Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Japanese 20 Greatest Films Season - BFI

There were some great films in this season: Kurosawa; Oshima; Ichikawa; Imamura; Shindo, and others.

Me and K1 saw a pitiful few but of what we saw we were only truly impressed by Onibaba (pictured right). This is one of the greatest films of all time. Only the chamber piece nature of it takes away from its masterfulness. Plotwise, allwise - barring perhaps the above - it is masterful. It is BW and the eroticism is perfect: that is morally the nudity and sex is just enough but the main point is the brilliance of the plot. Read it simply as one of the greatest What Goes Around Comes Around stories. Karma. Read it as one of the great Hell and Brimstone stories worthy of any cinematical Dante-inspireds out there. It is a beautiful film of great emotional power. It is a tragedy almost as dramaturgically well timed as Oedipus Rex. See this film.

Onto the other films: Tokyo Drifter (Suzuki), Intentions of Murder(Imamura), A Full Up Train (Ichikawa). Full Up Train failed to deliver for me. But what it is greatest at is to show the shiteness of life in Post-War Japan: the Company as YOUR life. Over.Made in 1957.

By the 60's things are a little better. Intentions of Murder(1964) and Tokyo Drifter(1966) are worth comparing back to back. The former is BW the latter colour. The former is realistic, the latter fantastic. IoM is about a marginal female in an upper-class family ultimately having the cunning to have the cake and eat it - partly because she (unwittingly?) understands the structural strictures of the society. She does go through a harrowing ordeal to get there and through this Imamura is able to do what he did best: give us really compelling flavours of the Japan of that time.

Tokyo Drifter also gives us a gangster flavour and locations and feel that is worthy of the viewers and the Japonophiles attention. The plot is good but abandons our engagement because the central axis of patron and protege is let down. There is a level where we cannot suspend our disbelief in the characters any longer. To do so perhaps more hyperbole not less is needed. The hero is basically unkillable. However, the use of song - the female love interest is a singer - lifts the film while one views.

Finally to 1971. Oshima, director of the incredibly erotic (pornographic, dirty?) Realm of The Senses, delivers a startlingly beautiful diachronic story of a wealthy Japanese family linking it with the Manchurian disaster of Japan's occupation of that (Chinese?)region. (Manchuria hovers at the borders of the plot of Dr Zhivago and lends its name to the brilliant, original version of The Manchurian Candidate-ominous? Another post might address Mongolia, which borders that region). But the film fails partly because some of the character's names begin with the same letter. Beware screenwriter (and novelist, playwright, storyteller): unless it is something special you are doing do not confuse the viewer, reader with similar names! Basically one gets a bit lost. There are masterpiece moments in the film worthy of plunder but ultimately the film fails. Why? Really because the central character is a loser whose losses as humans we cannot believe in. But he's a truly realistic loser: his bride does not even show up for the wedding and the only two real loves of his life have been screwed by the same guy: his older, handsomer nemesis/friend. Happens all the time loser. You know where I'm coming from. That kind of winner has his own sadness to deal with; his own kinds of losses BUT that type of character is different and is found in other types of film. In fact the other films in this article include HIM in some degree or another.

But echoing the ending of one of Shakespeare's sonnets - can't remember which- begins with Like as the sea makes towards the pebbled shore - I end with Onibaba where justice is served and where the meaning of Mercy or the need, desire, wish, hope for mercy cannot be avoided and its meaning cannot but fail to be explored...deeply. We bow to Shindo. Truly, truly, cliche though it may have become, may have been, may be, may have always been: MIND THE GAP.

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