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Don't let "Kill Bill" ruin this flick for you...
30 April 2004
Unfortunately this film's only getting the attention that it deserves because of Tarantino's "Kill Bill." Fortunately, this film is getting the attention it deserves because of Tarantino's "Kill Bill." This is the double-edged sword of sample-based art. Is it theft, or an homage? Does it help, or hurt the classics? While Tarantino did lift a number of images, a few characters, countless plot devices, and one memorable song from this film; it is impossible to lift the experience that each film offers. Besides, would this film be crawling from the dark, fuzzy depths of the bootleg video without its newfound attention? From the opening scene in the all female prison, we are grabbed from our worlds and thrust into the dynamic Japan at the end of the nineteenth century. Ultimately Toshiya Fugita's 1973 film is about the victims of profound social change, and how sometimes the only way to erase victim-hood is to pass it on to those that have done you wrong. Yeah, "The Bride" goes through quite a bit for her revenge, but Meiko Kaji's character is literally born from death, with the express purpose of carrying out revenge for a family she's never met. While it's hardly addressed openly in the film, Kaji brings a subtle uncertainty to her character's motivations and actions. This depth not only grants humanity to the character, but by making her more believable, Fujita and Kaji raise the stakes. If she can fail, will she? Will she decide her parents revenge is not her own? Or will she embrace her destiny and proposed purpose? Don't get too worked up over how much and what "Kill Bill" sampled from "Shura-yuki-hime." Instead, remember that the samurai (chambara) genre is like any genre; without sampling it wouldn't exist as a genre. Fugita's samples: "Chushingura" Kuniyoshi's ukiyo-e (woodblock prints), "Sword of Doom," every film by Hideo Gosha...
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Kawaita hana (1964)
Japanese film adaptation of "On the Road"
30 April 2004
Whereas "Blue Velvet" is about the lengths that people go to for sexual gratification, "Pale Flower" is about that lengths that people go to for a few "kicks," kind of like a Japanese gangster adaptation of Kerouac's "On the Road."

Upon attempting to release "Pale Flower," the studio's censor banned the film, and this fact says quite a bit about the temperature of Post-War Japan's pop culture, and the target audience of this film. While the director claims the film is about Japan's uncertain stance in the Cold War, it may be more accurate to say that the film is about Shinoda's Nihilistic stance towards Japan's relationship to the world's superpowers.

And while nihilism describes Shinoda, existentialism may better describe Muraki and Saeko. Gambling, animalistic sex, drugs, all in an effort to just feel something, anything, and to get lost in the moments those emotions provide. Some would say that the gambling scenes are too long and do little to advance the plot, but this movie's script is made up mostly of unspoken dialogue and it is during the gambling scenes that the main characters are developed.

While I loved 95 percent of this film's moody and atmospheric lighting, at times it's so dark you can't tell what's going on. Still, the shots are well constructed, the actors well directed, and their performances subtle yet effective. Dig the sexual tension that is constantly building between Muraki and Saeko, and how this tension is dealt with. Somehow I felt myself sympathizing with this killer in a very real way, and this says something about Shinoda's and "Pale Flowers" success.
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