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in the meantime, watching movies.
Eri Eri rema sabakutani (2005), Shinji Aoyama
X-Men: First Class (2011), Matthew Vaughn
Jane Eyre (2011), Cary Fukunaga
Fish Tank (2009), Andrea Arnold
The Devil's Whore (2008)
Shame (2011), Steve McQueen
The Counselor (2013), Ridley Scott, Cormac McCarthy
Hot Tub Time Machine (2010), Steve Pink
Transcendence (2014), Wally Pfister
Moonrise Kingdom (2012), Wes Anderson
Lawrence of Arabia (1962), David Lean, T.E. Lawrence
Giant (1956), George Stevens
A Dangerous Method (2011), David Cronenberg
Neverwhere (1996), Dewi Humphreys, Neil Gaiman
Frozen (2013), Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Rush Hour (1998), Brett Ratner
The Cat Returns (2002) / The Cat Returns, Hiroyuki Morita
August: Osage County (play written by Tracy Letts, premiered in 2007; I have watched it this month in my city)
Coraline (2009), Henry Selick
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), Bryan Singer
Pineapple Express (2008), David Gordon Green
Porco Rosso (1992) / Porco Rosso, Hayao Miyazaki
The Secret of Kells (2009), Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey
April Story (1998) / April Story, Shunji Iwai
Hellraiser (1987), Clive Barker
A Summer's Tale (1996), Eric Rohmer
The Most Beautiful Night in the World (2008) / The Most Beautiful Night in the World, Daisuke Tengan
Dressed to Kill (1980), Brian De Palma
Kill! (1968), Kihachi Okamoto
Layer Cake (2004), Matthew Vaughn. Daniel Craig under the shower is a sight for sore eyes, but the rest of the movie was way way too preoccupied to tangle and obscure and reveal and tangle the plot some more. At the end of the movie I realised that I had spent most of my viewing energy trying to figure out what was happening, so much that I hadn't had the time to observe anything else. And the plot unfortunately was nothing to write home about. Maybe a rewatch would improve my opinion of this, but I don't feel any particular impulses toward the notion. I have seen and appreciated movies with complicated tales to tell (Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy), but in those cases the reward for sweating about the plot was much more significant.
Summer (1986), Eric Rohmer. Ar first, I was yet again surprised by Rohmer's high skill in imitating life - characters talk like I would be talking to my friends, people are complicated, they all have needs and impulses and quirks and do not correspond to generic patterns. And Rohmer can do that in just a few seconds while introducing a character, who becomes immediately a human. But then, Delphine the heroine got more obnoxious by the minute, constantly at odds with everyone around her, yearning for unspeakable things far above everyone else's hopes and desires, square peg in a round hole through and through. But then, ha! She found a square hole, and she promptly fit inside it comfortably. So guess what, the universe actually did have a place for her, and if she hadn't been so fussy about everything she wouldn't have found it. What an odd little story...
Snowpiercer (2013), Joon-ho Bong. It was very good, but not in the way you'd expect, considering the genre and a quick look at the trailer. It's not a post-apocalyptic survival movie, but rather something in the vein of Brazil or Metropolis, a dark allegory, or pitch-dark fairy tale. Some people even compared it with the BioShock games, and I could see why. If you demand realism you'll only miss the mood and end up joining the chorus of plot-hole malcontents. Most of what happens on screen is metaphorical, surreal, spellbinding hyperbole or violent exercise in style.
- The whole premise already looks suspicious: at the freezing end of the world, the only things moving on the surface of the planet are the neverending blizzard and a train, which circles the globe once a year, containing the last life on Earth. As we advance through train and story, we find out that the former has become the new word for "world", that the Engine is revered among its inhabitants as sacred, and that it is eternal. So we're dealing with a single trail of life and motion across a frozen desert, (to be cont.)
Much less compelling than "Seppuku"
I have watched yesterday Kobayashi's Samurai Rebellion, and I was left oddly unsatisfied. I had liked his Seppuku a heck of a lot, but Rebellion just felt flat. It's true, though, that the title of the movie has been translated wrongly, as far as I have understood (too lazy to dive now into my Japanese dictionaries) it actually reads as "The Rebellious Woman" or so. Which would have changed my expectations, and as such, probably, my enjoyment of the movie. To watch something called "Samurai Rebellion" and actually see a domestic drama about the sad fate of a woman is a little disconcerting.
Then again, even apart from that, the movie just didn't have the subtle ethical dilemmas and grim atmosphere of Seppuku. The main problems here are as follows. 1. The Lord of the land commits a set of abuses connected to a woman and the people around her, which have to be sanctioned at some point, even at the cost of a whole clan. 2. An individual cannot possibly be just the network of social relations and obligations surrounding him or her, and the main characters are trying to get a life apart from the social system they are a part of - even at the cost of being crushed by said system. 3. There are vague hints that the actions of the mean Lord were somewhat dictated by the official norms and traditions themselves, so the woman in question was not oppressed just by a mean individual in a position of power, but by the whole tradition she was a part of. 4. There is duty, and there is moral right, and sometimes they interfere and one has to decide, losing something either way.
The thing is that 2 & 3 are at most hinted at vaguely, while 1 & 4 are not particularly interesting. Problem 3 is really just one sentence uttered by Nakadai's character in front of the Lord, and problem 2 as such is also mostly a sentence of Mifune's, while in practice it gets overlapped by 4. As to problem 4, we have several characters trapped between the Lord's orders and the inner sense of morality, and while Ichi's family chooses the inner morality (and die as a consequence of that), Nakadai's character picks the duty (...and dies as a consequence of it). Then we have Ichi & co's stubbornness against duty to the Matsudaira clan and duty to their own family, which is not clearly presented as either problem 2 (individual desire against social system), or problem 4 (inner sense of justice vs outer duty, fight against kidnapping vs submission to the Lord's orders).
Seppuku's moral plight was much more continuous and smooth - the unjustified aggressiveness of the Samurai Code in a time of peace, against humanitarian (and probably deeper Buddhist) principles, and also its perversion by the increasingly lax attitude of its practitioners. The ethical argument was sharp and painful as a samurai sword, the humanism was warm, laughing, crying and bleeding, and apart from that, the visual metaphors were deep and compelling. Nakadai's Hanshiro himself was more of an archetype than an actual human being, he was relentless retribution, a bleeding wound frozen in time until the corroded blade that opened it was found and punished. Both movies end with the two individual dramas frustratingly concealed by the clan officials, little red specs crushed under the millstones of large-scale politics, but while Seppuku takes it with a world-wrecking visual metaphor and a grain of cynical humor, Rebellion whimpers and declaims.
So, in comparison, Rebellion was descriptively, visually and theoretically confusing. Not deadly confusing, of course, but still deflating. I can only think of a handful of images that had an effect on me, which is also why my analysis is so focused on the ethical part of the story. Neither Ichi, not Yogoro looked like more of a sketch, and apart from some generic "damn women had a bad fate during the Shogunate" reaction, I never felt truly involved in their fate. Of course that playing Ping-Pong with a woman's life is not nice, but come on, this was such a minor issue compared to the problems from Seppuku - and to my own expectations when I read the title of the movie. Isaburo felt more like a frustrated old man who is trying to (almost forcefully at times) project his dreams of happiness on his son, the Lord and the Intendent were typically bad guys, and Nakadai's Tatewaki was more of an afterthought, almost redundant in the story. I believe that the worst offender here was Ichi and Yogoro's life together, which was supposed to be the portrayal of familial happiness. At least we're told so. In reality, it was the same ritualistic stiffness - and I won't even begin to compare this with the happy scenes from Tsugumo's life with his daughter and son in law. In fact, if the happiness of the three Sasaharas had been actually shown, I think that their subsequent plight would have been much more convincing. Of course, Kobayashi doesn't do very much in the direction of creating an actual universe behind the screen, his worlds look like artificial compositions in both cases, but the construction from Seppuku is so beautiful and complex that it pretty much catches life.
And I never really felt tensed - what I felt was rather discomfort at the domestic conflicts, and toward the end a whiff of irritation at stuff being blown out of proportions. Indeed, the latter could have become a tragic cry of suffocation of the little human against the social bulldozer, problem 2 was by far the most interesting one - and who knows, maybe on a second viewing I'll focus on it and draw more from this movie. But this time, it didn't do more than tug a little at the corner of my eye (or the corner of my humanistic principles).
Naza no naiban-daiko (1959)
Bored Hatamoto: The Mystery of the Exotic Acrobats
(proper reading of the kanji in the title: Hatamoto Taikutsu Otoko: Nazo no nanban taiko, translated as above)
A common jidai-geki. Saotome Mondonosuke is the "cynical tough swordsman with a peculiarity" - like Ogami Itto who had his little son, Zatoichi who was blind, Nemuri Kyoshiro who was pretty uninterested in stuff, Mondonosuke has a scar on his forehead (and a haircut carefully designed to show it). Like Kyoshiro, Mondonosuke is also professing boredom, but in his case it's more a rhetoric device than actual bored attire.
So the story has Mondonosuke (constantly in annoyed big samurai mode) investigating a series of murders in a city and fighting bad guys; the bad guys are a group of "exotic" entertainers working together with the local daimyo who, of course, plots to take over Japan. Everything flows as straight as it could towards the "good guys win" conclusion; in fact I was wrong to compare Mondonosuke with the other post-modern ronin (resp. masseur) heroes: what he really looks like is an American classical hero, without either the intense ethical burdens of the Japanese traditional characters, or the required amount of shadiness of the "new" Japanese heroes.
The interesting part of the movie concerned the "exotic" entertainers, which were a very odd combination of Chinese and Western European style (imagine an old Chinese guy, dressed in Chinese rich clothes and speaking Japanese with a thick accent, performing a "devil's torture chamber" trick, while a guy with Eastern Asian features and clown makeup pretends to be exaggeratedly terrified by the fate of the lady in the cabinet, a bunch of pretty girls in Chinese clothing execute a dance around the box, and a Caucasian guy with another type of thick accent is outside, trying to temp people in Japanese working clothes to buy tickets to the show. All the while with a funny mixture of Chinese happy song and American musical on the soundtrack. Not sure how much of this was intentional, and how much was just awkwardly trying to look as exotic as it could, but the effect was pretty colourful.
The strategy ostensibly employed by Mondonosuke to catch the bad guys would also not have been bad. He hired a whole bunch of skilled petty criminals with good ears and noses, quick hands and honey-coated manipulation techniques to discover the plot and defeat it. Unfortunately the band of bad guys only ends up spying a thing or two and then vanishes from the plot, which was a pity because I would really have liked to see them pitted against the entertainers - but the latter are only defeated by Mondonosuke and his young assistant's totally skilled swords, in a series of awfully uninteresting mass fights (mass of bad guys against those two). And, by that point, the soundtrack was already drenched in excessively loud operatic Western dull themes.
Dunno, in conclusion, maybe I'd have regarded some of the details of the story with better eyes, had Mondonosuke not been so boring and the soundtrack so loud...
The Hunting Party (1971)
A Western story, carrying a medieval story with stolen queens, carrying an ancient story of men messing with fate
The movie contained an existential story, disguised as the story of a queen (Melissa) kidnapped by a charming thief (Frank, played by Oliver Reed), where the king (Brandt, played by Gene Hackman) following them to rescue the queen became a vile avenger, which in its turn was disguised as a story with guns and cowboy hats; but the chain of disguises became along the way somewhat sloppy. The fatalism underlying the whole construction seemed to be artificially created, it didn't follow from a narrative structure that couldn't have evolved differently. More precisely, Frank's unruly gang of gunfighters made every wrong choice possible. After realising that they were attacked, and by very long-range riffles, and by a relentless and merciless pursuer, the only thing they seemed to think of was to keep running forwards (and thus, to keep getting decimated). This attitude would have made sense had they all had Frank's audacity and slightly cynical stance; but they were just some robbers preparing for one last hit! Then, when they realist that the hunters were after Melissa, it was perfectly natural for the other robbers to try to get rid of her, and if Frank wanted to keep her at any cost, the natural course of action would have been for the others to leave Frank. This didn't happen either, everybody remained together, and they kept being decimated like dumb animals on a hunting ground. Sure that this was part of the point of interest the special riffles made the hunters almost superhuman, and provided them with the impression of safety that surrounds the hunter in a normal hunting party; but like I said, this untouchability was created artificially, by having Frank's gang behave funny, culminating with the final idiotic decision for the gunless Frank and Melissa to go into the desert because Brandt would not follow them there. No, the man had the long-range riffle, and he had stuck with them all the way until then, chasing them into the ultimately open space which is the desert would certainly have been the last thing he would have done.
This passivity of the gang of outlaws drove me mad of course that the courses of action proposed by me could have resulted into an equal disaster, but they didn't even try! Not to mention that changing the way they tackled the problem may have made the story more interesting, like this it got a bit repetitive: slaughter, brief scene with Brandt grinding his teeth, Frank and Melissa in tears over dead friends (and outraged by the meanness of their pursuers, oh why didn't the bad guys just stop the chase already!), peaceful resumption of the journey, fun; slaughter, teeth grinding + tears, journey, fun...
Like I said earlier, the story seemed to be an existential one, Brandt looked more like a Nemesis in charge of punishing those who dared to challenge the Order of Things (which was why he died in the end after finishing the job, he had no more reason to exist), Frank and Melissa looked less like a fugitive couple and more like people touched by hubris, who thought they could take their destiny in their own hands (only to be proved wrong). But then what was the point of the stories about Frank's bad father and other such details? They should have been absent here, like they were absent in a movie like Walter Hill's "The Driver". If this was an archetypal story, then it should have stayed so from the beginning until the end (and it should have chosen a better environment for its tale, not an inexplicably resigned gang of brutish outlaws). However, now in retrospect I discover that various details that seemed pointless at first do make sense and reinforce the idea that Frank tried to mess with the Order of Things, like the very fact that Frank wanted to read it was not his place to know how to read, like it had not been the place for humans to possess the fire given to them by Prometheus, these were devices of a higher order and those who dared to mess with them (both the wretched humans, and Prometheus respectively Melissa) had to pay dearly. Well, the more I think about the movie under this allegorical reading, the better it seems...
Other things that bothered me about The Hunting Party were some random scenes of overacting (like the whole scene of Doc's death, where everybody seemed to have suddenly moved from the Western desert into a Shakespearean play on Broadway), mixed with moments of natural tenderness and human awkwardness (like the scene with the peaches, or like the love/rape scene between Melissa and Frank). The overacting felt out of place.
So, read like an allegory, the movie seems to work much better than under a direct reading. This is still a sign of structural sloppiness, because with a different narrative underlayer the structure would have worked much better. I am also somewhat surprised that I appreciated the allegory, as I usually find them dull; I suppose that I am annoyed by transparent fables, those obviously meant to teach us something deep, while this was a very unexpected allegory, talking less about oughts and shouldn't-s and more about the local fate of some daredevil characters, who fitted surprisingly well over mythical figures and ancient plights.
This was one of the best animated movies I have ever seen, with possibly the best animation ever (Japanese characters looking Japanese, people looking different from each other, breathing, having little human quirks, and truly wonderful urban landscapes); the story, motivations, noir/western touch of the ending etc. were also great, but such unobtrusively vivid animation I have never seen before. In addition to everything, it was one of those movies one likes to think about after having seen them, because there are many ideas and meanings yet to be discovered. It also seems to be a movie built in such a way that each further viewing will be very different from the last one, because each time, by the end of the movie, one has discovered new sides of the story that will change the meaning of the next viewing from the beginning...
*Big Fat Spoilers from now on*
It is important to underline that this movie is not a retelling of "The Little Red Riding Hood" in a modern context; it is a story by itself, using the Riding Hood tale to clarify elements of the plot and character features. The point of interest is not to see an updated version of the folk tale, or to see how the tale can also fit in a modern surrounding, but to use the folk tale in order to help us understand the story of the movie. Our reactions are not "oh look, there's the wolf! and there's the mother! and there's the path of pins! yes it fits, the story can be applied to a modern world!", but "the story is connected to this movie, so he must be the wolf, so the girl had always been in the presence of the wolf, she was never in the presence of the man she was in love with (the mother in the tale)!". The French tale is molded to, or chosen in order to explain the Japanese story, like a (rich and meaningful) analogy, not the other way around, like a retelling. And the way various elements of the tale were used in order to express a new story was extremely well done, as good as the way in which Leone used various elements from old westerns in order to create his "Once Upon a Time in the West". And there's another big source of inspiration used by Oshii for this movie, just as well integrated within the main narrative...
What we see in this movie is a young wolf going through a rite of passage and becoming a full-grown beast. Him having visions of the various girls being chased by wolves was not him "being afraid of the beast inside", but him knowing that the beast was inside and will devour the girl, yet getting on with it because that was the only thing he knew to do.
The way I saw it, this was not a movie with a message, it was just a movie that presented a story the story of a man who was actually a wolf in human skin, and whose only place in the world was within his pack, no matter how bitter this may have tasted at times. If you want it (and, from what I saw on forums, some people really want it), it may be a movie about what it is to have an inner nature, or a prescribed social role that cannot be betrayed, but not more.
I have also read somewhere that Oshii's constant preoccupation concerns "the beast that hides in the human heart", but I disagree. On the contrary, I think that he is interested more to investigate the weak, sensitive, human, warm spots that linger in the heart of the beasts, as it is the case with Motoko, Ash, Yuichi, and definitely with Fuse (though, in his case, we witness the lingering humanity flickering and dying). Anyway, in his movies, the beast is usually the first thing we see, so it is not something that could be said to be hiding.
There are lots of "Vertigo" allusions in this movie, which I had not spotted until I saw a passing mention of Hitchcock's flick somewhere on this forum; and my jaw dropped of course! The love-with-complications part of the story follows almost step-by-step the plot from Vertigo woman being spotted by man while standing purposefully! by the grave of someone very reminiscent of her, her being by sent by somebody else to seduce a certain convenient male for ulterior reasons unrelated to the two of them they were both meant to be bare pawns, her fulfilling her role even though she falls for the male, male realizing the trap and using it to counter-manipulate her, now insensible to her feelings, all ending up with him causing her death / killing her directly; there's also a "man being scarred by woman dying in front of him" part in both movies, but in Jin-Roh it takes place differently; oh and Jin-Roh also has a protagonist psychologically scarred by a sequence that takes place in the beginning of the movie, and the people behind the female decoy use precisely this psychological damage in order to fulfill their trap. And none of this is in anyway "remake-ish", because the pieces of the puzzle are being mixed up and used to build a completely different story, like I said about Leone and his "Once Upon a Time in the West". Besides, I missed completely the "Vertigo" during the movie, which can only mean that they were really well embedded in the story, and that the story was powerful enough to not get engulfed by its own sources. The "Vertigo" discovery pretty much settled it, the flick is a 10/10, the first time I go to 10 for an animated movie since I saw "Samurai Champloo", "Mushishi" and "Texhnolyze" two years ago.
A series that takes itself way more seriously than it should
A very high degree of seriousness is dangerous. While it may work wonderfully with truly complex and well built stories and themes, it only makes the lack of real quality more obvious. Combine it with unjustified gore, erotic explicitness and general grossness, and the only thing you get is weak creative power trying to hide itself behind stylistic tricks. Just to make myself clear, I'm not saying that movies (or cartoons or anything) *need* to be more than a nice style, I could make a fairly long list of such items that don't contain any deep philosophy, yet which I love as much as anything else, starting with Bessons's "Fifth Element". What I disliked about "Shigurui" (and other stories that share its faults) was the obvious *attempt* and failure at being thoughtful, combined with the unawareness about the failure, unawareness divulged through the utter seriousness of its tone. An example of what I understand by successful seriousness and thoughtfulness is Hiroshi Hamazaki's other animated series, "Texhnolyze". The awesomeness of "Tex" was also the reason why I wanted to watch "Shigurui", also considering the wonderful experience I had with "Samurai Champloo" after "Cowboy Bebop" I thought that hey, if Watanabe could make a wonderful samurai series after a wonderful SciFi series, maybe Hamazaki could do it too; well, he couldn't.
So what did I dislike so much about "Shigurui"? Apart from the incompleteness of the plot line, which I assumed to have been caused by design-unrelated production problems, the story was pretty thin and inarticulate to begin with. Worst of all though, the characters were completely incoherent, changing mood, behaviour and motivations from one scene to another, creating the strong suspicion that their character was designed as a pretext for the rough scenes and not vice-versa (so the character was changing in order to allow new rough scenes). Also, they were obviously not what they tried to be, if we think just about Kogan Iwamoto, the sword genius and boss of the Dojo. He is supposed to look like a god of death, like an unreasonable and deadly entity that instils absurd order and despair among its followers (we get this idea through the comments of those who witness his actions, and through visual messages such as superimposing the image of a tiger on Kogan before a fight). Well he's nothing but an obnoxious (when conscious) and gross (when unconscious) old geezer, who's good with a sword. Of course, he can also be gross when conscious, and obnoxious when unconscious. Taken away from the general awe or fear of the other characters (which worked like a blatant tag that said "GOD OF DEATH!"), there was nothing truly impressive about him. The other three main characters, his daughter and the two tough young samurai struggling to step in his shoes as the next bosses of the dojo, are changing from reasonable humans to freaks according to the weather. Meanwhile, the story was filled to the brim with pointless scenes of torture, gore and humiliation (we were even being shown gross actions of completely irrelevant characters, what would have been the point of that, to show that the whole world was wicked? But this story was not a universally apocalyptic one like "Tex", it was not a social commentary on the whole human- or samurai- or Japanese kind, it was just a local story about a group of characters!).
There were several references (or influences) in the series, like the reference to the mill sex scene from "Sword of Doom", but the references were clumsy. Like the "Sword of Doom" reference: in "SoD" the images and sounds of the mill machinery were used to symbolize the erotic activity going on, in a very suggestive and yet inexplicit manner. Here, we got both the piston image *and* the sex scene, which pretty much nullified the figurative meaning of the former, for the sake of showing some more explicit imagery. Which imagery was not particularly relevant to the plot either, it only showed the male involved to be a womanizer, but that we could have understood through many other means, besides it got nullified by his subsequent sudden faithfulness towards another female character.
What's more: although the general visual quality of the series is quite impressive, the lines are expressive and the colours & shapes harmonious, the sex scenes are quite well done and the bodies drawn look like real human bodies, so even though all this works just fine, the gore looks just silly. The blood is just some super-red, super-shiny glue gargling from various wounds in slo-mo, the guts look like plastic toys from the biology lab of an elementary school, the facial and body expressions of the characters in the gore scenes are simply the same, and we get to see these things the whole goddamn time! (come to think of it, the BDSM-ish erotic scenes were also pretty much similar, except that there only happen about 5 or 6 of them in the series, so they were less obnoxious) I gave this series a 4 because, like I said, the graphic was often terrific, and also because the faults I found here were faults you can find only from a certain level of quality on. So "Shigurui" is indisputably better than many anime on the market. It's just that the series wasn't anywhere close to other things I saw, and, like I said earlier, that it committed some of the sins I find most unpleasant: it took itself way more seriously than it deserved, and it used a deliberately slow, violent and dark style to create the *illusion* of depth where there was none. It fell from a high position, or out of a good premise, but fall it did.