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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.

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Kokyô / Home From the Sea

Kokyô / Home from the Sea (1972)

Only a Japanese and Chinese DVD exist I think. Once again English people I'm disappointed

Director: Yamada Yôji
Writers: Miyazaki Akira, Yamada Yôji
Date: 1972

Genre: Drama
Description: Dumping rocks into the sea, the times they are a-changing, tradition, ordinary life, the importance of work, home

Cast: Igawa Hisashi, Baisho Chieko, Ryu Chishu, Maeda Gin, Ito Mayumi, Atsumi Kiyoshi, Ito Chiaki

Crew of note: Music by Satô Masaru

Runtime: 101 mins.
Color: Color
Trivia:

summary
Seichi and Minko are a husband and wife, captain and engineer team working a boat in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea. They collect rocks from construction sites in the area, and dump them into the ocean with their rusty fickle ship. As Japan continues to develop its post-War economy, bigger businesses are opening up in the region, putting their livelihood in danger. Despite all his efforts, Seichi, proud of his work as a boat captain, is having difficulties making ends meet. His brother-in-law offers to introduce him to a shipping company in nearby Onomichi, but Seichi is hesitant; is he ready to uproot his family and move on, give up his work, his boat, and his home?

Kokyô / Home from the Sea (1972)

Not a shipwreck. That's actually their boat.

review
In the West, Yamada Yôji = Tasogare seibei / Twilight Samurai. This is inevitable, because its pretty much the only Yamada film to get much acclaim, to get any screen time outside of Japan. Actually, Tasogare Seibei isn’t even what Yamada is known for in his homeland. There, he is known as the director of Tora-san, a film series about some lovable oaf that went on for 48 films and 25 years. You really can’t be blamed if you’re surprised that Tasogare Seibei is his 70th or so film. Yikes.

Once starting his journey with Tora-san, Yamada films outside the series became somewhat infrequent, at least, compared with his amazing output for it. One of these, and perhaps one of his most memorable, is Kokyô / Home From the Sea. By the 70s, many of the most popular directors were either part of the Japanese New Wave movement or made Kaiju-eiga or Yakuza-eiga. Even pinku-eiga directors were more popular during the 70s. Traditionalists, concerned with the state of old, rural Japan, in presenting it as it is without the embellishments of Marxist theory or fancy film techniques, were, to my knowledge, not quite as common, or at least not as well known. But films like these, about the changing world and persons and families trying to keep up, are timeless; you could transport this tale to today or 60 years ago, and it would still be true, still be significant.

I always find these chronicles of small struggles–small according to the writers of epics and history books anyway–fascinating. At worst they are uneventful, generic and inconsequential. But at their best, they can be moving, unique yet familiar, and very very powerful.

Kokyô / Home from the Sea (1972)

In Japan, engineers are allowed to be cute

What I loved most about this movie is how elegantly it traces the difficulties of arriving at a decision. Where most films would focus on what happens after a decision is made–in comedy, a success, in tragedy, a failure–Yamada stops at the choice itself. The result, it seems, is not quite as important, not quite as valuable as the decision to endeavor. It’s not a cliffhanger or a truncated and incomplete story, as many of those used to more traditional story-telling, where the outcome is the true prize of the narrative, will feel. It isn’t to say that the outcome is irrelevant, of course it’s relevant, but it is how Seichi and his family come to their decision, and what they decide, that is truly meaningful here.

conclusion
I like blood, bombs and boobs as much as the next guy, but there is also something to be gained from this kind of movie. It might not be entertainment, it might not be arousal, but there is a kind of satisfaction that I don’t think the English language quite understands, is quite capable of expressing. In Japanese, there is such a thing as “mono no aware”, which I wouldn’t deign to translate or explain, but it is present in movies like this. I can’t say that I completely understand it yet, I doubt many people from anywhere do, but after seeing many great films like this, I feel like it starting to become something familiar, something I love.

things to take note of
The boat and how they work it
The relationships in the family
Ryu Chishu in a post-Ozu role. he looks.. really old?

best moment
The last day before doing what they decided
Slow motion rocks

why you should watch this
Dumping rocks in the sea will never look this beautiful or be this touching

Kokyô / Home from the Sea (1972)

Or be this dangerous!

rating: 8.3

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

similar movies, maybe:
Dude, I gots tons of reviews about ordinary life already.

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

Rokudenashi / Good-for-Nothing

Rokudenashi / Good-for-Nothing (1960)

Yes those antacids were good for nothing 😦

Director: Yoshida Yoshishige
Writers: Yoshida Yoshishige
Date: 1960

Genre: Drama, Crime
Description: A bunch of good for nothing, spoiled brat and his friends, making the wrong decisions, trying to make a life worthwhile, punks, Japanese new wave, disenchanted youth

Cast: Tsugawa Masahiko, Takachiho Hizuru, Kawazu Yusuke, Yamashita Junichiro, Mishima Masao, Chino Kakuko

Crew of note: Music by Kinoshita Chuji (Yoshishige’s brother)

Runtime: 88 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia: Yoshida Yoshishige’s first film. He is often considered an important figure in Japanese new wave cinema

summary
Jun is part of a gang of misfits, literally good for nothings with absolutely nothing to do, one of which is a spoiled brat with a rich father. And what do you do when you’re bored? You party, go to the beach, mess around with people, and try to steal from your father. Not exactly a great idea, but at least it makes things exciting.

review
It is interesting how directors such as Oshima and Yoshida started out. During the early 60s, the Japanese movie industry was undergoing a crisis of sorts, with revenues dropping due to the introduction of the television. In an attempt to find new talent and create new, more interesting and contemporary films, young directors like the two above, were given opportunities at studios like Shochiku. Strange, when you consider how strict these companies were, and how they were known for limiting their directors’ creative freedom (from forcing scripts on them to rejecting ideas).

This generation of film makers, however, was finally given freedom to pretty much do as they pleased (at least, for the first few years until studios became more suspicious of the content of their films). Yoshida pumped out three films in his first 2 years in the director’s chair, and Rokudenashi is his first.

At the age of 27 and coming from a literature background, Yoshida turned to cinema because of his ire over the “stuffy academic milieu” (from Cahiers du Cinéma 1970), hoping to be a voice against the “predominantly industrial, commercial cinema.” A film about good-for-nothings is naturally a great topic, don’t you think? But what makes the film unique is that the use of the title, “Rokudenashi”, is not so much a condemnation, but a simple description of the way these young men want to be. If you expect a moral lesson or a cry of social concern over the degradation of the attitude of the young, well, you ain’t getting any. Instead Yoshida delivers a punch in the gut and a healthy dose of ride cymbals, existentialism, and poor decisions.

I’d like to propose that, perhaps, Rokudenashi is more an allegory for the incoming brand of film makers that were slowly starting to emerge as the best and brightest in Japan. “Fuck you politically correct studio executives, we’re going to do this shit anyway.” Life may be meaningless and absurd, but being cool, listening to cool music, and making out with chicks sure beats being lame and boring.

It’s hard to argue with Yoshida with pictures like this:

Rokudenashi / Good-for-Nothing (1960)

Tokyo is empty and he needs a toilet. SUSPENSE ENSUES

conclusion
This is an important film to see for Japanese new wave fans as an introduction to Yoshida’s style and influences. And if this movie can be summed up in a sentence, it will surely involve his glossy, jazzy style and translation of the French new wave. For some reason, he is not quite as well regarded as some of his contemporaries such as Suzuki, Imamura, Oshima, Masumura. But after seeing this film, it will be difficult to argue against the fact that this was one of the the most visually and musically stunning films in early Japanese new wave.

things to take note of
The jazzy jazziness
Some strange angles that are really brilliant
Tracking shots and movement

best moment
The screencap above

why you should watch this
Yoshida’s first film
Contains some brilliant shots; the one above is probably in my top 10

rating: 7.8

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

similar movies, maybe:
Oshima Nagisa’s Seishun zankoku monogatari
Masumura Yasuzo’s Kuchizuke

genres

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