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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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Taifû kurabu / Typhoon Club (1985)

Taifû kurabu / Typhoon Club (1985)

Sucks not to be part of the cool club

Director: Sômai Shinji
Writers: Kato Yuji
Date: 1985

Genre: Drama
Description: Ordinary life, highschool, growing up, coming-of-age film, desire, life

Cast: Mikami Yuichi, Kudoh Youki, Ônishi Yuka, Miura Tomokazu, Benibayashi Shigeru, Date Saburo, etc.

Crew of note:

Runtime: 1 hr 55 mins.
Color: Color
Trivia: Number 59 on Kinema Jumpo’s 100 Greatest Japanese Films

summary
In a high school somewhere outside Tokyo, a bunch of kids are growing up. One day a storm hits, and five of them get stuck inside the school at night while one takes an adventure to Tokyo.

review
I find it somewhat strange how difficult it is to find a review of this highly regarded film. 5 pages of results for both “taifu kurabu” and “typhoon club somai” only reveal 1 review: a thoroughly misguided NYTimes review from 1986, that likens it to a “more solemn… ‘Breakfast Club'”. What was this dude watching?

Taifû kurabu / Typhoon Club (1985)

Obviously not this movie

For a film considered among the best in Japanese cinema (in fact, number 59 on Kinema Jumpo’s list), there sure is very little about it in English. Yet I can understand this to some degree, because even I find it hard to say much about it. That isn’t to say that nothing in the film stands out to be remembered and discussed, but rather I am left with the question, “What else is to be discussed?” Sure, there are the conceits of cinema (such as the surprisingly articulate, philosophical, and detached Mikami), but for the most part, Taifu kurabu feels more like a documentary than anything else.

He shows you the world of these adolescents, in a common time, in a common place. Yes, the subject matter is difficult and maybe complicated; the events that take place are far from ordinary. Yet Somai treats his subject with such respect and sincerity that even the most sensitive scenes have a certain tenderness to them. Some will pan him for his “distance”, but not only does it show that said respect, but it also puts his characters in context, and allows a very meaningful emptiness to permeate the screen. The tenderness I speak of isn’t one that is manufactured by cuts, close ups and other cinematic techniques. Instead it is achieved because Somai allows everything space to breathe and time to build, settle, and linger in one’s memory. Those who demand a closeup don’t understand his intention. *

Taifû kurabu / Typhoon Club (1985)

Definitely not a common classroom

Maybe I am right to think that really, I have nothing to say about Taifu kurabu that isn’t pseudo-intellectual nonsense. Yet perhaps the desire to say something, to give this under-appreciated film a page just to say its name, is the best endorsement I can hope to give Somai’s creation.

conclusion
Japanese cinema has a great tradition of making ordinary life seem so meaningful and fascinating. Taifu kurabu might not be about the ordinary, but everyone will find something here that will remind them or their youth. It is not because of generality–Somai’s world is one of a kind–but rather, because of the sincerity and tenderness, and occasionally ire, that we all, Somai included, feel for our own youth that is extended towards these characters.

things to take note of
The characters’ conflicts and pains
How Somai shoots sensitive scenes
Do you see yourself in one of them?

Taifû kurabu / Typhoon Club (1985)

Well, I'm definitely not the naked embarrassed guy!

best moment
Let’s dance!

why you should watch this
Great coming-of-age tale
Discusses many issues we all had while growing up
Maybe you’ll find something that reminds you of your youth

rating: 8

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

similar movies, maybe:
Can’t think of anything now, but it isn’t hard to find good movies about ordinary people and their not-so-ordinary lives

Note: I just did a google search 10 seconds after posting this review, and this review is number 1 for “taifu kurabu review” and on the first page for “typhoon club review”. Good news, I guess, but also somewhat disappointing, internetland!

* If you insist on knowing what I’m alluding to, then fine I’ll tell you. It’s the underwear dance numbers. Somai shoots these scenes from afar, and offers no close ups. I’m pretty sure a ton of people will squint, and even offer a zoomed image of it as the film’s best scene, but that’s pretty sad.

Joen / The Affair

Joen / The Affair (1967)

Not a bad affair if you ask me

Director: Yoshida Yoshishige (or Kiju)
Writers: Tamura Tsutomu, Yoshida Yoshishige
Date: 1967

Genre: Drama
Description: Love affair, love, marriage, extra-marrital affair, rape, identity, freedom

Cast: Okada Mariko, Minami Yoshie, Sugano Tadahiko, Shimegi Shigako, Kimura Isao, Takahashi Etsushi

Crew of note:

Runtime: 1 hour 32 mins
Color: Black and White
Trivia:

summary
Oriko’s and her mother had a difficult relationship. She knew of her mother’s relationships with men, and insisted she stop, interfering in the affair. Now that her mother has passed away, Oriko attempts to find out more about her from her lovers. Oriko herself is in an unhappy marriage; one without love. She wishes to divorce him, but her husband refuses. Through this dilemma she begins to understand her mother more and more, and that they are more alike than she thinks.

Joen / The Affair (1967)

'Oh mom you're such a slut'

review
Admittedly, this didn’t start that well for me. I’m not sure why, but I found myself uninterested for the first few minutes. The movie starts rather slow, and already comes out with an affair: Oriko’s mother and a much younger man. Okada Mariko, in fact, is just there to complain. Another movie about sarcastic, petulant women? Okay, probably not.

The film’s events are launched by her mother’s affair, and much of it revolves around love and love affairs. Yet what the film is truly about is Oriko’s discovery of herself, both as her mother’s daughter and as a woman. Her relationships with men–with her husband and with her mother’s lovers–all represent different parts of Oriko’s life. The juxtaposition of events (and rather clear dialogue) and character relationships creates a web of meaning brought about by contrast: freedom and comfort; submission and animal desires; choice and depth. We discover with Oriko who she really is, and what she really wants–one or the other, both, all, or none at all.

This is all created with about as much silence as conversation, and Yoshida proves himself a worthy student of Ozu in how he strings together images to surround events with more meaning and context. The beach, the forest, those long walks alone or with a companion, the smalled room (through close up), the cabin, her large but seemingly empty house… the camera is also one of the principal story tellers.

Joen / The Affair (1967)

I guess she isn't a fan of furniture

If the film has one flaw, it is that it may be hard to follow. The sequence of events feels somewhat confusing, even though they occur chronologically (I think), but I am unsure why I experienced this difficulty. Everything seemed to be next to one another, which, in my mind, merged one event with those around it, even if they were with different characters or in different settings. Perhaps this is a reflection of Oriko’s character.

Or perhaps this a reflection of my fickle attention span. :p

Joen / The Affair (1967)

This would be an awesome chambara scene if only they had katanas

conclusion
Despite my terrible attention span (that’s only really good enough for chambara), for the most part, I was captivated by this film. The images are very strong, and many scenes will linger long after they are seen. It is because of the way Yoshida combines his pictures and scenes that the movie is able to be more than a sappy melodrama, and maybe one of his most memorable films.

things to take note of
The excellent cinematography
The hand-held camera going around
Pay attention because the chronology of events and the cutting is a little confusing maybe

best moment
In the log cabin: meaning + great cinematography = good movietimes

why you should watch this
That log cabin scene alone is worth it, really
Okada Mariko!

rating: 8.8

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

similar movies, maybe:
Many of Yoshida’s films have the same feel, so probably those. Akitsu onsen, Arashi o yobu juhachi-nin, Juhyo no yoromeki… etc.
New wave-era directors like Shindô Kaneto and Kinoshita Keisuke, but not Oshima, Shinoda, Masumura

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.

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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