The thread title sort of tells you what this thread is about… So, I’ll set the structure of this thread up in this manner; I’ll sort of set up a history of my personal viewing of Japanese cinema and when I get to important personal discoveries I’ll offer a small review trying to re-create the emotions I had at the time I saw the film. Many of these films I’ve since rewatched and thus have a different opinion of them then I do now. But I will try, to the best of my abilities, to recapture those initial feelings, thoughts, and ideas (this will be difficult… so if it gets kind of convoluted try to stick with me). As of right now I have no idea how long this will be.
Here’s an example of where I’m coming from. That is the vast, vast majority of the films I’ve seen on this site (maybe I’m missing two or three titles), and I’ve probably only seen 20-25 films not on this site (maybe less). So, that’ll give you a really great picture of my preferences and knowledge (which is extremely limited). We can discuss individual films, the nation’s cinema overall, personal preferences, or whatever else. Let’s get started, shall we?
How did I get started watching films from Japan? It was a total accident. I used to take drum lessons on Saturday morning so I would generally wake up earlier then most on their days off. Back then the channel IFC used to play one or two samurai films every morning. At this point in my life I was a big (understatement) action film fan, especially the films of Jackie Chan. One morning I woke up, turned the TV on (it was already on IFC) and caught this black and white Asian film. In my ignorance I thought, “well, it’s all the same right?” The only difference between China (Hong Kong, actually) and Japan at this point were the colours (or lack thereof) the films were shot in… It’s turned out to be relatively fortuitous racism (is it odd that I start this out talking about the good side of being racist?)…
I can’t remember what the first film I saw was. For the first few weeks I only saw snippets of films (I later came to know them as films like Throne of Blood, Kill!, Onibaba, Samurai Rebellion, etc.). I never saw them from beginning to end so I don’t remember which came first. I do, however, remember the first samurai film I decided to see from start to finish.
I used to watch a video game review show called X-Play. There was a time when they reviewed a game called Seven Samurai: 20xx (swear to God, look it up). They hated it, but they mentioned a film related to the game, something I’d never heard of, but given my recent minor explorations into “samurai” films, was very interested in. They called it, “Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece.” So I went to Hollywood Video (am I dating myself?) and looked on the shelves and picked up Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. I don’t know if I could conceptualize the 203 minute runtime (their copy was missing four minutes… is it odd I remember that?). I don’t think I’d ever seen a film that long before, but I watched it the next day and it changed my view of film (or rather created it).
Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, Toho, 1954):
It took me a while to catch up with the plot. The film moved so quickly, I wasn’t used to such brevity in action and depth in ideas. I was mesmerized, utterly, totally, hypnotically mesmerized. Nothing before had ever moved me as much, and I still don’t think there has been a film since that totally altered my mindset so radically since. It was the first time I ever wanted to watch a film twice, not just that I wanted to watch it a dozen times, a hundred, more… over and over again. I absolutely loved it.
This started me on a Kurosawa fixation. I wasn’t even really interested in Japanese film in general, or samurai films specifically; just Kurosawa. Whenever I got enough cash I would go to Borders and buy whatever films of his they had (first purchase Seven Samurai, and I think I saw it twice more before I saw anything else by him). I saw one or two more films and then, again by mere accident, I met some people that really loved film. I answered an ad (on craigslist) about a band that wanted a bassist. Eventually we talked about film and I mentioned a liking for this Kurosawa fellow. To my surprise they liked him too.
I got my first film recommendations (for an American film called The Third Man, and a French film called Shoot the Piano Player (two films I still have an incredibly deep nostalgic love for)). I also got a few recommendations for a couple Kurosawa’s; Ikiru, and Throne of Blood (apparently I’d already seen parts of that one). We met up and watched Ikiru and it again reinvented my view of film. I’d never seen something so sad, but life affirming.
Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa, Toho, 1952):
I think this film affected me in an incredibly deep manner because it was shortly after my mother passed. It was all of my fears of adulthood, but the ending of the film was equal parts hilariously over-the-top and heart-warming; never overly-sentimental, or simplistic in its view of life. It reveals the best parts of Kurosawa and none of his faults.
Eventually, I got beyond Kurosawa. It was inevitable. When you actually explore films with any seriousness you discover more. My interests were piqued by a conversation about Japanese cinema. A man I’d never heard of was mentioned; Yasujiro Ozu. A friend said his films were, “just talking… no action.” He even challenged me and I said I wouldn’t be able to get through it because it was like nothing I’d seen before. What could have made me want to see his work more?
Christmas was nearing so I asked my dad for Ozu’s most highly lauded film; Tokyo Story.
Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu, Shochiku, 1953):
My friend was right. I’d never seen anything like it, but I didn’t balk. I didn’t think it was boring, or it had no action. It was full of action. And it was the first film I cried while watching (came close during Ikiru). I was so enamoured by Ozu’s evenness, his almost anti-didacticism (being more than familiar with Kurosawa this amazed me), his ability to make every character wonderful, and horrible, but mostly just everyday normal people. It felt like I was watching friends and family. It made me realize that film didn’t have to be grandiose storytelling and enormous personalities (it could be, but it didn’t have to).
This was so much more, to me, than my experiences with Kurosawa had been so it shook me up a little. My favourite director, someone I’d dedicated almost a year of money and viewership to, had almost been eclipsed in a single film… so what did I do? I started on an Ozu binge. I saw as much from him as possible and also began looking up directors that were mentioned around Ozu (which led to filmmakers like Hou Hsiao-hsien, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Tsai Ming-liang (for his mentioning near Hou, not because he’s influenced by Ozu)). This eventually led to the discovery of Hirokazu Kore-eda. I decided to see his work merely because of the supposed influence of Ozu. My first film was After Life, which I liked but wasn’t blown away by. Then I saw Maborosi. The single film I can say I am still as obsessed with by today as the first time I ever saw it. There was a point in which I owned only Kurosawa, Ozu, and Kore-eda films and re-watched them over and over. Maborosi was seen more than any other.
Maborosi (Hirokazu Kore-eda, TV Man Union, 1995):Maborosi is the perfect confluence of sound and image, content and form. Everything worked together to tell one of the most subtle and moving works I’d ever seen. It’s easy to say why the film works, but it’s almost impossible to explain why it works on such a deep level for me, personally. It’s something deeply ephemeral; a feeling that comes and goes in waves. Sometimes I don’t feel like rewatching Maborosi for months upon months, up to a year, sometimes it’ll be less than a week, sometimes it’ll be less than a day. It’s an obsessive love, mainly because it feels real. It’s again probably something incredibly personal; internalizing grief to the point that it begins to tear you away is a feeling I understand deeply.
(Okay that wasn’t exactly how I felt the moment the film ended… but I really cannot separate my feelings now and when it first ended for me.)
This is getting rather long… and I’m only up to about 2006… The following will be more brisk because my first year or two of watching films was mostly just Japanese films that I watched over and over (well, not mostly, but that’s kind of how I remember it because it always seems the films that affect me the most are Japanese… (Hey! I’m still racist everyone!)).
Alright, let’s start again, shall we?
So after Maborosi came a period of discovery, much more varied discovery. Less films from Japan (and Asia in general) and more from around the world (I also think it was about the time I joined this site… I… think…). Other than the prerequisite Ozu films I was still obsessing over I can’t think of many films from around December 2006-2007 that really effected me. However, I did eventually purchase some films from a director I’d heard so much about, but had yet to see.
I was at Borders with some cash burning a hole in my pocket. They usually didn’t have it, but this time they did.
Sansho the Bailiff (Kenji Mizoguchi, Daiei, 1954):
Another film that moved me immensely. It was once again a film that as soon as I finished I wanted to start it over again. The familial relationships especially resonated with me. I so connected with this brutish brother so full of equal parts ambition and guilt. The film is oft discussed from his sister’s sacrifice, but he is as, if not more, tragic than his sister if only because he will forever have to live with his failure; a feeling that shook me.
At this point I’d seen around 60-70 films (thereabouts) and I began reading about Japanese cinema (mostly Stephen Prince, David Bordwell (could you tell? I feel like a thief), and Donald Ritchie). My understanding of the films themselves, but also the people that made them, and especially the people from which they came, and the people that watched them was drastically improved. And my personal connection to Ozu felt even deeper (kindred spirits… momma’s boys).
I continued watching many films from all over the world, reading about them, and always going back to the land of the rising sun. It has always been my favourite place for cinema (maybe it’s a Welsh thing, eh, Kenji?). This was around the time I discovered the Japanese New Wave. Most of my knowledge of Japan’s cinema is still rooted in the 1950’s, with only a few excursions before and after. As one reads, though, one begins understanding how most of the critical community separates eras in film (the silent period in Japan, the Shochiku family drama years, the militarist/war years, the post-war occupation, the post-war/golden age, the New Wave, etc…).
I became interested in this fellow that had worked on Ozu’s Early Summer, a film I adored, but had expressed such a supposed distaste for his films. Shohei Imamura. I fully expected to dislike his films, but must admit I was very intrigued. I was wrong in my assumptions, and the first film of his I saw is still one of my favourites.
Vengeance is Mine (Shohei Imamura, Shochiku, 1979):
It astounded me. The violence, the sexuality, the freedom. It didn’t really feel like a break from Ozu, though. The richness of the characters and the evenhanded manner in which Imamura explored their plight even reminded me directly of Ozu’s films. Of course there are major differences in Imamura’s narrative structure, explorations of incest (which actually some say Ozu has explored), his open depictions of sex, and violence, and the abject poverty many of his characters live in are major departures from Ozu’s later style. Imamura’s films are a confluence of Japan’s past, the present culture state, and he alludes to the future of Japanese film and society.
This led to more discoveries in the New Wave, but also a need to explore the times that led up to the “Golden Age”. It was around this time that Criterion released the “Travels with Shimizu” boxset. I adored every film, but a couple in particular.
Mr. Thank You (Hiroshi Shimizu, Shochiku Ofuna, 1936):
An incredibly modern film. So simple and gorgeous, but the simplicity belies incredibly complex characterization, and some wonderful social commentary on the times (that certainly feels relevant today). I remember being in love with every character, not because they were all perfect, but because they were all flawed.
After this my viewership was a bit haphazard, just seeing what came my way. Rounding out many of the films on Criterion (Imamura’s, Oshima’s, and all of the samurai films on there). Some I disliked, most of which I saw at least something of worth in, some of which I loved. I rewatched films somewhat less frequently. I began to get a scope of the wide variety in Japanese films. Films like Double Suicide, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Fires on the Plain, and Pitfall revealed the wide range of both genre and experimental films in Japan.
I began to feel I had a grasp of the history and scope of cinema in Japan even if I still felt that I’d seen very little (and still do). My opinions grew and changed, some directors I’d discovered early only became greater in my mind (Ozu, Naruse, Imamura), some lost some of their luster to me (Kurosawa, Kore-eda, Tsukamoto). There were new discoveries and further explorations into little-seen filmmakers. And then there was the single war film that I feel stands heads and shoulders above the rest (from any nation at any time).
The Human Condition Trilogy (Masaki Kobayashi, Shochiku, 1959-1961):
After years of films that continuously showed us simplistic, and absolute views on good and evil; after years of films that showed us one ideology above another we finally see a film that gives us a realistic view of truth and war. There are no answers, no easy ones in the very least. Extremism is a disease.
This was not my first Kobayashi, but it was similar to my first Ozu… It once again made me re-evaluate my view of Kurosawa (the most often heralded director of the Japanese ‘epic’). I preferred both Kobayashi’s samurai films (Harakiri, for example) over Kurosawa’s (sans maybe Seven Samurai… though it’s close), and I preferred Kobayashi’s epic masterpiece over any one of Kurosawa’s (whether it be Ran, Red Beard, Seven Samurai, High and Low, etc.). After three films I found that I had another favourite over Kurosawa.
Moving right along, well, speaking of Kurosawa we’re about at the time earlier this year which was Kurosawa’s hundredth birthday. So, this was an opportunity (thanks much to TCM) to finish up pretty much all of my Kurosawa filmography in a few months. I had already seen sixteen of his films, but in the span of just over a month or so I saw thirteen more. The most impressive of which being Dodes’Ka-den, but not seeing something that really altered my view of cinema, or Japan (or Kurosawa, for that matter).
We then have the summer; August, earlier this year, which is the month in which I saw the most varied and wide amount of Japanese cinema I’d ever seen. Things seemed to converge, favourably (accidents, huh?). My Netflix had me scheduled for a block of films from Kazuo Hara, and Yasuzo Masumura, I had a copy of Shinsuke Ogawa’s A Japanese Village, and Teinsuke Kinugasa’s Crossroads, my friend brought over the new Criterion boxset of Oshima’s radical sixties, and the San Antonio Museum of Art was playing a collection of three films; Orochi, Utamaro and His Five Women, and Assassin (which I’d seen already). I also got the chance to see Ran on the big screen, also. There was one standout discovery in this month full of them (well, it was his entire oeuvre, actually).
A Dedicated Life (Kazuo Hara, Shisso Production (IMDb), 1994):
Kazuo Hara was really the first Japanese documentarian I’ve ever seen (actually I have seen a documentary by Kazuo Inoue, and Kaneto Shindo on Criterion DVDs). And this is one of the fullest deconstructions of reality, life, death, and the relationship of the documentary filmmaker to their “subject”. It floored me. Once again Inoue is not an interesting character for how grandiose, and larger than life he is, but rather for how faulted he is. He’s not really a decent person, and he’s an alcoholic, a narcissist, a womanizer, and a liar (all things that I imagine make him a wonderful writer). He’s also one of the most friendly people I’ve ever seen on film. And he’s also dying. Immediate sympathy, but that sympathy is not hampered by his foibles, but strengthened. His death is a tragedy because he’s just like us, not because he’s better than all of us.
I have an enormous interest for documentary cinema of other nations, so it only seemed natural I would fall in love with documentary cinema in my favourite nation’s cinema. It seemed to take an inordinate amount of time, though… It’s odd…
That pretty much brings us up to now, sans one film (which was the last Japanese film I saw). I have skipped some parts, and gone into detail in others… It’s basically how I remember them. I didn’t profile many films I think I should have (there are probably at least eight to ten Ozu films that I think are as great as anything else ever made), but that is mainly for the sake of brevity.
So, I shall leave you with probably the best film I’ve seen all year, and maybe the best Japanese film I’ve seen since Maborosi:
2/Duo (Nobuhiro Suwa, Bitter’s End (IMDb), 1997):
One of the most incredibly shot films I’ve ever seen (the cinematographer of A Japanese Village, and Eureka (and the most underrated cinematographer in film history, in my opinion)). The image and the camera constantly interact. In moments of joy the characters are cut off from each other, in moments of extreme emotion the characters are always filmed together. The scenes in the apartment are almost always done in a single shot. Everything in the film gives a sense of life and reality to the emotions of actors. Mirrors are constant, and become fractured as our perception of reality and identity is fractured. I cannot think of many films that have impressed me more.
Thanks for reading.
Wonderful autobiography via Japanese film. I’m curious whether you’ve given Nagisa Oshima a whirl?
I know you mentioned that your friend brought over the Eclipse boxset, but above and beyond those four or five?
I love this thread, and thanks for sharing. I plan on posting my own journey here and there are both differences and similarities (not to mention the fact that you have been influential on it ;)
I am a rather large fan of Nagisa Oshima. I’ve seen eleven of his films (eight in the sixties, and three in the seventies), and as of yet have not been disappointed all that badly (Empire of Passion, and Pleasures of the Flesh being the only possible exceptions).
Especially in films like Death By Hanging, and The Man Who Left His Will On Film I feel Oshima created two of the strongest political statements on film (easily eclipsing Godard in my opinion).
On Vengeance is Mine:
I remember seeing it the first time (well, basically changing channels and all) when I was an silly child and the only stuff I could remember whilst I as re-watching it as an adult was…the adult essence of it all. Adult may sound as a gregarious statement, no? But it was my impression as a little boy who wasn’t aware these films even existed! I stumbled across a store and picked it up several years ago and I watched it alone…at night…like the first time I glanced it on TV. I felt a sense of morbidness in spite of the sexual frustration of the protagonist and of his family and stranger encounters or the criminal personality of his. And yet, I didn’t mind at all. It can be embraced either as a psycho-sexual inflammation or as a manic cry for identity and recognition, against the frivolous system in which Ogata’s character was trying to escape. I prefer to avoid the “biopic” references because I don’t think Imamura cared to make that type of film. He brought a manuscript of this biopic idea on-screen and the result is beyond words.
You sound like an adult. Just out of curiosity, but why did it take you so long to discover all of this? Did it never occur to you to take a film course or one on Japanese film? If you’re as interested and appreciative of film as you sound, and as articulate as you come across, how you could you have gone so far in life without having heard of SEVEN SAMURAI? Have you never gone to a library and looked up books on film? Or are you, in fact, younger than you sound?
Sorry if that sounds like the tone of a cranky parent or professor—but I come by that tone honestly and quite logically—I AM a cranky parent/professor.
Please answer this and I’ll give you some recommendations of other Japanese films you should seek out. I’d love to continue the conversation. Let me add that I’m really impressed with your choices and reactions. This is self-education at its best.
For the record, I discovered Kurosawa in high school, when I was curious to see the films that the westerns THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS were based on (SEVEN SAMURAI and YOJIMBO, respectively). That was 40 years ago and I’ve been pursuing my interest in Japanese film/pop culture ever since.
Villain, excellent write-up! I’m currently exploring Japanese cinema as well and have taken a similar path. I managed both Kurosawa and Kobayashi in the Directors Cup mostly because those were the first two Japanese directors I really fell in love with, aside from Miyazaki. I also managed Kaneto Shindo whom I came to appreciate via the criterion release of Onibaba and eventually his entire, available oeuvre including his greatest film, imo (and possibly my favorite Japanese film of all time), The Naked Island. If you have not seen it I suggest you hunt it down soon :)
Awesome thread, definitely one of my favourites on mubi. I’ll probably use your list as a guide for diving into more Japanese film, especially as I am sorely lacking in watching Ozu (none), Imamura (one) and Mizoguchi (none, but I own Sansho).
I agree with you wholeheartedly on the “biopic” distinction. And the most “adult” thing about the film, at least for me, is not its violence, or sexuality (how “adult” are most horror films?), but rather the fact that the film never villainizes or sympathizes with any character, really, but especially not Iwao. We both abhor him and understand him; his search for meaning, or even an identity other than his father’s is understandable to anybody (but probably even more so in Japan, I think)… this is disturbing, no? That forces one to truly question familial ties and individuality… and one must remember that Iwao doesn’t leave (even in death); he literally hangs in the air staring you in the face as you try to throw him away. His condition is perpetual which is really why the film is so powerful.
Actually my first Kurosawa was around… sixteen years old… I think. Somewhere around there. And I haven’t taken a Japanese film course because one has never been offered to me (Japanese language classes have, though… I haven’t taken one as of yet). Even as I sit in college there are very, very few film classes at all offered. I fear this is a reason why literacy in any art form is so poor among my generation.
I don’t know if I sound older than I am (21), but I appreciate the sentiment… and I thank you for it, Mr. Pardo.
I have only seen two films from Shindo (Onibaba, and Kenji Mizoguchi: The Life of a Film Director) both of which I very much enjoyed, but haven’t seen that masterpiece that is suggested in both works. I have heard nothing but good things about Naked Island… and I have a little cash and an all-region DVD player now so I may pick-up the Masters of Cinema DVD.
Thanks for the recommendation!
Bon Jovi Friday!:
Thanks you very much. Do let me know what you think of your journey’s in Japan. And post your thoughts on this thread… I would love to discuss (as I hope we all have).
Thank you everyone for your comments!
It almost seems impossible to not get to Japanese cinema through Kurosawa. (Though Kitano may have been there for me just before that)
Another topic for one of the world’s most interesting cinema countries never hurts and I’m glad you’ve also got to appreciate Japanese documentary a bit already. I’ve been exploring that part of Japanese cinema and contemporary one for a while now and there is many hidden treasures. If you want some nice suggestions check out some of the lists I made as well, and am still working on. My most recent discovery is actually a Finnish film about a Japanese monk in Tokyo who used to be a boxer and now owns his bar and drives around on a motorcycle, check it out here: http://www.hotdocs.ca/film/title/ito_-_a_diary_of_an_urban_priest
First off, thank you Josh for sharing your personal and informative journey through Japanese cinema.
Kurosawa was also my foray into Japanese cinema, when I was 18. I started with Seven Samurai like you, and thought to myself, ‘Who is this director?’ It wasn’t soon after that I started seeking out more of his works, and thanks to Criterion initially, was how I was able to view some of my first Kurosawa films. Despite having fallen for his samurai films in the beginning, it’s The Bad Sleep Well that’s most dear to me now.
One thing led to another over the years and interestingly enough, I think my own path of discovery in terms of Japanese films parallels that of your own. Early filmmakers then caught my attention, and before I knew it Japanese New Wave became my obsession… And on it progressed, back and forth, in Japan’s cinematic history. One of my most memorable cinematheque experiences was watching Kobayashi’s The Human Condition trilogy with a few Vancouverites I met on this site on November 11 (Canada’s Remembrance Day) last year. (If you’re reading this — thanks guys!) When asked what I thought afterward, I couldn’t even properly describe the feelings I had just experienced.
Kazuo Hara’s films hold a place dear to my heart, as his film Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974, on the subject of his former lover Miyuki Takeda, was I believe the first Japanese documentary I saw. I stumbled upon the DVD at the library and without knowing anything about the film or Hara at the time, thought I’d give it a go. Not only did it show the first live birth that I’d seen in a film at the time, but its hand-held black-and-white cinematography, along with the disjointed sound at times, left me… I don’t even know what to say — an instance that some of you who know me well occurs quite frequently! All I could feel was the rawness that was projected forth toward me, amid the sexual liberty, racial discrimation and social politics.
Thanks again for the post on Japanese cinema, as it reminds me that I’m currently going through an ATG phase of my own.
So Josh, when are you going to watch Akio Jissoji’s This Transient Life? :) (I’m kidding.)
This is seriously my favourite essay of the bunch, this is excellent work.
Yes, really excellent stuff, and yes for the masterpiece Maborosi- that one struck me as one of the great hidden treasures. I still have fingers crossed you will like more by Mizoguchi, e.g The Life of Oharu. I’ll have to take a fresh look at Vengeance is Mine and Mr Thank You, which i may appreciate more next time round.
Villain, I’d like to recommend Mikio Naruse. I’ve only seen one film by him so far, WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS (1960), but I thought it was a masterpiece.
At some point you may want to get into kaiju movies, Godzilla, Gamera, et al. I can give you recommendations when you’re ready. Or sci-fi movies like THE MYSTERIANS, BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE and MESSAGE FROM SPACE.
Or Yakuza movies. Check out THE WOLVES by Hideo Gosha and any number of films by Kinji Fukasaku, including the box set, THE YAKUZA PAPERS.
Or anime. Check out the films of Hayao Miyazaki, esp. his four masterpieces from the ‘80s: NAUSICAA, LAPUTA: CASTLE IN THE SKY, MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE and his one masterpiece from the ’90s: PRINCESS MONONOKE (which is as if Kurosawa had made an animated film).
Or Mamoru Oshii: PATLABOR 1, PATLABOR 2, GHOST IN THE SHELL, GHOST IN THE SHELL 2.
Or Satoshi Kon: PERFECT BLUE, MILLENNIUM ACTRESS, TOKYO GODFATHERS, PAPRIKA.
Isao Takahata: GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES, ONLY YESTERDAY.
There’s more… but that should keep you busy for a while.
If only all of life could be experienced this way:again, by mere accident
This is a great thread! My personal Japanese cinema journey started with a wicked crush on one actor Koji Yakusho. Then through the other Kurosawa: Kiyoshi. And on and on.
The Human Condition is a great, epic film. Kobayashi is a strangely underrated director and Tatsuya Nakadai is criminally unknown outside of Japan. I was lucky enough to hang out with Mr. Nakadai for a week three years ago and he is a vibrant, talented man who still remembers everything about who he’s worked with and the acting choices he’s made on screen and on the stage in his wonderful Shakespeare adaptations.
I am a fan of your lists, my friend! Keep making them! And Ito – A Diary of an Urban Priest looks incredibly interesting! Thanks.
Thank you very much for your post… Beautifully written (you’re always too hard on yourself)
I really liked The Bad Sleep Well, and I think it is one of his more underrated works… I wish people would promote his more experimental works like The Bad Sleep Well, and The Lower Depths and spend less time talking about Ran, and Red Beard, which I feel are a little overrated.
As you know you were a main component in my viewership of Shinoda’s work, and my single Yoshida. And I am still very jealous that you have seen The Human Condition Trilogy on the big screen…
Hara’s documentaries are dark, and beautiful… harsh and subtle. He’s a wonderful filmmaker and Extreme Private Eros is just devastating. I’m still amazed by how free and simple Hara’s presentation is.
Thank you. That does mean quite a bit from a Japanese film connoisseur such as yourself. Thanks.
You and I have spoken much on Maborosi… and I still don’t think we’ve really gotten all that far beneath the surface and I think that’s the magic of the film.
And yes I have much to discover in Mizoguchi’s oeuvre. I have had mixed reactions to his films thus far, but Sansho the Bailiff and The Loyal 47 Ronin alone show as much promise as any filmmaker I’ve seen.
Naruse is a king! I adore When a Woman Ascends the Stairs is indeed a masterpiece, but I think I was even more affected by The Sound of the Mountain. I’ve only seen three of his films (I wish there was more available from directors like Mizoguchi and Naruse in R1).
Kaiju movies are something I’m somewhat familiar with… I saw Gammera the Invincible in a theatre with my sister and a friend and it was maybe the most fun I’ve ever had in a theatre. When I was really young I loved Godzilla films, and still do. I have seen almost no sci-fi, though, I’ll check those three out.
I think the only yakuza films I’ve seen are Takeshi Kitano’s (I know, right!?) and have been dying to check out Kinji Fukasaku’s work in the genre.
Miyazaki is a hero, though I think my favourite may be Porco Rosso. I’ve only seen Angel’s Egg from Mamoru Oshii and have been meaning to see more. Satoshi Kon is one of my favourite anime filmmakers. He will be missed.
I tried to bring that out… how most of these discoveries where by total coincidence, and accident. It’s odd how things in life work out…
Koji Yakusho is a handsome man, indeed… and also rather underrated. Eureka is one of the most understated, lyrical performances ever.
You were very lucky to meet Mr. Nakadai. From the few interviews I’ve seen from him on criterion DVD’s he does indeed remember quite a lot (he still remembers the minor things Naruse would do that were different from all other “Shochiku” filmmakers). He should be much more well-known if only for his work with Kobayashi alone (but for much, much more).
Thank you all.
“And I am still very jealous that you have seen The Human Condition Trilogy on the big screen…”
Make it two Lord ;)
Amazing work, Josh.
I know very little about Japanese films, but I will say that the first I saw (at around 15, I think) were by Kurosawa and Miyazaki.
I think it’s worth pointing out that almost all of the best Japanese movies I’ve seen of late have been because I followed your lead (or outright recommendation). This includes Extreme Private Eros, Death by Hanging, Vengeance is Mine, Maborosi, Avalance and Late Spring. So thank you for that and for this wonderful thread.
Tatsuya Nakadai came to New York to do a Q&A at Film Forum a couple of years ago and it went very badly. He was great, but the man chosen to be the questioner was terrible and the woman who did the interpreting had a thick French accent so we couldn’t understand half of what she was saying. Plus the Film Forum chose to stage it in their darkest, smallest room, instead of the one big screen they have that would have been more comfortable for all. My contact at Japan Society, who was involved in the events that week, said it was the worst professional experience she’d ever had. She moved back to Japan the following year and I miss her terribly.
@Vic – yup, I was working in the repertory office of Film Forum at the time. It’s hilarious that you went to the same event(s). Small world!
That one night was crazy – we didn’t have a choice about the questioner. Although I have seen him and heard him on Criterion DVDs and he’s often quite good so maybe he was having an off night. He was a friend of the person who helped arrange Nakadai’s visit and was part of the package so to speak. The translator was also odd and part of the package deal. There is another woman in NYC who usually does the translating of Japanese directors when they visit. I’ve met her while interviewing Kurosawa Kiyoshi and seen her with Miike Takashi and several others – her name is Linda something. We thought it was slightly counterintiutive for a native French speaker to essentially have to translate Japanese into French (in her head) and back to English (for the audience). But so many of these repertory Q&A weeks are brokered through other freelance repertory curators, film distributors or publicists – especially for talent that lives outside of the US and Western Europe – that we often don’t have too much of a choice around the logistics.
Another event we had at the Japan Society got out of hand but that seemed to be their fault. For some reason the structure of the event put Nakadai – in his 70s at the time – in the middle of the floor of people, allowing him to be basically bum rushed by fans. Nobody informed us or Nakadai of this set up and it was a little overwhelming for him. Nakadai’s personal assistant was super, super pissed that it was allowed to happen and upbraided a woman from the Japan Society in front of everyone making her cry.
Yeah, Linda Hoaglund. She would have been much better. I interviewed a famous Japanese director here once and she interpreted.
I missed that other event you mentioned. I’m now wondering who the woman from Japan Society that got upbraided was. I wonder if it was my friend. Maybe that’s why she went back to Japan?
Thank you very much… and feel free to keep us up to date on your explorations on this thread… if you feel the inclination… or not…
Vic & R.:
Poor Mr. Nakadai… Makes for an interesting story, though…
Of course I would do quite a bit to get Mr. Nakadai to South Texas (much less than likely…)
I’m posting in this thread so i can bookmark it for later :)
Oddly enough, I still have not watched Seven Samurai, although I’ve been watching Japanese films for many years. From the late ‘80s to the late ’90s, it was mainly anime, but then I saw Hideo Nakata’s Ring and branched out from there. From the J-horror stuff (I also saw Battle Royale and much of Takashi Miike’s output around that time) , I moved on to other contemporary Japanese films (such as the works of Shunji Iwai like Swallowtail and Love Letter) before delving into violent ‘70s exploitation (like Shun’ya Ito’s Female Convict Scorpion: Jailhouse 41, which I adored, and Yasuzo Masamura’s excellent Blind Beast). Taking this route, I managed to miss out on most of the undisputed classics. Criterion just released the psychedelic ’70s flick Hausu (House) on DVD and Blu-ray in the U.S., but I first saw that 7-8 years ago. But Seven Samurai? Still not yet. Just thought I would offer a different scenario.
I actually did something similar with anime, as I watched most of the Studio Ghibli/Miyazaki stuff long after digging into the more obscure titles. They are among my favorites now, of course.
Here are my current favorites, based on what I have seen:
Contemporary: Strawberry Shortcakes, April Story, Love Letter, Ring, Battle Royale, Survive Style 5+, Avalon, Love Exposure, Gozu, A Snake of June, Funuke – Show Some Love, You Losers!
’70s: Female Prisoner Scorpion series, Lady Snowblood, Blind Beast, Red Angel, School of the Holy Beast
Classic: Ugetsu, Sansho the Bailiff, Ghost Story of Yotsuya, Rashomon, The Face of Another, Late Spring
Anime: Angel’s Egg, Windaria, Perfect Blue, The Adolescence of Utena, 5cm Per Second, Whisper of the Heart, Royal Space Force, Galaxy Express 999, Macross: Love – Do You Remember?
A truly impressive account indeed, both entertaining and informative (and thus full of recommendations for me :)) And yes, as already mentioned earlier in the thread, judging from the previous posts by the author here, i wasn’t expecting a person so young, discovering that info is almost as fascinating as the thread itself :))
I will :)
I’ve got some lined up, so hopefully I’ll have something to talk about here soon.
Very interesting, and I must admit almost total ignorance of Japanese horror (other than a few Tsukamoto’s, and only one! Miike)… I have been trying to get a little deeper into the exploitation cinema of the 60’s and 70’s; with mixed results (not that big on Blind Beast).
I’ve heard very mixed things on Love Exposure… some say it’s brilliant, some say it isn’t… I’ve only seen one film from Sion Sono; Noriko’s Dinner Table and I was extremely unimpressed… I’m willing to say my reaction is on account of it being a sequel (though my problems had nothing to do with an inability to follow the plot), but I was not really up on giving Mr. Sono another 240 minutes of my time.
Ah, I adore Angel’s Egg, 5cm Per Second, and Royal Space Force (haven’t seen Perfect Blue, yet, but am also big on Kon). The other films I shall look into.
Thank you very much… that’s nice of you to say…
I hope to hear your thoughts soon. :)