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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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Mujo / This Transient Life

Jissoji Akio - Mujo / This Transient Life (1970)

Tons of nudity, if you like that I guess

Director: Jissoji Akio
Writers: Ishido Yashiro
Date: 1970

Genre: Drama
Description: Buddhism, incest, life and death, meaning of life, sculpture, sex, desire

Cast: Tamura Ryo, Tsukasa Michiko, Hananomoto Kotobuki, Kobayashi Akiji, Okada Eiji, Sugai Kin, Terada Minori

Crew of note: Music by Takemitsu Toru. Cinematography by Inagaki Youzo

Runtime: 2 hrs 23 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia:

summary
Masao wants nothing out of life, until one day he encounters a sculptor obsessed with creating statues of the Kannon (Goddess of mercy). He and his sister live in a large estate, and isolated there, develop a forbidden love affair.

review
I’m very squeamish and I easily get upset. I have to admit that it’s my great weakness when watching movies; it greatly limits what I can see and appreciate. Nudity in most movies rarely feels right or natural to me, and I try to avoid topics like rape or incest or torture. I enjoy experimental cinema, yeah, but when films start pushing the bounds of taste… I’m often left far behind.

That’s why Mujo came as such a pleasant surprise. It combines a few things that I’m not particularly fond of–incest, lots of nudity and sex, and a ton of abstractness–yet somehow I was captivated. This was actually my third Jissoji (after Mandara and Uta, two films that I didn’t quite enjoy and merely appreciated in their craft), so I wasn’t expecting to have a good time. But I did.

Jissoji Akio - Mujo / This Transient Life (1970)

If you have any interest in Buddhism, in existentialism, in philosophy, Mujo is pretty much required viewing. The dialogue between the different characters–Masao, the Buddhist priest, the Kannon sculptor…–is very deep and intelligent. It will take some concentration and some pauses (to do some research maybe), but their conversations do bring up important points and important questions. And even when they try to elaborate answers, only more questions surface.

Don’t blink or spend too much time staring into space as you think though, because you’ll end up missing half of the film, maybe half of its meaning. Jissoji’s films are well known for their pictures, and Mujo is probably his best work. His use of angles, architecture, shadows and shape, negative space, whiteness and movement is brilliant, and the film does deserve to be seen twice or more; once to understand the story, and once to simply watch the camera and listen to the music. If you can pay attention to the story and dialogue and the pictures at the same time though, then you will also be treated to great cinematic lyricism: Nothingness and negative space, tradition/religion and architecture, desire and shadows, sexuality and shape, transition and movement. It is no exaggeration to say that this is one of the most brilliantly shot movies I’ve ever seen, because the pictures not only supplement the plot; in fact they may be essential to it.

Jissoji Akio - Mujo / This Transient Life (1970)

The music in the film is also a delight: a very SNES Castlevania: Symphony of the Night MIDI cornfest that somehow works perfectly. Well, at least that’s what it sounded like to me. Takemitsu Toru’s work is quite varied, but always appropriate and beautiful, and he does some of his finest work on Mujo.

conclusion
This film is almost as hard to understand as it is to locate (ok honestly it’s harder to understand). It’s really difficult, but if you can get past the objectionable content and commit some brain power to try and understand the plot, dialogue, and philosophy of Mujo, the experience can be deeply rewarding. In the right frame of mind, Mujo can be mind blowing, but it can also be silly, overwrought and meaningless to many (fair enough, it just isn’t very easy). It’s still pretty to look at though, and that soundtrack is awesome.

Jissoji Akio - Mujo / This Transient Life (1970)

Wow, I didn't even have anything funny to say for the screencaps

things to take note of
Shadows
Carving Kannon
Negative spaces
Try your best to understand their crazy complicated dialogue?

best moment
Man, just watch that camera move
Let’s talk Buddhism/life and death/existentialism

why you should watch this
One of the most beautifully shot films ever
The discussions on Buddhism, life and death, and other issues are some of the best

rating: 8.5 – it would be much higher, but I’m kinda over sensitive about nudity and the incest; it’d be 9 otherwise

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

similar movies, maybe:
Other Jissoji films from that era, like Uta and Mandara. Also, Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East for some more Buddhism-y goodness.

Joi-uchi: Hairyô tsuma shimatsu / Samurai Rebellion

Joi-uchi: Hairyo tsuma shimatsu / Samurai Rebellion (1967)

I guess it's obvious he gets chopped to bits. Another movie spoiled by cover art

Director: Kobayashi Masaki
Writers: Hashimoto Shinobu, Takiguchi Yasuhiko
Date: 1967

Genre: Chambara
Description: Ninjo vs giri, cruel samurai tradition, a good wife, true love, fight against the daimyo, stupid politics, true internal rebellion, fight to the death

Cast: Mifune Toshiro, Kato Takeshi, Tsukasa Yoko, Nakadai Tatsuya, Hamamura Jun, Yamagata Isao, Koyama Shigeru

Crew of note: Music by Takemitsu Toru

Runtime: 128 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia:

summary
The movie opens with Isaburo (Mifune), one of his clan’s best, displaying his sword skill–drawing it seems like a mere ritual after decades of peace. Tatewaki (Nakadai) is his best friend, who patrols the borders of their clan. Eventually Isaburo will rebel (no surprise there) for a very good reason, and swordfights ensue! [note: Crappy summary for your benefit]

review
This is one of those films where it is best to enter with your preconceptions, expectations, and high hopes. This is the kind that’s most difficult to review, because those said expectations are part of the experience, and revealing anything more than a bare-bones background and a technical rundown may be a disservice to the potential viewing public. It’s best to see this film knowing only its title, Samurai Rebellion, as I did. Also, you should already have seen a least a couple of chambara, and know its tropes genre standards.

Let me just say a few things, though. This is one of the most complexly plotted rebellion films in chambara, and it is one of the things that makes it most interesting. As with all of Kobayashi’s work, there is a rich undercurrent of political and social commentary, about the cruel and incomprehensible traditions of the samurai, and about modern life as well. The story is treated with much restraint, just as the characters in the story control their emotions in order to fulfill either ninjo or giri. The dialogue between characters is meaningful, occasionally metaphoric, and always addressing some social or personal concern. Fidelity, loyalty and the acceptance of one’s fate are traits esteemed by bushido, but sometimes, enough is enough.

Expect a great film about a real rebellion.

conclusion
Harakiri is definitely Kobayashi’s most popular film, perhaps his best. Even The Human Condition receives more notice than this movie. Those two are justifiably must-sees, but this one deserves some recognition as well. One of the most intelligent, emotional, and down-to-earth rebellion chambara you will ever find. This isn’t an unknown movie by any standard, but it still deserves more than it’s so far received.

things to take note of
The rebellion
Mifune’s dialogue

best moment
Mifune + Nakadai
The last stand
The last duel
Conversation between Ichi an Isaburo in the rock garden

why you should watch this
Mifune + Nakadai!!!!
A chambara with a love story that also proves your expectations wrong, and even bests them

rating: 8.5

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

similar movies, maybe:
Harakiri, also directed by Kobayashi
There are other “rebellion” chambara, but none are very similar to this kind of rebellion

Shinju: Ten no amijima / Double Suicide

Shinju: Ten no amijima / Double Suicide (1969)

Thanks for spoiling the movie, DVD Cover

Director: Shinoda Masahiro
Writers: Chikamatsu Monzaemon (original bunraku play), Shinoda Masahiro, Takemitsu Toru, Tomioka Taeko
Date: 1969

Genre: Love Story
Description: Ninjo vs giri, love and duty, in love with a courtesan, redemption, a loving wife, an inevitable conclusion, bunraku + film, honor, loyalty, metafiction?, desperation

Cast: Iwashita Shima, Nakamura Kichiemon, Fujiwara Kamatari, Kayo Yoshi, Kawarazaki Shizue, Komatsu Hosei, Takita Yusuke

Crew of note: Score by Takemitsu Toru

Runtime: 142 mins.
Color: BW
Trivia: Shinoda and Iwashita were married in 1967. Until now I think.

summary
Jihei, a struggling paper merchant is enamored by Koharu the courtesan. He spends his days and his hard-earned money with her, neglecting his work and his wife, Osan. However, Jihei cannot have Koharu because he is unable to buy her from her contract. Of course, his family soon finds out, and the real story begins.

review
Pure genius. The combination of bunraku and film is stunning and meaningful. The use of the puppeteers (clad in black like in bunraku), obviously a symbol of something (hint hint), is flawless–it is never obstrusive and serves a natural purpose. Oh, and it’s dang beautiful, too. The sets are a mix of bunraku sets and abstract Japanese design, which shows how far ahead Shinoda is. They move, change, and have a theater’s claustrophobic aura. It is impossible not to admire Shinoda and his crew for their vision, creating this mix of both art forms. It would sound silly for me to throw every superlative at it. This is definitely something that has to be seen. And I stress how important this is, how absolutely essential it is, in the meaning of this film. Thank God for The Criterion Collection, because their transfer really does justice to Shinoda’s black and white, and the shadows are as black as can be, and the whites sometimes blinding.

The story may have a simple premise, but the depth of conflict in the three main characters is amazingly portrayed, and choosing Iwashita to play both women was an inspired choice. It is difficult to imagine Koharu and Osan being played by different women, and the eventualities that overtake the film further emphasize the importance of this choice. Watch, as they make decisions you make think at first impossible.

The whole movie is blanketed by Takemitsu’s brilliant score, which I’d say is one of his best alongside his work for Suna no onna.

Though the title and the poster/cover pretty much tell you the ending, the journey to that end is captivating.

conclusion
Perhaps Shinoda’s masterpiece. A must-see for all fans of film, especially those with an eye for pretty pictures. Though, perhaps a little background in bunraku will help. Try to see a bunraku in person before this film; or if impossible, after. It will help you appreciate this movie more.

things to take note of
The amazing, amazing sets
Spot what doesn’t belong (in a traditional period film)
That ending
The puppeteers and what they do
Takemitsu’s brilliant score

best moment
Whenever the sets break down or change
That ending

why you should watch this
A great movie that blends film and bunraku (Japanese puppet play)
The fact that it’s film + bunraku!!
Iwashita’s best performance, imo

rating: 9.2

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

similar movies, maybe:
Dolls by Kitano Takeshi’s got bunraku, but actually they aren’t similar at all, except that they’re both great. And have bunraku.

genres

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