Tuesday, March 31, 2015

March 2015: A Month In Asia

This month I thought I'd do something different. I knew I wanted to watch Ugetsu as means of the Blind Spot Challenge. I also decided to start off the month with Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring. So I decided why not just focus on the whole of Asian cinema for this month. Sure I can watch some American films in between, but I wanted to delve into the cultures of this continent.

Film has the ability to give us access to the culture of the country from which the film is produced. For example, the rich history of China is documented in the microcosm of opera in Farewell, My Concubine. The Edo Period and the bushido code is looked at in Harakiri. They are gateways to other places. The vitality and urgency of films coming out of these countries shows how important it is to study these films. Never mind the period. Seven Samurai is just as alive as the new films coming out of South Korea in the 2000s. Who cares if you have to read the subtitles. 


Akira Kurosawa

If there's ever a director who dominated this month, it would be the Master of Japanese Cinema, Akira Kurosawa. I had already seen Rashomon, Seven Samurai, Ikiru, High and Low, Stray Dog and Ran. This month I took in Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Kagemusha, The Bad Sleep Well, The Hidden Fortress and Red Beard. I can't wait to take on another batch of his films.

In addition to digging deeper into his filmography, I learned much about his life story, how he rose to prominence and how he reshaped the language of cinema.

Kenji Mizoguchi

Mizoguchi earned a spot on my list of favorite directors after watching both Sansho the Bailiff and Ugetsu. His Life of Oharu only confirmed his spot there. These are three of the most powerful works I have experienced in any language.

Yasujiro Ozu

Ozu, like Bresson, makes things simple that you think you can pull off that camera set up or scene. But its anything but simple. One of his most revered works, Late Spring and his final work An Autumn Afternoon allowed me to discover the poetry of his world.

Masako Kobayashi

Not as highly regarded as the three masters above but every bit as important. His most known work, Harakiri, is a masterful evocation of the bushido code. A critique of feudalism and authoritarian power, Harakiri is set in the Edo period of Japan which lasted from 1600 to 1868. It tells the story of Tsugumo Hanshiro, a ronin (samurai without a master) whose family was wronged by the Ily clan. A wonderful performance by Tatsuya Nakadai and masterful direction by Kobayashi, Harakiri  jumped into my Top 100 when I saw it. I look forward to his nine part epic The Human Condition as well as Samurai Rebellion. 

Hiroshi Teshihagara

Sand. Skin. Water. Teshihagara's direction in his masterwork Woman In the Dunes is all about textures and moods. The haunting score that slowly builds to tribal beats is excellently composed by Toru Takemitsu. Owes as much to impressionist painting as it does to existentialism. Criterion, I suggest you get to work on the blu ray transfer. 

Shohei Imamura

Vengeance Is Mine impressed me greatly when I saw it. So I decided to take on Ballad of Narayama. Keisuke Kinoshita did a version of this story in 1958. Imamura updated it in 1983. I have yet to see Kinoshita's take but Imamura's version did impress. His camera never makes any judgments. Allowing us to simply observe, think and feel.



Chen Kaige

My first experience with Asian cinema. In the 90s, China was churning out a bevvy of dramatic pictures that gained critical acclaim. Farewell My Concubine is considered one of the premier works of the 90's so why not start at the top? This is a film whose scope few American films can match as far as history goes. 6 decades of Chinese history is set against the backdrop of Peking Opera.

Period epics can be often daunting. Yet the story was so compelling and costumes were so ravishing, it was hard not to take my eyes off the screen. Absorbing in many ways.

Edward Yang
Yi Yi would be my next stop. It being another epic drama but this time not of in period but rather in family drama. The first hour gave me some troubles as far as pacing goes. But after becoming enveloped by the character of Yang- Yang, the little boy with big questions, it became clear that this was a work of quiet thoughtfulness. It's as close to capturing everyday life on film as anything from America. Incredibly subtle and immensely rewarding.


Wong Kar-Wai

Every once in a while, I have to make a stop at Chungking Express. Not only to fawn over Faye Wong, but just to fall in love with this movie and experience its many gifts.

Takashi Kitano

Kitano's Fireworks is a movie long out of print and one I hope Criterion picks up for release one day. Bearing that, I was delighted a film of his, Sonatine, was on NetFlix. Probably the most usual Japanese film for me to seek out given that it is a crime picture. Yet it's stylized in a way that makes me want to see Fireworks all the more. Fun fact: Yes, this is the teacher from Battle Royale.

Hirokazu Koreeda

I did an entry earlier in my blog about this contemporary master. All I can say is watch Nobody Knows. Or Like Father Like Son. Or Still Walking. More than just the heir to Ozu. An important, original filmmaker in his own regard. 

Other films: 

Infernal Affairs is a film I was keen on seeing just as a means of seeing where The Departed sprang from. Turns out this film holds it's own and it is easy to see why Scorsese was drawn to the material. 

I also enjoyed Yojiro Takita's Departures. About a cellist who is laid off after a financial crisis. Thinking he is applying to a travel agency, he  discovers he is applying for an position as undertaker's assistant.


Kim Ki-duk

I have delved deep into the films of Park Chan Wok, Bong Jon Ho and Kim Jee-Woon prior to this. All three releasing some of my favorite films of the past ten years. I haven't really explored Korean cinema outside of genre film though. Kim Ki-duk was the perfect director to do this. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring was a film I had on my watchlist for years after hearing Ebert rave about it. After being blown away by it I sought out 3 Iron. It proved to me this director isn't a one trick pony and that his compositions and filmmaking are deeply admirable. Both wound up becoming two of my favorite movies.

Filmmakers I plan on checking out next time: Nagisa Oshima, Keisuke Kinoshita, Seijun Suzuki, Masahiro Shinoda, Kiyoshi Kurosawa


Sansho the Bailiff (1954, Kenji Mizoguchi)
Harakiri (1962, Masako Kobayashi)
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring (2003, Kim Ki-Duk)
Ugetsu (1953, Kenji Mizoguchi)
Woman In the Dunes (1964, Hiroshi Teshihagara)
Nobody Knows (2004, Hirokazu Koreeda)
Yojimbo (1961, Akira Kurosawa)
Yi Yi (2000, Edward Yang)
3-Iron (2004, Kim Ki-Duk)
Late Spring (1949, Yasajiro Ozu)


Note: A * indicates I have watched the movie before.

3/1- Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring (2003, Kim Ki-Duk) (A+)
        House of Cards (3 episodes)

3/2- Nobody Knows (2004, Hirokazu Koreeda) (A-)
       House of Cards (4 episodes)
       Pina (2011, Wim Wenders) (B-)
       Like Father, Like Son (2013, Hirokazu Kore-eda) (A-)

3/3- Better Call Saul
       House of Cards (3 episodes)
       Yojimbo (1961, Akira Kurosawa) (A)
       Sanjuro (1962, Akira Kurosawa) (B+)

3/4- L'Avventura (1960, Michelangelo Antonioni) (A-)
       La Dolce Vita (1960, Federico Fellini) (A-)

3/5- A Matter of Life and Death (1946, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) (A+)
       The Ladykillers (1955, Alexander MacKendrick) (B+)
       Howl's Moving Castle (2004, Hiyao Miyazaki) (B)

3/6- Assault On Precinct 13 (1976, John Carpenter) (B)*
       RoboCop (1987, Paul Verhoeven) (A)*
       Night of the Hunter (1955, Charles Laughton) (A+)*

3/7- Whiplash (2014, Damien Chazelle) (A+)*
       Last Week Tonight With John Oliver

3/8- F For Fake (1973, Orson Welles) (B+)
       Black Narcissus (1947, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) (A+)
       The Virgin Spring (1960, Ingmar Bergman) (B+)
       Gun Crazy (1950, Joseph H. Lewis) (B)

3/9- Leviathan (2012, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Paravel) (B)
       Kagemusha (1980, Akira Kurosawa) (A-)
       Better Call Saul

3/10- Late Spring (1949, Yasujiro Ozu) (A)

3/11- The Bad Sleep Well (1960, Akira Kurosawa) (A-)
          Whiplash (2014, Damien Chazelle) (A+)*

3/12- Gimme Shelter (1970, Albert and David Maysles) (A)*

3/13- Breaking the Waves (1996, Lars Von Trier) (A+)
         La Jetee (1962, Chris Marker) (A)
         Sans Soleil (1983, Chris Marker) (A)

3/14- Bringing Out the Dead (1999, Martin Scorsese) (A-)*
         The Hidden Fortress (1958, Akira Kurosawa) (A-)
         Sansho the Bailiff (1954, Kenji Mizoguchi) (A+)

3/15- Clown (2014, Jon Watts) (C)

3/16- The Jinx: The Lifes and Deaths of Robert Durst (4 episodes)

3/17- Nostalghia (1983, Andrei Tarkovsky) (B+)

3/18- Sonatine (1993, Takeshi Kitano) (B+)
         Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003, Thom Anderson) (A-)
         Red Beard (1965, Akira Kurosawa) (A)

3/19- The Kid With A Bike (2011, Jean- Pierre and Luc Dardenne) (B)
          Some Like It Hot (1959, Billy Wilder) (A+)*

3/20- Catch Me If You Can (2002, Steven Spielberg) (B+)*
          Park Row (1952, Samuel Fuller) (A-)
          Farewell, My Concubine (1993, Chen Kaige) (A-)

3/21- High and Low (1963, Akira Kurosawa) (A+)*
         Interstellar (2014, Christopher Nolan) (A+)*

3/22- High and Low (1963, Akira Kurosawa) (A+)*
          Ugetsu (1953, Kenji Mizoguchi) (A+)

3/23- Ikiru (1952, Akira Kurosawa) (A+)*

3/24- Yi Yi (2000, Edward Yang) (A)
         3-Iron (2004, Kim Ki-Duk) (A)

3/25- Alice (1988, Jan Svankmajer) (B+)
         Infernal Affairs (2002, Andrew Lau Wai-Keng, Alan Mak) (B+)
         Rear Window (1954, Alfred Hitchcock) (A+)*

3/26- The Commitments (1991, Alan Parker) (B)
          Digging Up the Marrow (2015, Adam Green) (B)

3/27- The Life of Oharu (1952, Kenji Mizoguchi) (A)
         An Autumn Afternoon (1962, Yasujiro Ozu) (B)

3/28- The Thin Blue Line (1988, Errol Morris) (A+)*

3/29- Departures (2008, Yojiro Takita) (A-)
         The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him (2013, Ned Benson)
         The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Her (2013, Ned Benson)

3/30- Harakiri (1962, Masaki Kobayashi) (A+)
         Woman In the Dunes (1964, Hiroshi Teshigahara) (A+)

3/31- The Ballad of Narayama (1983, Shohei Imamura) (B+)

I'd love to talk more, but I'm late for my flight to Italy...

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