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Archive for May 27th, 2012

Kwaidan is a classic Japanese horror anthology movie that consists of 4 seperate ghost stories:

Black Hair: An impoverished samurai dumps his loyal wife in order to marry the daughter of a wealthy lord and improve his position in life. Years later and with his feelings towards his 2nd wife becoming stale, he realises just how much in love with his first wife he’s in and sets off to Kyoto to find her. He’s surprised when he finds her still alive in their old decayed house and ready to forgive him but something is amiss….

The Woman In The Snow: I’ve covered this story in another movie entry (The Snow Witch). It’s basically the same except The Snow Witch expanded on the original story here.

Hoichi The Earless: A blind biwa player named Hoichi (a biwa is a stringed instrument resembling a guitar) who is renowned for his moving rendition of the tragic tale of the battle between the Genji and Heiki clans is summoned one night by a samurai ghost to play his famous piece to the spirits of the Heiki clan. He does this on several occasions. Hoichi thinks he goes to a house of a famous lord to perform but finds out that it’s in a creepy graveyard he’s been playing. Two priests cover Hoichi from head to toe with Buddhist talisman symbols that should protect him from the ghost summoning him to perform again but they forget to cover one place: his ears!! When Hoichi refuses to play for the ghosts, one of them extracts a terrible bloody revenge on him!

In A Cup Of Tea: A samurai sees an image of a former samurai when he tries to drink a cup of tea. During the evening, the samurai is visited by the ghost of the image he saw in the cup. He tries to kill the ghost but it disappears though it seems he managed to injure it in the arm. The following evening, three more spirits appear and tell the samurai that he has injured their master. He intends to visit the samurai very soon for revenge.

This is the 3rd work by Masaki Kobayashi that I’ve had a chance to see after The Human Condition I and Seppuku. It’s a brilliant Japanese supernatural movie. All of the 4 stories are very good – traditional Japanese folk legends about ghosts that you might hear around a campfire. Are the 4 tales frightening? A little bit maybe but what you get is an incredible visual feast by the director who uses vivid colour, dream-like surreal landscapes and superb cinematography. The background sets are like paintings you might see in an art exhibition. Truly stunning. My favourite story has to be Hoichi The Earless. The running time of the movie might be long at nearly 2 hours and 45 mins but because the stories are never boring, before you know it the movie has ended. That’s the mark of a really great movie when you don’t notice how much time has passed by. It’s engrossed you so much that time doesn’t matter.

Kwaidan is beautiful, moody, creepy, poetic and very atmospheric. A remarkable movie which should be on the list of every Asian movie fan. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5.

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Still Walking (2008)

A middle-aged brother and sister and their families visit their aging parents in Yokohama on the twelfth anniversary of their brother Junpei’s death from drowning while saving another boy who was trying to commit suicide. Relationships between generations are strained, however, and patriarch Kyohei, a former doctor, does not hide his resentment for his surviving son Ryoto, an out of work art restorer. The movie which is set over a course of 1 day is spent with routine activities such as preparing meals and playing with the small children. Kyohei remains detached and hides in his office, pretending to be occupied with medical business. He only emerges to bicker with his wife and play with his grandson. Ryoto, who did not look forward to the reunion, is put off by his father’s disdain for his profession of art restoration and his coolness toward his new wife Yukari. She craves acceptance for herself and her son Atsushi from a previous marriage in which her husband died. A picture of the deceased Junpei is placed in the center of the Yokoyama family house reminding Ryoto that whatever he does, he cannot measure up to Junpei, who was to be his father’s heir.

A movie which is simply made and deeply constructed. Movie directors from certain countries can capture the beauty of family drama with such subtlety and grace. Japanese directors are masters of this and Hirokazu Koreeda has made a stunning movie which many have said reminds them of legendary director Yasujiro Ozu. Had this movie been directed by him, it might stand quite comfortably alongside his masterpieces.The last movie by Koreeda that I watched was the magnificent Air Doll and before that Nobody Knows so I knew beforehand that I would be watching something special in Still Walking. For such a simple plotline, Koreeda brilliantly captures a family trying to pass 1 day without conflict as old wounds start to resurface. There are no big arguments between family members but you can feel the building resentment and guilt that is kept in check (a typical Japanese trait). If you know anything about Japanese society, you will know that if you save the life of someone who wishes to commit suicide, you effectively are responsible for their life going forward. In this case, the person doing the saving, the eldest son, had died in the process. So we see the person who he saved return year after year to be reminded in an indebted but somewhat cruel manner that he is alive whilst their son is dead. Ryota’s mother’s admission on why she invites the person over every year might seen like being cruel but at least she’s being honest about it. She needs someone to hate. Grief is a hard thing to get over for some people and for Junpei’s parents moving on with their lives is hard. The devastation of the tragic events that took their son’s life hangs heavily in the air of their home. Koreeda has shot this movie in a beautiful manner: he has an eye for family meals and rituals in particular, and these scenes are handled perfectly. The ending with time having gone forward 3 years in the future is profound and moving with Kyota’s parents now dead. Things which had been idly discussed between parent and child weren’t fulfilled and now it’s too late.

The cast is excellent all round with Kiki Kirin giving a fantastic turn as Ryota’s mother Toshiko. She is mischievous, catty, petty, prejudiced, funny, generous and cruel at the same time. She’s the star of the movie. Abe Hiroshi is one of my favourite Japanese actors and he is great as Ryota who has lived in the shadow of his dead brother for so long. The rest of the cast also excel and give touching performances.

Still Walking is yet another wonderful movie by Hirokazu Koreeda that is handled with such astounding tenderness and compassion. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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