Thursday, August 06, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Love Under the Cruzifix, Kinuyo Tanaka, 1962

Not Tanaka's best film (the period picture parts feel once again a bit forced), but her most thorough and most controlled treatise on love as a spiritual, de facto antisocial force. A film that believes in the absolute and places it in a woman's heart. Looks astonishing throughout, too.

The Falcon's Brother, Stanley Logan, 1942

In theory an interesting wartime mystery. The script has a few nice ideas (the best one: secret messages delivered by silly fashion magazine covers) and the anti-fascist rhetorics introduce an urgency strangely at odds with the well-worn plot mechanics. The direction is dull, though, and the "double falcon" concept is completely wasted.

Burden of Life, Heinosuke Gosho, 1935

About looking at oneself as if from the outside: you always come up short that way. A surprisingly complex film, because it's not just about "coming to terms with fatherhood", but about family dynamics: a single, unjust and a bit arbitrary impulse ripples through different subjectivities until no one feels at home anymore. The resolution in the end is too abrupt and too complete.

Always marvelous how rich the worlds of these films are, even with a running time of just over an hour. Kinuyo Tanaka especially is extremely charming as the modern girl with the painter husband. Those two easily could've had their own film.

The Week of, Robert Smigel, 2018

Cramming it all in. Neorealismo rosa all'americana and sometimes no style at all is the best style.

Buscemi and Happy Madison are a match made in heaven.

The King of Staten Island, Judd Apatow, 2020

"What's that, a 'life event'?"

The boring cool kids won't like it, but this is Apatow's best film since FUNNY PEOPLE. By now, he's so relaxed, he might just join Happy Madison soon.

The New Road: Akermi, Heinosuke Gosho, 1936

Marriage shenanigans featuring wayward painters, obstinate modern girls (Kinuyo Tanaka!), grumpy fathers, dull safe-choice suitors etc. Plots like this seem to have been a dime a dozen in 30s Japan, though this seems to be willing to test the limits when it comes to licentiousness. The production design also looks marvelous at times, but in the current transfer it's mostly wasted. Gosho's direction is once again sensitive, focussing on gestures and gazes.

The magnificent last five minutes mainly consist of Tanaka running, for life and love.

The New Road: Ryota, Heinosuke Gosho, 1936

Almost exclusively deals with the fallout from the first part: love is lost, but there's a baby on the way! Youthful exuberance replaced by quite and introspective domesticity. The scenes with Tanaka and Uehara are beautiful.

The Tree of Love, Hiromasa Nomura, 1938

Abridged rerelease of a multi-hour blockbuster, supposed to be a founding work in the genre of romantic extremism (=romantic love unbound by space, time and sanity). The surviving version doesn't really point towards an epic of the scale of Oba's KIMI NO NA WA, though, everything is rather small-scale and also a bit clumsy. Uehara especially is extremely wooden. The community of nurses Tanaka is a part of is the only interesting element here.

The Reluctant Dragon, Alfred L. Werker, 1941

Finding prime STUC-material in (ok, not really all that) unexpected places. Benchley wouldn't be out of place in a particularly stale german 70s sex farce.

Chikamatsu's Love in Osaka, Tomu Uchida, 1959

The red-light district is all movement, the fluid camera tracing flows of energy, a constant exchange between inside and outside, lack and fulfillment. Our hero Chunmei, though, is the only static part. Totally reluctant, he's being bullied into a brothel by his pal and then pressured into sex by a prostitute. Afterwards he cannot, like everyone around him, reenter normalcy. He has been activated, set on a track towards theatrical self destruction. No one can stop him now - not even, as it turns out, the author of the story. He, Chikamatsu, is cursed, too: All he can do is provide aesthtic relief.

Actress, Kon Ichikawa, 1987

On becoming Oharu. The whole second half is devoted to Tanaka's relationship with Mizoguchi. Before that, we get a panoramic and multi-faceted, if not terribly original introduction not only into Tanaka's life, but also into the state of Japanese filmmaking in the late 20s and early 30s (with a fair amount of Shimizu-bashing); but once she meets Mizo, basically everything else doesn't matter anymore. Even the war hardly gets a mention, let alone Tanaka's roles in propaganda films. The script is co-written by Shindo Kaneto, who pressed Tanaka pretty hard on the same topic in his Mizoguchi documentary. So I guess it's not quite clear whether we're dealing with Mizo's fixation on Tanaka or with Kaneto's fixation on Mizo and Tanaka.

All in all not a complete success but interesting enough. A lot of it is set in rather mundane interiors, unobtrusively evoking Nicely classic Shochiku family films without ever turning into full-blown pastiche. The ending is effective on its own terms, but to not even mention Tanaka's own directorial work (a quite important aspect of life after Oharu) is just rude.

One Hundred and One Dalmatians, diverse, 1961

Queen Cruella, making every frame she walks in her own, the most glamourous of all Disney villains dwarfing the plainest of all Disney heroes. Why smoke at all if you can't smoke like Cruella smokes, enchanting the world with green veneer. The puppies must live, of course, if only to stumble over the frozen stream in one of the most beautiful scenes of animation history, but let's be honest: if anyone deserves a coat like that it's Cruella de Vil.

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