The Fencing Master, Shunkai Mizuho, 1962
"Danpei and realism. He doesn't understand what realism is, but is trying to capture what it is..." "With all of his life."
A sword fighting film in which the only cause worth fighting for is the correct depiction of sword fighting. The question of "graphical realism" in swordplay performances leads to a breakdown of self, and then to a sentimental confessional scene, and then to a street brawl.
Either the most macmahonist film ever or the best film about macmahonism (I don't think it can be both at the same time, because macmahonism is built on the rejection of modernist reflexivity): Here's someone who's really willing to die for mise-en-scene.
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.
Männer in den besten Jahren erzählen Sexgeschichte, Frits Fronz, 1968
The most tender and in a way also the most optimistic Fronz film I've seen so far. Maybe this is because of the rather strict gender separation. A group of men and a group of women in the countryside, but the two groups never meet and while the men can see the women, the women somehow (movie magic!) can't see the men.
The genders only come together in the men's sex stories, and even then they treat each other like members of a friendly, but strange and ultimately unknowable alien race. Like in SEXKARUSSELL, it's important that the stories contain punchlines (if they don't, the audience will revolt). One of those punchlines leads to a girl stepping in front of a car and dancing topless, slow and trance-like, in the headlights. A moment of pure poetic bliss that seems to come out of nowhere, completely detached from both the film and the world around me.
The Scent of Incense, Keisuke Kinoshita, 1964
Shows again why Kinoshita is so underrated: he might be the only one of the Japanese classic masters interested in form first and in humanism if at all second, and therefore his films sometimes feel crass and heavy-handed, but he also gets to ask questions neither Mizoguchi nor Naruse (two obvious comparisons here) would even consider.
This one is a magnificent, dark epic at the tail end of his best period, the sprawling scope offset by the intimate framings: At its core, it's just a long series of mother-daughter conversations. More precisely, it's about a mother unilaterally rescinding the social contract, leading to the question of what's worse: corruption of family or corruption by family? What if both might mean one and the same thing?
A Song to Remember, Charles Vidor, 1945
Still not a particularly well-rounded movie, but I still like it. The Marischka script continually negotiates between Hollywood prestige picture impulses and the more sentimental sensitivities of German-style musician films (like the Schubert series). Strangely enough, Paul Muni is the most teutonic element with his Weimar era mugging. Once George Sand shows up, everything changes. She's the bearer of light, mise en scene personified, she opens up the image but breaks down the movie. Basically nothing makes sense from this point on. Both Wilde and Marischka are completely helpless when confronted with ice-cold female rationality.
The Falcon in Danger, William Clemens, 1943
Rather wacky, convoluted entry, a fever-dreamish plot that might technically make sense but plays out like a series of non sequiturs. Every single scene with the fiance is irritating.
11 x 14, James Benning, 1977
Those two Dylan shots alone would bring me through some of my darker days.
Sandakan No. 8, Kei Kumai, 1974
Undeniably powerful stuff, though for me, only the scenes with Tanaka and Kurihara really worked. The flow of energy between the two women, a smile for food and shelter, memories answered by tears. The old woman (beating things into shape with her feet) and her shack invigorated, the young woman reduced to stasis and affect.
The flashback, by contrast, are crass and blunt, shot through with expressionistic furor, all men are pigs, the sailors are coming, marching in step into the brothel. Fair enough, given the subject, and still, those are automatic images, closed-off from the start, ready-made for the ever-growing, open-ended archive of 20th century cruelties.
Le Franc, Djibril Diop Mambety, 1994
The promise of happiness becoming a burden and turning you into a clown: just another day in capitalism.
Laissons Lucie faire, Emmanuel Mouret, 2000
Giggling in your sleep until you wake up. Drop the uniform and "enjoy life", but that might be just a code word.
Female systematics and male flights of fancy. When both come together, a "sensual affair" might easily turn into slapstick. After nine years, every relationship's formula of love probably needs some refreshing, though. If nothing else helps, maybe drinking ourselves into a stupor will.
Mouret's first long film, still a bit clumsy at times, not every idea works, but that only emphasizes his marvelous eye for acting and especially for the small stage plays people constantly invent and perform for each other.
Plus, casting Chaplin's granddaughter in your feature debut is, of course, a king move.
Lullaby of the Earth, Yasuzo Masumura, 1976
The world used to be the outside while she was secure in the dark, womb-like inside, something remote like a glimpse she caught once in a while through the hatch of Grandmother's shack. Now Grandmother is gone, the world comes rushing in and she cannot help but take everything personally. Every desire, every insult aims for her body and she reciprocates in full, lashing out against both herself and everyone around her. She has no access to the safeguarding and distancing mechanisms all the others around her use almost constantly. She's only happy while rowing, turning herself into a machine, but this won't make the people go away. There's no other solution but to face them, to expose herself and to beat, claw and fuck her way into nirvana.
Army, Keinosuke Kinoshita, 1944
That long, silent close-up of Tanaka's silent breakdown really is amazing: basically every single scene preceding it is built on the absolute primacy of sacrifice for the emperor, and then, without a single word of dialogue, just through the power of one single face, everything is turned around and we are left registering the cost of this very sacrifice.
Of course, this doesn't turn ARMY into a full-blown anti-war movie, but it still feels like a deliberate intervention - purely on the level of form (I don't know much about the mechanisms of censorship in fascist Japan; was it mostly script-based?). Not only Tanaka's expressivity, but also the shift of focus from a family tale centered around Chishū Ryū to the plight of an isolated, helpless woman, while all the men around her keep drifting away...
Four Riders, Chang Cheh, 1972
Prime 70s pulp nihilism. Starts with leaves rustling in the wind, ends in the eternal snow. In between, men affirm each other's right to cry, and also some people die. Chang Cheh going for slow-burn acid rock instead of high-octane thrash-metal. Compared with his period films, there's hardly any plot at all, just a bunch of men who used to have a proper outlet for violence and now they don't. Dispensable bodies, drifting. It takes a full hour until the Four Riders finally meet, and afterwards there's nothing left to do but to prepare and execute a showdown so great I just had to watch it twice.
Woman of Tokyo, Yasujiro Ozu, 1933
Sad little film centered around a tea kettle. Beautiful tracking shots and kind of mysterious ending.
ABBA: The Movie, Lasse Hallström, 1978
I don't think I care for a single ABBA song (and I like lots of sing-along pop), but I can easily forget that for 95 strange, naive and obscene minutes. I am the tiger!
Woods Are Wet, Tatsumi Kumashiro, 1973
Entering through dark corridors, guided by candlelight, hell is promised and hell is gained. Sex is flesh on flesh slavery and everyone is slave to the ritual. Impressive in its commitment to the source, in its clear-cut, unrelenting A-B structure, and also in its matter-of-fact depiction of the husband who in the end is just a random fool (it's about doing evil, not about being evil), though I'm not sure whether Kumashiro's aestheticism really fits this project.