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Crazed Fruit

crazed_fruit

When I picked Crazed Fruit (1956) out at the library, I had no idea what it was about our who the director, Ko Nakahira was. Until recently, the only directors I knew were Ozu and Kurosawa. I’ve learned Japan has produced many masterful filmmakers.

Crazed Fruit takes place in the late 1950s when Japan is getting prosperous, at least the elite are. The main characters are two brothers from a wealthy family. The brothers, Natsuhisha and Haruji, spend their summer with their fellow rich kids gambling, smoking, drinking, fighting and going after girls. Another occupation is complaining about how their college professors know nothing and how their futures are meaningless. While it’s becoming an economic wonder, Japan doesn’t offer any outlet for their passions.

When the brothers arrive at the train station en route to their pal’s summer house, they see Eri, a beautiful, alluring young woman. Haruji, who’s the young, innocent brother, is smitten, but his brother, who’s quite the lover boy, pulls him away so they can hurry over to their friends.

The next day while out on a boat, they notice a girl in the water. It turns out to be Eri. Soon both boys are smitten and don’t really care or, in the case of Haruji, know, that Eri’s married to a much older, prosperous Western man.

Haruji innocently courts Eri, who always has an excuse why she can’t be picked up at home. The scenes with Haruji and Eri are tastefully sensual. The camera captures their desire as they lie next to each other sunbathing on the rocks by the sea in a way that’s exquisite. It’s a much more compelling than any sex scene I’ve seen in 10 years or more. Nakahira is a master, who deserves to be studies by every filmmaker and film lover.

Soon Natsuhisha becomes obsessed with Eri. He finds her house and sees her husband. He promises to keep her Western husband a secret from Haruji if Eri will have sex with him. She agrees. Eri’s character is hinted at rather than well defined. She’s a mystery and unlike other characters. She’s insulted and angry, but also willing. Natsuhisha exudes animal chemistry and she finds him more than satisfying in the bedroom. Eri seems to want to keep her three men, to keep those relationships separate, but to keep them. Of course, this is impossible

The film, which is based on a novel by Ishihara, broke new ground in depicting sensuality and the abandonment of traditional morality among rich youth. At the time, though people’s own mores had changed, film had not. Japanese films tended to uphold traditional morals. While the tragic ending in Crazed Fruit certainly doesn’t promote the lifestyle or choices of the idle rich, it did shock the elders at the cinema.

Crazed Fruit was conceived and produced to be a low budget, teen flick that would cash in at the box office. The story, in Nakahira’s hands, is a beautiful classic.

The Criterion Collection offers two thoughtful essays on Crazed Fruit. The commentary by Japan film expert Donald Richie greatly enhances the film as he explains the social context and context of this film within Japanese filmmaking.

 

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Fr. Laurence, Why?

For my online book club we read Romeo and Juliet, which my students are now reading as well. Once I get to Act 4, I want to just ask Friar Laurence why on earth he thought this plan with Juliet taking a sleeping drug would work. Why not tell her parents, Friar? Since she’s already consummated her marriage to Romeo, wouldn’t the Capulets and the Montagues have to make the best of things?

The Friar even tells Paris he doesn’t like the hasty marriage to Juliet. That’s a great start. Just tell the truth or if he’s such a coward, tell the parents they have to wait a certain amount of time after Tybalt’s death to marry. Then have them tell the truth. One of them would get the courage to.

I realize Shakespeare took the story from another source, a poem by Arthur Brooke and he saw that it had a lot of powerful elements, but there are some glaring mistakes in the plot.

Aida

As I’ve come to expect, the Lyric Opera‘s Aida blew me away. Since signing up for the Lyric’s NExT program that offers $20 student discount tickets, I’ve discovered that I really like opera, at least some operas. Although all the NExT tickets were gone by the time, I bought my tickets, I felt the $55 tickets would be a wise purchase and they were.

My friend Maryann and I went on a Friday afternoon and first went to the pre-opera lecture. WFMT‘s Carl Grapentine, who’s got a sonorous voice, offered background that made the opera all the more meaningful. We learned that Verdi was rejected when he applied to the conservatory in Milan, which today is called Conservatorio di musica “Giuseppe Verdi” di Milano. Ha! Take that!

Aida is Verdi’s 26th opera and was commissioned by an Egyptian khedive (i.e. viceroy, i.e. a king’s representative). Grapentine explained Aida’s genesis and story, and I highly encourage audience members to attend the free pre-opera lecture which starts an hour before the curtain.

Briefly, Aida has a plot Aristotle would love as the characters are tied together in such a way that only tragedy can result. Ethiopia and Egypt are at war. Aida is an Ethiopian slave serving the Egyptian princess, Amneris. Both women love the same man, Radames, a strapping young Egyptian warrior. He loves Aida, but becomes engaged to Amneris, who senses her fiancé has eyes for someone else. Who?

As if this isn’t enough drama, Aida is the daughter of the Ethiopian king Amonasro, who’s been captured by Radames. Every one of the three main characters’ hearts are divided between loyalty, patriotism and true love.

No one’s going to walk off into the sunset and though as a modern viewer of stories in every media available, I get a steady diet of happy endings, I’m perfectly fine with this tragedy. I wish Hollywood trusted in the power of tragedy as the Greeks and Shakespeare’s peers did. We don’t always need things tied up with a bow at the end. Really.

A feast for the eyes and ears, Aida features masterful singing, spectacular sets, lavish costumes, and beautiful dancing. The English translations for the Italian lyrics are projected overhead so that even those, like us, in the nosebleed seats can follow the story easily.

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