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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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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

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

Hadaka no shima / The Naked Island

Shindô Kaneto - Hadaka no shima / The Naked Island (1960)

An upgrade over nude beaches? Sadly, no.

Director: Shindô Kaneto
Writers: Shindô Kaneto
Date: 1960

Genre: Drama
Description: Stuck on an island, not so ordinary ordinary life, same shit different day, tragedy of life, uphill climb, the difficulties of life, trying to survive, life, living on, Sisyphusian

Cast: Tonoyama Taiji, Otowa Nobuko, Tanaka Shinji, Horimoto Masanori

Crew of note:

Runtime: 95 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia:

summary
A farmer’s family of 4 lives on an island in the Japan sea. Everyday they go to work, carrying soil and water from near the shores, and lugs them up the steep cliffs of their island. This is their life, everyday, for the rest of their lives.

review
Really, a poem more than a film, if that were possible; poetry in laborious motions. It is only fair that I admit, though, that the lack of dialogue can be a bit tiring for one’s attention, and it does take a certain attitude and disposition to do away with the contrivances of a seemingly imposed silence. The music tries to make up for it, and though a little melodramatic, it adds enough insight into each scene that dialogue is often hardly missed. The sounds of pikes cracking the ground, the blasting wind, the beaten shores, the flowing water, the chug of the motor… in fact there are few moments of absolute quiet, with the long spaces between the handful of words filled with ambient noises of their island.

The movie is shot with an almost documentary-ghost-observer like perspective. The intro and outro swoops are an interesting touch–almost like an introduction to National Geographic specials. There are many scenes to be admired, such as the boat scenes and the several long distance shots throughout the film. Documentary film making is supposed to show things as it is, with as little cinematic manipulation as conceivable. I don’t think such a thing is possible though (let’s not get into too theoretical a discussion), but Shindô truly tries to show the island naked of artifice. Again, not entirely possibly, but the effort sure is there.

This is, again (I seem to like reviewing movies like these), one with a very bare plot. The summary is pretty much it, with a few interesting events here and there. Though the looping and repetitive nature of the film feels tiresome, it does so to perfect effect because it is able to emphasize the redundant, never-ending cycle of their Sisyphusian lives. It is a difficult life, indeed, and Shindô is able to help us grasp that feeling of trappedness, the ennui of a tedious life of labor. Yet, at the same time, it is possible to understand the characters, their diligence in the face of a neverending task, and be affected by the great drama that Shindô shows us.

conclusion
With an economy of words like no other, this movie is able to move. Shindô uses this silence, this resignation to fate, not only to humanize his characters, but to empathize with them as well. The lack of dialogue may be a deterrent for some–and I concede that there are one or two moments when the moment absolutely called for words–but the movie’s charm comes from this reservation. What more can be said?

things to take note of
Shots from long distances
The sounds of the island
Facial expressions

best moment
Boat rides
Climbing the cliffs

why you should watch this
Poetry in motion–this phrase finally makes some sense
If you think your life sucks, think again

rating: 8.6

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

similar movies, maybe:
Imamura Shohei’s “Profound Desire of the Gods”, only with crazy thrown into the mix and in color

Sonatine

Sonatine (1993)

I have no idea what this cover means, seriously

Director: Kitano Takeshi
Writers: Kitano Takeshi
Date: 1993

Genre: Yakuza, Drama
Description: Yakuzas at the beach having fun, gang wars, living life despite being a gangster

Cast: Kitano Takeshi, Terajima Susumu, Kokumai Aya, Osugi Ren, Watanabe Tetsu, Katsumura Masanobu, Zushi Tonbo, Yajima Kenichi, Minakata Eiji

Crew of note: Music by Joe Hisaishi

Runtime: 94 mins.
Color: Color
Trivia:

summary
Murakawa is a Yakuza quickly rising through the ranks, accumulating influence and power along the way. Rival bosses and the Godfather start to get jealous, and they send him and his gang to Okinawa to settle a gang dispute that everyone knows is impossible to fix. After a few mishaps along the way, Murakawa and his buddies decide to hide out for a while, before contemplating their next move.

review
Tattoos, guns, violence, hot chicks and black Mercedes Benzes. These are usually the things associated with Yakuza, along with a reputation for being cool badasses that cut off their fingers and shoot people. Lots, and lots, and lots of people. Though there’s a lot of violence in this movie (machine guns, grenades, blabbybla), for long stretches it’s easy to forget that the central gang in this film is a bunch of ruthless gangsters.

This is one of the few movies that shows a group of Yakuza not being yakuza. Not exactly “normal lives” because of the circumstances, but certainly more normal than their everyday activities. The film “humanizes” them–I suppose that’s the terminology–, but the more appropriate thing to say, I think, is that the characters are simply allowed to do nothing, to get bored, and to experience the monotony of.. a bunch of guys stuck at the beach. Bored out of their nuts. And it’s fascinating.

Kitano is known for serene moments interrupted by bouts of violence–it’s his thing–and we’ve seen it many times since. That doesn’t make it any less effective, because Kitano, Terajima and the lot are all natural comedians in Yakuza’s tattoos. It’s almost a frat-comedy, but with guns, blood and middle-aged men.

In the end, the movie still sticks to some Yakuza film formulas, and once you’ve seen enough Kitano, it’s easy to predict what will happen.. but this really is just another Yakuza movie, with the “boring” parts include.

conclusion
We all know movie Yakuzas are badasses. But what happens when they’re bored (in between jobs)? Well, pretty much this movie, sandwiched between their normal Yakuza lives. Fascinating really is the word, because this is a side of Yakuza not often seen, not often heard, not often this interesting.

things to take note of
The comedy + the violence
The gang’s transformation as they hide out

best moment
GRENADE!!!
Sumo wrestling
Laundry and shower day

why you should watch this
A Yakuza comedy action drama
Kitano shows a bit of his comedy side along with his tough Yakuza routine
Susumu Terajima, the omnipresent sidekick

rating: 8.6

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

similar movies, maybe:
Hana-bi, directed by Kitano
I don’t think there are many movies where Yakuza’s actually do any of the things they do

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