Rusty Knife

57760-the-rusty-knife-0-230-0-345-cropPart of a collection of Japanese noir films, Rusty Knife (1958) packs a punch. A relentless D.A. won’t give up on getting justice for a murder that was wrongly categorized as a suicide. He hunts down two reformed gangsters, who witnessed the murder as other yakuza (Japanese mobsters) killed a city official. One of the witnesses now owns a bar and has turned over a new leaf. However, the guilty and anger towards these gangsters who brutally raped and murdered his true love. As the D.A. urges him, the reformed gangster pursues the yakuza and seeks revenge.

The emotions run high and the plot has some great fight scenes. The plot offers plenty of surprises. I recommend this film and would certainly watch more of director Toshio Masuda’s films.

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Kusama Infinity

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Kusama Infinity is a documentary about the pop artist Yayoi Kusama. Proceeding in chronological order, the film begins with information on Kusama’s youth and her struggle to become an artist when her mother would tear up her work and she received no encouragement from her parents. Despite the restrictions for traveling abroad or taking money out of Japan in the 1960s, Kusama does leave for New York where she strives to make it in the art world, which was dominated by Western men.

We see her geometric art, full of simple circles and lines, which represent infinity. We see how she uses mirrors and mirror balls to delight and memorize. We learn about her disappointing relationships, her depression and the people who supported her.

Yet after an hour I felt the film was dragging and I tired of the 1960s-70s avant garde scene. I wished there was some acknowledgment that while she had her struggles, Kusama did receive a great deal of acclaim, freedom and wealth.

The Band of Outsiders

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Jean-Luc Goddard’s 1964  Band of Outsiders has gotten under my skin. It’s full of powerful imagery and perplexing characters. Beautiful and naive Odile meets two friends, Arthur and Franz in an adult ed English class. The young men are smitten with Odile, though the Alpha male of the pair Arthur pursues her and leads the trio in a robbery of a man who lives with Odile in her aunt’s home.

I kept hoping that Odile would stop Arthur’s pursuit and look for a better man. She saw that Arthur’s plan was both wrong and foolish, but she continually went against good sense. Arthur isn’t kind to Odile and Franz occasionally stands up for her, but throughout the film Arthur, who comes from a family of boorish gangsters, treats Odile poorly. He’s too selfish to be kind to anyone. He’s a ruined person.

I often winced at the psychology of the relationships on screen. I did understand and feel sorry for Arthur, whose relatives beat him so he’d get them the loot faster. I wondered why Franz couldn’t find a better friend and I understood that Odile was a weak person easily influenced by flattery and attention, but all that was hard to watch.

What saved the film for me was its magical moments. In one scene the trio decides to try to beat American tourist Jimmy Johnson’s record of racing through the Louvre in 9 minutes 45 seconds. Probably my favorite scene was in a café when Odile gets the boys to dance. You see the trio of needy people entangled in an ambivalent love triangle dancing. I can watch this again and again.

Godard’s narration is full drôle commentary. The black and white images are compelling. So despite my quibbles with the relationships, this heist film that’s full of ennui is well worth seeing.

Gate of Hell

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I’d never seen a film with a bolder use of color than Gate of Hell directed by Kinugasa Teinosuke. During the Heiji Rebellion, al hell breaks loose when Lord Kiyomori is traveling. Rebels lay siege to the lord’s castle. During the coup Moritoh, a loyal samurai, asks for a volunteer to pose as the lord’s sister while the sister and father escape. Kesa, a lady-in-waiting steps up and this beauty impresses the samurai and he’s smitten.

After defending the lord’s castle, Moritoh returns to his home with Kesa in tow and finds his brother has gone over to the side of the rebels. Loyal to the Lord rather than his brother, Moritoh warns Lord Kiyomori of this rebellion. To reward Moritoh, the lord offers to satisfy any wish the samurai has. He asks permission to marry Kesa, however she is already married. He’s offered a chance to ask for anything else, but Moritoh’s so obsessed with this honorable woman, that he spends the rest of the film pursuing Kesa.

Kesa’s married to Wataru, a wonderful man who cherishes her. She has no desire to leave him. Moritoh challenges Kesa’s husband to a competition. The story ends with a surprising turn. At least it surprised me as a Western viewer.

The film begins at high speed in the rush of battle and then moves to a meditative pace, while keeping the audience engaged till the last scene. The film won the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film and Costumes. The kimonos are gorgeous and it’s worth it just to watch to see them.

Death of a Cyclist

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Death of a Cyclist (1955) is a powerful film from Spain. I found this via serendipity as the image on the DVD box intrigued me. The Criterion Collection site offers a plot summary I can’t trump, so here that is:

Upper-class geometry professor Juan and his wealthy, married mistress, Maria José, driving back from a late-night rendezvous, accidentally hit a cyclist, and run. The resulting, exquisitely shot tale of guilt, infidelity, and blackmail reveals the wide gap between the rich and the poor in Spain, and surveys the corrupt ethics of a society seduced by decadence. Juan Antonio Bardem’s charged melodrama Death of a Cyclist (Muerte de un ciclista) was a direct attack on 1950s Spanish society under Franco’s rule. Though it was affected by the dictates of censorship, its sting could never be dulled.

Compelling and intense, Lucia Bosé stars as Maria José, the stunning mistress who’s anxious about the black mail and incrimination she faces, while not worrying much about her responsibility for the death of the bicyclist. As the film progresses, the professor faces a career crisis caused by distraction due to his ruminating over the accident. As the university students lay siege to the administration building, the professor gains moral clarity which leads to a most surprising ending.
 

I liked that the story offered unpredictable plot turns. Lucia Bosé’s beauty and style were simple and captivating. The cinematography was bold and showed how black and white films can achieve more stunning results than color more often than not. I do wonder was Spain of the 1950s that immoral? How much of this is exaggeration?

I highly recommend Death of a Cyclist and I’ll look for more films with Bosé and directed by Juan Antonio Bardem.

All that Heaven Allows

The trailer promises “torture and ecstasy.” Maybe we get some.

I don’t mean I didn’t enjoy All that Heaven Allows (1955) starring Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson as a November – June romance, but the movie does swerve into the melodrama lane as the ad suggests.

The movie opens with wealthy widow Cary (Wyman) getting urged to attend a party by her friend Sara (played by Bewitched’s Agnes Morehead). Cary’s got to fend off loneliness after all. Sara later urges Cary to get a television set as that’s a good companion. At a country club party, Cary and the audience are bored by the snobbish guests who idolize convention.

Then young and handsome Ron enters Cary’s life and soon they’re in love. A gardener by trade, Ron prefers a simple, outdoorsy life. His friends admire his down-to-earth value system. As time goes by, Ron proposes and Cary wants her friends and college age kids to know about her relationship.

A beautiful middle-aged woman and a young man?! This pair sends shockwaves through the town. Cary’s friends are vicious towards Ron. Her children through adolescent tantrums. What are you thinking? Do you know how this looks?

Cary has to choose between her secure past and a romantic future.

The film took on a fresh situation. Questions like does Ron want children? aren’t addressed as the main theme is the effects of snobbery and convention. Sometimes the dialog was laid on thick and wanted to tell the director “I know what you’re driving at so you don’t need to be so obvious.” All in all, I was pulled into the story and happy to stick with it.