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Koshikei / Death By Hanging (1968)

Ôshima Nagisa - Koshikei / Death By Hanging (1968)

Maybe we should poke him just to check?

Director: Oshima Nagisa
Writers: Fukao Michinori, Sasaki Mamoru, Oshima Nagisa, Tamura Tsutomu
Date: 1968

Genre: Black Comedy
Description: Capital punishment, black comedy, racism, non-linear structure, surrealism

Cast: Sato Kei, Watanabe Fumio, Adachi Masao, Ishido Toshiro, Toura Rokko, Yu Do-yun

Crew of note: Oshima Nagisa is also the narrator

Runtime: 1 hr 57 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia:

summary
A Korean man is sentenced to death by hanging, but survives the execution. For the following two hours, his executioners try to work out how to handle the situation, and none of them have a clue.

Koshikei / Death By Hanging (1968)

So.. his head goes into the loop right?

review
I usually feel a little guilty about laughing at black comedies. The situations, under normal circumstances, aren’t supposed to be funny at all, yet the director is somehow able to manipulate a few chuckles out of me. I feel cheated and used. But somehow in a good way.

So I definitely got used by Oshima. Repeatedly. And I enjoyed it.

This is black farce at its finest because Oshima never pulls punches or stops short of saying something he might regret. The film tackles a ton of issues–racism, capital punishment, religion, militarism, if it was an issue in Japan during the 60s, this movie has it–that will unfortunately fly over almost everyone’s heads (probably, unless you lived there at the time). But he tackles all these head on and with very little tact that it’s possible to understand what he’s trying to say, or at least appreciate the way he’s trying to say it. It doesn’t always work–there are times that the film feels too propagandistic and didactic (I can imagine some sensitive people being offended)–but the use of farce to shove all of these issues into a small execution hall makes it tolerable.. even fun.

Koshikei / Death By Hanging (1968)

Well it certainly look like they're having fun

This farce is supplemented by an equally strange and unpredictable narrative structure. It might be a spoiler to say it, but even with the knowledge that Koshikei moves through various modes of storytelling, it’s still surprising when it happens. Sometimes even a little unnerving. The film starts off as a drama, then descends into a mad black comedy, acquires traits of a documentary that quickly spins into surreality, or maybe it was just a dream sequence or someone’s imagination? All without very little warning. Oshima toys with reality in Koshikei, and though largely confusing, the absurdity works. If that makes any sense.

Koshikei / Death By Hanging (1968)

This makes absolutely no sense

If there’s one “problem” with the movie, it’s that Oshima tries a little too hard to smash home his ideas. The movie drags on after a while, and his unfettered criticism of various topics is often too propagandistic and one-sided for my taste. This lack of conciseness eventually builds to a slight sour taste, but not nearly enough to ruin what happens before it.

conclusion
Oshima’s funniest movie? Definitely! It’s also a good summary of various social issues in Japan during the 60s mixed into a very interesting, and very confusing, narrative structure. Even if you don’t enjoy the serious aspects of the film, at the very least you’ll get a few laughs.

things to take note of
Transition from different modes: faux-docu, surrealism, dream sequence, ??semi-reality??
The issue regarding Koreans in Japan
Oshima’s views on social issues (he’s the narrator, remember)

best moment
Oh **** what are we gonna do now?

why you should watch this
Great narrative structure, though confusing
Suspiciously hilarious

rating: 8.1

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

similar movies, maybe:
Unfortunately I’m drawing a blank.

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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

Dubei dao / The One-Armed Swordsman

Dubei dao / The One-Armed Swordsman (1967)

Not shown: Fang Gang trying to tie his shoelaces

Director: Chang Cheh
Writers: Ni Kuang, Chang Cheh
Date: 1967

Genre: Wuxia
Description: A one armed swordsman, trying to forget your past life, repaying kindness, an evil plot, saving one’s master and brothers, doing the right thing, giving up kung fu

Cast: Jimmy Wang Yu, Chiao Chiao, Pan Yin Tze, Tang Ti, Tien Feng, Yang Chih-Ching

Crew of note: Tang Chia and Lau Kar Leung acted as action directors

Runtime: 112 mins.
Color: Color
Trivia:

summary
As a child, Fang Gang witnesses his father, a servant at this famous martial arts school, save Master Qi from the Long-Armed Devil. Upon his death, Master Qi takes Fang Gang as one of his students to repay the father for his sacrifice. More than a decade later, Fang Gang becomes on of the school’s best students, but is looked down upon by the others because of his background. They ostracize him, and eventually force him to leave the school. An accident causes Fang Gang to lose an arm, and he decides to give up martial arts until…

review
A great wuxia movie that deserves its reputation, but what really sets it apart is a plot that goes much deeper than your average revenge or honor plot. There’s actual character development (gasp!), and Wang Yu shows that he can actually act, despite the fact his face really stays the same shape no matter what he does. Fang Gang actually has some depth to him, and his armlessness, his past, and his future all present difficulties that he faces with much reflection, and not just with testosterone. His motives are explained, and we are enlightened about the character’s feelings, and his true wishes. Some might be screaming “cut to the action already!!” during these more timid scenes, but they truly make the film more enjoyable because of the sympathy one feels for our reluctant hero.

Though there are now many “one last job” movies, this could have been one of the first (this is just a guess), and perhaps the most real in terms of plot development. Again, Chang Cheh shows that with enough thought, these types of movies can have some depth. They won’t change your life forever, but at least your brain gets some exercise, not just your fist. Doing fist pumps of awesomeness. The only thing really lacking is music, which was a great addition in the beginning but suddenly disappears (or at least fades away) halfway into the film.

Fang Gang is the quintessential anti-hero. He has given up martial arts and has found something else that he loves more than kung fu. However, circumstances force him to act against his wishes, and throughout the movie it is impossible to forget the conflict that boils inside him. Thus there is a greater build up of tension and greater satisfaction in denouement. And he kicks ass.

conclusion
This isn’t one of the most magical or technically brilliant wuxia you’ll ever see, but what truly sets it apart is the unique hero that is Fang Gang. Yes, there’ll be tons of blood. Yes, things will get severed. And yes, swords and other weapons will be swinging wildly. But at the same time, you will care about our reluctant hero, and sympathize with his every difficult decision. Enjoy the action, but pay attention to the story.

things to take note of
The amount of drama time Fang Gang gets
The arm
The number of people that die
and the action of course

best moment
Fang Gang becomes the one armed swordsman

why you should watch this
Lots of action and… death (which is a good thing I guess)
There’s a lot more characterization than most swordplay movies
Chang Cheh + Lau Kar Leung + Jimmy Wang Yu. Duh.

rating: 8.1

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

similar movies, maybe:
The other two One-Armed Swordsman movies
Other Chang Cheh films, maybe The Brave Archer
Swordsman by King Hu / Tsui Hark / others

genres

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