Posts Tagged ‘Japanese film’

Shoplifters (2018) ****

Writer/Dir: Hirokazu Koreeda | Cast: Kirin Kiki, Lily Franky, Sosuke Ikematsu | Drama | South Korea |121′

Hirokazu Koreeda’s portrait of parenting, After the Storm, has much in common with this perceptive and often ambiguous satire about a family of small-time crooks and the misguided theft they commit for compassionate reasons, but with devastating consequences. SHOPLIFTERS is a worthwhile addition to the auteur’s preoccupations with family life, father and motherhood – both real and imagined, and is possibly his best work so far.

In Tokyo, part-time workers Osamu (Lily Franky) and his wife Nobuyo (Sakura Ando) complement their meagre income with a sideline in shoplifting. Aided and abetted by son Shota (Kairi Jyo), they often swipe groceries from the local store near the flat they share with fellow grifter Noboyu (Sakura Andô), teenager Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) and grandma Hatsue (Kirin Kiki), who turns the most lucrative tricks of the lot.

One day they take pity on an abused and timid teenager called Juri (Miyu Sasaki), offering her board and lodging in their already cramped home. This simple act of kindness is the catalyst for change in the family dynamic unleashing previously hidden motivations that range from short-sightedness to self-aggrandisement, and even narcissistic pride.

A tonal shift from upbeat bonhomie to gloomy sadness takes place in the film’s third segment when the family anticipate their emotional loss and start to fear the backlash of their rash altruism, and its damning formal retribution. Kore-eda and his cast bring out  tremendous pathos in this well-meaning family, and while we feel for them as do-gooders, – in the true sense of the word – they are crucially also law-breakers. And this is the J B Priestleyan crux of this upbeat and cleverly-crafted caper reflecting the subtle nuances of Japanese society. MT


Cure (1997) **** | Dual Format release

Dir/Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa | Japan | Mystery Thriller | 111′ 

Twenty minutes into Cure (Kairos) I was reminded of David Fincher’s Seven, and the first Japanese Ring film, both causing me to think that they had influenced Kiyoshi Kurosawa. In fact Seven (1995) was 2 years before Cure: with Fincher’s urban decay corresponding with Cure’s grimy and rundown suburbs of Tokyo. However Cure was made 1 year before Ring and shares some of its long dark-hair menace (from both ‘villian’ characters) pulsating as strongly as their similar eerie soundtracks. A further link is the menacing way that spilt water is filmed, prefiguring Dark Water (2002) and reminding you of the malevolent power of water in old Japanese ghost stories.  

Putting influences to one side, Cure is more of a hybrid than the other productions. Part psychological thriller, cop movie and supernatural horror film – blending all these generic elements with impressive skill. This is a film absent of sensationalist gore and full of creepy menace. There is no cure for anyone in this ironically titled drama. Quite the opposite. Characters are infected by a sinister hypnotism event, from 100 years back, causing people to be mentally manipulated to kill those they work or live with.

Kenichi Takabe (Koji Yakusho) is a Tokyo detective investigating a serious of gruesome murders – a large X is cut across the victim’s neck. The killers are caught and cannot explain what made them kill. Takabe accompanied by psychologist Sakuma (Tsuyoshi Ujiki) trace a connection with a young man called Mamiya (Masato Hagiwara). When brought in for questioning Mamiya appears to be an amnesiac – he’s very dazed and confused about who he is, where he is and what he’s doing. After searching his apartment the police discover that he used to be a psychology student who studied the ideas of the 19th century hypnotist Anton Mesmer. They conclude that Mamiya is capable of planting hypnotic suggestions in people that turns them into murderers.

The ex-student mesmerist, the stressed detective and his mentally unstable wife are pitted against a force which initially appears emphatic. Mamiya wants to know his victim’s emotional state. “Let’s talk about yourself” is a re-occurring request through Cure. Mamiya wishes to make “the inner become the outer” and have them act on their darkest impulses. The very matter of fact depiction of the killings in Cure is what makes for an unsettling experience. The scene where a policeman takes out his gun and kills his colleague, just outside the police station, is chilling for its casual horror. He carries on working then drags the body inside. Filmed at a distance, acutely well framed and morally detached: nothing unusual is seen to disturb the policeman’s banal routine. 

There is little obvious thriller action in Cure. Many clashes of will and personality occur in a hospital or police headquarters: the best of these almost equalling the interrogations in Silence of the Lambs. Aided by excellent performances from Koji Yakusho and Masato Hagiwara, setting up their suspenseful games, Kurosawa powerfully creates a highly personal and atmospheric world of damaged individuals.

If you carefully examine the plot then you will find holes. Why would Anton Mesmer be such an influence – where’s the real proof? Why did the hospital nurse appear to tear off the face of the bloodied corpse in the waiting room? It’s never explained. How was the ‘curse’ of hypnotic suggestion actually passed on to new perpetrators over time? But this is the logic of a mysterious and highly intelligent horror film where emotion suppresses cold rationality. By not explaining too much Cure allows its creepiness to infiltrate the viewer. And like all good horror stories plants its dread of the unknown in a plausibly real and indifferent world.  

Cure is so strong and gripping that it makes me eager to seek out Kurosawa’s other works, both horror movies and art house cinema. He is subtle, understated, visceral, very in control of his medium and ought to be better known. A remarkable filmmaker. ALAN PRICE ©2018    

Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s CURE [Kyua] (Masters of Cinema) now out on Dual Format |  Available from Amazon 



Branded to Kill (1967) Koroshi no Rakuin

Director: Seijun Suzuki

Cast: Jo Shishido, Anne Mari, Mariko Ogawa, Koji Nanbara

Japan, 1967, 98 min.

Born in 1923, Suzuki, albeit a B-picture director, has found a great following in Europe particularly in Italy, where he has had two retrospectives. The man who said he could edit a film in one day (and shoot five a year, as he did in 1960), was fired from the “Nikkatsu” studio in 1967, after he delivered BRANDED TO KILL, having been told to “make something more conventional” after the wild excesses of TOKYO DRIFTER (1966). BRANDED TO KILL was anything but conventional, and the studio fired him. Whilst his followers (among them Nagisa Oshima) protested and organised screenings of Suzukis films, the studio “confiscated” his films. Suzuki later went to court and won, but he was blacklisted for ten years and could only work for TV. In 1977 he returned to his still prolific cinema output.
BRANDED TO KILL is the story of Hanada (Shishido), who is ‘Number Three’ in the Japanese hierarchy of professional killers. This being upwardly-mobile Japan, Hanada wishes nothing more than to become the ‘Number One’, and when he is approached by the mysterious, beautiful Miskao (Mari), with a kill-or-be-killed contract, he is only too happy to oblige. But when he misses his target, because a butterfly nestles on his gun site, Misako orders Hanadas wife Mami (Koji Nanbara), to kill her husband. But somehow Hanada gets there first, killing his wife and then meeting the mysterious ‘Number One’ killer, who challenges him to a duel for the top spot. When they take a break from plotting to kill each other, the two are bound literally together: eating, sleeping, etc. After he learns that No. 1 has killed Misako, Hanada is looking forward even more to the duel in a boxing ring, when Misako, on crutches, but very much alive appears…..

The wonderful monochrome scope photography alone is enough to fall in love with this film (never mind the narrative), using light and shadow, as in the best American noir-pictures. The jazz music background reminds of Malle’s Lift to the Scaffold, and some of he philosophical exchanges between husband and wife (“We are both beasts, and will die together as beasts”) are existential Antonioni. The original re-framing of conventional shots (due to lack of budget and time) remind of the young Godard. The action scenes are surrealistic absurd (Jarmusch used them later for “Ghost Dog”). Everything about BRANDED TO KILL is eclectic, not on purpose, but equally by choice and chance. Luckily for us, in spite of his ban, Suzuki returned to his old form in the 80s, shooting Pistol Opera in 2001, a sequel to BRANDED TO KILL.



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