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Shokei no shima / Punishment Island

Shokei no shima / Punishment Island (1966)

I love covers that give absolutely no clues about the movie. Like this one

Director: Shinoda Masahiro
Writers: Ishihara Shintaro, Takeda Taijun
Date: 1966

Genre: Drama
Description: Revenge, exile, flashback, juvenile delinquent, penal colony

Cast: Nitta Akira, Mikuni Rentaro, Iwashita Shima, Sato kei, Komatsu Hosei, Tonoyama Taiji

Crew of note: Music by Takemitsu Toru

Runtime: 88 mins.
Color: Color
Trivia: Shinoda and Iwashita got married in 1967 after this film was released.

summary
Saburou, a man with a mysterious past, is on his way back to Kojima Island to look for Otake, a man with whom he bears a grudge. Through a series of flashbacks we discover his connection with the island and the man he is looking for, and why he has returned after 2 decades. There he meets Matsue, a bully from his past, Kuroki, an old teacher and Aya, a beautiful girl he once knew, before finally finding Otake.

review
If you like jidaigeki and yakuza eiga like me, then you’ve definitely heard of Sadojima (Nichiren was a famous exile there) or Abashiri Prison (of Abashiri bangai-chi fame, starring Takakura Ken) or a host of other nameless prison islands. The Japanese seem to enjoy throwing criminals into exile, and they even have a word for it: Shimanagashi (literally, island exile). Kojima, featured in this movie, is a fictional penal island for juvenile delinquents.

Shokei no shima / Punishment Island (1966)

They look so happy playing with a dead eel ;_;

It’s not hard to imagine why Saburou is returning to Kojima–the title is Punishment Island for cripe’s sake. And while it’s made clear from the very start that he’s there for some revengin’, it is the way Shinoda reveals Saburou’s tortured past through small, repetitive and overlapping flashbacks that makes this such a great movie. The plot develops slowly, almost painfully slow, as we feel Saburou’s escalating anxiety, almost a morbid excitement, that’s built up over years and years of waiting for the right time to come back. And once there, will he or won’t he?

The choice of having a totally anonymous actor in Nitta Akira to play the lead adds to the tension; his is a new face that we’ve never scene before, with strong, coarse features and an unknown past. The audience has nothing to recall about him even as an actor, and that mystery is a big part of what makes his character so compelling. His performance is chilling and intense; you can just imagine him being beaten and scarred as a child. Mikuni’s work as Otake is also brilliant as ever.

Shokei no shima / Punishment Island (1966)

Take note of that crutch. It will surprise you near the end

Last but not the least, the movie is stunning–which is pretty obvious given it’s Shinoda. Iwashita on a cliff with an undulating background; the long take at the end with a kanon statue on the table; the grayed and filthy children on the rocky hills; Kojima in the background as Saburou looks on from a boat; the many long takes and long shots; the isolation in every frame. An island is just a pile of rocks and yet Shinoda makes it seem so much more. There may be no walls and the ocean may seem traverse-able (how is this not a word?), but Saburou’s island of Kojima has kept him imprisoned even after 20 years.

Shokei no shima / Punishment Island (1966)

Kojima: a big big pile of rocks and murderin

conclusion
The way Shinoda stages scenes is a sight to behold. It is no exaggeration to say that the last major scene is one of Shinoda’s best, and perhaps it’s one of the earliest signs of his curiosity in using traditional performance art (Bunraku in Shinju: Ten no amijima; Kabuki in Buraikan; here just a stage play, and only really in the last scene) in his movies. This may not be the best place to start with Shinoda, but if you’ve seen his other films and enjoyed them, this will definitely be another blessing.

things to take note of
Amazing pictures of the island
The long shots
Isoooolaaaation

best moment
The last scene in the house and how amazing it is

why you should watch this
Another excellent Shinoda. That guy just never fails to impress me.

rating: 8.6

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

similar movies, maybe:
Movies about islands and isolation? Uhm, Hadaka no shima / Naked Island?

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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

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.

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

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