Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

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Mike Gebert

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Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostSun Jun 05, 2016 9:32 am

After watching the Julien Duvivier set from Eclipse, I was all set to go with Jean Gremillon During the Occupation, but then I took a trip to Japan. And when I got back, I realized I had a number of Eclipse sets of Japanese films left unwatched, too, and it seemed a more fruitful enterprise to see one of them while the atmosphere was fresh in my mind. So I decided instead to work my way through...

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Mikio Naruse is often ranked among the top Japanese directors of the midcentury, just after the big 3 of Kurosawa, Mizoguchi and Ozu. Yet despite being a longtime admirer of Ozu, I'd never seen any of his films until this set of late (early 1930s) silents, all of his surviving silent work. Like Ozu, Naruse specialized in domestic dramas (to his detriment, working at the same studio, Shochiku, where, it is said, they often asked, "Why do we need a second Ozu?") But he's even more like Mizoguchi for his devotion to tales of the sad lives of women in Japanese society, particularly the geishas who, as hostesses and sometimes prostitutes, were often demeaned and exploited.

I started with the middle disc in the set, which contains two silent features from 1933, running about an hour each:

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APART FROM YOU

There's a bit of screenwriting advice that usually goes something like "Make your scene about something other than what it's about." If the old veteran police detective is about to retire, don't have him say "I sure hope I can get through this last day without getting shot, talk about irony!" Have him talk about his fishing boat and his grandkids.

Yet one of the things I like about early films, into the teens, is that they're so short and compact that nothing isn't about exactly what it's about. They're less realistic dramas in the modern sense than short parables of Poor Little Rich Girls and men who try to get A Corner in Wheat. You get that occasionally into the 30s— Ford's Pilgrimage is kind of like that, with Henrietta Crosman (herself a relic of the teens) getting almost a chalkboard lesson in maternal love from the later events of the film.

Anyway, I felt the same about Apart From You— really, it plays at times surprisingly like a Biograph one-reeler, even the same sorts of setups until a more modern bit of camera work (Naruse is fond, often too fond of the sudden track into a character's face) breaks the spell. The story, like Pilgrimage, is divided in two halves, the second there to teach a lesson to a character of the first. Mitsuko Yoshikawa is an aging geisha with a teenage son (who, to my amusement, kept reminding me of Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate) who is ashamed of her profession and becoming something of a juvenile delinquent. She has a younger colleague— played by Sumiko Mizukubo, also in Ozu's Dragnet Girl— who has a crush on him and invites him away with her to go back to her home village. There he sees his mother's way of life from a more sympathetic perspective, because he sees how his friend is exploited and shamed by her family, yet nobly sacrifices herself for them.

Okay, I gave away the plot! As Biograph-era films often do in their titles. But the plot is little you would not expect; the interest in the film is in its enormous sympathy for these women, and in the quotidian details of Depression-era Japan— having walked the streets of Kyoto that survived the war and often date back centuries, I fell right into that Japan, which feels no more modern than an old west town; and the costumes of the characters, both geishas and the student in his uniform, are seen to this day walking around the town. And there are lovely little grace notes of sad empathy in it— what films did Naruse see? We know the movies that inspired Ozu, Vidor and McCarey and so on, but was Naruse aiming for a Borzage-like note of worldly-wise tenderness when the girl, riding the train with the boy, plaintively asks "I wonder what the other passengers see us as, brother and sister?" and you know the answer is, no, a student and a whore.

In the end, I liked the simplicity of the film, and by its own terms it was effective, and his empathy for his female characters is undeniable. Yet maybe I couldn't get past feeling that a 1933 film should not be quite so 1912 in its style. I read a comment somewhere saying this was the best film in the Eclipse set— and I have to admit, I thought, well, if this is Naruse's best for this time, he's worthy enough, but not another Ozu in full, not up to the filmmaker making The Inn at Tokyo or A Woman of Tokyo around the same time.

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EVERY-NIGHT DREAMS

The second film on this disc isn't as noirish-looking as the still suggests (in fact, I don't remember this shot in the movie), but from the start this film, made later the same year, seems to have jumped 20 years forward from Apart From You— to Barbara Stanwyck or Kay Francis at Warner Brothers, and to a much more dynamic directing style that seems to suggest Lang more than Borzage or Griffith as an influence, modernist cutting and graphically interesting compositions (even some shots suggestive of The Conformist, where a dress with horizontal lines contrasts with other patterns in the same shot). I found I was enjoying it much more five minutes into it, and that was true by the end, too.

Sumiko Kurishima is the geisha this time, working in a bar being pawed at by men in order to support her young son, abandoned by her husband (Tatsuo Saitō, star of Ozu's I Was Born, But and Tokyo Chorus and, many years later, opposite Peter O'Toole in Lord Jim). He comes back into her life, unwelcome at first, but despite his efforts, he's already beaten down by the Depression and doomed (shades of one clear influence at points here: The Crowd). In Hollywood, something would happen to give them hope for another day. This is not Hollywood.

This is really a minor masterpiece, I was captivated and gut-wrenched by the dire situation of this couple, Saito's downcast outlook contrasted with Kurishima's almost feral determination to make a better life for her son no matter what. (The awful irony, of course, is that he would have been just about enlistment age by the war, and Mom's example of self-sacrifice would have been an inspiration for similarly serving the Emperor. It is usually a sad business contemplating where 30s foreign films about children would lead.) It sounds like an unrelieved bummer like Italian neorealism, yet at the same time it really does have some of the raffish flavor of 30s Warner Bros. I found it lively and involving throughout.

Print quality on both is, I would say, adequate. Both are clear and complete, but soft in texture and grayish in contrast, Every-Night Dreams a little worse. Of course, given the record of prewar Japanese cinema, survival at all is a gift. On the other hand, I have nothing but praise for the accompaniment, by Robin Holcomb and Wayne Horvitz, which doesn't try to ape the period and is basically modernist, but with hints of Asian-ness; it's sensitive to the films and fitting throughout.

One interesting note: one of the reasons I went to Japan, of course, was to eat! One of the world's great food cultures, possibly the most food obsessed on earth. And so I was fascinated to see by far the earliest depiction that I know of, of a Japanese food we've all come to know in Every-Night Dreams:

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Sushi! And there's a moment that would have utterly baffled American audiences if this had been seen then— one of the characters picks up a piece and then wrinkles her nose at it and peels the fish off the rice, then flicks something away. You think she thinks it's bad— then you realize, no, too much wasabi.
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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostSun Jun 05, 2016 11:46 am

This is a good collection although I didn't find any masterpieces from it (should watch some films again). Overall I hope there would be more Japanese silents available, especially from Mizoguchi whose talkies are magnificent.

Btw, I am going to have an Ozu marathon this month: all his available films (32) in just one week. Let's see if I'll survive :D
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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostSun Jun 05, 2016 11:50 am

I love Ozu but that might be tough when you're on your fifth version of Late Spring in a row...

Incidentally, I just ordered the complete surviving work (not much) of this filmmaker, from the UK.

I read about Humanity and Paper Balloons in David Shipman's The Story of Cinema, so apparently this is one that is better known in the UK than the US, for whatever reason (the BFI had a print and MOMA didn't, or something like that, I presume).
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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostSun Jun 05, 2016 12:24 pm

Mike Gebert wrote:I love Ozu but that might be tough when you're on your fifth version of Late Spring in a row...


I know. I have seen almost all of his films separately but not in a row...

For some reason Yamanaka didn't impress me. Like to know your thoughts when you have watched his films.
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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostSun Jun 05, 2016 1:34 pm

"What do we need with another Ozu?" This wasn't a bijoux studio, turning out films by and for Chaplin, with occasionally a project to see if up-and-coming von Sternberg can make Edna Purviance a star. This is a major studio with a lot of people on salary and it needs to keep turning out pictures to pay them all; "Another Ozu" is a blessing. Besides, in those days, the directors weren't specialists. Ozu and Naruse would turn out a variety of comedies, tragedies and even the occasional diagetic musical. Just because Universal had John M. Stahl turning out soap operas in the 1930s doesn't mean that Sloman didn't direct There's Always Tomorrow for the studio.

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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostSun Jun 05, 2016 1:39 pm

I agree, it seems an odd comment to make. I'm pretty sure Harry Cohn never said "Why do I need another Capra?"

Now, I can see saying "Why do I need another von Sternberg," but that's a different matter.

For some reason Yamanaka didn't impress me. Like to know your thoughts when you have watched his films.


In this thread, I expect, eventually, but three more Naruse films first!
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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostSun Jun 05, 2016 1:45 pm

Murnau wrote:This is a good collection although I didn't find any masterpieces from it (should watch some films again). Overall I hope there would be more Japanese silents available, especially from Mizoguchi whose talkies are magnificent.

Btw, I am going to have an Ozu marathon this month: all his available films (32) in just one week. Let's see if I'll survive :D


I recall when an Ozu marathon would consist of Tokyo Story and Floating Weeds -- just the 1959 version. You kids don't know how lucky you've got it!

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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostSun Jun 05, 2016 2:01 pm

Mike Gebert wrote:I agree, it seems an odd comment to make. I'm pretty sure Harry Cohn never said "Why do I need another Capra?"


I'm sure he occasionally cursed the fact that he did.

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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostSun Jun 05, 2016 3:43 pm

I first saw EVERY NIGHT DREAMS at the Bonn festival in 2008. This was my reaction:

The evening's entertainment began, however, with Mikio Naruse's YOGOTO NO YUME (EACH NIGHT I DREAM), which knocked me over backwards. For me the best films are the ones where the action takes place on the actors' faces, and I couldn't name a better example for such a film. It tells the story of Omitsu (Sumiko Kurishima) who is forced to work in a bar in order to bring up her child, as her good-for-nothing husband Mizuhara (Tatsuo Saito) abandoned the family three years earlier. At the beginning Omitsu returns from prison, where she had done time for prostitution, only to find her husband has returned. The prudish Japanese censors had cut the original first scene, that showed Omitsu's release, and so the film is only 64 minutes long, far too short, as each minute is such a joy!
The camera beautifully captures Sumiko Kurishima's face and her very restrained acting nevertheless gives deep insight into the agony the character is going through. Omitsu is torn between love for her returned husband and contempt for his colossal ineptitude. At the same time she is caught in the contradictions arising from a Japanese society in transition between tradition and modernity. It is difficult enough for her as a woman to be the breadwinner, and infinitely more so as she is forced into a dishonourable job. As if to mock her the work in the bar requires her to don traditional Japanese dress.
The film is dominated by the rift between tradition and modernity in 1930s Japan. Images of traditional interiors are contrasted with images of an industrialised outside world, which are sometimes fired at the viewer in superquick montage. The unemployed Mizuhara plays baseball with the neighbourhood children in an industrial wasteland surrounded by huge concrete pipes. As he applies for work in a factory he is turned down and told that the company are looking for "stronger and more willing" candidates.
The film is rich in symbols: women smoking are used throughout to show how times have changed as well as a wall calendar with very prominent English writing. Mizuhara's character flaws are illustrated by the contrast between his stubborn clinging to his shabby western suit and hat on the one hand and his frequent association with children's games and toys. The most potent symbol used in the film, however, are mirrors. The camera keeps capturing the actors' faces in mirrors and the characters often look at their own reflections as if to try and ascertain their own identities in a changing world.
The camera is mobile and intimate, going for subtle effect rather than technical bravado, just like the actors. The muted lighting contributes greatly to the effect of the interior scenes. The film often has the look of Italian neorealism or French nouvelle vague. You have to pinch yourself to remember it was shot in 1933.


I have loved Naruse ever since. I actually prefer his work to Ozu's.
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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostSun Jun 05, 2016 3:51 pm

At the beginning Omitsu returns from prison, where she had done time for prostitution, only to find her husband has returned.


Wow, I had no idea that was where she had been— indeed, part of the film to me was that she seemed on the verge of making the slide from "bar hostess" to "prostitute." When she gets home she tears off the calendar pages of about two weeks, which seemed more like a vacation or a trip (I thought maybe she was visiting relatives) than a sentence, even if I had been inclined to think that way. Thanks for clearing that up, and for the overall review.
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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostSun Jun 05, 2016 11:56 pm

I have also missed the reason of father's absence, was it told somewhere? Anyway, good film and propably the best in collection.
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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostMon Jun 06, 2016 10:59 am

I believe the information came from the introduction to the film by Stefan Drössler, head of Munich film museum.
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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostWed Jun 08, 2016 10:11 pm

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NO BLOOD RELATION

From 1932, this is Naruse's oldest surviving feature. Remember I mentioned Kay Francis? This is total Kay Francis time, about a woman who left her husband and child to become a star in America, and comes back to see the kid. The ex-husband has a new wife who's raised the child, and he has a fishing company which is going bankrupt, and he winds up being taken away by the police. Then she has a brother who's kind of a hoodlum, and his pal, like the Frank McHugh and Allen Jenkins of Japan. And there's this guy who hangs around them, in traditional Japanese garb plus a fedora, who kind of reminded me of Orson Welles as Harry Lime. And a mother-in-law who's a real pain and afraid of not being rich any more, so you can't trust her a bit.

And that's just the first 15 minutes. We know we're going to get into one of those mother love things where Kay Francis learns the hard way that she has to give up the kid for the kid's own sake, but the way we get there is really kind of appalling— mother-in-law, susceptible to Kay's money, goes along with a plot to just kidnap the kid and give new wife no say in the matter. Doesn't dad still have custody which would fall to his wife? I don't know, but obviously your sympathy for Kay Francis goes way down at this point, and though there are some effective moments of acting, I found the plot of this one so exasperating and unfair— close to an idiot plot— that it was hard to care as it moved toward the inevitable realization that Kay has to self-sacrifice. (It also has two road accidents that figure in the plot, at the corner of Deus and Ex Machina. One is misfortune but two is carelessness.)

Add to that that it's really heavy on the shots where you track into a character's face, and in general has so much moving camera work that you could get whiplash (and certainly feel at times like you're missing the action rather than accentuating it), and this is a tough go. The only real point of interest for me is that a couple of scenes are actually filmed in the Mitsukoshi department store in Ginza, which still exists; we didn't go there, alas, but we went to the Isetan in Shinjuku which is related, so it was interesting to see one of them as it existed back then. But after the first two films— good and very very good— this was tough to get through or to care about once you did.
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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostThu Jun 09, 2016 4:06 am

I have seen 1931's Flunky, Work Hard! (1931), Naruse's oldest survivor, but your source may be considering only features. At 29 minutes, this is marginal at best. But it is very good.

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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostThu Jun 09, 2016 6:03 am

I remember I liked the basic idea of that film but I didn't like Naruse's way to tell it. Those camera tricks were especially annoying. Overall it was ok.

Flunky, work hard was a nice little film.
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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostThu Jun 09, 2016 6:58 am

I was going to watch Flunky, Work Hard after, but honestly, No Blood Relation annoyed me too much.

The tracking-in thing is curious because it seems to me at this point in film language to have a pretty clear message— you track in closer to someone to say that they have an aha (or oh shit) moment. Spielberg used it a lot in the 80s for when someone was overwhelmed by wonder— here's a discussion of his techniques and guess what, it's #1 on the list.

Naruse's overuse of it seems to suggest that he doesn't really, at least this early, understand what he's using it for. He seems in this film to just to want to add visual kinetics, but there's no reason to take a dialogue scene and shoot it like it's The Man With the Movie Camera or Napoleon on a raft, you actually make it harder to follow what's going on because people are talking, you want to see their faces and reactions, not to laterally track along the rooms or to swish pan so you can't even see things. There are moments of effective technique in this film, the opening has a bunch of discordant shots which effectively convey the confusion of the moment a crime takes place, but a lot of the time, it just gets in the way, or takes you out of the film. In any case, a device to use more sparingly than Naruse does here.

It's too bad because there is certainly good acting here, it's not inferior to the others in that department, but it's good acting that seems oblivious to the absurdity of the plot, while the camera too often seems oblivious to the actors.

Anyway, on to...

FLUNKY, WORK HARD

I have no idea what the position of short films in the Japanese industry was, but assuming it was where you showed what you were capable of early on, then you can see why Naruse rose quickly— this is a nice, poignant little short of everyday life for a salaryman insurance agent and his family (blessedly free of tracking-in shots), which falls somewhere between a realistic tale of Depression era privation and pluck, and a Roach short (there's a rivalry between insurance agents that starts to get a little Big Business-y). Seeing how well Naruse handles the scenes of kids playing in fields, as well as the depictions of their fathers as heroes to the kids but flunkies in the business world, you can imagine the excitement at Shochiku when they signed Naruse— hey, guys, we got a second Ozu! It is interesting to see him working on a story primarily about a father and son, when he's going to be focused so much more on mothers in his subsequent films.
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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostThu Jun 09, 2016 9:50 am

I went through an All-Japanese, All The Time phase that lasted nearly two years about (COUGH) thirty years ago, this is making me want to revisit it. I like my Naruse served with heaping dollops of Baby Cart and blind swordsmen.

As is my slightly OCD wont, at that time I also read nothing but Japanese books, although obvs. limited to books that had been translated (there were some annoying limitations there). But if you want to flesh out some of the concerns you find in Japanese films, I can highly recommend Junichiro Tanizaki, anything by.
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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostThu Jun 09, 2016 11:28 am

Frederica wrote:I can highly recommend Junichiro Tanizaki, anything by.


Finished The Makioka Sisters recently and thought it was the most "Japanese" book I have ever read. So Japanese that it was difficult for me to understand the characters' motivations. It was rewarding, but made me wary of his novels like Some Prefer Nettles or Quicksand. Have the Criterion DVD directed by Kon Ichikawa but haven't seen it yet.

Sometimes I prefer mainstream books and movies that are less known than the classics, they offer insights that seem more honest, less like statements. I liked the Eclipse Shimizu box set a couple of years back. I'm waiting for a Heinosuke Gosho box set, his An Inn at Osaka has stuck with me for years. And a few years back I saw a cop stake-out film from the late 1950s that I think was called Caught that really impressed me, but I haven't been able to track it down.

Sorry to drag this off topic.
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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostThu Jun 09, 2016 11:57 am

Saw Ichikawa's film of The Makioka Sisters long ago-- rented it on laserdisc, that should give you an idea-- but don't remember much other than thinking it was good at the time.

I have the Shimizu set, that's another that might be next, or at least after Gremillon, but one more Naruse to go first. I'm definitely liking the local color in these films more, now that I've been there. I agree, in fact we talked about this re: Duvivier, the not-masterpieces are often more interesting in that you have more of a sense of the artist wrestling with his themes, or sometimes, because they simply aim more modestly, you get more of ordinary life in.

One goosebumpy moment on our trip, but this was more Kurosawa-Mizoguchi-- touring the palace in Kyoto, and seeing one of those rooms where you'd have had the emperor or other lord at one end and everyone else lined up like schoolchildren facing him. A "wow, that really existed" moment, and knowing that the occasional pitiless cruelty (as in Kobayashi's great Harakiri from 1962) really happened here— I don't know, but it is fairly likely, that that is where the emperor Hideyoshi decreed that Sen no Rikyu, who created the modern idea of the tea ceremony, was getting too big for his britches as a celebrity, and ordered him to commit seppuku. Anyway, there were a few moments on the trip where we saw something and I still had a little surprise that it was something you could actually visit in this dimension, not just something from the movies.
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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostThu Jun 09, 2016 12:24 pm

Daniel Eagan wrote:
Frederica wrote:I can highly recommend Junichiro Tanizaki, anything by.


Finished The Makioka Sisters recently and thought it was the most "Japanese" book I have ever read. So Japanese that it was difficult for me to understand the characters' motivations. It was rewarding, but made me wary of his novels like Some Prefer Nettles or Quicksand. Have the Criterion DVD directed by Kon Ichikawa but haven't seen it yet.


Oh. I thought The Makioka Sisters was the most Russian Japanese book I'd ever read--it is so consciously Tolstoyian (in a not annoying way, I really love the book). I read everything of Tanizaki's I could get my hands on at the time. In a far less exalted vein I also very much enjoyed Eiji Yoshikawa's fat novels, especially Musashi (Inagaki's Samurai trilogy was based on Yoshikawa's novel). No adventure is left unplumbed there.

Sometimes I prefer mainstream books and movies that are less known than the classics, they offer insights that seem more honest, less like statements. I liked the Eclipse Shimizu box set a couple of years back. I'm waiting for a Heinosuke Gosho box set, his An Inn at Osaka has stuck with me for years. And a few years back I saw a cop stake-out film from the late 1950s that I think was called Caught that really impressed me, but I haven't been able to track it down.

Sorry to drag this off topic.


Erm yes...perhaps we could have a separate thread for Japanese film, like we do with UK films?
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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostThu Jun 09, 2016 12:29 pm

Mike Gebert wrote:Saw Ichikawa's film of The Makioka Sisters long ago-- rented it on laserdisc, that should give you an idea-- but don't remember much other than thinking it was good at the time.


I just rewatched Criterion's The Makioka Sisters a year or so ago, what I remembered most about it was the fabulous use of color. It does a good job of smooshing a lot of story and subtext into standard movie run time. Not to mention, pre-directorial Juzo Itami.

Aargh. Now I need to go watch A LOT of Japanese films.
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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostThu Jun 09, 2016 12:36 pm

Erm yes...perhaps we could have a separate thread for Japanese film, like we do with UK films?


Well, I could just retitle this one, I suppose, since it's getting there quickly anyway.
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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostThu Jun 09, 2016 1:06 pm

One of the trends noted in Ozu is that as he aged, his compositions grew simpler and simpler. I haven't thought this through in great detail, but this may been conservatism on his part, an unwillingness at first to give up the camera techniques of silent movies; given that Japan took far longer to move into the sound era and the transitional era lasted from 1930 through 1936, the reasons frequently cited, of the issues of dealing with not only a moving camera but a moving sound boom led to a loss of that particular piece of grammar -- certainly a flawed thesis given the Tay Garnet stuff seen recently at MOMA -- the technique may never have fallen into desuetude in Japan.

That being the case, the camera movement that annoyed you, Mike, in No Blood Relation may have been simply Japanese technique of the era. Certainly the oldest Japanese feature I've seen seemed to me a case of the plot driving character instead of the other way round; that may have been a failure on my part in understanding Japanese POV work.

Or perhaps it was Naruse being given a full budget and spending it unwisely. Like I said, I haven't thought it through yet.

Bob
To remain ignorant of what occurred before before you were born is to remain forever a child.
-- Marcus Tullius Cicero
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PhilipS

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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostFri Jun 10, 2016 12:45 am

Mike Gebert wrote: the emperor Hideyoshi decreed that Sen no Rikyu

Hideyoshi was a daimyo, or feudal warlord, not the Emperor.

Daniel Eagan wrote:a few years back I saw a cop stake-out film from the late 1950s that I think was called Caught that really impressed me, but I haven't been able to track it down.

That would be Harikomi (1958), usually called Stakeout in English, directed by Yoshitaro Nomura.
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Daniel Eagan

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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostFri Jun 10, 2016 11:51 am

PhilipS wrote:
Daniel Eagan wrote:a few years back I saw a cop stake-out film from the late 1950s that I think was called Caught that really impressed me, but I haven't been able to track it down.

That would be Harikomi (1958), usually called Stakeout in English, directed by Yoshitaro Nomura.


Thanks so much, I would never have found it under "Caught." I think now the title they used at the Asia Society screening was "The Chase."

I was impressed with the settings, the characters, and how well it was shot. As a plus, when the cops are chasing their suspect they have to climb a mountain trail. For once the filmmakers show how tough it is to scale steep hills.

Thank you again, this site can be such a great reference source.
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Mike Gebert

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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostFri Jun 10, 2016 11:34 pm

Image

STREET WITHOUT END

The last of the set and the last film Naruse made as the second and lesser Ozu at Shochiku, Street Without End is set in Ginza, then as now a glitzy shopping and entertainment district. The story evidently comes from a newspaper serial about young people, a set of girls in particular, working in a cafe, and their lives are eventful— in the same way that the lives of Little Orphan Annie or Terry and the Pirates were eventful, as in, they could end Friday living one kind of life and life could take a completely different direction on Monday. So one becomes a movie star just like that, while her boyfriend goes from doing caricatures on the street to becoming a set painter, just like that. And Sugiko (Setsuko Shinobu), the main one, loses one boyfriend over a misunderstanding and then finds a very rich second one just like that.

I had pretty much written this movie off as a calmer but not that much more logical melodrama like No Blood Relation. But suddenly, at almost exactly the halfway mark, Naruse gets hold of a theme and won't let go. Sugiko moves into the rich home of her new husband, his status-conscious mom and his catty sister— and she might as well have moved in with (My Name Is) Julia Ross, as the corrosive relations with the pair of them drive her weak husband to drink and make life intolerable for her. Not that she's seemingly much stronger, in that she tends to nod her head and say "No, it was all my fault" to everything. She thinks she has to put up with it to support her brother. But he doesn't want that, he wants his independence as a taxi driver, and she works up the gumption to fight back, too.

This half is excellent and shockingly hardbitten, with a gut punch of an ending, and probably came as quite a surprise to the studio expecting the glossy, shallow adventures of young career girls in the city. Anyway, he departed Shochiku for Toho soon after and I know little enough of what happened with his career before the films that are probably his most admired, Mother and When a Woman Ascends the Staircase, 1952 and 1960 respectively. But certainly his sympathy for women protagonists in hard family situations grows in a straight line through these last three films, and his handling of the acting—despite the fact that the editing still seems sometimes jagged or distracting—is strong. The set is a mixed bag, but certainly worth seeing for Apart From You, Street Without End and especially Every-Night Dreams.
“Sentimentality is when it doesn't come off—when it does, you get a true expression of life's sorrows.” —Alain-Fournier
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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostSat Jun 11, 2016 12:25 pm

I remember I liked that film. Simple, little movie with an unforgettable ending. A view from the street is very similar than ending in King Vidor's The Crowd and reminds me of life itself: it goes on no matter what happens. Not the greatest of this collection but way above average anyway.

Because we have talked about other Japanese silents in this thread, I'd like to ask your opinion about Kurutta Ippeji (A Page of Madness) and Jujiro (Crossroads, 1928) by Keisuke Kinugasa. I like them very much, especially Kurutta Ippeji which is haunting and hypnotic, beautifully made avant-garde when Jujiro is very much Russian like movie.
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oldposterho

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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostSat Jun 11, 2016 2:02 pm

If you're open to that sort of thing I think A Page of Madness is superb. Not for everybody but it blew me away.

--Peter
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Mike Gebert

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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostSat Jun 11, 2016 6:22 pm

I saw A Page of Madness a few years ago and here's what I wrote about it then.
“Sentimentality is when it doesn't come off—when it does, you get a true expression of life's sorrows.” —Alain-Fournier
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Re: Working through Eclipse sets of classic Japanese films

PostSat Jun 11, 2016 6:51 pm

I'm a dying mad fan of Sadao Yamanaka, no matter what. I have some great heavy-bounded books all about S.Y., but in Japanese language only. Shame. I'm continuing to search for any of his lost films including fragments. I cannot wait being eagerin' to upload his newly-found fragments for YouTube - in my YT channel - someday . . . :D
I just want to and have to show and tell everybody absolutely NOTHING but only the truth.
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