Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

Dragnet Girl by Ozu

tokiko

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.

dragnet girl

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

tokyo-godfathers

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

film-jellyfish-eyes

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

Mr-Thank-You_42_original

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

a947a29bfc3ed938e70c5aac1106418b

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

there-was-a-father-2

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.

The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail

The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail kurosawa

Directed by Kurosawa, The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (1945) follows a group of seven samurai warriors t who dress as monks to travel through their enemy’s checkpoint. Adapted from classic story that both Noh and Kabuki theatre had covered, Kurosawa adds a comical character, a self-described blockhead who’s a porter taking the same trail as the warriors. For me he was the highlight of the film.

It’s a short (59 minutes) and simple film with little violence considering it takes place during a time of war and the characters are samurai. The theme that struck me most was reverence. The leader hid his face most of the time and his soldiers, particularly his second in command treated him like a god. I was struck by this as my own culture so emphasizes equality that I just couldn’t imagine feeling so in awe of any person.

The climax comes early in the film when the warriors must convince the lord at the checkpoint that they are monks. The lord has been told to look for seven warriors in disguise. It’s dramatic, but more suspenseful than high octane as a modern film would be.

The film’s good for people wanting to get to know the breadth of Kurosawa’s work, otherwise I wouldn’t say it’s a “must-see.”

A Stitch of Life

stitch of life

I got to see A Stitch of Life on the flight home from San Francisco. I was delighted my United plane had personal TVs because I used to find such good foreign films that way.

A Stitch of Life is a Japanese film about Ichie who’s taken over her grandmother’s tailoring business. A young buyer urges her to create a brand and for most of the film she refuses as a “successor’s role is to carry on the originator’s work.” So Ichie will only alter or rework her grandmother’s designs. Her grandmother made clothes that lasted a lifetime, dresses and suits people wanted to wear their whole lives. Every year she held a soirée for her customers and they came in their favorite clothes and danced.

The film slowly unfolds as the buyer persists in getting to know Ichie’s process and talent. While he’s a pest, he’s not a stalker. He’s entranced by her mastery, her art and feels she’s making a mistake in not creating her own designs, in not branding her works. He reveres her talent and the more he sees her world the more he realizes that mass marketing would ruin her.

In the end the film is about art and craft, and what we lose when an art or craft dies. It’s a powerful examination and elegy for traditional arts. Simply beautiful

Previous Older Entries

Disclaimer

Dear Fellows, The State Department has requested that any Fellows who maintain their own blog or website please post the following disclaimer on your site: "This website is not an official U.S. Department of State website. The views and information presented are the English Language Fellows' own and do not represent the English Language Fellow Program or the U.S. Department of State." We appreciate your cooperation. Site Meter
%d bloggers like this: