Thursday, August 27, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Starry Is the Night, Ann Hui, 1988

Ambitious enough: Two unequal love affairs set about 20 years apart, both mirroring each other and mutually entangled... and also pitted against Hong Kong's pro democracy movement, ie the struggle against another kind of unequal relationship. The past is clear-cut and depressing (Brigitte Lin alone in the hay), the present messy and intense (Brigitte Lin getting tomboy hair and drinking from sneakers).

In the end Hui shies away from the final oedipal conclusion the romantic entanglements clearly imply - does this mean that all hope is not lost yet for an independent democratic Hong Kong? We have until 2047, someone says at one time. Felt like a long time, back then.

Same year as Varda's KUNG-FU MASTER. Strange coincidence.

Song of the Exile, Ann Hui, 1990

Ann Hui recreating her family's history, or at least a variation thereof, and especially her own relationship with her socially and culturally displaced mother. Good eye for affection clouded by pettiness. The curses and the blessings of time spent together and of time spent apart. Are we lonelier when we don't understand each other or when we do? Meaning nothing is simple, but when you get Maggie Cheung to play yourself in your own biopic you must have done something right in your life.

The true standout here is Lu Hsiao-Fen, though, the actress playing the mother: the way she lights up when returning to Japan, a child again when with her family, the prettiest (and, coincidentally, richest) girl of the village again when with her former peers.

Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Clifford Choi, 1983

A rather strange project, feels like Shaw Brothers trying for an arty Ann Hui / Allen Fong-style social drama but then deciding to both sexing it up and inserting a ROCKY rip-off-storyline. (In other words: turning it into a Hong Kong film.) Someone on here mentioned Lino Brocka and indeed those early scenes of Cherie Chung drifting through the gutter feel like INSIANG channeled through soft-core porn, although the result is both more artificial and even sleazier than that sounds. The later parts suffer from a miscast Alex Man and rather underdeveloped fighting scenes. In fact, nothing really fits, but Cherie Chung is very good, and there's always enough going on to keep the interest up.

The Way We Are, Ann Hui, 2008

How to condense the experience of the mundane? How many / few shots do you need to evoke the experience of a single day in which nothing of importance happens? How to represent everyday routine without taking recourse to cliché-ridden tropes like repetition, montage sequeces etc?

Ann Hui has good answers to all of these questions, but I'm still not completely sold on the film. This really is very low key, and probably either a bit too low key or not quite low key enough for my taste. I guess it might have helped to either boil things further down (maybe make all of it about the mother-son relationship: what does coming of age feel like when there's no conflict at all?), or to open things up a bit. The scenes with Cheung Ka-on's friends are mostly left hanging in the air, for example.

As it is, this seems to be a bit too much concerned with finding the right timing for all of those piano cues signaling all of those small epiphanies of lower middle-class urban life.

The Falcon Out West, William Clemens, 1944

I was looking forward to this since normally I'm very fond of Old Hollywood comedy western. There's really not much going on with this, though. A slow and convoluted story, no stand-out performances, and a serious lack of, well, horseplay. Seriously, that joke isn't much worse than most of the ones that made the cut, here.

Spieler, Dominik Graf, 1990

Strangely enough, while almost all of Graf's films display an offbeat sense of humor rare in German cinema, his comedies rather consistently turn out to be the least funny of all of his films. TREFFER is the exception that proves the rule, I guess, but it certainly holds true for DREI GEGEN DREI, for DOKTOR KNOCK, and, although not quite to the same degree, for SPIELER.

It's not that the jokes are bad in themselves (SPIELER, especially, is a well-written film), but rather that the films do not seem to be interested in letting them register. They're not ends in themselves, but part of the environment. "Comedy" is more related to a certain kind of deformation of the world than to the response this deformation might trigger in the viewer. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. (The idea that comedies should be judged, first and foremost, for their "funniness" is extremely dubious anyway.)

Like in DREI GEGEN DREI and DOKTOR KNOCK, there's a certain mismatch, though, between anarchistic plotting and the insistence on total directorial control. In this case we basically get a slacker-comedy with an almost Klaus-Lemke-style hook, but broken up into a series of intricately derailing set-pieces, and accompanied by scripted dialogue. Extremely scripted, in fact, and it almost never stops, too.

We also get: Pans along wallpapers with faces draped in front of them, several beautiful iris shots, the crumbling, colorful textures of old Munich, posts and beams breaking up the frame at odd angels, a trip to France with Checkhovian hand grenades in the trunk. A foot chase across a busy highway that might be one of Graf's best action scenes. Several retreats into the bedroom where sex is only one of many possible (and not necessarily the most invigorating) outcomes.

My American Grandson, Ann Hui, 1991

Another low-key Ann Hui film, and certainly not one of her best. The plot about a bratty American teenager visiting his grandfather in a traditional Shanghai neighborhood isn't all that exciting and largely develops along the usual lines (it also has nothing to add to Mabel Cheung's pitch-perfect EIGHT TAELS OF GOLD). A benign Wu Ma is wonderful as the grandfather, though, and somewhere hidden in here is a thoughtful and quietly ironic film about growing old alone in a society that defines itself through dense social connectivity. So, a first draft for Hui's far superior THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT, maybe.

München - Geheimnisse einer Stadt, Dominik Graf, Michael Althen, 2000

Touched by a city. Call it psychogeography, but not as a Patrick Keiller style academic exercise, more like a Chris Marker take on a boulevard expose titled "Hot Nights in Munich".

The limitations of its (dual) perspective are obvious, but I always think it's much more interesting to fully embrace them than to make phony amends by way of inserting distancing devises. This is, pure and simple, Graf at his most inventive, and Althen at his most poetic. A rare stroke of luck.

Notre-Dame du Nil, Atiq Rahimi, 2019

Personal memory and historical allegory sometimes working hand in hand, sometimes not. Maybe the film is more interesting when they don't: how can nostalgic longing for a community of girls and for a rural landscape filled with enticing mysteries coexist with murderous ethnic violence? In theory, and especially after the fact, the violence itself might be perfectly explainable, but every single act of violence still comes out of nowhere.

Beautiful, painterly visuals, like in Rahimi's THE PATIENCE STONE. Those not all that slow slow-motion shots are a bit irritating, though, don't quite know what to make of them yet.

The Spooky Bunch, Ann Hui, 1980

A shame this still isn't available in a decent version, especially since there's a newly restored version out there (paid for by Josephine Siao herself, apparently). Also makes one wish Ann Hui would've indulged in her obvious love and knack for quirky b-movies a bit more often throughout her career.

Ordinary Heroes, Ann Hui, 1999

A messy and wonderful take on Hong Kong's leftist legacy that doesn't feel like a period film at all. The stocktaking of all of those ideological tribulations, factorial in-fights and very important names is outsourced to the performance of a manic street preacher who shows up a few times, mainly to announce a new chapter in the story. The bulk of the film is very immediate, just a bunch of people trying to connect to the world surrounding them while also fighting their inner loneliness. Then there's the cast: One of the best Anthony Wong performances, showing once again why he is so unique in HK cinema, Loletta Lee's quirky sadness and the sense of displacement surrounding Lee Kang-Sheng who'll probably always seem lost when not inside a Tsai frame.

Night and Fog, Ann Hui, 2009

The dark twin of THE WAY WE ARE, set in the same high rise settlement at the outskirts of Hong Kong. Only that this time, nothing is all right behind closed doors. Driven by a deep sense of despair, harrowing and surprisingly high-pitched, especially compared to the predecessor, but also to most other Hui films. Simon Yam's manic performance seems to take over the whole film, splintering the narrative, stretching it out over several povs and time frames. In the end nothing helps, there really is nowhere to hide.

Heartbreaking stuff, especially because of details like the sign language of the two sisters. Abuse encroaching on every single human interaction, even the benign ones.

Female Teacher Hunting, Junichi Suzuki, 1982

Gets over the rape-obsession often enough to arrive at some interesting moments, but all in all it's very plain, barely stylized. By this time a lot of these films long to be hardcore and no longer have many ideas about what to do with the restrictions. Yuki Kazamatsuri, who apparently was in the KILL BILL films, makes for a glamorous lead, though.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

last week in letterboxd

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.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

last week in letterboxd

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.

That soundtrack!

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.

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.