Posts Tagged ‘Japanese cinema’

“I Live in Fear” of “The Happening”: The Art of Boldness, Kurosawa, and Shyamalan

June 23, 2008

I Live in Fear

It would be easy to point out Akira Kurosawa’s great films like Rashomon or Seven Samurai as examples of his work, but there’s something to be said about his lesser known films – films that speak volumes and contain moments that are difficult to find anywhere else. He makes as a director and storyteller and he has his actors make very bold decisions. More often than not these choices will make an otherwise mediocre or common melodramatic film quite remarkable and incredibly memorable.

Take for instance Kurosawa’s I Live in Fear starring Toshiro Mifune. Mifune plays Kiichi Nakajima the elderly owner of a foundry. Wanting to preserve his family’s lives he wishes to move them all, lovers and bastard children included, to South America so as to avoid a Nuclear holocaust in Japan. Needless to say this story takes place post World War II. But his children will have none of it and take him to court, so that they can prove their father incapable of handling the family’s fortune.

It’s an interesting enough idea for a film. Kurosawa introduces us to Nakajima’s family through one of the Domestic Court Counselor’s put on the case, Dr. Harada, a dentist played by another Kurosawa mainstay, Takashi Shimura. We follow Harada as he leaves his family dentist business and goes to the court. Next we’re introduced to the squabbling family members, who seem more concerned about how they’ll continue making money for themselves than they are about the wishes of their Father. They are quick to apologize for belittling Harada before knowing who he is. But you still don’t get a sense of who’s film this is. Harada is shot from behind, a silent observer…very meek, humble.

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The Japanese Noir of Takashi Miike

August 10, 2006

For years I’ve observed and enjoyed Japanese cinema. My love began with “Rashomon” – a tale of a thief who robs a a traveling couple, rapes the wife, and several of them end up dead. The events are retold after the events have occurred and not just through a single source but through several sources at a trial (they even go so far as to have a medium call upon one of the deceased – and the deceased speaks through her in a crackling voice that heightens the unease) but the twist is, we’re not hearing the trial as it happens either, instead we’re hearing it passed on as gossip between three lower class men. Each time the tale is retold from a different witness during the trial we wonder how much of it is true and how much of it has been unintentionally rearranged by the men. The complexity and simplicity of the film that played out in front of me struck a deep nerve, and immediately after viewing it, I took it to several friends and made them watch it. I believe I watched it four times that day. Then came “Seven Samurai” and “Stray Dog”. The films of Kurosawa embedded themselves in my subconscious.

Then the films of Ozu came into my life, “Tokyo Story” and “A Tale of Floating Weeds” are truly two of the most magnificent and emotional films I have ever seen without bringing sentimentality into it. Ozu tells stories with such a matter-of-factness that he doesn’t need to add any extra dramatic elements to the stories or characters or camera (which typically avoids movement and stays planted directly in front of the actors as if we were sitting in front of them listening intently) – these characters simply exist, and are that much more powerful for it.

Now a new Japanese Director has entered into my conscious as a truly visionary filmmaker. That Director is Takashi Miike. It began, as it did with most American audiences, with “Audition”, a film much like “Misery” only more gut wrenchingly painful to watch. Where Rob Riener captured the Stephen King essence of sudden bursts of brutal violence and horror mixed with that over the top silliness that King brings to his yarns, Miike gives us a much more subtle and nuanced build, one that as we become more enveloped by the film, leaves us feeling that much more unnerved, until the car-wreck of an ending, where it was more hard to look away than watch. Truly horrifying. (more…)