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The Bad Sleep Well

Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well blew me away. It’s not one of his most famous films, but it’s packed with power. I learned of The Bad Sleep Well via Tony Zhou’s Every Frame a Picture channel where Zhou analyzes Kurosawa’s effective placement of actors.

The film opens with reporters and detectives invading the wedding between the handsome apparently straight as an arrow Nishi to Yoshiko, the pretty and disabled daughter of CEO Iwabuchi, whose corrupt deals caused Nishi’s father’s suicide. Nishi has positioned himself in Iwabuchi’s corporation as his assistant and married into the clan to exact revenge for his father’s death.

Disrupted by the appearance of a wedding cake that looks like the building Nishi’s father killed himself and by the arrest of a loyal, timid employee indicate the disaster of the marriage. Nishi has spent five years trying to get into Iwabuchi’s inner circle to expose the kickbacks and violence that fueled the success of Public Corporation. Iwabuchi and his colleagues are cold blooded, willing to goad their employees to suicide if it helps them keep their dirty cash flowing in.

While the film differs from hamlet, there are many intended parallels. Nishi’s obsessed with his father’s death. Yoshiko is very much like Ophelia and she meets no better end. While Nishi’s mother never married, Kurosawa uses gray flannel ghosts to freak out his characters.

The evils of corporate greed have bene a common theme in modern film Somehow Kurosawa, while showing blatant, unrepentant evil, doesn’t seem to have exaggerated. The executives and their conniving seem all too real.

Every scene had me riveted and the ending was a complete surprise, though it was perfect. It’s a film the I won’t soon forget.

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Tatsumi

Tatsimi is the autobiography of Yoshihiro Tatsumi, a famous manga artist in Japan. Manga are Japanese comic books, a literary genre differs significantly from American comic books. Tatsumi is interspersed with short stories by Tatsumi which gave me a sense of how this graphic genre handles mature themes and experiences with insight, irony and

Tatusmi grew up during the war and took to drawing professionally to help his mother make ends meet. His father was good-for-nothing and once Tatsumi started selling his work, his father destroyed his drawings.

The film follows Satsuma’s career from his teenage to middle age years. We see is popularity grow, his career stall when he outgrows the genre of teen manga and finally goes on to develop a new genre, called gekiga, which targets middle aged readers. It’s the story of the career of an artist and doesn’t go into much detail into Satsuma’s personal life once he’s grown. I found it a terrific introduction to an art form. In addition, since Tatusmi’s life spanned WWII and the ensuing years so full of change for Japan, it was an excellent way to learn about modern Japanese history.

Our Little Sister

The Japanese film Our Little Sister is about three sisters, whose half sister comes to live with them after he dies. The older sisters are all out of school and working. The eldest, Sachi, is a nurse and the mother hen. She seems the most upright, but she’s got a secret romance with a married doctor. Next is the more sociable Yoshino, who works at a bank and has romance after romance. She’s the sort who gets too involved to fast. The third of the sisters is Chika, who’s very whimsical and happy go lucky. She’s all sunshine and smiles and she works at a store selling athletic shoes.

At their father’s funeral, the trio decides to bring Suzu, their half sister who’s in middle school to their family home. Suzu’s mother has died and her stepmother is really a non-entity. The film is a slice of life about the four sisters and the first three’s mother who deserted them but comes back to town briefly for her mother’s ceremony for the anniversary of her death. Along the way we get a natural look at a family that’s had plenty of difficulties and still has some struggles, but they manage to survive and thrive. The house is charming as the the warmth between these characters.

Watching the film feels like floating down a river. The pace is just right. The characters are insightful and perceptive. I loved my time with this family.

Dragnet Girl by Ozu

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Dragnet Girl: Joji (l) and Tokiko (r)

Director Ozu’s Dragnet Girl is an absorbing silent film about Tokiko,a gangster moll, who becomes jealous when Joji, her boyfriend, gets a case of the wandering eye. Tokiko looks as sweet as can be, but actually she’s quite a coquette. She works at a company by day and the boss’s son is smitten with her plying her with expensive gifts that she’s happy to take.

Her night’s are spent with Joji, the head of a small crime outfit that seems to fix boxing matches. Tokiko is Joji’s main squeeze. Selfish and extravagant, she’s quite brazen and disloyal as she’ll wear her boss’s gifts in front of Joji.

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Kazuko

When a high school boy, impressed with Joji’s flash and power, tries to join his gang, the boy’s sister, Kazuko, who’s simple and innocent, begs Joji to get her brother back on the straight and narrow. Joji’s instantly smitten with Kazuko. He starts hanging around her music shop and starts appreciating classical music and all that Kazuko, who pays him no mind, appreciates.

At first Tokiko dismisses her rival, but when she sees that Joji is changing for real she gets nervous. She goes as far as plotting to shoot Kazuko, but then she comes to appreciate Kazuko’s magnetic innocence. Tokiko is not to be trusted after telling Joji she wants to change and become more like her rival. She’s been branded as a delinquent and that label’s impossible to remove.

The film has the style of a noir classic and takes some interesting turns as Tokiko refuses to marry her boss and plots to rob him with Joji. It’s a beautiful simple film that didn’t need talking.

Tokyo Godfathers

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By Satoshi Kon, Tokyo Godfathers shows three homeless misfits–a gambler, who’s lost his family, a transvestite and a runaway teen–who discover an abandoned baby. These outsiders, though flawed and somewhat to blame for their situation, come to get the audience’s sympathy and respect. They bicker as they seek the baby’s parents, which is a wild odyssey full of surprises against a gritty backdrop I rarely see in Japanese films.

The misfits have interesting backstories and as the story progresses they are forced to come to terms with their mistakes and history. They lead us through Japan’s shadier sides and the artwork is realistic.

Unlike the other Kon films I’ve seen this one sticks to the story with no departures into the character’s subconsciouses. Tokyo Godfathers/em> is a film I’d watch again and again.

Jellyfish Eyes

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A mix of animation and live action, Jellyfish Eyes amazed me. It’s the story of Masashi, a Japanese boy whose father died in the tsunami. He moves with his mother to a new town where he befriends an otherworldly creature and soon learns that all the other children have similar strange friends that they control with remote controls and have fight each other whenever their teacher turns her back.

Mashasi’s uncle works at a mysterious lab, which turns out to be run by a nefarious group of evil scientists trying to harness negative energy through children since children’s energy is purest. His uncle opposes the mad scientists, but they ignore his warnings and pleas.

As the movie progresses,a girl befriends Masashi saving him from bullies. The girl’s mother in reaction to the tsunami and following nuclear disaster, has joined a religious cult. Thus the girl, like Masashi must parent herself. The film is unique in that shows children coping with trauma and loss. It has a powerful message of self-sacrifice and pulling together rationally in times of crisis. At the end I was stunned. As the film’s directed towards children it ends happily, but that was uncertain till the last minutes. I thought it was brave and smart to give children a chance to see such a wise, exciting and delightful film.

It offers adults the message of how technocrats and scientists gamble with our safety when they get caught up with an idea or “solution.” It’s such a different film and one old and young (as young as say 10) could enjoy and ponder.

Mr. Thank You

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Arigato-san or Mr. Thank You in English is a simple, rather slow-moving film that shows Japan in the depression of The hero, Arigato-san is a bus driver known up and down his rural route as “Mr. Thank You” because he yells a cheery “Thank you!” to everyone he passes on the road.

The plot isn’t much and this isn’t a film for anyone who needs action, even the usual dose of action. However the film does make an impact at the end. Mr. Arigato is the epitome of kindness. He stops whenever someone flags him down. Then he’ll carry messages to relatives down the road or pick up items for people who ask him to. As usual, the level of service in Japan is and was astounding.

On the bus are a mother who’s taking her pretty young daughter to the city to sell her to a brothel (not a fancy geisha house, a brothel of which there were plenty), a chatty citified woman who smokes and drinks and shares her flask liberally with her fellow passengers, a fuddy-duddy salesman who looks very successful and leers and the young women, and an array of short term riders from the countryside.

One cultural note that struck me was that one couple who were off to attend a wedding got right off the bus and decided to walk rather than share a bus with someone who was going to a wake. That would have bad luck for their relative who was getting married. The film is striking in how clearly it shows the poverty in Japan in 1936.

All in all, Mr. Thank You isn’t a must see and even though it’s just 57 minutes long it did drag for me. Probably when it came out, a Japanese audience would have no complaints about the pace. If you have a keen interest in Japanese culture or film history, this is worth seeing.

No Regrets for Our Youth

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Directed by Kurosawa, No Regrets for Our Youth surprised me as it’s the story of a young woman by a director whose prolific body of work otherwise emphasised male characters. The heroine Yukie is carefree and playful at the start of the film. She has no use for anything serious. The film opens with Yukie strolling through the mountains with her father’s university students. When they come to a shallow creek, she halts and waits for someone to rescue her.

Noge, a very political, man of action carries her across the water that seems about three inches deep. On the sidelines looking awkward is his friend Itokawa who has feelings for Yukie, but is too shy and unsure of himself to do anything. Yukie likes teasing men more than anything and  plays Noge and Itokawa off each other.

As political tensions rise in Japan leading up to WWII, Yukie’s father is fired by the government because he’s spoken out against military aggression. Made after the war No Regrets for Our Youth, contains several scenes with characters discussing the importance of academic freedom, free speech and the importance of self sacrifice when working towards a greater good. Both Yukie’s father and Noge, who is arrested and imprisoned pay for their ideals.

After seven years, Yukie leaves her hometown Kyoto, to work in Tokyo. Here she bumps into Itokawa who’s continued to play it safe. He’s a lawyer and is married. He’s kept in touch with Noge, who’s just been released. Now Yukie’s matured somewhat and when she sees Noge again she’s willing to give up a conventional life to risk life with a rebel.

Soon Noge is arrested and she’s imprisoned, questioned and eventually released. We’re not entirely sure of what Noge did with his underground work but he says that in 10 years the Japanese will thank him and Yukie. From then on Yukie’s life is full of hardship, hardship she voluntarily takes on despite protests from her parents and Noge’s parents. It’s amazing to see someone who was such a flibbertigibbet turn into an honest to goodness heroine.

While the film was made early in Kurosawa’s career and lacks the mastery of later films, No Regrets of Our Youth tells a compelling story and enlightened me on anti-war protests in Japan prior to and during WWII. Also, I wish this Criterion Collection DVD featured more commentary or background information.

There Was a Father

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R – Chishu Ryu as the father; L – Takashi Sakamoto as the vice principal

Directed by Ozu, one of my favourite directors, There Was a Father is an intimate look at a widower raising his one son before WWII. This  conscientious father quits teaching when a boy dies on a school trip. It wasn’t the father’s fault. He wasn’t the only teacher on the trip and he had told the boys not to go on the lake (though Western teachers would have run out to the pier when they saw the boys get in the books rather than continuing with their meal, I think).

After quitting teaching because of his feelings of guilt, the father takes a job in a factory and sends his son who’s about 9 to a boarding school. Like all Ozu films, the story is simple and concentrates on the quieter aspects of familial relationships. Ozu’s very observant like a nature photographer who creeps up on his subjects so as not to disturb them and thereby captures how they really are when they aren’t aware of being observed.

At different points the boy presents his case for coming home. He sees family as most important. However the father exhorts his son to work hard. That’s every Japanese person’s duty, to put aside personal desires, however good, to work hard as their greater duty.

There Was a Father was a pre-war movie that complied with the government’s orders for filmmakers to put out films that lined up with their propaganda efforts. Ozu makes the duty theme clear, yet elegant. The film’s a touching look at Japan and family life during hard times.

 

Kurosawa: Masterful Movement

I’ve watched this engrossing, enlightening YouTube video by Tony Zhou of Every Frame a Painting, three times. He makes it clear how much more absorbing a Kurosawa film is than your average Hollywood film often due to the masterful use of movement.

What’s more, I enjoyed spotting the films I’d seen: The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail, One Wonderful Sunday, I Live in Fear and Ikiro.

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