Human Condition

HUMAN CONDITION

Tatsuya Nakadai as Kaji

Human Condition, Part 1 is probably the most movie film I’ve ever seen. Directed by Masaki Koyabashi, Human Condition, Part 1 shows places idealistic hero Kaji-san in a Manchurian mine that’s managed with an iron fist. Young Kaji-san believes if the workers are treated humanly, they’ll produce more. Even if they didn’t, he believes it’s the right thing to do. Who wouldn’t agree?

The answer is plenty of the other managers and administrators. The head honcho will indulge Kaji-san, but only so far. That man’s main preoccupation seems to be living the easy life. Okishima-san is a veteran at the mine, who thinks Kaji-san’s ideas are too humanistic, but he’s open to giving them a try. He’s one of the few friends Kaji has.

Soon the mine is given 600 Chinese war prisoners. At the same time the higher ups have increased the quota by 20%. Kaji-san wants to see them treated well. He’s certainly alone on that.

When the train comes with the Chinese, the workers are emaciated. Fifteen died en route. Kaji-san campaigns for humane treatment for the Chinese. By  giving them more food, by no means a lot, they are able to work. Trouble comes when some of these prisoners start to escape. Kaji-san’s Chinese assistant Chen gets talked into convincing his pal who mans the electricity to shut it off after 1 am. When the third group tries to escape, Kaji-san’s nemesis accuses Kaji-san, who was totally in the dark, of allowing the prisoners to escape.

One of the most amazing things about this film, which is quite an indictment of Japan during the war, is that it got made and released, that the books it was based on were published. The film depicts a corrupt and brutal leadership. Japan heavily censored speech and punished dissenters in WWII. I admire Japan for allowing writers and filmmakers to criticize it’s atrocities in what at The time was it’s recent past. The Chinese characters are depicted fairly. Some are heroic, others rash or venial. I am sure there aren’t any Chinese films that show Mao’s Cultural Revolution, the 100 Flowers campaign, or Tiananmen Square in a similar fashion, which is a shame. It takes a great society to let it’s artists critique its wrongs.

The acting, particularly Nakadai’s, is outstanding. I’ve never been so moved. While the camera is used masterfully, the film manages to blend naturalism and art.

Three and a half hours is a long time for a film, but the time speeds by. That’s quite a feat.

Victoria, Season 2, Finale

Comfort and Joy

Sunday was the finale for this season’s Victoria. I’m not sure what I’ll do on Sunday evenings till Poldark returns in September. (I realize Little Women comes in May, but I’m not that sold on it. I think it’ll be fine but not as captivating. I hope I’m wrong.)

This episode mainly takes place at Christmas and Albert has Christmas Fever. His enthusiasm for having lots of Christmas decorations and carols was fun at first, till his desire for a perfect Christmas becomes irrational and annoying. It’s actually his subconscious way to cope with Uncle Leopold’s claim that he is Albert’s true father.

 

The episode begins with an officer in Africa saving a little girl whose tribe has been decimated. She’s a princess of a defeated tribe, and  Forbes, told the winning chief that his Queen wanted her. So the poor girl is traded off and Mr. Forbes and his wife take her in. Eventually, the officer takes her to the Queen who takes her in and treats her just line any of her own. Well, in fact, she seems more caring towards Sara, whom she feels great sympathy towards. Yet, all the while, Sara misses her new home with the Forbes.

Uncle Leopold has forced himself as an uninvited guest, his favorite role. Albert tries to force himself to be kind as he’s got Christmas Fever. Victoria is less blind to Leopold’s faults. Like all Brits, she’s not used to Christmas trees and such for Christmas. It was Albert who’s responsible for bringing German traditions to England.

Victoria2_EP7_3_Snow-1024x682

As if Leopold wasn’t a bad enough, Victoria’s most envious, plotting uncle has returned from Germany – Duke of Cumberland. He came to claim a favorite, expensive diamond necklace. Distressed by the uncle who wanted her dead, Victoria hoped to get some support from Albert, but he was so concerned with his perfect Christmas that he brushed her off. Since Victoria was still getting used to living in the palace without Lehzen, her lifelong supporter. She sure could use a husband who’s offers some support. Albert thought the necklace was insignificant, though giving it to Cumberland gives him strength and probably would result in emboldening him to try some other power play. Then Albert was critical of Victoria for mothering Sara as she did.

Yet in spite of Albert’s behavior, when Victoria was out with Sara and she sees Albert skating on thin ice, when he falls through the ice, Victoria goes into rescue mode and risks her safety, perhaps her life, to pull him out. That was quite a scary moment, and one that actually happened.

While Ernest manages to show kindness to Harriet, who’s understandably upset with him for standing her up when she expected he’d propose. Yet that nasty rash persists, and though Uncle Leo thinks it’s no big deal to hide his condition from a fiancée, Ernest has more principles. So he does tell Harriet it’s over, though he should have.

The episode concludes with Ernest giving Albert some brotherly advice and perspective. Albert’s dreams of a perfect Christmas is a delusion. They did not grow up with ideal Christmases. Victoria comes to see that Sara misses life with Mrs. and Captain Forbes so Victoria sends her back with them, though she always stayed in contact and did pay for her education.

I’ll miss my Sunday night Victoria episodes. Little Women debuts in May, but I don’t know what’s on PBS in the meantime. I’m not expecting much from Little Women, but I hope I’m wrong. I think my feeling’s due to my familiarity with Little Women, while Victoria and Poldark were all new to me.

I’ve enjoyed this second season, despite Albert’s occasional peevishness and the departure of Lehzen, Drummond and Lord Peel.

 

Moon for the Misbegotten

Final_Show_Art_MOON_-_450_x_665.jpg

Saturday friend and I went to the Writers’ Theater in Glencoe, Illinois, to see The Moon for the Misbegotten by Eugene O’Neil. It was my first visit to the Writers’ Theater. First I must say I was quite impressed with theater itself, which is a glorious building. I was further impressed by the live music they had in the anteroom. The theater has a large space where a duo was singing live music accompanied by guitar. What a great way to entertain the audience, who was able to sit on cushions on a large staircase, the sort that a lot of schools are adding and call “learning stairs.”

I hadn’t read the webpage carefully so until there was an announcement, I hadn’t realized that the play ran three hours. Like Ah, Wilderness, which I saw in the summer, Moon for the Misbegotten is a 3 hour play! Unlike the Goodman’s Ah, Wilderness, the Writers’ Theater did not cut anything from the show. They did have 2 intermissions, though.

The story’s set on  a poor farm in Connecticut. As in many of O’Neil’s plays, the father is a loud, angry alcoholic. In this case, Phil Hogan heads this family. His son Tom hightails it off the farm to escape Phil’s temper, but his sister Josie, outspoken an opinionated can hold her own with Pops, sticks around. The first scene dragged, which was odd since Tom is in such a hurry to get his bus to the city, but he keeps getting caught up with little problems and tasks.

Eventually Phil enters and we see him argue with Josie. There is a lot of arguing, which my friend found particularly annoying. I could stand it, but I can see how tiresome such characters are. This definitely was a play that could do with some trimming.

Eventually we get to the main issues of the play. The landlord’s son Jim, another big drinker, has the hots for Josie, but won’t admit it. He portrays himself as a ladies man who likes the girls on Broadway. Though she is attractive, Josie’s Achilles’ heel is her body image and status. She doesn’t think a rich boy like Jim could like a curvy, confident tenant farmer’s daughter. There’s quite a bit of flirtation, but both characters are too insecure to start a real relationship in the first two acts.

In act two, Phil gets betrayed by his pal, Jim. Jim’s agreed to sell the farm to a rich neighbor that Phil’s irritated by refusing to make sure his pigs don’t trespass on the man’s property. The neighbor makes Jim and enticing offer and Jim breaks his promise to always let Phil farm that land. Phil’s outraged and he and Josie plot to trick Jim and get even.

The actors in this production were pitch perfect and I’d love to see them again, especially A.C. Smith (Phil Hogan) and Bethany Thomas ( Josie Hogan). I’ve come to see Eugene O’Neil as long winded. He clearly wrote of what he knew, i.e. families full of alcoholics and that does get old. I think I’m off O’Neil for a while. Nonetheless the Writers Theater did a fine job with this play.

For Chicago Theater Week 2018 till February 18th, there’s a special on tickets. For $15 you get a lot of drama for the money. The promo code is CTW18.

Speed the Plow


Another David Mamet play seemed a fitting read as I’m currently taking his MasterClass online.

I’d seen the play at the Remains Theater in 1987.

The play is a satire of show business. Charlie Fox brings a movie deal consisting of a hot star and a blockbuster-type script to his long time buddy, Bobby Gould, who’s career is on fire since he’s gotten a promotion. He’s got till 10 am the next morning to get a producer to agree to make it. So he trusts his pal to make the deal, which will earn them boat-loads of money.

They talk about the business and their careers.  They dream of what they’ll do after this life-changing film is released. In the background a temp secretary bungles along with the phone system. Eventually, she comes into the office and winds up having to read a far-fetched novel as a “courtesy read” meaning she’s to write a summary of a book that’s not going to be adapted to film.

 
After she leaves the office, the men make a bet, a bet that Bobby Gould, whom Karen is working for, will succeed in seducing her. Karen’s not in on this but she agrees to go to Gould’s house to discuss the book she’s to summarize.

Karen finds the book about the end of the world life-changing. Like many 20-something’s She’s swept up by its message. What’s worse, when she goes to Gould’s house she convinces him to make the crazy book into a film and to leave his pal in the dust. The book and play are brisk and, as you’d expect, contain rapid-fire dialog. I enjoyed this book, but can see how some would find problems with Mamet’s portrayal of women. I think he portrays Hollywood quite realistically.

Victoria, Season 2 Week 4

Faith, Hope and Charity

This week’s episode centered on the Irish Potato Famine and the British lack of response. First we see a meeting of Church of Ireland pastors, which is connected to the Anglican Church, where the men discuss their response to the potato famine. They’re offering soup kitchens to the Catholics who agree to switch denominations. They gripe about the poor Catholics who haven’t tithed to the Church of Ireland, which the law required them to do. Yes, later in the episode Victoria appalled, too. Why donate to a church you don’t belong to?

In the 19th century anti-Catholicism is in high gear. Only one pastor, Dr. Traill, objects and sees that all the Irish need food. The rest are quite un-Christian and wiling to let their neighbors starve. I suppose they’re unfamiliar with Mark 25: 35-40.

At Kensington Palace, Victoria and Albert welcome Ernst who’s got some mysterious health problem, which turns out to be an STD. The condition is slowly revealed.

Lord Peel and a new character, who’s a real churl, Charles Trevelyan, Assistant Secretary to the Treasury, explain to Victoria why they can’t help the Irish. Trevelan hates the Irish whom he thinks are subhuman. In fact he thinks the famine is a boon, because it will cull the herd. Victoria was rightly appalled. She seeks solutions, but neither Peel nor Trevelyan want to rock the boat in Parliament. Victoria wants to feed these people and she wants to repeal the Corn Laws, tariffs that protected the price of grains. Peel and Vrevelyan worry that if we give free food to the starving, everyone will expect free food.

Victoria confers with Albert over the matter, but Albert’s so upset with the stench of the old plumbing that he brushes her off. He’s hellbent on getting more WC’s in the palace. I’m not sure why he couldn’t manage both issues. He’s basically an executive. His job is to make decisions while someone else installs WC’s or sends the food to Ireland.

irish-potato-famine-1846-47-granger

Downstairs our attention is drawn to the servant girl who’s from Ireland. She’s lied about being Protestant to keep her job. Her family is starving back home. She needs to get money to send to them so they can eat. One great scene is when she tells off Penge, who makes snide remarks about Papists and the famine.

Ernst is told that his mistress Harriet’s husband has died. This should be a great opportunity for him to court her openly. (Though this is not historical at all. The real Ernst was already married by now and this particular lord did not die in a hunting accident or in this year. He died later.)

I can’t feel sorry for Ernst. Actions have consequences. Fooling around with prostitutes comes at a cost. Laughing off his choices as following in his reprobate father’s footsteps is ridiculous. Ernst gambled with his life. I will feel sorry for any woman the show might marry him off to.

phytophtora_infestans-effects

A diseased potato

When Victoria asks the duchess about her land in Ireland, Charlotte, dismisses the country as an uncivilized spot with no real society. She should stay in London. The duchess is a poor traveler.

Mr. Francatelli is seen consorting with some woman who wants him to sell palace secrets and go with her to America. Apparently, she’s the source of all the finery he’s been able to afford. However, he decides to stay put (so the storyline with Skerret can continue). He gives the Irish servant girl his gold watch so she can sell it and send the money home.

The queen does send the Irish some help, which is true to the history. In spite of his wife’s protests, Dr. Traill does the Christian thing and opens a soup kitchen at the vicarage. He contracts typhus and dies. The episode ended with a montage of the starving of Ireland. Hats off to the show for using Irish music throughout, but to squeeze a famine that went on for years into one episode is just wrong. I think the issue should have come up throughout this and probably next season.

Here’s a collection of tweets that an Irish newspaper collected in response to this episode.

November

1419418Since I’m taking the MasterClass David Mamet teaches I thought I’d read some of his plays. This week I got his play November (2008) which is about an American president Charles Smith who’s up for re-election with no funds for campaigning. He’s been cut off by his party. He’s getting no help from his speech writer either. He has one person who’s still advising him, Archer.

Archer provides a reality check (if we can call information on the absurdity of how DC works reality) for the President. Smith would like to strong arm his opponents and betrayers as they cut off his funds or call in sick.

A main plotline here is the President’s traditional pardon of a turkey before Thanksgiving. According to the play, the turkey farmers’ association gives the president a stipend, a hefty stipend for the pardon. Now Smith strives to up the amount by threatening to have his speechwriter convince the public that it’s not PC to eat turkey.

The play moves quickly and has a robust humor, colored with profanity, as you’d expect from Mamet. The story is outlandish and now a bit dated because we’ve resolved some of the issues it tackles. I wouldn’t say this is a must read or that the play’s a must see. It does exemplify Mamet’s rules for writing, e.g. don’t bore the audience with exposition and start in medias res.

Boy Jones

April_24,_1841The newspapers in 1840s got hold of the story of this guttersnipe, as the Duchess of Buccleuth calls him. How could a scamp who can penetrate the security of what was the home of the Queen of England not be newsworthy?

As shown in the drama Victoria (season 2) this boy broke into the palace and had the audacity to steal Victoria’s underwear. He’d poke around the library and even sat on the throne. At first the royals were lenient, but since the boy wouldn’t stop, eventually he was shipped off to Australia.