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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, T么no Eijir么

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.

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Warai no daigaku / University of Laughs

Warai no daigaku / University of Laughs (2004)

Shown: 1/3 of the movies sets. Not shown: Comedy

Director: Hoshi Mamoru
Writers: Mitani Koki
Date: 2004

Genre: Comedy
Description: Writing a comedy play, 1940’s Japan, censorship, improving your script, an odd duo, stage play turned movie, play within a play within a play within a movie…?

Cast: Yakusho Koji, Inagaki Goro

Crew of note:

Runtime: 121 mins.
Color: Color
Trivia: Based on Mitani Koki’s play

summary
Hajime is writing a play for his troupe, but there’s a new censure in town, Sakisaka Mutsuo, and he takes his job pretty seriously. The writer brings his play for approval, but it is deemed “not nationalistic enough.” The stern but amusingly enthusiastic censure decides to give him some tips. Laughing happy funtimes ensue!

review
With only two recurring characters, 3 settings (censors office, street, theater), two chairs and a table, the movie may seem simplistic. The plot certainly suggests so. As a slapstick comedy, its potential for big laughs is generally the only thing that audiences look for. What you will find here, however, is an intelligent script about the nature of scriptwriting that delivers both laughs and insight into playwriting. I suppose you can call it “meta”, because even though it doesn’t self-reference itself as a comedy, its background as a comedy play about writing comedy plays, and the way the movie relies on the unpredictability of the writing process as its plot, source of comedy, and main narrative structure… maybe you should over-analyze after the movie’s over instead. Anyway!

The laughs. Yes, the movie is funny, and even funnier if you know Japanese (some of the puns will escape you otherwise, even with the best subtitles). The two characters are enthusiastic about their work, move in the same way as their period contemporary comedies (exaggerated movements and facial expressions, etc), and are at odds with each other about almost everything. They clash constantly, and their unlikely writing tandem results in many, many laugh out loud moments.

Many comedies end after forcing its characters into unpredictably absurd situations. But there is an end result to its characters’ interactions: a comedy. You get a comedy, they get a comedy. It’s an interesting thought, one I’m sure I thought about way too much. Narrative structure, the play-like execution, the plot itself… all really intelligent, as if it’s impossible that the laughs were even the point of the movie. Laughs as a side-effect of Mitani’s inquiry into the process of scriptwriting? I’m not sure, I was laughing too hard. Looks like I failed Hoshi and Mitani’s University of Laughs (see what I did thar harharhar).

conclusion
An enjoyable film with an intelligent script. There aren’t many metafictional comedies, but this one strikes gold.

things to take note of
Steak of the nation
Yakusho Koji’s deadpan-to-comedian transformation
Idiot’s Guide to Writing Comedy

best moment
Raaaatatatatatat police! Halt! HAHAHAHA

why you should watch this
Intelligent comedies are usually even better than intelligent dramas
Dude, maybe I can write comedies too

rating: 9 (yes, really)

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

similar movies, maybe:
I’m not sure. Stranger Than Fiction? I don’t think there’s even a single Asian in that movie. Intelligent meta-ish comedies are hard to find, y’know. Man, I hate that word.

Zui hao de shi guang / Three Times

Zui hao de shi guang / Three Times (2005)

Three times in one movie? Well color me jealous

Director: Hou Hsiao Hsien
Writers: Chu T’ien Wen, Hou Hsiao Hsien
Date: 2005

Genre: Love Story
Description: 3 stories, 3 different time periods but 1 love story, 1911, 1966, 2005, symmetry, beauty, communication, love

Cast: Shu Qi, Chang Chen

Crew of note: Cinematographers of China/Taiwan/HK: Lee Pin Bing (who worked this one) >= Christopher Doyle 馃檪

Runtime: 132 mins.
Color: Color
Trivia:

summary
1911
Shu Qi works in a brothel, and Chang Chen wants her
1966
Chang Chen is a visiting soldier who encounters Shu Qi at a pool bar
2005
Chang Chen and Shu Qi…. hang out?

That’s probably the worst summary I’ve ever made, but I don’t think there’s any point in discussing the summary. Actually, they’re arranged 1966, 1911 and 2005. All you need to know is it’s three love stories, three stories about alienation, loneliness, communication, and connectedness.

review
It is difficult for me to explain why I love this so much. There are three stories, but in fact very little happens, and little is said. However, a lot is shown and the differences in each time period’s things, or materiality if you can call it that, that belie the similarities in their symbolism and themes is fascinating. The radio and pool table, the jewels and old dresser, the bike and the electronics… just some of the objects that fill Hou’s time periods.

Though the three segments can seem detached from one another, the use of the same characters creates solidarity, and in fact adds a layer of possibilities to the movie’s meaning. Could they be the same souls that find each other three times? Are they the same people that live out different lives dictated by circumstances and history? Why do they keep finding each other? What are they thinking to each other (as if they know what the other thinks)? I believe it is a mistake to ask questions in a review, yet many of these questions I still consider long after having seen the film, which probably would not have happened had Hou used three different sets of actors. Chang Chen and Shu Qi shine, and throughout the three segments I had this strange feeling that they were the same characters. And really, this is a good thing.

Wrap this all up in Lee Pin Bing’s beautiful colors, and Hou’s unintrusive, silent and still camera, and you’ve got a pretty picture with pretty actors in this beautiful film. Perhaps I have yet to make a good case for the movie, but I am at wits end. There are just some films that strike a cord in your deepest self, and this is one such movie that has absolutely moved me. I really don’t know what else to say.

Note: Some reviewers mention that Hou has more fleshed out versions of these segments in his other films, but this is wrong. Some compare 1911 to Flowers of Shanghai, but the events are almost 50 years apart. 1966 is about 20 years too early to be similar to Hou’s three personal 1980s films (A Time to Live, Dust in the Wind, and Summer at Grandpa’s). They might explore the same themes, but that’s about it. The only real similarity is in 2005 and Millennium Mambo, especially since they both star Shu Qi in a seemingly identical role. Still, 1/3 isn’t a good score. So this is certainly unique in Hou’s filmography.

conclusion
Hou isn’t known for his love stories (this is his only one, really), but his trademark themes of alienation, loneliness, communication, and connectedness–all essential yet possibly overlooked in the understanding of love–are explored with such insight that this becomes a truly special movie. The use of the same 2 actors in all three segments adds yet another layer of possible meanings. It can be frustrating how Hou tells us very little, but if you have the patience to think about what these things mean, and what could be, Three Times can be an unparalleled experience. This is a masterpiece.

things to take note of
Chang Chen and Shu Qi, their characters, and how they communicate
The different ways the three parts are filtered (the color)
The light
The many symbols, possible meanings, etc.

best moment
1911
The beginning
1966
The empty billiard hall or the final scene
2005
The bike ride or the shots in the room

why you should watch this
Because Hou Hsiao Hsien is one of my favorite directors, and this is my favorite of his
One of the most beautifully colored and shot movies of this and most decades
Chang Chen
Shu Qi
The lighting is brilliant
Hou is a master of alienation/connectedness and loneliness/communication themes
I made a review for this even though I had nothing substantial to say (and I probably just babbled above), just so this movie could be represented on here

rating: 9 – it would be more, but it’s a movie that is easy to find frustrating/boring, so I hesitate to hike it up. Otherwise it’d be more like a 9.4

scorecard
Plot: B
Cast: A
Cinematography: A
Music: A
Entertainment: B+ (at least for me)

similar movies, maybe:
Dolls by Kitano Takeshi, in that there are three stories and they are about love. Sort of. Different actors though, and all in the present.

Yurika / Eureka

Yurika / Eureka (2000)

Possibly: Ray-ban models after their limo breaks down

Director: Aoyama Shinji
Writers: Aoyama Shinji
Date: 2000

Genre: Drama
Description: Moving on, life after a tragedy, busjacking, murder, whodunnit, road movie, quiet characters, learning to live, rediscovering life

Cast: Yakusho Koji, Miyazaki Aoi, Miyazaki Masaru, Saito Yoichiro, Mitsuishi Ken, Ono Machiko, etc.

Crew of note: Jim O’Rourke and Aoyama, along with Yamada Isao and Albert Ayler, scored the movie

Runtime: 217 mins. (yes, 3 hours and 40 minutes)
Color: Sepia-toned BW. Or does that count as color?
Trivia: Helpless (1996) by Aoyama is somewhat of an unconnected prequel, and Sad Vacation (2007) ties both together

summary
Kozue and Naoki, two kids off to school one day, get on Makoto’s bus and take a seat in the back. Wrong place at the wrong time I suppose, as a crazed busjacking madman holds all the passengers hostage with a gun. A shoot out ensues, and only Makoto, Kozue and Naoki survive. Faced with the pressure of raising two traumatized children, their mother decides to leave their home, leaving them with no parents. Makoto, filled with inexplicable emotions that resemble guilt and disenchantment, visits the children only to discover that they are alone. He decides to stay, and they try to rediscover life after their shared tragedy.

review
3:40. It may seem like a daunting number, or an over-indulgent one. But truly, this is a movie that deserves to be even longer. Deep, quiet, somber.. all these words can describe this film. But the entire movie moves with so little words that it seems unfair to pin it with them. The two children barely speak, yet everything they do and everything that happens to them, is a voice of so much more meaning. The characters are some of the most human you will ever meet on screen: sincere, honest, fragile, conflicted… never over-wrought or contrived. They are never perfect; in fact they are often quite frustrating, but it is impossible not to feel a genuine concern for them. I can’t even say enough about Miyazaki Aoi, who is stunning in this film.

The sepia-toned black and white with slow, barely moving shots (mostly stills and slow panning shots) are similar to the pace and characters. Beautiful and meaningful, of course. Music is sparse yet effective. If you know who Jim O’Rourke is, and if you’ve watched other Aoyama movies, you know the music will be a treat.

This is truly about life, the courage to live on, and the process of rediscovering yourself and your life after tragedy. The minor episodes that make up the rest of their lives should be seen and not anticipated by reading a review. I have not yet seen another movie with such a theme that rivals this, and it truly deserves its running time. Many consider this to be a depressing film, but it more frequently made me smile watching their endless days unfold. I’ve babbled so far; if only silence could be adequately conveyed with words.

conclusion
If you have 3:40 worth of free time, with absolutely no distractions, WATCH THIS MOVIE. Best with a good pair of headphones in a quiet room.

things to take note of
How the color affects the over-all appearance of the film
The two kids’ faces
Miyazaki Aoi

best moment
Is it wrong if I say I love Miyazaki Aoi?

why you should watch this
One of the most beautifully colored films evar
Miyazaki Aoi’s silent performance
It doesn’t feel like 3:40
Humanistic. Maybe even inspiring?

rating: 9

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

similar movies, maybe:
Gaichu / Harmful Insects by Shiota Akihiko (also with Miyazaki Aoi)
Riri Shushu no subete / All About Lily Chou-Chou by Iwai Shunji
9 Souls by Toyoda Toshiaki because they ride in a bus?

Taki no shiraito / Water Magician

Taki no shiraito / The Water Magician (1933)

Hard to make a joke when they look that serious

Director: Mizoguchi Kenji
Writers: Izumi Kyoka (novel), Higashibojo Yasunaga, Masuda Shinji, Tateoka Kennosuke
Date: 1933

Genre: Drama
Description: A real love story, honor, to repay one’s debt, great kindness, an amazing woman, pure heartbreak

Cast: Irie Takako, Okada Tokihiko, Miyake Bontaro, Taki Suzuko, etc.

Crew of note:

Runtime: 110 mins.
Color: BW, Silent + Benshi
Trivia: Irie Takako was 22 when this was made. Amazing.

summary
Taki no Shiraito, a famous water magician (a circus attraction with water fountains), falls in love with the reckless, young Kinya or Kin-san, a poor student working odd-jobs to continue his law studies. He loses his job as a stagecoach driver after an incident with Taki no shiraito, but when they meet again, the woman swears to support Kin-san until he graduates. They part as she rejoins her troupe, and inevitably, they are destined to meet again.

review
Being a Mizoguchi film, you already expect complete and utter heartbreak. Although this is very early in his career, the fact that the movie already shows the great insight he has into the life of the woman is already striking. It is perhaps even more heartbreaking than all of Mizoguchi’s other movies because of its simplicity and lack of any overwrought circumstances. In fact, all the events in the movie are perfectly set up and foreshadowed; unlike many tragedies, the twist or cruel hand of fate is not arbitrary or pulled out of the director’s ass.

Amazing acting, even though there is the use of benshi (narration and voice over). I would have loved to have heard Takako’s voice. When she cries, in silence, dear lord it is probably one of the most amazing moments in silent film. Her face, the shot, the lighting, perfection. The relationship between the two leads is really what the movie is about, punctuated by their acting; some of the best in Japanese silents.

Although the movie is improperly preserved, there are many admirable shots, including the bridge scene (Tomo below, Kin-san above), and the talk between the two in the dark. And although this is a tragedy, the movie never frames them as failures; this is not a movie about how love succumbs to tragedy, but rather, the true success of kindness, honor, and love.

And the love between them is beautiful.

PS. Many will say that, like most Mizoguchi, the movie has a sad ending. I disagree. It is the perfect ending given the circumstances: their love, their honor, their duty to one another is preserved, is fulfilled.

conclusion
Not one of his more popular films, but my favorite Mizoguchi for a reason. Intimate, lovely, and a true story of love and honor.

things to take note of
The ending – why it absolutely had to end that way
Shots in the dark
Takako’s facial expressions

best moment
The bridge
When Taki no shiraito cries

why you should watch this

rating: 9

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

similar movies, maybe:
Other Mizoguchi films about how amazing women are

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