Posts Tagged ‘japanese cinema’

The Truth (2019) *** Venice Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Kore-eda Hirokazu; Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Ethan Hawk, Clementine Grenier, Manon Clavel; France 2019, 106 min.

Japanese director/writer/editor Kore-eda Hirokazu follows his Cannes winner Shoplifters with a feature which could hardly be more French despite his Japanese background: The Truth is not only set in a circle of actors (demi-gods in France), it is also all about the profession itself, with a little bit of gossip and lies as spice. And it features a cast to die for.

Deneuve assumes her usual role as Matriarch. She has just written her auto-biography, and scriptwriter daughter Lumir (Binoche) and family: husband Hank (Hawk) and daughter Charlotte (Grenier) have arrived from New York to celebrate. Actually they have really come to rehash the past: family secrets, grudges and other repressed emotions. Fabienne has always put her career first, leaving Lumir with fellow actress Sarah before she drowned under the influence of alcohol. “She wanted to steal my daughter” is Fabienne’s comment. Lumir’s biological father is always short of cash Fabienne’s current husband has taken on the role of martyr, so has the butler, who goes off in a sulk because he has not been mentioned in Fabienne’s opus. Lumir and Hank have an uneasy relationship, with him having been in rehab more than once. “Lets say he is a better lover than actor” tells Lumir, which may not mean much, since Hank himself believes that he is an second rate TV thespian. And there is the young starlet Manon (Clavel) who acts with Fabienne in her current feature, who reminds all of the famous Sarah.Needless to say, that Fabienne wins out – all he little white lies are swept under the carpet.

THE TRUTH is fun to watch, not surprising considering the cast. Kore-eda has developed a good feel for the rather superficial milieu, but he lets everyone get away with a slap on the wrist. Eric Gautier’s images are lush, particularly Fabienne’s villa is real property porn  – in spite of the prison build directly behind it. The film-in-film  sequences remind us of Truffaut’s Day for Night – which could be said for the whole endeavour. Hardly groundbreaking, but done with tender love for the cinema and its protagonists. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 28 August – 7 September 2019

Mifune: The Last Samurai (2019)

Dir: Steven Okazaki | Wri: Stuart Galbraith IV, Steven Okazaki | With: Wataru Akashi, Kyôko Kagawa, Takeshi Katô, Hisao Kurosawa, Shirô Mifune | 77′ Doc

Mifune: The Last Samurai shines a light on both the man and the actor, director and producer in Steven Okazaki’s fascinating biopic of the legend of Japanese cinema Toshiro Mifune (1920-1997). Enlivened by archive footage and reminiscences from family, friends and collaborators such as the actress Kyoko Kagawa and Kanzo Uni, a sword-fight choreographer who took him through his paces.

The documentary chronicles Mifune’s childhood after his birth in Tsingtao China, through to his early career in the film business and his longtime partnership with Akira Kurosawa and the string of masterpieces they made together: Throne of Blood, Seven Samurai, Rashomon and Red Beard, and also those with Hiroshi Inagakim – Samurai Saga and Machibuse.

The film provides a fascinating history of Japanese samurai cinema and also highlights Mifune’s private life and the things he enjoyed, such as cars and alcohol, often together. Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg also give their two penny worth, Spielberg talks about the similarity between the Western tradition and the Samurai culture “Film is the single language on this planet that makes us all the same”, he also describes Mifune’s extraordinary sense of stillness and commanding emotional power. Scorsese comments on the very real danger of the stunts he undertook, and the tense atmosphere on set during a Kurosawa shoot.

Off set, Mifune was a colossal star and idol who enjoyed the highlife and Spielberg talks of his keen sense of humour despite his dour roles. As a producer he worked on Masaki Kobayashi’s Samurai Rebellion (and also starred) and set up a film studio which made successful mainstream titles. Toshiro Mifune was clearly a mercurial maverick whose influence still resonates throughout world cinema. MT

KUROSAWA: To complete the retrospective of Akira Kurosawa more that 20 titles are now live on BFI Player 


Red Snow | Akai Yuki (2018) **** Marrakech International Film Festival 2018

An island community is still haunted by the mysterious disappearance of a little boy 30 years after he went missing, in this spookily stylish Japanese crime thriller. 

Premiering at Marrakech Film Festival RED SNOW is the feature debut of Sayaka Kai known for her award-winning short Ondine’s Curse (2014). The young auteur quickly establishes a sinister mood in the eerie snowbound location where her troubled characters are all victims of their own past and still fraught with pent-up emotion and debilitating psychological scars that threaten to break out and reveal a truth too ugly to bear.

Themes of unreliable memory, child abuse and mental illness play out in the sober, icy landscapes where Takumi went missing three decades previously leaving a mood of anger, bitterness and mistrust amongst the broken inhabitants. 

The main suspect is an eccentric female cleaner with an abusive childhood – seen in repetitive flashbacks where we witness the cruelty of her sociopathic mother. Not only is she generally unpopular with the rest of the islanders, but she is also in a toxic relationship with an older man who is purportedly her pimp. And the more Takumi’s brother urges her to share her recollection of what happened, the greater her reluctance to discuss the crime, or even talk about her memory of it. 

But when a reporter arrives on the island to investigate the cold case, clues and truth start to mingle with a trail of other unsolved crimes including insurance fraud and a devastating fire. It soon appears that Takumi’s reclusive brother, a talented lacquering specialist with a workshop close to the desolate shores, could also be involved in the disappearance. 

There are distant echoes of Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Woman of the Dunes to this baleful piece that seems to languish in its own misery. YAS-KAS’ atmospheric score sets a sober tone occasionally giving way to scenes of lingering silence thats seems to accentuate the bleakness of the remote settings. Sayaka Kai makes use of a re-occurring luxuriant red motif that connects the lushly lacquered boxes with the blood of Takumi’s presumptive murder that stains the mournful flashbacks haunting his brother’s dreams and memories, and recalling that fateful day when he left home on a brief errand. 

A strong cast supports lead Masatoshi Nagase as the man trying to solve the mystery. RED SNOW’s visual aesthetic is way beyond what we can usually expect from Japanese first features marking Sayaka Kai as a talented auteur in the making. MT


An Actor’s Revenge (1963) | DVD/Bluray release

Dir: Kon Ichikawa | Drama | Japanese with English subs | 113′

Thirteen years ago I visited Tokyo and saw a Kabuki play at their National Theatre. I was captivated by the long, elongated structure of the stage and its carefully assembled musicians and actors deliberately creating a stylised composition akin to, and obvious progenitor, of wide-screen cinema. Immediately I thought of Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress. And then Kon Ichikawa’s remarkable An Actor’s Revenge.

There have been many period films drawing upon Kabuki within strong storylines. Mizoguchi’s marvellous The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums is perhaps the most outstanding. But An Actor’s Revenge is most successful at drawing the viewer in to create the dual illusion of watching a play whilst experiencing a film, where each cinematic flourish of action is seamlessly fused with a theatrical gesture. Ichikawa skilfully avoids kitsch or camp excess (admittedly An Actor’s Revenge has a pulp fiction quality, yet I would distance myself from critics who underline its ‘fun’ and sense of the absurd, whilst playing down the poignant elements of the story).

The film is set in the late 1830s. Yukitaro (Kazuo Hasegawa) is a male actor who plays female roles and his stage name is Yokinojo. Whilst in Edo, acting in a play, he notices in the audience the three men who were responsible for the death of his mother and father. He is persuaded by the Hirutaro (Raizo Ichikawa), the head of the acting troupe, to take revenge on the murderers. Yet Yukitaro decides to drive them to a ‘theatrical’ madness before killing them (he announces his revenge will be “a flamboyant performance”). Unfortunately he is emotionally sidelined by the daughter of one of the guilty men. Namiji (Ayako Wakao) is genuinely attracted to Yukitaro and desires a romance. Initially, he sees her attention as a pretence to trapping him but gradually realises that she is sincere. Yokitaro’s revenge is achieved but on the way it is challenged by erotic attraction and the self-mocking criticism of a thief Hojin (Shintaro Katsu) who is continually pursuing the actor.

You could easily make out a case for An Actor’s Revenge being over-plotted and confused, making the viewer uncertain of its pitch and tone – how seriously are we expected to take these events? Are they only artifice – implausible theatrical happenings? If you succumb to the film’s visual style (impossible not to) Ichikawa’s film is an involving aesthetic delight. An Actor’s Revenge may lack Mizoguchi’s tragic intense view of the acting life, but its own viewpoint of life as a bitter theatre of – maybe made-up – destructive affairs is still compelling.

The film is completely set in the studio, making for a superb staging of action that intensifies its heightened theatrical ‘reality.’ This is a valid Ichikawa world where performers are cunningly immersed in the idea of performance (without ever being self-consciously aware of the effect they are striving to achieve). An Actor’s Revenge then becomes an intoxicating concoction when astonishing camerawork and a jazzy, lounge-lizard soundtrack are added to the mix.

For me, the fight scenes are thankfully the antithesis of modern martial arts productions. Swords glint and flash, choreographed against an inky blackness and have such abstract power – a ‘now you see the blade and now you don’t’ tease. And a scene where two thieves using a lasso to capture their victim is thrilling and balletic. All this is stunningly composed and edited with fantastic precision.

Kazuo Hasegawa reprieves a role he played in the 1935 film version directed by Kinugasa, and is terrific in conveying the contradictions of a Kabuki actor not always in control of his revenge plan or able to see its consequences. A rival actor says he is “A pale-face cross between a man and a woman” Yukitaro has an indeterminacy of sexual presence. You cannot take your eyes off him. Nor can his young lover – the beautiful Ayko Wakao – who is both elegant and touching.

Ichikawa’s tale often heads for a potential artistic divorce yet he technically keeps turning the key in the lock to hold the tension between melodrama and an expressive form that exhilarates. In the history of scope cinema An Actor’s Revenge has to be of the first order. To coin a pun – the imaginative scope of its use of scope still displays a mise en scene of considerable power. ALAN PRICE©


Tokyo Tribe (2014) | DVD Blu release

Dir.: Sion Sono

Cast: Ryohei Suzuki, Young Dais, Nana Seino, Riki Takeuchi

Japan 2014, 116 min.

Since his European breakthrough with COLD FISH (2010), Japanese director’s Sion Sono’s film’s have increasingly done  away more with any meaningful narrative, relying on pure shock value as in his recent out WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL? (2013). It is therefore no surprise, that TOKYO TRIBE is an all singing/all-fighting/dancing/rapping box of tricks – and the rapping skills are dim to say the least – full of energy and spectacular fighting scenes, but vacuous to the extreme.

Based on a best-selling Manga-cartoon, TOKYO TRIBE features the city in the non-so-distant future, where 23 gangs rule their territories, coming down aggressively on any rival tribes that strays onto their turf. Sadistic, and occasionally cannibalistic, Lord Buppa (Takeuchi), directs the warfare between the other clans, hoping to claim dominion over the whole city. And when his day of ‘victory’ arrives, girls are dragged into Buppa’s dining room, desperate to become his prostitutes or even a tasty snack for his lunch.

Among them is the enigmatic Sunmi (Seino), who turns out to be the daughter of Buppa’s family priest. Sunmi is quite vanilla about being taken as a love object (even though she does not succeed): Not surprisingly, her father wants to sacrifice her as a virgin to Satan. Meanwhile, Buppa’s henchman Mera (Suzuki), shirtless and muscle-proud, hates Kai (Dais), for the simple reason that the latter has a bigger penis (!) and he tries to lure members of Kai’s tribe, peaceful loving hippies, into his palace, so he can do away with Kai. But the latter unites all the other gangs under his and Sunmi’s leadership and fights a successful battle against Buppa’s men. One of Buppa’s wives accompanies the mayhem singing wonderful Handel arias, but she too is sucked into a giant fan, which does away with the Buppa clan, including Buppa’s son Nkoi, who kept an array of living furniture. A car with chandeliers as headlights and a couple of earthquakes complete the mayhem.

This widescreen spectacle on a giant studio stage starts off as an exhilarating bandwagon but after a while, neither the cast nor he audience is able to sustains this high level maelstrom of activity as outrageous peaks and waves of activity follow each other fast, like breakers on a stormy beach, leaving no pause to contemplation in the permanent frenzy. The inadvertent humour adds to a feeling of a monstrous, but utterly empty production, super-fast food for the boy’s own brigade who have left their brains and their consciousness behind them in the ticket foyer. AS

NOW ON DVD | Blu-ray


Asia House Film Festival 2015 | 27 – 31 March 2015

The 7th Annual Asia House Film Festival which takes place from 27 March to 31 March 2015 at various venues around London. This year’s theme of NEW GENERATIONS reflects on all that’s new about cinema from Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Indonesian, India, Japan and Uzbekistan, with a special focus and retrospective on Mongolia.

The festival includes an selection of features including two European premieres. Opening the festival on Friday 27 March at the Ham Yard Theatre is the European Premiere of Indonesian film IN THE ABSENCE OF THE SUN, which frames the modern metropolis of Jakarta as never seen before. Directed, written and edited by Lucky Kuswandi (Madame X), it is a bittersweet tale of universal appeal, as its nostalgic memories unfold over the course of a single night.

Closing Asia House Film Festival 2015 on Tuesday 31 March at The Horse Hospital is the UK Premiere of YANGON CALLING – PUNK IN MYANMAR, directed by Alexander Dluzak and Carsten Piefke, an award-winning documentary about Myanmar’s underground punk scene filmed secretly in the former military dictatorship using hidden cameras. It provides a rare portrait of the rebels who really do have a cause, introducing us to their personal lives and their hidden world of rehearsal rooms and illicit concerts.

The European premiere of Kulikar Sotho’s THE LAST REEL presents different versions of the truth unearthed from a lost film, buried beneath Cambodia’s killing fields and the London premiere of PASSION FROM MONGOLIA, a poignant portrait of a man’s struggle to bridge two very different ages, is a great introduction to Mongolian cinema which will be showcased at the Cinema Museum on Sunday 19 April.

The festival will also host the UK Premiere of a musical documentary FLASHBACK MEMORIES 3D, that received the Audience Award winner at the 26th Tokyo International Film Festival. Directed by Japan’s Tetsuaki Matsue, it focuses on the didgeridoo maestro GOMA, who suffers from an inability to form new memories following a traffic accident at the peak of his career. Also on offer is a cult classic Uzbekistani “Red Western”. MT

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VENUES: Ham Yard Theatre, Rich Mix, The Horse Hospital and the Cinema Museum | 27 – 31 March 2015


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