Tuesday, April 27, 2021

last three weeks in letterboxd

His Motorbike, Her Island, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1986

A romantic film about a romantic illusion. In the end it turns out that the death wish was not in her gaze, but only in the camera eye.

(Besides being a part, if not the center, of a string of 80s neo-biker pop cinema masterpieces from RUMBLE FISH to A MOMENT OF ROMANCE, this might also be a secret companion piece to Romero's KNIGHTRIDERS, a film from another, more dysphoric and also more political era that still might lurk somewhere in the background here.)

Der Mann, der seinen Mörder sucht, Robert Siodmak, 1931

At times hilarious live-action cartoon centered around a quintessenial Rühmann-meatball performance. Also makes clear once again that Wilder, as much as I despise some of his most famous films, just can't be written off. His name pops up in way too many interesting places.

Four Sisters, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1985

Obayashi's heartbreaking "four preppy sisters" melodrama, filled with 80s style and existential despair both tied to and strangely detached from material conditions. As small children, the girls (at least three of the four) were, by pure chance, saved from bitter poverty. Now they're always perfectly styled while perkily flirting with tennis jocks.

But at the same time there's a gap between them and the world around them (maybe because they realize that their somewhat protected existence is based on pure luck and could collapse into pure nothingness in a moment's notice), which becomes palpable in some of Obayashi's most intricate back projection shots, but also through body language: Yasuko Tomita leaning against a tree, vaguely looking towards the camera, Atsuko Asano, the most fragile of the four, awkwardly sitting on a seesaw, no longer completely tied to the world of the living. Then there's the scene of the four of them taking a picture together, sharing the screen and still insisting, each of them in their own way, on their inability to truly transcend their inner loneliness.

Express 13, Alfred Zeisler, 1931

Another gimmicky Zeisler thriller, darker and tighter than DER SCHUSS IM TONFILMATELIER. The bland male lead is the biggest problem, Charlotte Susa, though, gets some great close-ups.

The Drifting Classroom, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1987

After directing one emotionally charged masterpiece after the other throughout 1985 and 1986 Obayashi deservedly changes gear with this one, a perfectly fine SFX children film. The matte painting and back projection work is, once again, on another level and the idea of playing Chopin to keep the giant bugs away is basically Obayashi in a nutshell.

I'm not quite so sure about the shaky cam stuff and some of the interior scenes, parts of this look really murky, to the point of suggesting a botched digital transfer. The "intercultural" aspects might be slightly cringy too at times but in the end this is once again warm and lively enough to easily triumph over these kinds of petty objections.

Bed of Roses, Gregory La Cava, 1933

Another pre-code marvel and a genuinely strange film. It's basically about Constance Bennett making her way through all the concepts of womanhood available at the time for someone without external resources: prostitute (a stage she has technically left behind when the film starts, but which is suggested constantly as the number one fallback option); female hustler; mistress; honest but poor working girl; and finally, subordinate half of a married couple.

This sequence is presented more like an argument than like a story, meaning that character development and also interpersonal pressure systems are conspicuously absent. To put it another way, what the film is interested in are objective power systems of society, not the contingent ones of traditional fallen women melodrama. Indeed, all kinds of transitional scenes are systematically cut out as if to present Bennett with a number of clear-cut choices in order to let her make up her own mind.

La Cava's both playful and upfront direction suggests a disdain for bourgeois morality and a matter-of-fact acceptance of sexuality equal only to Borzage in American cinema of the time; and to be honest I can't think of a lot non-American equivalents either.

The Discarnates, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1988

Family life can never be quite contained in a single, fixed space-time. It is also never complete, always too much and not enough at the same time, an uneasy cohabitation of future and former selves. That's why, like is said in LONELY HEART, in childhood everything feels nostalgic even when seen for the first time. And here, in the companion piece, set during adulthood, everything is remembered as if it never happened.

It's the darker film of the two, because adulthood is always darker, and also because of the dimmed lights of the big city, with faces only gradually, haltingly emerging from the black space of claustrophobic apartments. The woman on the other hand emerges out of nowhere, in the viewfinder, a peephole apparition, detached and exposed. The adult, sweaty, pumping sex that enters Obayashi's cinema with her, maybe for the first time, promises an immediacy, a synchoronicity, which will turn out to be an illusion, too.

Shinobi no mono, Satsuo Yamamoto, 1962

First of eight SHINOBI NO MONO films, more epic in scope and also more serious in tone than the other Daiei shomingeki serials (while still highly enjoyable as a gorgeously photographed ninja adventure yarn, to be sure). Raizo Ichikawa isn't as memorable as in the other films I've seen him in, but at its core, this is not about him anyway, but about Sandayu and Nobunaga and the two completely different visions of gnarly warrior masculinity they embody.

Sandayu's way of the ninja and its anarchistic scheming emerges as a hidden, and historically defeated alternative to the dominant power politics not only of the warlords era but also of the emerging Edo shogunate. A world of romantic adventures and fluid identities slowly steamrolled by hierarchical application of brute force.

Beijing Watermelon, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1989

One of the few actual feel-good movies I've seen so far in my life.

Zoom In: Rape Apartments, Naosuke Kurosawa, 1980

Is there an actual giallo in which the murderer turns out to be a piano tuner? If not: clearly a missed chance since both the tools of the profession and its old Europe roots fit the genre perfectly. Naosuke Kurosawa's pinku entry didn't quite work for me, unfortunately. It's rather ambitious, to be sure, but the obvious Argento influence remains a gimmick and never quite connects with the almost sci-fi-like apartment building as wasteland setting, which probably is the most interesting thing about this. Instead of really engaging with the desperation this kind of dehumanizing architecture seems to embody (as someone like Sato would've done), the proceedings are presented with a crass, satirical attitude I almost always dislike in pinkus.

Chizuko's Younger Sister, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1991

I'm still shell-shocked by the magnificent Obayashi 80s run (has anyone else, no matter where, had a similar run in that decade? Carpenter maybe? Sato? Tsui? Can't think of many), and well, the 90s start with yet another masterpiece.

Another one of Obayashi's expeditions into the imaginary of family relations. This time, it's all about learning to live with the presence of an unreachable because of deceased older sister = super ego. It's more high-strung and more synthetical than THE LONELY HEART or THE DISCARNATES, but it's also even more inventive, just one small miracle after the other. That relay scene with its Melies-like intervention of the fantastic, how does one even think of, let alone pull off something like this?

The Object of My Affection, Nicholas Hytner, 1998

A woke romcom from a time when those were still made with warmth and genuine curiosity rather than with self-righteous smugness. Still a bit boring, unfortunately, but a must for 90s sitcom enthusiasts. I mean, Paul Rudd has to decide between Rachel from Friends, Joe from Wings and someone who I thought for a while was Charlie from Caroline in the City. No wonder he's confused.

Haruka, Nostalgy, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1993

Nähere Untersuchungen in the dark alleyways of memory. To remember does not mean to unearth a hidden truth, but to enter a new world of shadows, echoes and co-presences. All those lurid "secrets" are a measure not of objective, but of subjective corruption and to untangle the threads only leads you deeper into a maze in which desire is always already tainted by roleplaying. There's no pureness to reclaim, only the soothing and surprisingly calm clarity of total corruption in the middle of the illuminated forest.

Obayashi's Marienbad, a memory conversation piece that suggests that German idealism might be just as important as a source for his imagemaking as romantic music.

And then you open letterboxd and suddenly this is just another "problematic" film. I mean, I'm just not at all attuned to this kind of thinking and have no interest in defending the film on these terms (by pointing out, for example, that Hikari Ishida is a "child-woman" only in the beginning and completely ceases to be one as soon as bodily desire is introduced). It's just that the final sex scene is indeed awkward and almost manages to derail the film; but to attribute the awkwardness to age difference seems to me the least intriguing of all available options. (Also interesting, btw, how the scandal of incest doesn't figure at all in these kinds of deliberations.)

I'd argue the scene feels so strange because sex can never be pure nostalgia, because the fantasies and projections of sex work on another level. Obayashi films sex as if it was a continuation of the memory conversation - still shot countershot, but now it's not only images and gazes, but bodies replacing each other. And bodies just come with way too much friction.

Alias Boston Blackie, Lew Landers, 1942

The script has its lazy moments this time, but the frenetic games of disguise and Landers' joyful, fast-paced direction (there's even a surprisingly physical car chase scene) more than make up for it. Morris is finally completely in tune with and in control of the material, with everyone else becoming pawns in his game.

Samurai Kids, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1993

Wonderful, inventive, making the most of both the narrative concept and the effect shots (including some pretty awesome early CGI intrusions). By now I'd expect nothing less of Obayashi, of course.

The one detail I love most is probably Satoru's sister's life-sized Munch The Scream doll.

Hot Water, Larry Rippenkroeger, 2021

Relaxed bro-cinema or I guess "cinema", switching back and forth between competent GoPro Mtv Sports jet ski action (with BEN HUR lurking somewhere in the filmhistorical background) and gross-out comedy skits that work not because of shock value (let alone wit) but by contributing to the unassuming and very pg-13 hangout vibes of the whole thing. Aside from the Jet Ski parts the filmmaking is as basic as it gets, and, like with many comedies of its kind, this is strictly a feature, not a bug.

Sada, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1998

I guess I just had to encounter, sooner or later, one Obayashi that doesn't work for me. Here, everything feels forced, all that stylization and picturesque minimalism just a tool to construct an overbearing and not very illuminating argument about the oppressive normative forces of myth-making. Or something in that vein, I lost interest in the intellectual mechanics rather early and just waited for her to finally grab the knife and get things over with.

Clearly one of those films, though, I might completely come around to under different circumstances. One day, maybe.

Russian Lullabies, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1993

Would love to see this in a better version someday. Clearly something of interest going on, here.

Switching, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 2007

The embodied memory of playing Schumann transcending gender and, ultimately, death.

Took me a while to get into it, probably because there's nothing in it as immediately captivating as the electrifying Satomi Kobayashi performance of the first version. Later on, though, when the this time rather subdued body switch mayhem slows down, this becomes incredibly affecting. A cinema of caresses, a fingertip cinema. Like any other difference, sex difference ultimately doesn't pull us apart, but draws us together.

Goodbye for Tomorrow, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1995

The decidedly mundane vision of death and mourning points towards Koreeda's AFTER LIFE, I guess, and in fact both films keep me a bit more at distance than I would wish and expect. Maybe I really am a still bit too much immersed in the monotheistic tradition to fully accept this kind of matter-of-fact anti-transcendentalist approach.

Anyway, lots of beautiful stuff in there about dark loneliness and about how not to get completely lost in it.

Casting Blossoms to the Sky, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 2012

Much more convincing when viewed as a poetic argument rather than as a political one. "Using the pain caused by war for peace" might sound nice, but in the end it's just another pretext for not talking about Japanese war crimes. Pitting Nagaoka against Pearl Harbour is a false equivalency, because it skips over Nanjing.
... Then again, Obayashi is a filmmaker and I truly do feel protected by his tender pyrotechnics. In fact I could spend hours sitting under his blooming skies.

Hanagatami, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 2017

Digital flatness, yes, but also digital death masks. By far Obayashi's most morbid vision, a decadent evocation of a collective death wish affecting each face differently.

Labyrinth of Cinema, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 2019

"Movies have always been unnatural and strange."

Mario Baba and Frantz Kapra. The farce to HANAGATAMI's tragedy, working through many of the same obsessions. Obayashi tries to go even further in his exploration of digital anarchism, but he just doesn't achieve the stylistic coherence of his best work this time. Anyway, this seems to be the first time that bona fide war scenes show up in his work. Like something deep and hidden, a constant subtext now finally breaking through.

And of course, best John Ford impersonation ever.

Hausu, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977

It is indeed all there from the start: the cat, the piano, even the watermelon.

This might be the problem with Obayashi cinephilia: Despite the widely ignored depth of his filmography, he's not really in need of rediscovery, because even if he had directed only his one canonized masterpiece and nothing else, he still would've been one of the greatest.

Seven Weeks, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 2014

Obviously Obayashi is working through some issues close to his heart here, but this was another one of the very few which just didn't work for me. The insanely talky family stuff of the first half feels somewhat oppressive, which, of course, family stuff tends to do sometimes, but still, in his earlier films Obayashi always manages to find a special hook to ease the burden a bit, while here it's just non-stop blood relations echo chamber.

The second half harks back to HARUNKA, NOSTALGY only without the air of elevated romantic craziness which makes the latter so special. Indeed it feels a bit strange that this rather unspecific youthful melodrama is set up as the big family secret supposedly holding everything else together.

Of course there's still an abundance of striking imagery (the scene with the excavator in the background for example is quietly unsettling in a truly extraordinary way) and the discourse on lines and painting might just be a key to Obayashi's aesthetics. One never can be completely finished with any Obayashi film.

Dreams, Akira Kurosawa, 1990

The poignant short films format probably doesn't bring out the best in Kurosawa. On the other hand, the emblematic minimalism of the production design maybe does. In the end, only two of the episodes really stick with me (The Peach Orchard and, especially, The Tunnel - those also were pretty much the only ones I had any recollection of from the first time around), everything else kind of quietly fades away the moment it leaves the screen. Which, of course, most dreams do, too.

Making of Dreams, Nobuhiro Obayashi, 1990

Making images of images. Of course an Obayashi making of about, say, RAN or MADADAYO would've been even better, but this is pitch-perfect for what it is and it made me love Kurosawa even more - something I really didn't think was possible.

Michael Jordan's Playground, Zack Snyder, 1990

"Jordan put on his Superman suit..."

Quite lovely, even on its own terms and without all that MAN OF STEEL foreshadowing. Especially the musical ending.

(Interesting question, though, whether tv sports might be another source, besides Peckinpah, Woo etc, of Snyder's slow motion fetish.)

Adolf und Marlene, Ulli Lommel, 1977

I was rather curious about this one, although it's not really all that surprising that it turns out to be one of those low energy Lommel joints that don't necessarily go overboard in justifying their own existence. The script doesn't really go anywhere with the premise: There's Adolf (sans moustache) and there's Marlene (singing a song or two once in a while), and then there's all those Fassbinder regulars playacting nazis in a pleasantly lazy fashion. That's it. Ballhaus finds some interesting, claustrophobic compositions, and while the jokes, like in most Lommel films, are mostly lame, this doesn't really matter, because, also like in most Lommel films, the whole thing feels like a daydream set in another dimension that looks like our own on first sight, but in the end will never be fully transparent to us.


Another footnote to the Lommel saga: What's the deal with those three ten star reviews for ADOLF AND MARLENE on imdb? They read suspiciously alike, but, given that the film was never commercially available anywhere: why would someone go through the motions of setting up not one but three fake accounts (all three of them have only reviewed Lommel film, ten stars all the way)?

Dawn of the Dead, Zack Snyder, 2004

I remember passionately hating this when it came out and now I wonder why, especially about the passionately part. It's a mostly well-made but uninspired remake that comes somewhat alive when it dumbs down Romero to badass action bullshit but completely falters when it tries to recreate the desperate hangout scenes of the original.

Maybe it really is a realistic film about the mall in the 21st century in the way every single social interaction (except for the ones between the three security guards) feels completely random, but in the end there are just too many bad James Gunn oneliners for me to care.

300, Zack Snyder, 2006

This is clearly Snyder starting to find his style, but it's also clearly still something of a chore to sit through. For all the total control of imagery Snyder shoots for, there's a lot of awkward maneuvering to squeeze in all those desperately desired iconic moments. All style no elegance. A film that values self-identity over everything else will always come up short in the end, I guess, because it never will be able to live up to its own ideal self.

Watchmen, Zack Snyder, 2009

Ultimate cut.

Having no stakes in or even knowledge of Moore's graphic novel this feels in a way even more juvenile than 300, lots of agitation about all of those big themes, but in the end what's really important is sex, of course, and sex basically means dicks and the idea of women melting away in orgasm.

Of course it indeed is one of the best things about Snyder that he acknowledges horniness every step of the way, in all of his films. This one is better made than 300, too, much smoother and sometimes even with an eye for acting completely absent in his first two. The animated sequences are not completely successful, but I still think they are important, because, like the human wall in 300, they introduce an element of raw carnage that seems to be a necessary jumping-off point for superhero discourse.

Legend of the Guardians, Zack Snyder, 2010

Really very bad. A few youtube videos are enough to realize that they didn't understand at all why owls are awesome. Owls are deadpan, not whimsical! Basically the only part I liked was the beginning, when they're learning too fly. These rather plump creatures bumbling through the air...

I don't get at all why people give this a pass on technical grounds. To me it looks beyond ugly and they didn't even make the two owl brothers different enough to keep them easily apart. Also, no interest at all in exploring the world, rushing through way too much plot and all composition centering on those stupid owls.

Decidedly not the hidden gem in the Snyder canon I still secretly hoped it would turn out to be.

Sucker Punch, Zack Snyder, 2011

Strangely enough the first Snyder film with decent human interactions. Very basic ones, but still.

Monday, April 05, 2021

last two weeks on letterboxd

Le roi des aulnes, Marie-Louise Iribe, 1931

Starts as a rather dull narrative visualization of Goethe's Erlkönig, but takes flight once the central visual idea is introduced: The boy's hallucinations manifesting itself as a series of overlays, half-transparent figures representing the Erlkönig itself as well as a number of nymph-like dancers and other vaguely mythological creatures. Projected over trees, leaves and, especially beautiful, water, they are transformed into a direct portal into another realm of pure visuality.

That's basically it, the film isn't interested in doing much more than opening up the portal and spending some time on the other side. A one-trick pony, but sometimes that's enough.

Hinugot sa langit, Ishmael Bernal, 1985

Family melodrama, the eternal master-genre of Philippine Cinema. Here, Maricel Soriano gets sweet-talked into first watching SPLASH and then a pregnancy. Later on, she is surrounded not so much by oppressive individuals as by blunt ideological forces. The "bad" guy who knocked her up is pure irresponsibility, and advises her to toss a coin to decide the fate of her unborn child; the "good" guy who wants to marry her is pure patriarchal dullness, unable to think of her as anything else than as part of his prearranged life-plan; the aunt (?) is pure religious hypocrisy, aggressively demanding, in the name of the lord, a sacrifice she herself was never asked to make; the cousin (Amy Austria, biggest joy of the film!) is pure girl-power libertarianism and advocates for take every orgasm you can get and don't worry about the consequences. In the end, the choice Maricel has to make might not be all that hard...

There's a side-plot about a family of day laborers being evicted from their dilapidated home. Might feel like poverty porn at times, but might also be read as the dark, ironic core of the film: another kind of body politics, mirroring the possible "eviction" of the fetus, but one that does not have access to the mode of melodrama.

The Visitor in the Eye, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977

A horror film setup swept away by picturesque matte paintings, Tschaikovsky style piano romanticism and affect-trenched colorscapes. What's not to love?

Border Wolves, Joseph H. Lewis, 1938

Joseph H. Lewis cheapie from his Wagon Wheel Joe days. And indeed, his favorite framing device makes quite a few appearances. Aside from that, there are lots of songs, quite a bit of Joe-Baker-hollering, a few inventive camera movements, some of the most racist attempts at comic relief attempts I've come across recently and a vague outline of something similar to a plot. Not without merits as a sign of things to come, but a bit too random on its own terms.

Take Me Away!, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1978

For 20 minutes, this is as beautiful as filmmaking can get: Two uprooted souls falling in love while floating on top of San Francisco street scenes, remnants of the not yet completely commodified counterculture, a musical euphoria not too much removed from a plunge into death and nothingness. It all culminates first in a magical club scene and then a night of glowing close-up passion, framings of intimacy that also seem to be playing with our desire to watch.

Obayashi comes back to all of this in the end, to the club and the street romance at least. Not much has changed but that fact in itself might be telling enough. There's just nothing solid that sticks to those two. Everything in between is a bit frustrating, because it feels like this almost could've been a masterpiece, if Obayashi had just made the material a bit more his own, instead of falling back on tired family drama tropes.

There's beautiful stuff throughout to be sure, the music, the toy plane, a wonderfully giddy 70s brawl... still, the otherworldly beauty of the first 20 minutes dissipates pretty quickly, and when Obayashi tries to reclaim it in the end it feels a bit like too little to late.

Lovemobil, Elke Margarete Lehrenkrauss, 2019

Watching this after the "scandal" broke is a rewarding, if not completely satisfying experience. If one knows about the background, the signs of "scripted reality" are indeed impossible to overlook, even in the most "observational" hangout / waiting for the johns scenes. Interestingly, the only "real" protagonist, Uschi, feels even more scripted, maybe because technically she's an amateur actress while the other two women are not.

Still, turning this into "correctly labeled" fiction might have resulted in a much less interesting film, because this probably would've weakened what is strongest about it: the way these two sex workers are transformed, by way of accumulation of well-researched detail, into universally valid signifiers of what Germany and especially provincial Germany is and feels like in the 21st century. And in the end I would argue that this very quality doesn't at all depend on whether Rita and Milena are "authentic" or not.

LOVEMOBIL isn't quite strong enough to build a full-scale defense of the lying documentary on. Still, watching this with an open mind is at the very least much more enlightening than keeping up with the never-ending stream of self-righteous think pieces which come across much more embarrassing than anything the director might or might not have done wrong. Everything else the parties involved should work out among themselves.

School in the Crosshairs, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1981

When nazis take over the schoolyard, it pays off to go for the big guns. Pure joy from beginning to end.

Meet Boston Blacki, Robert Florey, 1941

Boston Blackie, king of the lame one-liners, in a well-made mystery. Rochelle Hudson, Costance Worth and Richard Lane easily make up for what Chester Morris lacks in charms (it's not him, I guess, but those damn one-liners) and Robert Florey once again directs with style, wit and an eye for the bizarre.

Facundo Alitaftaf, Luciano B. Carlos, 1978

Brain-melt material of the occasionally funky kind. Theres' a scene in which Dolphy's head gets, again and again, stuck between two sumo wrestler's bellies. Hard to not see this as the film declaring, quite openly, its own aesthetic strategy.

The Adventures of Kosuke Kindaichi, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1979

ADHD: The Movie. There's more inventiveness in any five-minute stretch of this than in your average yearly Academy Awards Best Picture crop, but in the end I can only rate my own enjoyment and I was low-key annoyed by this pretty much the whole time.

Lovely Devils, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1982

Two witches battling each other and the one who loves harder wins.

The narrow television frame completely and immediately feels like the perfect container for at at least this special flavor of Obayashi's madness. No room to stretch, so the only way to go is forward, rushing through melodies and set-pieces, straight into a manic Dario-Argento-children's-book-operatic-fairytale.

Now that the frame is smaller it's all the more obvious that the core of his cinema is not visual but musical. Not a single melody or a constant beat, though, but a commitment to the musical spectacular. Pop cinema driven by a discontent with the limitations of pop. The neat two and a half minutes packaging, the emotional purity, the levelling of tone and affect: all of this has to go. Pop must aspire to something different, and one way to achieve this is an opening up towards older forms, especially European romanticism. In a way, films like this one or VISITOR IN THE EYE unfold like Bohemian Rhapsody, only without the pomp and the grand gestures. It's not about "synthesizing influences" but about speaking the cinema of hybrid musicality as if it were a natural language.

Tinimbang ang langit, Danny L. Zialcita, 1982

So there's another 1980s Filipino showbiz melodrama about a nightclub singer getting discovered and making it to the big league before having to make a choice between the loneliness of the stage and conjugal confinement as the wife of Christopher De Leon. (Or rather, between De Leon and - a diamond-plastered microphone! There's a wonderful, quiet perversity to all of this.)

This one lacks the clear-cut from rags to riches dramaturgy of the later BITUING WALANG NINGNING, and in fact mostly does away with the socioeconomic context altogether. Instead, this is about a number of high-strung individuals trying to find happiness in rather erratic ways. Most of the plot developments come out of nowhere, and sometimes even the Mise-en-scene seems on the verge of collapsing. A fragile film, but then again, good love songs are always complicated.

Zatoichi's Flashing Sword, Kazuo Ikehiro, 1964

"In the dark, the advantage is mine."

On the other hand, Zatoichi's whole mission in this one is to make sure fireworks will light up the sky in the end. So it's not about banning light categorically, but about exchanging one type of light for another. The blunt, narrow daylight of pure visibility must make room for the spectacular, expressive, artificial light of nighttime ghost vision (and while Ikeda's direction lacks the blunt force of his ...CHEST OF GOLD, this transformation is rendered beautifully). Light must stop being a mere tool for petty power schemes and become an aesthetic force in its own right.

Zatoichi cannot see, but he can be touched by light.

Sentinelle, Julien Leclercq, 2021

The somber tone on tone beginning leading up to a nice, impressionistic club scene kind of intrigued me, but once the destination became clear, I had a hard time keeping my interest up. As basic as this is, there's still too much stupid plot and while Leclercq makes good use of Kurylenko's sad eyes, she just isn't the right kind of actress for those brutal, down to earth fight scenes.

I Are You, You Am Me, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1982

Sweet and tender body switch comedy, with Obayashi keeping his more ornamental impulses in check while mostly handing over the film to his actors, especially to Satomi Kobayashi, joyfully lashing out against the restrictions of the world surrounding it; a great, intuitive performance, that at times threatens to sideline Toshinori Omi, whose equally important contribution takes longer to register. It mostly manifests itself in close-ups - with the girl, the switch mostly activates the body / exteriority, with the boy the face / interiority.

Maybe the best thing about it is that the social context, while never absent, mostly retreats into the background, so that the film mostly consists of the world the two of them build for themselves, without external interference. This is especially true for the extremely touching last part, a turn towards juvenile transcendence I really didn't see coming. Introduced, of course, by Bach's Air of Suite No. 3, the most beautiful piece of music ever conceived. Only special films can truly sustain Bach and this one can.

Crime Doctor, Michael Gordon, 1943

Warner Baxter suffers from amnesia and is haunted by an unknown, murky past while climbing the ranks of decent society. Plots like that, encompassing years if not decades while trying to do justice to a man's whole biography, are not exactly ideal programmer material. Indeed, the script takes quite a few shortcuts and never even tries to account for its psychological implications, resulting in a strangely non-commitant self-investigation: Baxter investigates his past self as he would another person. And the film isn't smart enough to make use of this "objective" schizophrenia either.

Anyway, the most interesting parts in here are probably the prison scenes and the plea for prosocial reform they imply.

The Little Girl Who Conquered Time, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1983

More plot-heavy than most other early Obayashis and while the small frictions in the fabrics of the everyday slowly leading to a big, romantic opening up of everything is a lovely vision of coming of age, I guess in the end I prefer the anarchism of LOVELY DEVILS and the relaxedness of I ARE YOU. Of course, one does not have to decide, Obayashi's image factory will provide for everyone in the end.

Haven't seen the Hosoda version yet, although while watching it I more often thought about Makoto Shinkai who just must have watched this at least a few times before taking on YOUR NAME.

Confessions of Boston Blackie, Edward Dmytryk, 1941

"You've got a little Gestapo in you!"

It's always interesting to see how the reality of geopolitics seeps into those wartime noirs. Not by way of stilted speechifying, but in much more casual ways. Being in war against fascism is just another part of the fabrics of daily life. (Don't know, of course, if the line was already in the script or if this is an early example of Dmytryk's antifascism.)

The film itself is quite nice, some original ideas and I've already made my peace with Chester Morris's swag.

The Deserted City, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1984

A town touched by death, embalmed in green, handed over to water (while waiting for fire), having lost contact with the present, every act already a proleptic memory. When being is being with death from the start, only a concrete act of sorrow, a direct contact with death can break the spell once in a while. The wake after the non-lovers's love suicide is the most lucid scene of the film, faces sculpted in light, finally in tune with their own helplessness.

So beautiful it hurts (the cats, the dogs!) and I really wonder why, to me, it's still not a complete success. Maybe it's the voice-over in combination with Eguchi's blank face, though in the end it might've more to do with the way Obayashi looks at his characters. He respects them, and knows there surrounding, carefully placing them in space-time, securing them from hostile gazes (ours, too) when necessary, but sometimes I feel like he's not curious enough about them, or at least not as curious as I am. For example Ikuyo: She's old-fashioned, we learn, and Obayashi decides that's enough, that's all we need to know about her. But is it?

Kenya Boy, Nobuhiko Obayashi & Tetsuo Imazawa, 1984

Would love to know more about this, productionwise. Is this really an unfinished work, as some are suggesting here? Or might this just be one of Obayashi's more radical attempts at a liquified pop cinema? I mean it totally makes sense for him, when for once leaving behind live-action altogether, to not settle down on a single, stable style of animation, but instead to interrogate this new toolset, especially regarding the presence, absence and saturation of color. At the same time, the stylistic ruptures do feel more jarring and random this time around.

And it's not just the style, there's also a decidedly dubious script (like a stitched-together mashup of several "exotic", colonialist 30s serials filtered through a Japanese nationalist framework) and the total and, given the rest of his work, really surprising lack of insight into how young people behave, talk or even just move around. Wataru really is more a miniature adult than any kind of adolescent here, except maybe when enthralled by the equally awkward blonde jungle goddess Kate. His horniness might've been his saving grace, but the film isn't interested in exploring it, either.

In the end the only thing this has really going for it is its weirdness, and, like with KINDAICHI KOSUKE, this isn't quite enough to keep me engaged.

La canzone dell'amore, Gennaro Righelli, 1930

Trying, with some success, to take in the wholeness of sound, chaotic street noise mixed with intimate confessions mixed with the streamlining of auditive affect by the cultural industry. A few good visual ideas, too, like the closing in on the couple sitting high up there in the tree. Most of the times, though, the window stays closed and all sensations stay confined within the limits of a particularly tired set of melodramatic conventions.

The Island Closest to Heaven, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1984

Away with my petty objections, they always remain strangely external to Obayashi's image-making anyway. Even if they're true they're wrong, because with Obayashi, it's not about truth value or fitting into pre-arranged forms, but about following the images, wherever they might lead.

Just like Keiko here, who travels to the end of the world, to a world of pure beauty, a world as special effect, in search of an image she can't describe until she sees it. More precisely: The driving force behind her trip is her conviction that she will recognize the image once she sees it. We already suspect she won't, and we already suspect that this failure will, in the end, not matter all that much to her.

The true cypher is not the world, though, but Keiko. This is epitomized in her glasses. That women (much less often: men) are suddenly transformed when they take off their glasses is a well-worn trope (and I have to admit that I'm rather fond of it. Here, Keiko takes her glasses, and she, too, changes. It's just that we don't know what exactly this change consists in. She continues to be a cypher, but has demonstrated the possibility of change.

Maybe the most important thing is that Keiko remains a tourist, even after leaving the tour party behind. She enters a few lives, a few stories, but stays on the sidelines, detached. And learning how to do this, to be content with this, to except ones own apartness is all that matters in the end. The boat is steady, it's the world that's swaying.

Prosti, Erik Matti, 2002

The hilarious poster is strangely fitting, since this is an exploitation film first and foremost, but in a playful and, yes, honest way. Just like madame's damaged eye works both as a grindhouse signifier and as a trace of her own damaged past, Matti somehow manages to pull of directing a sensual film about prostitution. An unillusioned tale of power structures and the possibilities / limits of solidarity (female-administered sex work is still exploitation, but also a way to keep the men in check) - with glossy, at times kinky softcore sex and lots of stylish low angles of narrow bordello hallways. And it's not that the latter somehow devalues the former. It's all of one piece, without the allure of bodies in heat the microeconomy of power and pleasure the film is built on would simply collapse.

Feels a bit like a much less cynical version of early 90s Hong Kong Cat III cinema. Need to finally see more Matti...

Miss Lonely, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1985

Nostalgia is one of the key modes of cinema, a medium that always, necessarily navigates the relationship between imaginary immediacy and objective distance. To do this successfully, Obayashi teaches, one cannot play off one aspect against the other, but has to fully commit do both. So on the one hand we're drowning in desire for a particular time and place and melody and face (also for completely random things, like that slightly ridiculous white sweater we always wore in our teens), while on the other hand we're working through this very desire, analytically and without any safety net. And the perfect way to do this, this most beautiful of Obayashi's films (ok, so far, who knows what'll happen next...) suggests, is by way of comedy, by way of exploring, Chaplin-style, the connection between silliness and sentiment.

In the end it's about finding and defining objects which can bind and symbolize our affect, while at the same time making it manageable. A small piano on top of a real one.

Der Schuss im Tonfilmatelier, Alfred Zeisler, 1930

Cinema as a closed-off system centered around death. Smart and inventive, though one might've wished that Zeisler would've focused a bit less on the satirical and a bit more on the depraved implications of the plot. But well, not everyone can be a De Palma, I guess.

Bound for the Fields, the Mountains, the Seacoast, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1986

The war is absent but only just so. All that's missing is one cut, sometimes maybe just a tilt. The nearness of the war affects everyone, transforming games into war games and society into a keystone cop comedy. Everyone's sliding and rafting towards it, talking about it, singing about it ... and still, war's not here. Being on the brink of war without getting there means being on the brink of madness without the possibility of a release, however gruesome. The world has already been invaded by violence, but without the accompanying structure provided by war. For now, violence is pure rupture, impulse without form.

Films like this often tend do get on my nerves. Farcical, vitalist mayhem intent on selling me on the primal richness of life in the face of devastation... That's why I have a hard time with a lot of Imamura, and BOUND FOR THE FIELDS clearly takes some of its cues from this tradition. At the same time, though, Obayashi never ceases to be a pop-filmmaker first and foremost, which is especially evident in his loving recreation of (1910s more than 1920s) slapstick aesthetics. Also, once again he kind of inserts himself into the narrative, as a young boy who, like in LONELY HEART, explores the world with the help of a pair of binoculars. What he offers is, in the end, not a treatise on man's eternal nature, but a perspective on a world.

(bw version)

Karma, Danny L. Zialcita, 1981

Patriarchy gone wild. In an early scene a woman temporarily staying in a hotel room is raped by a man who thinks she is in on it because an acquaintance usually provides him with a paid "victim" in the very same room every week. Things don't get much saner afterwards.

Once again, Zialcita's Mise en scene (and especially his editing) isn't the most solid in the world, but also once again the bonkers melodrama worldview seems to come natural to him. Plus he has a great eye for decor and what it does to people.