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Posts Tagged ‘Drama’

Samurai Rebellion dvd

In 1725, aging henpecked samurai Isaburo Sasahara is living a miserable life in an arranged loveless marriage to his wife Suga. An order comes from Lord Matsudaira basically forcing Isaburo’s son Yogoro to marry his mistress Ichi as she slapped the Lord in the face and ripped his clothes. Although Isaburo and his family are against this, Yogoro agrees for the good of the family. Isaburo expects Ichi to be a bit of a brat but instead finds her to be a quiet and humble woman who becomes a good obedient wife to Yogoro. They fall in love and produce a daughter Tomo. Just as things seem to be settling down, news comes on the grapevine that Lord Matsudaira’s young son has died and he wants Ichi to return to his castle so that he can produce an heir with her. This does not go down well with Yogoro and Isaburo. Although Ichi also refuses to go back to Lord Matsudaira she is tricked and kidnapped. Isaburo and his son decide to stand up to their Lord who wants both of them to commit harakiri for not following his orders. They refuse and a confrontation is inevitable so Lord Matsudaira sends out assassins to wipe them out. Will Isaburo’s family survive the onslaught of people sent out to kill them?

Samurai Rebellion is probably not that well known to Western viewers but it certainly deserves to be. It’s a brilliant movie which is filled with well-developed characters, is beautifully shot and superbly directed by Masaki Kobayashi. It has a great storyline about a patriarch who is forced to choose between following orders and the social injustice placed upon his close family by Lord Matsudaira. It highlights the disgraceful treatment placed upon women during that time period in that it doesn’t matter about Ichi’s feelings in the whole situation just as long as Lord Matsudaira is happy that’s all that matters. This is not your typical straight forward samurai movie with a ton of action involved (although there is plenty near the end), there’s a lot more emotion in this story revolving around love, duty and honour. The plot and the tension builds up slowly and it’s only during the final third that violence is introduced to the plot and it gets rather exciting for the viewer culminating in a rather tragic but satisfying conclusion. Even with the rather downbeat ending, Kobayashi still gives up hope in the very final scene. Once you start watching this movie you’ll find it hard not to get yourself immersed in the wonderful plot.

samurai-rebellion-screenshot

The cast are superb in their roles and Toshiro Mifune is on top of his game here as Isaburo and this movie shows that he could give an excellent performance even whilst not under the direction of Akira Kurosawa. He’s not as intense as he normally is and rather reserved for a change until the last 30 mins of the movie when all hell breaks loose and there’s some fantastic swordfighting action as Isaburo takes on all comers when he tries to escape to Edo with his tiny granddaughter in tow and the net is closing in on him by Matsurdaira’s assassins. There’s a touching scene in which he kisses little Tomo on her forehead before hiding her carefully and taking his final stand against the gunmen hidden in long grass which is choreographed extremely well. Yoko Tsukasa is perhaps the next to stand out in the cast and the viewer will feel a lot of sympathy towards her character of Ichi. She’s a graceful, intelligent and beautiful person. Ichi is such a likeable character who is tossed around like a toy between people.

This movie is as close to perfection as you can get with Toshiro Mifune giving one of his best ever performance. Samurai Rebellion is quite underrated but I would urge any Asian movie fan not to pass it up. It comes highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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big-bang-love-juvenile dvd

Two young men arrive in a prison on the same day for different crimes. Jun who’s a quiet meek person has killed a man who had raped him and then mutilated his body. Shiro is an angry person who has been to jail on many occasions and this time he’s beaten a man to death in an alleyway. Though the two are completely different to each other they share a common bond between them with Shiro acting as a protector to Jun. Then one day Jun is found by the prison guards bending over Shiro’s lifeless body with his hands wrapped around Shiro’s throat. Although he confesses to Shiro’s murder the investigators think otherwise as there are rope marks around Shiro’s neck but who was the guilty party?

big bang love screenshot

Set in the future, this is probably one of the strangest Takashi Miike movies I’ve seen. Visually it looks great with the simplistic stunning images on display (the scene where a ray of sunlight pierces through the gloom of a prison cell to hit a prisoner’s body exactly where his heart is located is one example) but the story itself is rather confusing and multi-layered with its use of symbols and metaphors and on that point I wouldn’t really say it’s one of his most accessible works especially if you’re new to Miike’s works. What you would normally associate as a typical Miike movie is thrown out of the window here as he experiments with a new style of directing. The opening scene depicting a father and son doing a sort of primitive dance made me realise that this was going to be unlike anything Miike had done before. Miike himself has classed this movie as being his masterpiece! The storyline is hardly conventional which makes it hard to understand at times although at the heart of the plot is a tale about how the relationship between two young men develop over time in a prison and the criminal investigation into Shiro’s death. I would say that this is Miike’s trying his best at doing an art-house movie although elements from what he’s famous for such as violence is present in this movie. I expect the majority of Miike’s fans to become frustrated and bored with this movie and whilst it was nice to see him try something different I wouldn’t say this movie was that good. Yes, it’s unique and you won’t see anything else like it but it only barely managed to keep my attention to the end. I cannot fault the excellent performances from Ryuhei Matsuda and Masanobu Ando as the two young prisoners who form a bond and an attraction with each other. There is a strong homoerotic theme running throughout the movie although you never see any sex or affection going on between the two leads.

Viewers who like to be intellectually stimulated and want to work out the meaning behind the various symbolic images such as a large rocket or a temple will revel in this story by Takashi Miike but I’m afraid this isn’t one of his better works in my opinion and is far from being a masterpiece that Miike himself has stated.

No trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

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Sway (2006)

Sway 2006

Takeru returns to his small hometown to attend a Buddhist ceremony honouring his deceased mother. His older brother, Minoru is the one that got Takeru to return to his roots for his mother’s ceremony as he considers himself to be the black sheep of the family. He left his hometown and family many years ago to live in Tokyo. Since that time, he became a successful photographer, while his brother Mineru, was left behind to run their family’s modest gas station business and his ex-girlfriend Chie is one of his employees. Takeru watches his timid older brother work and talk with Chie and instantly feels jealousy. That evening he asks Mineru if he can take Chie home, which Mineru agrees to good-naturedly. He even gives Takeru money to buy dinner. Takeru and Chie soon end up back at her apartment and the intimacy that they shared years ago are quickly rekindled. The next day, at the insistence of Mineru, they all go together to the area known as “Hasumi Gorge”, a beautiful mountainous area with a river and an old suspension bridge. On that fateful day, Chie tries to cross the swaying suspension bridge with Mineru closely behind her, but falls to her death. Mineru is now on trial for the murder of Chie and it’s only Takeru that can sway the outcome of the verdict as he watched what happened on the bridge from the woods nearby.

An intriguing and compelling drama which revolves around the relationship of two brothers who are so different to each other. The first half of the movie sets things up nicely for the second half which concerns Minoru’s courtroom trial in which he’s accused of the murder of Chie. It’s not made clear whether Chie’s death is an accident or murder as the viewer is not shown what happens and even Takeru isn’t sure what took place. He was downstream taking photographs of some flowers in the woods with a clear view of the bridge. During an argument betwen Minoru and Chie on the bridge was she pushed off or did she simply fall? There are various perspectives and possibilities of what actually took place but which one is the truth? Resentment and old grudges between the two brothers come to the surface once more when Minoru is arrested. The movie charts the gap between the old and the new Japan – Minoru representing the old as the dutiful brother staying behind to run his family’s business and Takeru as the new who wanted more than staying in a dead-end town and ended escaping over the bridge expressing his individualism to lead a freer lifestyle in Tokyo.

Sway screenshot

The acting is very good with Joe Odagiri as the younger brother Takeru who contributes somewhat to Chie’s death by sleeping with her. Although this was only a diversion for him to waste some time before going back home to Tokyo the following day, it made Chie to want to go with him but he brushes her off. Takeru isn’t a character who you can warm up to at all despite his looking all cool in his clothes. Thankfully after 7 years has passed by in which he condemned his brother to being in jail, his guilty conscience comes back to haunt him and he feels he has to set things right. Teruyuki Kagawa is also brilliant as the long suffering older brother Minoru. Whilst we still don’t really know 100% by the end of the movie what really happened to Chie, the viewer is shown marks on Minoru’s arm which suggests that perhaps he did not murder her after all and in fact he tried to save her.

Sway is an interesting tense movie to say the least and it contains several unexpected turns with solid performances from the 2 leading males and great directing by Miwa Nishikawa. I wouldn’t bother if you expect a fast paced story as it is quite slow at times but as a drama which looks at aspects of the old and new colliding it is very good.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Woman In The Dunes (1964)

womaninthedunes dvd

An amateur entomologist is on a 3 day break from his work as a high school teacher. He arrives on the coast looking for a unique sand beetle that lives amongst the dunes close to the sea. Falling asleep on a boat, he is woken up by a couple of men who tell him that he’s missed the last bus back to Tokyo but he can stay overnight in a shack owned by a young widow. Accepting the kind offer, the man climbs down to the shack by rope ladder into a huge sandpit. After having a meal by her, he finds out that each night she shovels sand which encroaches onto her shack and threatens to engulf it into some crates which are then hoisted up to sell to a construction company. Waking up the next morning, the man prepares to leave but as he ventures outside he finds the rope ladder is gone. He is trapped with no exit. He tries several times to climb up the sand dunes but he fails each time. He turns on the woman hoping she can provide some answers on how he can escape. How will the man manage to escape his imprisonment?

Having watched director Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Pitfall recently, I turned my attention to probably his most famous piece of work which has quite rightly been hailed a masterpiece by critics and Asian movie fans alike. It’s certainly a unique and surreal movie which you won’t forget in a hurry. It’s a fascinating study about human nature, survival and the primitive animal that’s lurking inside all of us. The viewer is witness to the transformation of the man over the course of the movie. At first all he wants to do is escape and he tries several times to do so but every chance ends in failure but as the story comes to it’s climax an opportunity arises for him to finally have freedom and he doesn’t take it even though by now he’s been a prisoner in the shack for several months. It’s like all the trappings of modern society has been stripped away from him and he’s enjoying the simple life in the shack, being confined and living on bare essentials. I found it a very hypnotic story and maybe that’s due to the fantastic cinematography on show which gives the movie at times a very dreamlike quality to it especially the scenes showing us the bleak shifting sand dunes. You’ll come to see the sand itself as a character in the movie – an unstoppable force which is alive and unpredictable. It’s also quite an erotic and sensual movie as the man develops a bond with the young widow and finally succumbs to her charms as they wash each other’s bodies of sand in a very intimate scene before having sex. I’ve read that some people have commented that you could call this movie something akin to an episode of The Twilight Zone and I guess I’d agree with them on that note. There’s an air of mystery to it all and it is quite an eerie and gripping story. The minimalistic soundtrack is so fantastic.

WomanInTheDunes screenshot

The movie relies on the superb performances of it’s two leading performers to carry the story on their shoulders. Kyoko Koshida is brilliant as the woman that’s resigned to her fate in the shack. It’s not like she’s down in the dumps about this at all as she comes across as a very calm person. It makes you think why doesn’t she want to escape especially since the sand has consumed her husband and daughter and by shovelling it into crates every night she might very well come across their bodies in the future. She obviously doesn’t want to change her life and is content where she is. This is in complete contrast to Eiji Okada’s magnificent portrayal of the man who thinks her attitude to the situation she finds herself in rather ridiculous and his reaction to all of this is to try and escape. But as the days turns to weeks for him in the sandpit he becomes accustomed to it eventually becoming just like the woman. The chemistry between the two characters is excellent.

Woman In The Dunes is a visual feast for the eyes with a story that you’ll be drawn into. It’s long running time demands viewers’ patience but stick with it. It really is well worth watching. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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street-of-shame

Five prostitutes work at Dreamland, in Tokyo’s Yoshiwara district. As the Diet considers a ban on prostitution, the women’s daily dramas play out. Each has dreams and motivations. Hanae is married, her husband unemployed; they have a young child. Yumeko, a widow, uses her earnings to raise and support her son, who’s now old enough to work and care for her. The aging Yorie has a man who wants to marry her. Yasumi saves money diligently to pay her debt and get out; she also has a suitor who wants to marry her, but she has other plans for him. Mickey seems the most devil-may-care, until her father comes from Kobe to bring her news of her family and ask her to come home.

This would prove to be Kenji Mizoguchi’s last movie before his death from leukaemia in 1956 but what a great movie to bow out with about a small group of women having to work as prostitutes in order to survive and support their families post World-War II. It’s also a bit of a propoganda movie in that Mizoguchi is constantly seen as trying to go against the politicians in Japan who were debating about outlawing prostitution at the time when brothels were a legitimate business. The movie on numerous occasions has the cast listening to some radio announcements that the motion has failed. Whatever Mizoguchi was trying to do it didn’t work as shortly after the movie was released the Diet passed a bill to ban prostitution. Unlike Western countries, prostitution has a different stigma attached to it in Japan. Mizoguchi’s directing is as good as it ever was and the world he creates suggests he may have had some experience of visiting brothels.

street of shame promo

The 5 women who we meet in the movie have not been forced into selling their bodies but don’t feel they have no other way of making money. Most have some debts to settle and with one or two even having been sold to the brothel’s owner by their families as they were so poor. Some dream of one day escaping from their work with one women even hoping the prostitution bill will be passed so she can leave the brothel. Each of the characters we are introduced that work in the brothel has an interesting story to tell and are well written. Rather than focus on their profession, the viewer comes to see them as human beings with their flaws, weaknesses, warts and all. Their stories are convincingly told in such a short space of time. A particular favourite of mine is Yumeko’s story which is compelling as we see that her young son does not agree with what she’s doing. She’s wracked with guilt but at the same time what else can she do? The money that she has earned has gone back to her parents in the country who are raising her son. Her plight is made all that sadder when her son who is so ashamed of her job turns his back and rejects her. The movie is heartbreaking as we realise that the women are unhappy with what they’re doing and have dreams that will likely never come true. Mizoguchi manages to make the viewer sympathetic to their cause. Here we have 5 women who are waiting for a brighter and better future but until that happens they are stuck in a job peddling their bodies. The brothel’s owner likens himself as a social worker who is looking after these poor women and giving them a job. The final scene of the movie is powerful as the viewer sees a new girl on the job, a young virgin on her first night who looks on from behind a corner slightly frightened as she watches her co-workers trying to pull in the punters.

The ensemble cast especially the actresses playing the prostitutes are fantastic in their roles and pull in strong performances. Machiko Kyo is probably the standout actress as the tough, cocky loudmouth Mickey who wears westernised clothing and there’s a brilliant scene when her father turns up at the brothel where she works. The viewer is shocked when she even propositions him for money but her world is quickly turned upside down when he says that her mother has died the previous year and she knew nothing about it.

Street of Shame is an excellent movie from Kenji Mizoguchi. Who knows what other masterpieces he would have directed had he not died at the young age of 58? It’s a movie one should not miss and is definitely worth checking out if you like classic Japanese movies. It’s a gritty and honest study of prostitution in Japan in the mid 50’s. Highly recommended.

No trailer but here’s a clip when Yumeko meets her son and she is shattered by what he says to her.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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A Snake Of June (2002)

A Snake Of June DVD

Rinko Tatsumi works as a telephone counselor for a Tokyo-area suicide hotline. Her husband is Shigehiko, an older, workaholic businessman, that has a obsessive compulsive order for cleanliness. Their marriage is a sexless relationship, that seems to be more cordial than intimate. Rinko soon receives a packaged in the mail that contains photographs of herself sitting by her window and masturbating in a semi open public view. Another package arrives with a cell phone. The photographer calls and identifies himself as one of Rinko’s past clients that is not interested in money. Instead, the caller wants Rinko to confront her unfulfillled desires and sexual fantasies. From there a relationship between the stalker, Rinko, and Shigehiko occurs in a tense game of hidden desires.

From the twisted mind of Shinya Tsukamoto comes this tale of a repressed woman’s sexual awakening. The first half of the movie is straight forward and easy to follow but in the second half when the story switches to focus on Rinko’s husband it goes a little bit weird with all kinds of strange and surreal sequences. It’s not something I enjoyed watching to be honest. Actually I thought I was beginning to understand this story in that I believed Tsukamoto was telling the viewer to live their life to the full and they should free themselves from their inhibitions. As the movie goes into full-on bizarre territory I gave up trying to make sense of what Tsukamoto’s intent was and just let everything fly over my head. I also began to lose interest in the movie. It’s one of those movies which you’ll either love or hate depending on whether you like some of Tsukamoto’s other movies. There’s no doubt of the man’s creative talent as a director but some of his work I’m not really keen on. Take for example Tetsuo which nearly everybody harps on about being brilliant but I can’t say I was a fan of that movie at all.

A Snake of June screenshot

I do like how the movie has been shot in blue-tinted monochrome which gives it a unique look and it compliments the many scenes with rain in the background. Rain features a lot in this movie which fits in with the title of the movie as June is when the rainy season hits Japan. There’s a lack of warmth in the movie due to the way the director has chosen to film the story the way he has. I’m quite impressed with Tsukamoto’s visual style in the movie, it’s got his stamp all over it. It’s just a shame that the story about desire and voyeurism which I was beginning to really get into just turned into what I would call a mind-bender during the second half. Despite what you’ve read about the plot above it’s not as exploitative as you think it is.

The performances by the 3 lead characters especially by Asuka Kurosawa is fantastic. Kurosawa made a brave decision to take on such a daring role and she excels as Rinko oozing sexiness as she parades in a micro-skirt around the streets of Tokyo prompting looks by everybody that passes her. You can see how she has become so repressed as her much older husband Shigehiko prefers to spend his time scrubbing the bath rather than pleasing his wife sexually. Is it any wonder that Rinko resolves to buy herself a vibrator! A lot of male fans will like the scene when she decides to strip off naked outside in the pouring rain. Iguchi, the blackmailer who is dying from cancer that is telephoning Rinko to follow his instructions is played by none other than the director himself. We don’t know what his intentions are at first other than trying to make Rinko fulfil her innermost desires.

A Snake Of June will probably be enjoyed more by surreal art-house lovers and those that like to be intellectually challenged rather than casual Asian movie fans who will most likely be left baffled.

Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

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Osaka Elegy DVD

Ayako Murai is a young woman working as a telephone operator in 1930’s Osaka. In order to pay the debts of her father, unemployed and threatened with arrest after embezzling ¥300, she agrees to become the mistress of her employer Mr. Asai. After paying her father’s debts she then continues working as a mistress, this time for another workplace admirer, Mr Fujino, in an attempt to help pay her brother Hiroshi’s university tuition fees. When she attempts to fool Mr Fujino into giving her extra money, so she can marry her boyfriend Nishimura, he calls the police and she is arrested for soliciting. Upon her return home she is ostracised by her family and her boyfriend and forced to leave home.

This is one of Kenji Mizoguchi’s earliest masterpieces about Japanese women and their struggles in a male dominated society although the best of his works was yet to come. The story that unfolds is made even more sad due to the fact that the main character Ayako is only trying to protect her father and family in what she does but they turn their back on her in the end and she is left all alone. She is basically pushed by family pressure into becoming a mistress to pay back the money that her pathetic and cowardly father has taken. Ayako gets no support from her self-centred brother and her naive little sister. She throws away her dignity and is made to pay the price for it in the end by being publicly shamed with her name splashed over the newspapers. It’s embarassing in Japanese society for a family when their name becomes tarnished. A black name against a family can stay with them for a long time sometimes even for a generation in some cases making life somewhat difficult for them. I was surprised when I found out that Mizoguchi had based this story on his own sister. She was sold into being a prostitute for a rich man by her own father as they were quite a poor family. Thanks to the money coming in from his sister, young Kenji was able to go through school and be educated which would lead him on the path to becoming a movie director.

Osaka Elegy screenshot

The movie has a compelling story with some great acting from the cast especially Isuzu Yamada who is excellent as Ayaka. The viewer sympathises with her situation and can see the dark road she is leading herself down throughout the movie. The script is written well and the camera techniques used by Mizoguchi such as long takes, light and shadows and outdoor night shots of Osaka only enhances the movie. Certain scenes such as the bunraku puppet play in the theatre or when Ayako’s boyfriend discovers her double life are memorable moments but it’s the final scene of the movie which usually gets picked as being the best by critics as Ayako walks towards the camera, stares into it before walking off. It makes us think what will ultimately happen to her – will she have a bleak future or will she find happiness? As it’s only a 71 minute movie, the plot zips along at a quick pace.

Osaka Elegy was the first Kenji Mizoguchi movie to show how brilliant a director he really was. It gave him a lot of acclaim in Japan and would provide the springboard for the success he would so rightfully get in the future. Recommended if you enjoy early Japanese cinema.

There’s no trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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