Dragnet Girl, Yasujiro Ozu, 1933
Starts out playful, almost giddy, Ozu in movie brat mode, having fun not only with gangster film tropes but also with the "His Master's Voice" dog. Later on, though, the film mostly retreats into a single room, acting out a full-blown identity crisis that isn't limited to character psychology but takes over film form, like a hidden Ozu film revolting against the genre film surface. Still, in the end everything hinges on Tanaka's performance - at first she's the number one gangster movie cosplayer, but later on, she's the one denouncing the game, calling bullshit not only on Joji, but also on herself. In the end, the film switches gear once again and goes for a deliberately non-suspenseful chase scene featuring the world's two least agile cops. They must nevertheless catch us, says Tanaka, otherwise everything would be wrong. She's right, of course.
Call of Heroes, Benny Chan, 2016
Starts a bit slow and might've profited from not quite as straight-forward storytelling and maybe even, dare I say it, from less Louis Koo, but Chan, cleverly updating classic swordplay tropes for modern sensibilities, sure knows how to open up the canvas once the mayhem starts. The last half hour delivers on the wish-fulfillment aspect of blockbuster action cinema in full force. The "sea of jars" scene, while maybe not realized to its full potential, still is one of the more successful attempts toward the digital sublime (made me think of the sandman in SPIDER-MAN 3).
Dancing Girl of Izu, Heinosuke Gosho, 1933
Accumulating detail on the open road. The weight of the world is felt only at the end, when the body of least resistance is finally identified and being closed in on. Then, everything comes crashing down on you. "Happiness? What do you mean by happiness?"
Midnight Fairy, Noboru Tanaka, 1973
The world as seen through soot-smeared glasses. No one takes pinku as revolutionary cinema more serious than Tanaka. This is all about sticking it to the bourgeoisie by way of wild mood swings and direct action. Gutter sleaze making way for anarchist-romantic flights of fancy, and I guess the key is that Tanaka fully commits to both, to destruction, but also to utopia. A bride can be many things at once.
Yuri Yamashina's character is one of the most unusual protagonists of erotic cinema I can think of.
Girls of the Night, Kinuyo Tanaka, 1961
Even more unusual than I remembered. A film that completely refuses not only to condemn, but also to pin down sex work. Follow up on a lifeline without any prejudices and you never know where things might end.
To the Fore, Dante Lam, 2015
All clean and chaste, fully in line with mainland market aesthetics, but Lam manages to find his own form of craziness: hermetically sealing in his world and his protagonists. Cycling is everything and everything is cycling. Any emotion that can't be translated into aerodynamic, space-bending chase sequences isn't worth expressing.
Sehnsucht 202, Max Neufeld, 1932
The eternal story of love and / as capital, charming as hell, most of the checks aren't covered, but everyone's high on Luise Rainer's perfume anyway. One of those one last good time before the assholes take over films that are a true treasure of German-Austrian film history.
A Hen in the Wind, Yasujiro Ozu, 1948
This was my favorite Ozu at one time, and while by now I'd probably reserve that spot for something with Setsuko Hara in it, I still see what I particularly adored here: It's not so much about the downbeat setting or the unusually dramatic storyline, but about Ozu applying his formal rigor to moods, desires and states of minds he normally shies away from. Especially the claustrophobia, the feeling of being holed up, in one's own life, and also, more directly, in a dismal shack, next to someone you're not sure you know and love anymore. Neither Sano nor Tanaka can cope with this, and so the darkness closes in on both of them, wrapping itself around them. It's not only the people losing their serenity, but also space: the single lightbulb defining the borders of their prison, the cursed staircase...
Now You See Me 2, Jon M. Chu, 2016
Chu might not quite as out of his depth as Leterrier when it comes to quirky action mayhem - once in a long while, when he manages to boil a situation down to rhythm and choreography (as in the hiding the stick scene), he arrives at something halfway pleasant. Still, the first one was at least fueled by a - misplaced, but somewhat touching - sense of wonder. This time around, everyone involved seems to be in on the crushing dullness of the whole thing from the start.
General rule: a film that can't make good use of Harrelson ain't worth shit.
The Lady of Musashino, Kenji Mizoguchi, 1951
Early in the film (a scene that somehow didn't fully register with me at first viewing), Michiko brings home cynide capsules handed out by the army. Won't it be more practical, she asks, just to take them? A casual question that makes it clear that she's living on borrowed time from the start. Later on, this turns out to be the lesson she learns over and over again: The clean slate of death is more practical than life and its unruly, aching geometrics of desire.
Yakuza Apocalypse, Takashi Miike, 2015
Didn't expect it to be this thrilling. Miike just throwing at you every deranged impulse shooting through his mind is always a good way to spend two hours, and this time, the mayhem is dense with images of quiet loneliness, like water dripping only in your head. It also looks much better than most of his recent work, more texture, better eye for location, a dusty, grimy vision from a place beyond sanity and topography.
The White Storm 2: Drug Lords, Herman Yau, 2019
Heading for the Philippines to catch a serious case of tough on crime fascism and then letting it play out until the bitter end: two dead guys shooting each other, like something out of a Romero film.
In between Yau opens up the image, lots of moving parts, widescreen shots filled with tough guy, strippers, drugs and weapons, a car chase down the subway station, dead women's heads falling into men's laps, a grand, vulgar vision somewhere halfway between Benny Chan's uber-pulpy first film and Johnny To's much more analytical and detached DRUG WAR.
The Munekata Sisters, Yasujiro Ozu, 1950
A very alcoholic Ozu. Maybe Takamine never really sobered up, and the film is all the better for it. If you don't fall for her at least a little bit while watching this, I don't now you. Mimura must be one of the darkest characters in any of his films.
One of the great cat movies, too.
Tesla, Michael Almereyda, 2020
Pleasant enough on a pure sound+images level, but Hawke works overtime to suck as much life out of it as he possibly can. Favorite moment: Kyle MacLachlan's puzzled look at a light bulb.