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Shiroi kyotou / The Ivory Tower

Shiroi kyotou / The Ivory Tower (1966)

Yes, this movie is as serious as he looks.

Director: Yamamoto Satsuo
Writers: Hashimoto Shinobu, Yamasaki Toyoko
Date: 1966

Genre: Drama
Description: Medical drama, politics, success, greed, arrogance

Cast: Tamiya Jiro, Tôno Eijirô, Tamura Takahiro, Ozawa Eitarô, Ishiyama Kenjiro, Takizawa Osamu, Funakoshi Eiji, Katô Yoshi, Kishi Teruko, Ogawa Mayumi, Fujimura Shiho

Crew of note: Produce by Nagata Masaichi. According to imdb, Setsuko Hara makes an appearance, but I didn’t notice her.

Runtime: 2 hours 30 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia:

summary
Zaizen Goro may only be an assistant professor at Naniwa University, but he has already made a name for himself in Pancreatic surgery. He has become something of a rockstar in the medical world, and many sing his praises. Professor Azuma, his superior, however, does not approve of his attitude towards their profession, and is at odds over who to nominate as his successor. The selection of the new professor reveals a rich and complex political world inside Naniwa University–each player will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

Shiroi kyotou / The Ivory Tower (1966)

Not exactly puppydog eyes

review
Yamamoto Satsuo isn’t that popular a name. Very few of his films are widely available, and most of them belong to a single genre: jidaigeki. This is the same director that helmed the first two Shinobi no mono (starring Ichikawa Raizo as Ishikawa Goemon) films, and the 16th Zatoichi. I was surprised, then, to discover that this amazing movie was directed by the same man.

I honestly thought this was going to be a borefest. I’d never seen a non-action film from this director, and I’d read that the film was heavy on the dialogue. While it is true that the characters talk, argue, and debate nonstop, the film is far from boring. In fact, the political world Yamamoto creates has a striking resemblance to politically-tinged jidaigeki. Japan’s feudal tradition, after all, continued well beyond the Tokugawa era. Replace labcoats with kamishimo (formal samurai wear), scalpels with katanas and Pancreatic surgery with… uhhh.. Pancreatic chopping-ups and you get pretty much the same movie in a different time.

Another great thing about this movie is its balanced portrayal of the different factions. Despite the fact that the audience will automatically gravitate towards Zaizen (Yamamoto presents him in the introduction of the cast and crew, and the first scene he looks like a heroic figure), each side is equally desparate, equally determined, equally dirty. Yamamoto obviously feels no allegiance to any of his characters, and the film benefits from his objectivity.

While the film does focus on the traditional Japanese politics inside Naniwa University, the film is also a compelling drama about man’s ambition: a young man’s ambition for the future, an old man’s ambition to be remembered, a ruler’s ambition to retain the status quo, an idealists ambition to do what is right, etc. Each of the principal characters has a different personality and motivation, but most, if not all, end up acting the same way.

*Warning: You will see guts and gross stuff.

Shiroi kyotou / The Ivory Tower (1966)

Guts? He's beginning to regret that second bowl of udon

conclusion
There are many possible meanings one can interpret from the film–political or personal–and maybe it is dependent on the viewer’s own personality. Yamamoto, of course, only subtlely suggests that there is something to learn from the film’s events. It’s unclear if the characters even learn anything from what just happened, but by the look on their faces, it is hard to imagine they haven’t. This is, by far, Yamamoto’s best film, and certainly a memorable one from the 60’s.

things to take note of
Microcosm of Japanese politics
Who is the real protagonist? Who is the hero of the film?

best moment
Guts!
Inspection time x2
Tamura Takahiro’s puppydog face
Zaizen sr. is humiliated
The outcome?

Shiroi kyotou / The Ivory Tower (1966)

Professors get their own catwalk in Naniwa University, apparently

why you should watch this
Probably the best Japanese medical drama evar? Or at least from the 60s
Complex political world inside the frame of a university

rating: 9.2

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

similar movies, maybe:
Medical dramas focusing on politics? Not a lot honestly. But another good doctor-y movie is Masumura Yasuzo’s Akai tenshi / Red Angel.

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Tonari no Yae-chan / Our Neighbor, Miss Yae

Shimazu Yasujiro - Tonari no Yae-chan / Our Neighbor, Miss Yae

That sock gets a heck of a lot of attention

Director: Shimazu Yasujiro
Writers: Shimazu Yasujiro
Date: 1934

Genre: Drama, Shomin-geki
Description: Neighbors, friendship, young love, divorce

Cast: Aizome Yumeko, Obinata Den, Isono Akio, Iida Chouko, Okada Yoshiko, Katsuragi Ayako, Iwata Yukichi, Mizushima Ryotaro

Crew of note:

Runtime: 76 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia: Two famous directors acted as assistants on this film, Toyoda Shiro and Yoshimura Kozaburo.

summary
Two families live in rural or suburban Japan, somewhere in the Kansai region probably. The two families are quite close to each other; the two fathers are drinking buddies, the children are friends, and the mothers happily look out for the other family’s well being. One day, Kyouko, Yae-chan’s sister, comes home after leaving her husband whom she is unhappy with. Her arrival suddenly stresses the once peaceful pair of homes; the father becomes unhappy, the mother worried, the sister envious of her relationship with Keitaro.

review
Before seeing this movie, I thought Yae-chan would be an old hag living alone, throwing cats at passersby and drinking tea from a flower pot. Then people would find out she’s not actually a crackhead and the neighbors learn to love her. Then she dies and people remember her fondly, and not as the crazy lady with a mysteriously unending supply of cat ammo. I have absolutely NO idea why my brain made up this story, though I’d like to categorically deny childhood trauma and repressed memories. This was my second Shimazu film by the way.

Thankfully Tonari no Yae-chan is neither as absurd nor as depressing as my made-up-movie. In fact, it’s actually quite delightful. Sure, there’s the conflict created by the arrival of Kyouko, one that is sufficiently complex and complicated. The scenes with Kyouko are a little melodramatic, actually, but despite the fact that I’m not a fan of sappy melodrama, these moments didn’t really hurt that much.

What I enjoyed most about this film were the pointless everyday encounters between Yae-chan and Keitaro. There is something very natural, very modern about how they talk to each other, or actually, how they flirt with each other. Not only is it hilarious, it’s also quite unique, as I don’t remember any other film from the 30s with such a non-judgmental, care-free and modern picture of youth getting their flirt on. Really.

Shimazu Yasujiro - Tonari no Yae-chan / Our Neighbor, Miss Yae (1934)

Proof: Getting their flirt on

I was not pleased, however, with Yae-chan’s parents’ decision (spoilers*) at the end, though Shimazu pulls this back a little by isolating this decision to the two old people. Yae-chan’s far too lively, far too hopeful, indeed far too important for them to drag along. Some might consider it a little naive, how the movie ends just as it begins with the youngsters playing, but I’d like to think it’s more a result of an enthusiastic, positive outlook. And it’s during the best parts of the film, unencumbered by drama or farce, simply letting the neighbors be neighbors and live their normal happy lives, that Shimazu shines.

conclusion
The movie has some flaws. Ok, there are quite a bit of flaws, but it doesn’t dampen how enjoyable some of the best scenes are. I would have been more pleased if the film had continued showing the growing fondness between Keitaro and Yae-chan without having to insert Kyouko (the inevitable conflict), as their conversations and exchanges are some of the most relaxed and realistic from this age. Still, this is a fine film despite all my complaints, one that fans of old Japanese movies should certainly see.

things to take note of
The relationship and exchanges between Yae-chan and Keitaro
Yae-chan’s pretty cute

Aizome Yumeko in Tonari no Yae-chan

This cap kinda reminds me of Juri-chan's 'Okaaaaasaaan' moment from Swing Girls for some reason, which is awesome you know

best moment
Socks those dirty dirty socks

Tonari no Yae-chan / Our Neighbor, Miss Yae

Disclaimer: film does not include foot fetish scene

why you should watch this
Shimazu, though pretty unknown in the west I think, is considered one of the early masters of Japanese cinema, particularly the shomin-geki, movies about middle-class Japanese homes.

rating: 8.1

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

similar movies, maybe:
I’ve so far only seen one other Shimazu, Kon’yaku samba-garasu (1937), so maybe that one. It’s pretty good.

* According to Jacoby’s “A Critical Handbook of Japanese Film Directors”, Yae-chan’s parents’ decision to move to Korea is a not-so-subtle endorsment of Japanese imperialism. I was weirded out by the choice of moving to Korea, so maybe this is true, though I’d like to think it isn’t.

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

Kamyu nante shiranai / Who’s Camus Anyway?

Kamyu nante shiranai / Who's Camus Anyway? (2005)

They look like they're shooting.. nothing?

Director: Yanagimachi Mitsuo
Writers: Yanagimachi Mitsuo
Date: 2005

Genre: Drama, Metacinema?
Description: Making a student film, university students, love triangle, movie about a murder, acting

Cast: Kashiwabara Shuuji, Maeda Ai, Nakaizumi Hideo, Abe Shinnosuke, Tamayama Tetsuji, Yoshikawa Hinano, Honda Hirotaro, Kuroki Meisa, Isaki Mitsunori, Taguchi Tomorowo

Crew of note:

Runtime:
Color: Color
Trivia: The director’s first feature was “Godspeed You Black Emperor!”

summary
A bunch of students at a University are making a film entitled “The Bored Murderer.” On the way they face budget problems, a new lead actor, love triangles, logistics issues, a crazy girlfriend, and all the associated headaches of trying to organize a movie. Their mentor/teacher is a bit nuts, too, having not directed a movie in years and experiencing chronic depression after the death of his wife (2 years prior). Film making, tons of film references, and other stuff happen.

Kamyu nante shiranai / Who's Camus Anyway? (2005)

Stuff like this.

review
If you’re a film nerd, you need to pay attention to really appreciate this film, maybe even watch it twice. Though the references can be a little daunting, a little research can reveal a lot of interesting things about this movie. The first sequence is one of the more obvious, as Yanagimachi employs an impressive long shot as some students discuss, what else, their favorite long shots mentioning Mizoguchi, Altman, etc in the process. Even without any knowledge about most of the things they mention, it is still possible to pick up on the hidden meanings and subtle references within the film. Whenever a reference is made, it’s also usually a self-reference somehow. The only thing that disappointed me is that most of the names mentioned are American or European directors. The only Japanese name I remember them mentioning Mizoguchi.

Most of the movie is about the film making process, yeah, but not in terms of technical know-how or technique or genre conventions. Instead, a significant amount of time is spent on everyday activities that affect the making of the movie. As mentioned in the summary, they go through quite a bit of trouble trying to make ends meet, and this is pretty much the great struggle they have to overcome. Kinda like a university/student movie, only with tons of film references yeah?

The film’s greatest achievement though, is how successfully and intelligently it mixes reality, the reality of the film, and the fantasy within the film. That’s three levels of mindboggleyness right there that I can’t quite explain. See it, and you’ll know what I mean.

Btw SPOILERS AT THE BOTTOM.

conclusion
If you have an academic interest in film, see this movie. If you are interested in the process of filmmaking, see this movie. If you are interested in how murder-mystery movies are made, see this movie. There’s much to be learned and appreciated. I originally gave it a really high score after seeing it, but I let it sink in, and I can’t give the movie more than the score below. The ending is very creative and intelligently executed, actually it’s pretty amazing, but just like the students making “The Bored Murderer”, it’s just an exercise in film making, and I expect more than that from watching movies.

Kamyu nante shiranai / Who's Camus Anyway? (2005)

Film making = A bunch of students crammed into the back of a tiny pick up truck

things to take note of
Tons of references I didn’t catch
What happened at the end??

best moment
The ending

why you should watch this
Inventively blurs the lines between film and reality

rating: 7.9

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

similar movies, maybe:
None, probably

~~~

Don’t continue reading unless you want the movie spoiled?

Seriously, the movie will suck if you have it spoiled.

***

Maybe you should just come back once you’ve seen it?

[][][]

Still a warning, yup.

+++

I was too lazy to make another page for this, because, well, yeah, Lazy.

/\/\/\

I’m running out of symbols.

===

Ok that’s it.

!!!SPOILERS AHOY!!!

Kamyu nante shiranai / Who's Camus Anyway? (2005)

Sort of a spoiler, but not really

Ok then.

The ending is pretty much the one thing that makes the movie memorable, because without it, it’s just a film nerd’s melodrama. But the ending. Did the murder happen, or didn’t it? That’s probably a bigger mystery than the murder-mystery within the film. What? So let’s think about this again.

– This is when it gets really confusing, as the “student film” and the film we are watching begin to seemingly become merged. It is difficult to tell whether we are seeing a scene from the perspective of the students, or from the perspective of an audience watching these events occur.
– Since we do not know the script of their film, it is difficult to tell whether some of the following scenes are part of the script or not
– The crew and their camera never enter the house. We know that the murder scene is included in their film though, because they rehearse it, and some of the crew members remark that the director seems to glorify the violence in the script (so naturally, the murders should be shown). Even though he isn’t there it’s unlikely that they change the script drastically. It would be a pretty asshole move to change the script with the director in the hospital.
– When Ikeda hammers the old lady, it looks like it’s actually hitting (it’s a student film, so the hammer should either be a rubber mallet or miss entirely). Is it an actual murder, or are we seeing the student film? Is this the final version of the student film with special effects (aka ketchup), or is the murder real? It looks pretty real.
– It is difficult to tell whether Ikeda is still playing his role perfectly, or has transformed into the Bored Murderer himself.
– The scene where the old man knocks on the door is filmed twice (the first being a test shot), but Ikeda is only shown to react to it once, presumably the second time. If he were really going nuts, he would have noticed the first knock too. The second knock, which is the one they film, is the only one he reacts to.
– After knocking on the door, the old man knocks on the windows looking for his wife. Maeda’s character comments on the scene, and the old man nervously continues to knock looking for his wife. He enters into the house and looks for her. It is unclear whether this is a continuation of the scene or an actual event.
– The crew disappears after the scene of the old man knocking on the windows and the next time we see them, they are filming Ikeda’s escape. It is unclear whether the entire sequence with the old man is part of the film (our perspective and the students’ merging in this occasion; it would be funny not to include this scene in their movie) or an actual event.
– Ikeda stops in front of his bike, but decides to run instead. This is apparently congruent with the script because the crew are delighted. Is it all part of the script or did he actually decide to run instead?
_ The credits show the crew mopping up the blood. This is also ambiguous, because it could either mean: a.) They decide to keep the insurance money from the old lady’s death or; b.) It’s fake blood. The fate of the old man is not revealed, however.

Personally, I like to think that the murder did not take place. The student film will show the murder–one of the few parts of the script revealed. Combine this with the fact that the crew never enters the house, and it becomes plausible that when the movies move inside, the students’ camera and our camera become merged. Otherwise, they would not have been able to capture the murder scene, which they said they’d shoot first (so they definitely won’t come back to redo the inside shots). All the scenes that occur outside, which the students can see, all follow their script.

However, a more likely conclusion is that the murder is both real and unreal. We know that the director is merging both worlds, blurring the lines between reality and fantasy, between fiction and fact. That’s the whole point of the movie. Whether there was a murder or not is moot, because the director of the film wants to present a situation where it is impossible to tell the difference between the two realms. Also, the movie constantly refers to Camus and The Stranger. Experiences are only what they are and have no meaning after the fact. Existentialism absurdism blablabla. So, fuck it, I just wasted my time typing all that.

Eien no hito / Immortal Love

Eien no hito / Immortal Love (1961)

Only a French DVD exists I think. English people, you disappoint me.

Director: Kinoshita Keisuke
Writers: Kinoshita Keisuke
Date: 1961

Genre: Drama
Description: Forced marriage, unhappy marriage, not quite a love story

Cast: Nakadai Tatsuya, Takamine Hideko, Sada Keiji, Otawa Nobuko, Tamura Masakazu, Totsuka Masaya, Ishihama Akira, Fuji Yukiko, Nonomura Kiyoshi, Kato Yoshi, Tôno Eijirô

Crew of note: Music by Kinoshita Chuji

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

summary
Heibei has just returned crippled from the Sino-Japanese war. He is the son of the town’s leader, living on what the village calls the family’s “mound”. He spots Sadako, who has turned into a beautiful woman in his absence. He immediately falls in love with her (more like lusts for her), but she in turn is in love with Takashi, who has yet to return from the war. Using his father’s position and influence, Heibei forces Sadako to marry him, and we witness 29+ years of their miserable life together. Also, Spanish flamenco music in Japanese?

review
Sounds like your average troubled marriage film, but unlike many such films that are either totally pessimistic or totally optimistic about the fate of the marriage, Eien no hito is.. sort of different. Reason: Heibei and Sadako are both jerks. Yup, a story about a married couple trying to make each other f’ing miserable. Sounds delightful!

Under some less able director or with a less talented cast, many of these characters would just end up as one dimensional charicatures, annoying and unbearable to watch. Nakadai is at his most vile (even worse than in his later Gosha starrers) and Takamine pumps out every last bit of her sarcasm and passive aggressiveness (accumulated from her Ozus and Naruses), yet it is not possible to say that they go so far as to become detestable. Their relationship is pretty messed up–and by that I mean really complex–and it’s a wonder why they’re still together apart from making each other miserable.

It sounds depressing, but not really. These periods of exceptional bitterness are sandwiched between longer periods of relative peace, where, I assume (because they aren’t shown), nothing really terrible happens. They just happen to be stuck in the same house together, is all.

The English title is Immortal Love, which makes you think it’s supposed to be a love story, or that there’s any love at all between Heibei and Sadako, and the title can be misleading, I think. In Japanese it only means “eternal person”, not necessarily someone you love (that would be “koibito” or some other term of affection). And perhaps this title is more accurate, granted a lot more ambiguous. They are just two people stuck together for life (under the social construct that is marriage). Whatever there is between them, love or hate or something else, well, you get to see and understand eventually.

But the film would not be what it is if it weren’t for the music and the matching cinematography. It’s 1961, and Kinoshita throws a curve ball straight at your head by using what is probably Spain’s national music style (I’m too lazy to research), flamenco, with a singing narrator. Sounds cheezy, maybe, but it works perfectly. The angled, abrupt start-stop style of music fits well with the characters’ similarly rigid and confrontational personalities. The film is also decidedly underexposed during many scenes, with flickering light and darkness and jagged outlines of rocks, mountains, and blades of grass. Quick, rapid cuts, slow pans and zooms, still shots are all used in a striking blend; you will notice when one is used over another. There are also some of the most beautiful looking clouds I’ve seen in a black and white movie: dark, ominous, lying low in the sky. Kinoshita probably used a red filter to get this look, maybe. It’s very pretty?

Nakadai Tatsuya in Eien no hito

Hatching an evil plot and recounting fond childhood memories look exactly the same, apparently

So, interesting characters, good story, amazing music and pictures. A good ending too.

conclusion
It’s an unlikely mix. In no way does the music resemble anything Japanese, except for the language, yet it works perfectly, and that in itself is a great achievement. It’s also surprising how a chronicle of two people’s crappy hate-filled relationship can be more interesting than a feel-good love story. I generally try to avoid definitive comparative statements, but to me, this is Kinoshita’s best film.

Takamine Hideko and Sada Keiji in Eien no hito

Insert el_flamenco_de_hapon_loco.mp3

things to take note of
The music!
The backgrounds/setting
Those clouds are purty

best moment
Whenever there is music

why you should watch this
The best use of flamenco music in a Japanese movie ever. Also, it’s my favorite movie among those I’ve seen in the past 2 months (out of around 40-50).

rating: 9

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

similar movies, maybe:
…that use flamenco? Nope, nada.

genres

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