutaka, Yamamoto Fujiko, Hidari Sachiko, Hayashi Narutoshi, Shimada Ryuzu

Crew of note:

Runtime: 115 mins.
Color: Color
Trivia:

summary
Minamoto no Yorimitsu (or Raiko for short) and his fantastic four must stop Shuten-dôji and his crazy bandits and sorcerers (including a Tsuchigumo, or spider demon) from their evil plan of overthrowing the Mikado (the emperor and his empire) and stealing all their chicks.

review

Rundown of characters!
=The Good Guys=
Minamoto no Yorimitsu – Played By Raizo; famous military general of the Fujiwara, subject of many stories and legends; badass
Watanabe no Tsuna – Played by Shintaro; one of the Four Guardian Kings; uses a sword and bow; likes flirting with demons
Sakata no Kintoki – Played by Hongo Kojiro; one of the Four Guardian Kings; uses a battle axe; mountain man extraordinaire
Urabe no Suetake and Usui Sadamitsu – The two other Guardian Kings who aren’t featured as much in the film–sorry dudes

=The Bad Guys=
Shuten-dôji – Played by Hasegawa Kazuo; formerly known as Bizen; leader of the Mt. Oe bandits; hates the Mikado; wears a funky wig
Ibaraki-dôji – Lady vixen sorceress who turns into a really ugly demon-woman. Major turn-off.
Tsuchigomo – A creepy sorcerer who throws string to tie people up; turns into a giant spider when pissed off
A dude that turns into a giant bull, forgot his name; has bad breath
Lots of bandits with bad hair?

For more info (and spoilers): This website has a pretty detailed story or just use wikipedia?

Movies based on famous plays/novels and history always create a special spectacle especially when they involve legendary characters. Few are more famous than Minamoto no Yorimitsu and his Four Guardian Kings. For the most part, the film follows the legend very well, from Ibaraki-dôji’s encounter with Tsuna, down to the final plan Minamoto no Yorimitsu hatches in order to defeat the bandits. However, Tanaka chooses to sympathize with Shuten-dôji and gives him ample screen time (well they should considering how much they probably paid Hasegawa). They develop his character and his reason for becoming the leader of the bandits, and from the opening scene we can see Tanaka’s condemnation of the abusive Mikado. Sure, Raiko and the gang are the heroes of the film, and they’re on the Mikado’s side, but the Mikado is portrayed as, perhaps, the greater evil here. This humanization of the the villain leads to a more interesting conflict, and certainly a more interesting final showdown (which of course is always inevitable).

The main spectacle here, of course, is the idea of putting two cool things together and making them kill each other: samurai and monsters + bandits. A large battle in the mountains with hundreds of extras, elaborate sets, flaming giant rocks, a giant spider, a giant bull, bandits with terrible hair, cool battle armor, a glowing sword, and cheezy 60’s special effects are just some of the things you’ll see in this extravaganza. They certainly went all-out in trying to recreate the legend, and for the most part the movie succeeds. It does not encumber itself with life lessons and overt political nonsense and never tries to be anything more than a retelling of this memorable tale.

conclusion
If you like samurai, history/literature lessons, and 60’s monster movies, this has it all. With a superb cast of superstars and an interesting interpretation of the famous legend, Demon of Mt. Oe is both educational and fun. Always a good combination if you ask me.

things to take note of
The funny yokai/monsters
The all-star cast

best moment
Raizo vs. Kazuo
Hongo Kojiro heaves his battle axe
Samurai vs Giant Spider

why you should watch this
An all star cast of jidaigeki STARS (not just regulars)
Learning about Japanese culture/folklore is always fun when supplied by movies

rating: 8.1

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

similar movies, maybe:
Honestly haven’t watched many Kaiju-jidaigeki

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

genres

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