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24 reviews in total 
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Solanin (2010)
4 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Dull..., 14 April 2012

The film slavishly follows the manga, but cannot reproduce its languid graphic atmosphere, instead becoming tiresome. The characters (with the exception of the fat bass player) are also too good-looking for their parts.

By the way, 'solanin' refers to solanine -- the poison found in plants of the nightshade family and, more particularly, in potatoes when they begin to go green and sprout; this is referred to in the film -- although the rather poor English subtitles may not make it clear -- and alludes to the gifts of vegetables sent by Meiko's mother which are allowed to rot. (Japanese is full of words that sound like they could mean one thing but actually mean something else...)

2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Hard to know what this film is trying to be..., 7 November 2011

Hard to know what this film is trying to be... farce, thriller, kitchen-sink drama..? The plot is so improbable and the characters so caricatured that you are really not sure whether you are expected to laugh or not. Black-and-white scenes of London in 1960, and the jazz score, are diverting, but not really enough to compel. Dennis Price and William Hartnell are always watchable, but the script does not make the most of their considerable palette of acting skill. The ending, in which the anti-heroes are killed in what appears to be poetic justice, seems out of character with the rest of the film: suddenly a strong moral tone is injected where none existed before.

My Geisha (1962)
the guilty pleasure of enjoying this film..., 10 August 2011

Not a great film by any means---the dialogue tends to the wooden, and the plot to the improbable---but, somehow, it is fun to watch. As the movie goes on, Montand and MacLaine seem to warm to their roles, and some of Montand's introspective musings about love, career, and marriage, in the unwitting presence of his wife, are genuinely touching. MacLaine looks quite stunning made up as a geisha, and the location scenes of Japan in 1961 (Kyoto, Tokyo, Miyajima, Hakone) are alone worth the price of admission. Japanese culture is treated with fond respect, not simply with amusement or exotic interest. The speech by the ancient geisha "master" about the idealization of womanhood strays a bit into embarrassing hyperbole, but this is the exception, not the rule, in the film.

5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
All the hallmarks of the later Ozu are already present.., 6 August 2011

It's quite striking that although this film was made 17 years before Tokyo Story, all the aspects of the film-making style we have come to associate with Ozu are already fully present. But compare this film with, say, his "Sono yo no tsuma", made just six years earlier in 1930: in that film --- a rather slavish attempt to copy the style of German Realism -- none of the visual and narrative features he shows here are present.

No one has mentioned (so I will...) -- that the German film which Ryosuke takes his mother to see (in which she falls asleep, and of which he self-referentially says "this is what they call a talkie") is Willi Forst's 'Leise flehen meine Lieder' (Vienna, 1933), and the lovely blonde actress seen running through the wheatfields is Louise Ullrich. This film (now largely forgotten) was a popular sensation in Europe at the time, depicting the love affair between Franz Schubert and the Countess Eszterhazy. Also... noticeable in a few scenes in Ryosuke's house is a large travel poster which says 'Germany'. All of which shows the extent to which European film-making was in the mind of the young Ozu. We think of Ozu as a purely "domestic" Japanese director (in every sense of that word), but in fact he was well-versed in the traditions of western film-making.

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Some specific comparisons of High and Low with McBain's King's Ransom, 28 October 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It's been mentioned several times that the film High and Low is based on the Ed McBain novel 'King's Ransom'. I've recently read the book, and watched the film again, so I thought I would write something about the specific differences and similarities between the two. In fact, they start out almost identically, but then veer quite widely apart.

In both, we have the rich, self-made, hard-charging shoe company executive ('Douglas King' vs. 'Kingo Gondo') who, because of a conflict with other directors of his firm, engineers a behind-the-scenes financial coup in which he corners a majority interest in the company's shares. In order to do this, he has had to secretly borrow and mortgage himself to the hilt --- almost every penny he has is invested in this bold bid for power. At the moment of consummation, however, he receives a telephone call saying his son has been kidnapped, in response to which he immediately pledges the money he has just accumulated, knowing full-well it means personal ruin for him. In both stories, it turns out the kidnapper has snatched the wrong boy, taking the chauffeur's son instead. In both, King/Gondo's first reaction is relief, followed by a furious refusal to pay. And in both, it is his wife who functions as the voice of conscience, telling him that even though it is not his son, he still must pay.

But from this point on we start to see quite marked differences.

In King's Ransom, there is a trio of kidnappers, two men and a woman --- low-life semi-professional criminals who have teamed up and committed the crime solely for the money: they have no particular personal grudge against King. In High and Low, by contrast, the crime is committed by a pathological loner, a medical intern at a nearby hospital, who becomes obsessed with the class differences which keep him in his low-paid and squalid 'hell', while Mr Gondo lives in the splendor and comfort of his 'heavenly' mansion on the hills above. This kidnapper, Takeuchi, does have two accomplices, but they are completely nameless and faceless tools: people he uses for his purposes, then discards --- both are heroin addicts he has picked up off the streets of Yokohama, and, using his medical knowledge and access to heroin, arranges their death by overdose after their work is done.

In King's Ransom, Douglas King resolutely refuses to pay the ransom, but instead helps the police catch the main kidnapper. The boy is released during this process, but only because the other kidnappers have quarrelled amongst themselves and given away their location. As a result, King is able to complete his stock transaction and win control of the shoe company, in effect having his cake and eating it too.

By contrast, in High and Low, Gondo reluctantly agrees to pay the ransom, thereby securing the safe release of the boy, but the kidnapper remains at large. The remainder of the film details the police detective work, unaided by Gondo, which leads to the arrest of the kidnapper (not before he kills off his accomplices, however). The fact that Gondo has paid the ransom leads to the failure of his stock deal, the collapse of his finances, eviction from his house, and the loss of his possessions.

There is a twist in the tail of both stories, but quite different in each case :

Despite the fact that Gondo is ruined, the police, through dogged detective work, recover most of his money and, with public sympathy, he is able to start again, opening his own small shoe business. In a sense, he is now 'his own man' in a way that he never was before. The kidnapper Takeuchi, on the other hand, is unrepentant, and goes to the gallows (for he is given the death penalty) mocking and cursing Gondo.

In King's Ransom, by comparison, it is strongly implied that King's refusal to pay the ransom means that his 'come-uppance' and self-reckoning are yet to come: that his cold and selfish view of the world will one day have to change. Ironically, it is one of the kidnappers --- the woman --- who has a moral conversion, displaying an admirable humanity in attempting to be kind to the kidnapped boy, trying to help him escape, and, in the end, intentionally betraying the whereabouts of the boy to the police. And as with Gondo, this moral conversion is rewarded : the kidnapped boy refuses to give evidence against the kidnapper who was kind to him, allowing her and her husband to escape across the border.

All in all, one would have to say that, despite being an adaptation, High and Low is the tighter, more polished, and more sophisticated rendering. The McBain story seems somewhat unbalanced and dated by comparison.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Hope and human kindness amongst upheaval and tragedy, 28 June 2008

This is a great film, written and directed by Yamada Yoji in 1970 --- about the same time as the first Tora-san films were coming out, and with many of the same actors. But unlike the Tora-san films, this is a serious film, not at all frivolous. I'm not sure if there is an English version available (either subtitled or dubbed).

Apart from its dramatic interest, the film is also of historical interest since it depicts the hard-driving 'go-go' era of Japanese economic growth, crowned by the World's Fair Expo in Osaka in 1970. You can see and feel rapid economic change and social dislocation everywhere in the film, and this in fact is the driving force behind the plot: a poor family of miners from Kyushu (the southernmost of the main islands of Japan) uproot themselves and make the long journey to what they hope is a better life in Hokkaido (the northernmost of the main islands of Japan). Their journey is beset with hardship and tragedy.

It's interesting that Yamada returned to this theme of the Kyushu-Hokkaido link, and the mining industry, in the later 1977 film Shiawase no Kiiroi Hankachi (The Yellow Handkerchiefs of Happiness).

You can look at 'Kazoku' as a film of social commentary, but, although Yamada depicts many of the social difficulties of the time, it's not clear what particular message, if any, he wants to impart about these. I don't think he is saying that economic growth and social change are bad, but he shows they plainly create a lot of upheaval and stress, and also a breakdown of fellow-feeling amongst men. As with most of his films, however, it ends on a positive note, where hope and human kindness eventually come to the fore.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
The only Tora-san film set outside Japan, 20 April 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The film is notable in the series for being the only one in which Tora-san goes outside Japan. (But, parenthetically, why Vienna? It's a curious choice, being much less on the radar scope of Japanese travelers, especially in 1989, than, say, London, New York, Paris, or Rome --- possibly the Austrian Tourist Board provided some support for the film...).

The film includes some nice scenes of Vienna and its environs --- Schonbrunn Palace, Durnstein in the Wachau Valley, etc. But predictably, it's all lost on Tora-san, who spends much of his time in the hotel room, or getting mixed in with an organized tour of Japanese tourists.

Sayonara (1957)
15 out of 25 people found the following review useful:
Post-war attempt to re-humanize the Japanese, 26 May 2004

Showing that we needed them to such an extent in the fight against communism that it might even be permissible to fall in love with one.

The movie is memorable for some great lines from Brando: "Hell, I ain't got nothing against the Japanese... well, not now anyway." and for the astonishing casting of Ricardo Montalban as Kabuki grandmaster Nakamura Jakoemon II (actually he was pretty good in the part except for the Spanish accent).

The young Brando is excellent in his fidgeting, distracted way. Scenes of 1950s Japan are also interesting. But the film predictably suffers from a romanticized vision of Japanese women (delicate, doll-like creatures who wish for nothing more than to scrub their husbands' back in the tub), and of Japanese life (the 'little house down by the canal' that Kelly and his Japanese wife move into is a museum-quality example of the Japanese wooden and paper-wall house, complete with internal Zen garden).

19 out of 26 people found the following review useful:
The Bullring of Love, 27 May 2003

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

By now everyone knows this film is about a sexually-obsessed woman who strangles and then cuts off her lover's willie (the extent to which her lover shared in the extremity of her obsession is somewhat debatable...). That notwithstanding, the film is well-acted, visually stylish, and manages to convey a genuine feeling for the passion which drove the characters. It's also succinct (at 96 minutes) and has some fabulous sex scenes.

As others have commented, the real-life case of 'Abe Sada' (Abe is the family name) was very well known in Japan, occurring as it did almost 40 years before Oshima made this film. There are at least two other cinematic versions of the events. If anything, reality was even a bit stranger than fiction: in the real-life case Abe was arrested whilst carrying around the severed member in her kimono sash. I saw a photograph of her once, taken just after her arrest: you have never seen a more haunted-looking woman.

The original Japanese title of the film is 'Ai no Corrida,' 'Ai' means 'love', but, interestingly, 'Corrida' is not a Japanese word at all: it's a Spanish word meaning 'dash' 'sprint' or 'spurt', and is most often used in the expression 'Corrida de Toros' -- i.e. bullfight -- strongly alluding to the brutal (and inevitable) death of the bull at the end. This puts quite a different complexion on the theme of the film than does the Western distributor's title of 'In the Realm of the Senses' which seems to imply sensual pleasure which has perhaps unintentionally got out of hand.

Oshima's stock-in-trade has always been the 'shocking' film, usually made with the aim of confronting 'bourgeois' sensibilities or an accepted view of society or history. In the 1960's they were more of the socio-political variety (e.g. 'The Sun's Burial,' 'Cruel Story of Youth'); but the success of this film firmly added the sexual element to his repertoire; you can see this continues even up to the recent film 'Gohatto.' In my mind, however, 'Ai no Corrida' is the only one of his films that really works.

Pom Poko (1994)
21 out of 34 people found the following review useful:
Takahata's best work for Ghibli, 8 January 2003

This is a Ghibli film by the studio's 'other', less famous, director, Takahata, who in Japan is still best known for doing the 'Heidi' television series in the 1970's, and who probably had his swan-song with Ghibli with the 1999 box-office disaster 'Tonari no Yamada-kun' ('My Neighbours the Yamadas').

Nevertheless, I think history will judge that his 'Pom Poko' is one of Studio Ghibli's finest works: breathtakingly imaginative and looney, wry, complex, sentimental but un-dogmatic, unapologetically Japanese in its outlook and references. I would in fact rate it higher than Miyazaki's highly-regarded 'Mononoke Hime,' which takes itself a bit too seriously and becomes slightly tiresome as a result.

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