Sunday, January 30, 2022

Letterboxd reprise - The Tora weeks

Tora-san, the Good Samaritan, Yoji Yamada, 1971

The mother is back! Really interesting how dense the world of these films is, with people constantly commenting on previous installments and expected Tora-san behavior. The romance part is a bit strange in this one and might be considered problematic, I guess.

Taste of Cherry, Abbas Kiarostami, 1997

Hyperrealism leading not towards, but away from the world. Still one of a kind.

First Case, Second Case, Abbas Kiarostami, 1979

Fascinating not so much as Kiarostami's "commentary" on the political struggles ongoing throughout production (ie as an active inscription of meaning - the sole, finale agitprop with the rhythmic knocking overtaking the film is incredibly effective, but remains on the level of stage mechanics); but rather for the way his mode of filmmaking turns cinema into a receptive, almost passive agent registering that allows history to express itself, within certain boundaries, of course (and in binary code, one might be tempted to say), but still, the result is multi-faceted and open-ended, never reducible to a single auteurial voice.

Titane, Julia Ducournau, 2021

A hipster's idea of transgressive cinema, which doesn't mean it's a bad film, just a bit overeager in its attempts to frame and contextualize its main attractions. The whole community of firemen part for example is pretty much stillborn discourse of the moment stuff, which unfortunately often makes Lindon's great performance feel disconnected from the rest of the film.

It's also a bit too life-affirming for a hopeless sceptic like me (and I do think it makes quite a bit of sense to read it as a neoliberal FRANKENSTEIN variation rather than as a "visionary" tale of liberation) ... but then again, as fearless, punkish, proudly feminine shock and awe body cinema it does hit quite a few powerful notes. Ramming a hair stick into the ear leading to foam shooting out of the mouth, we're all engines running on body fluids anyway, good for cinema to check up on that once in a while.

Raw, Julia Ducournau, 2016

Doesn't transcend the cannibalism as coming of age / sexual awakening formula one bit and confirmed my suspicion that Ducournau's is an inventive but terribly literal imagination that would be much better served creating gross-out comedies rather than horror movies. This has a scene of the heroine singing along with a rap song about fucking a corpse, and a few minutes later she heads for the morgue herself, so the way to go clearly would've been to double down on the ridiculousness rather than turning it into just another plot-point on the road towards self-realization.

 The Wind Will Carry Us, Abbas Kiarostami, 1999

If I remember correctly, I didn't care that much for this one the first time around, because it felt a bit like a road travelled one time too often. Well, that certainly was stupid. Not only because it is one of Kiarostami's most beautiful films, but also because its beauty to a large part hinges on the familiarity of the road, on Kiarostami's complete and seemingly effortless control of his technique, resulting in a most intricate brand of direct cinema. The more obvious meta-narrative and metaphysical superstructure are stripped away in favor of what might be called a structuralist hangout movie: dead village time being turned into a game of repetition and variation, presence and absence, visibility and invisibility - all of this with a clear psychosexual bent, too.

It's also his funniest film since A SUIT FOR WEDDING. Behzad Dorani really is the most hilarious of all Kiarostami stand-ins with his almost Keatonesque deadpan and perpetual low-key horniness.

Tora-san's Love Call, Yoji Yamada, 1971

Almost half an hour longer than all previous installments, and indeed something of an expansion. There's an unusually strong focus on a non-Tora-related story arch - Hiroshi's deep resentment of his father, a rift that just cannot be laughed away by a few Tora antiques. His own love story, on the other hand, exists mostly in the imagination of his peers, he himself plays along more with their knowledge than with his own feelings.

Three moments from Tora 08:
Sakura, pressured by Tora and two drinking buddies, singing a song about her father and moving everyone to tears.
Tora's suitcase dropping over by itself (several times if I remember correctly).
Tora stealing cake and strolling with a couple of children through the meadows, while a Strauss Waltzer is playing.

ABC Africa, Abbas Kiarostami, 2001

Was quite taken by this, and I guess it really is a strength that it often is only one step (if at all) removed from the obscene, especially in the more stylized scenes, or maybe better, the ones with a stronger felt auteurial presence. A bit strange that most reviews quickly skip over the adoption stuff which is the main focus of the second half and also the film's clearest comment on its own (necessary) insufficiencies.

Foxtrot, Cecil Howard, 1982

Out with the old, in with the new. Great New York City fuck movie that makes you wish for a different distribution of the sensible.

Tora-san's Dear Old Home, Yoji Yamada, 1972

By now the series is really starting to loosen up and gets all the better for it. This one leaves Tora and company behind for a while to follow three young women on a road trip, one of several they have taken together, but probably the last one because one of them is getting married. Of course Tora ends up crossing their path and of course he falls in love with one of them, but the film takes its time to get their and spends quite a bit of time exploring the hopes, desires and the already awakening sense of disappointment of three women on the verge of entering respectable family life.

Three moments in Tora 09:
The three women balancing on railroad tracks, a gentle scene dynamized by a nervous zoom, a marker of 70s cinema Yamada uses extremely rarely.
The women's unstoppable laughter when Tora tells his rather stupid jokes.
The real estate agent trying to rent Tora his own room and fighting like hell for his fee. A petty man in a petty world.

Ten, Abbas Kiarostami, 2002

Still the quintessential expression of Kiarostami's method, and besides everything else it's just such a beyond perfect idea to bundle all the evils of patriarchy in a single child from hell.

Five Dedicated to Ozu, Abbas Kiarostami, 2003

First shot: nice.
Second shot: boring, especially after the birds leave.
Third shot: this is starting to feel trolly, but I actually like this one, all that light blue being washed away by digital blankness.
Fourth shot: bird parade, just wonderful.
Fifth shot: a neat magic trick, but once again a bit boring.

Altogether: not bad. Why, though?

Tora-san's Dream Come True, Yoji Yamada, 1972

A structural switch: Tora has been replaced by another hopeless romantic, so instead of pursuing the woman and in the end finding out that she loves someone else, he tries to be a matchmaker but finds out that she'd loved him all along. The result is the same, though. What really sets this apart from the predecessors is the rather broad humor, though. Doesn't always work all that well, but a welcome change of pace nonetheless.

Three moments from Tora 10:
The bratty neighbor sticking an image of Tora onto the bell before chiming it.
A beautiful autumnal montage sequence set to Vivaldi. Lots of classical music in this one.
Tora stumbling into a university classroom and greeting the students,wishing them good luck.

Copie conforme, Abbas Kiarostami, 2010

As much as I still admire this, rewatching it directly after his Iranian films is kind of depressing, too. A film shot in an open-air museum rather than the world, a retreat into high modernism.

Tora-san's Forget Me Not, Yoji Yamada, 1972

 Once again extremely touching. This one has Tora falling in love with a travelling singer, kind of a Japanese version of a hippie flower child, a decidedly unstable existence. She isn't a mere love interest, this time, more like a second protagonist drifting through the film alongside the main one.

Three moments from Tora 11:
Tora and Lily hanging out at a dilapidated fishing harbor, with the film for once completely stopping in its track for a few beautiful minutes.
A young worker declaring his love to his girlfriend on the meadows above the river, surrounded by his buddies who first try to hold him back, but then start cheering him on.
The last shot: A long shot of Tora on a farm in Hokkaido, clowning on a bale of straw.

No Time To Die, Cary Joji Fukunaga, 2021

Fukunaga seems to be much more comfortable with the inherent ridiculousness of the franchise than Mendes was, so NO TIME TO DIE in theory has all the ingredients to make it another perfectly mediocre and perfectly watchable Bond movie ... only that it looks like shit and has virtually no energy to speak of after the quite good Matera opening. I wonder why no one mentions the terrible color grading: this should really have been called Depression in Blue. Every time the film cut to one of these drab, tone-in-tone shots of Fiennes or Wishaw (really the perfect dual embodiment of the whole no-fun Craig Bond era) something died in me.

Really not much shining through the fog here except maybe that one scene of Bond peeling an apple for his daughter.

Shirin, Abbas Kiarostami, 2008

Doesn't make much sense to watch this at home, I thought at first, but then again, maybe this way it is even more special: to be the only receptor of the light emanating from those women's faces, which in turn reflect the light from a non-existent Shirin adaptation ...

Tora-san Loves an Artist, Yoji Yamada, 1973

Even middling Tora entries provide pleasure, in fact almost as much as the best ones, because at this point, this really has settled into network tv show mode, so its more about spending time with beloved characters than anything else.

Three moments from Tora 12:
A split screen scene (the first in the series I think) during a phone conversation between uncle and Tora. All involved ignore the spit and act as if they were in the same room.
Tora spoiling one of the canvasses of the painter he falls in love with.
A close-up of the painter walking down the street, feeling her life drifting away from her.

Scoundrels, Cecil Howard, 1982

-"Do you sometimes think of me?"
On lacks, and how to fill them. Hits the perfect golden age sweet spot of having a plot but not insisting on it making all that much sense. Porntopia will not be reached by adding explicit sex to the regime of representation, what strives to become visible is another, secret flow of energies.

Every film with Ron Jeremy should automatically be filed under queer cinema.

Tora-san's Lovesick, Yoji Yamada, 1974

A fight scene early in the film turns unusually violent. A few scenes later, he's being hit so hard by his eternal fate that he never quite gets back on his feet. His happy-go-lucky routines are more desperate than ever and for a while he's on the verge of retreating into complete passiveness. The love story, meanwhile, is a mere echo from Tora-san 9. And still, this time Umako probably really saves his life.

Three moments from Tora 13
-A close-up of Sakura's face at the train station, while a brass band is playing in the background.
-A short scene detailing Umako's constricted, soul-crushing existence as a widow. One sentence by her mother in law, one obedient gesture in return, not even half a scene, and everything's there.
-Tora showing up at Umako's place, with fireworks lighting up the sky behind him.

Like Someone in Love, Abbas Kiarostami, 2012

Such a gentle late work. Every identification a misidentifications, not a single act of communication reaches its target, everyone's lost in a maze of doubles and mirrorings, and still, life goes on, somehow.

Ten on Ten, Abbas Kiarostami, 2004

Not very illuminating. Interesting only insofar as immediately after this "lecture", Kiarostami completely stopped making films that even remotely adhere to the aesthetic principles he put out here.

Tora-san's Lollaby, Yoji Yamada, 1974

Takes its time to become something special. The Tora with baby parts are pretty tired, but the love story has some interesting twists.

Three moments from Tora 14:
-Tora and a scarecrow, acknowledging each other.
-Once the feisty, glowing woman takes the baby in her arms, things are settled. Motherhood is an attitude, nothing more, nothing less.
-A party without Tora at the end, a cramped screen signifying nothing but his absence.

Tora-san Meets the Songstress Again, Yoji Yamada, 1975

The simplest of Tora-plots makes for one of the most beautiful films so far: Tora meets Lily again, and it almost works out. That's all. This "almost" is the only and an absolutely sufficient reason for this wonderful series to exist.

Three moments from Tora 15:
-A cascade of slanderings: The family's badmouthing Tora, he's badmouthing Lily. Punching down as a form of love.
-Tora gesturing alongside Lily's singing. Overeager in everything he does.
-Tora and some boys in a mock sword fight. He insists on winning.

Tora-san, the Intellectual, Yoji Yamada, 1975

Tora, the intellectual - of course it's played for laughs, but it's also the rare Tora film in which he really tries to change his life around, surprisingly persistently, too. The will to learn is more important than learning itself, and once one has encountered the desire to learn, life loses its sense of naturalness, an experience not only Tora but also his love interest has to make.

Three moments from Tora 16:
-Yuki, the girl we (or at least auntie and uncle) believe for a few minutes to be Tora's daughter and some of her girlfriends from school see Tora off and then go their own way, into their own, decidedly different film.
-Tora joking about Centipedes. Like always, he is his own best audience. He'll never wear out his own welcome.
-For the first (?) time, Genko gets a few real lines, not just random stammering. The first thing we learn of him is that he's dreaming of Hawaii.

El triunfo de Sodoma, Goyo Anchou, 2020

The rapid-fire assault of buzzword radicalism wore me down pretty fast - I guess even most true believers would mentally tune out of this after 15 minutes tops. Also, a film that makes quite a good case for cis men actually not being the reason the "militant left" more often than not is just an annoying and openly authoritarian bunch of assholes. And yet, as a cinematographic intervention, this is not completely without allure, never standing still, never respecting the integrity of any single image or body.

Fantasex, Roberta Findlay, Cecil Howard, 1976

A porn film that can't shut the fuck up is seldom a good idea, and this one probably really would've been much better without or at least with much less explicit sex, because as an extremely sleazy underground comedy this isn't completely useless. Turn up the weirdness, cut out the rape scene and add more stuff like that brisk pick-up bicycle ride, this could've been something...

Tora-san's Sunrise and Sunset, Yoji Yamada, 1976

At the beginning, I wasn't particularly fond of those parodic dream sequences that open the films since, I don't know, episode nine or ten, but by now they really start to put in some work there. After an excellent pirate one and an at least competent western one, now we get a full-blown three and a half minutes JAWS parody, complete with gore effects and and a huge paper mache shark. What follows is a strong Tora entry with impressive, slightly wacky performances by guest stars Jukichi Uno and Kiwako Taichi.

Three moments from Tora 17:
-Tora selling toy apes, whose mechanical, relentless movements mirror his own manic sense of desperation.
-Octopus and Tora fighting over an expensive painting and tearing it to shreds.
-Tora's lonely voice emanating from an abandoned telephone speaker.

No Man's Land, Salome Lamas, 2012

So there it is, finally, the subject of contemporary world history. I don't care much for Lamas's formalist pathos, the monumentalist minimalism that bugged me in ELDORADO XXL, too, but she clearly has found something, here.

Tora-san's Pure Love, Yoji Yamada, 1976

A throwback to earlier entries in its hyper-reflexive, mechanical storytelling: almost the second after his (first) love interest to be is mentioned, she enters the store and he immediately falls for her; and after being told that she's too young for him, but hey, she's got a mother pretty much exactly your age, we know what will happen next. Nice as a reminder of the series's beginning, but this only finds its own beat during the last stretch, mostly thanks to an unusually strong focus on Sakura.

Three moments from Tora 18:
-Tora opening a window and encounters a panorama of friendship, with everyone in sight highly susceptible to his charmes.
-Two impressions of Sakura's hidden loneliness: First she stumbles while moving away from Tora.
-A bit later she removes herself from the rest of the family and cries alone in the kitchen.

A Pool Without Water, Koji Wakamatsu, 1982

The 80s: the decade when even sleazy Wakamatsu rape movies came with stylish synth score montage sequence. Which are especially effective here because most of the other stalk, daze and assault scenes play out almost completely silently. In a total, claustrophobic isolation that also underlines the absence of the explicitly political charge of Wakamatsu's earlier work. No more taboos to break, no more dreams of revolution. What's left is a retreat into self, into perversity and sexual violence as compulsion, and into aesthetics.

Tora-san Meets His Lordship, Yoji Yamada, 1977

The lordship storyline is a bit too wacky and one note to really work. Still I like how Tora, after being a bit of a pest in part 18, really works his way back in our hearts, this time. He has to suffer for it, too.

Three moments from Tora 19:
-Just one of those marvelous layered multi-person shots in the shop, this time extending the depth all the way to the street, where Sakura is busy with something or other, opening up the family vista even wider than usually.
-A beautiful montage of movements, both big and small, ending with Tora's love interest departing by train.
-Tora's repeated problems of climbing the stairs to his room. He's really getting old now!

The Insomnia of a Serial Dreamer, Mohamed Soueid, 2021

As good a definition of cinema as any: A narcissistic and also always a bit pervy impulse channeled as a series of dialogues, as an opening up towards the world. Lots of dead air, often rather annoying, and still, I guess this will stay with me.

Tora-san Plays Cupid, Yoji Yamada, 1977

A low-key entry with a focus on wacky side characters. Tora falls in love only a little bit.

Three moments from Tora 20:
-A short scene set high up on a power pole. One of the rare moments the series ventures upwards
-Genko has a girlfriend! Or at least, he's seen walking down the street with a decidedly stylish young woman, and they look great together.
-Several people chasing a monkey who himself remains outside the frame.

Demain et encore demain, journal 1995, Dominique Cabrera, 1998

Nothing whatsoever wrong with it, I'm sure this will be hard-hitting, transformative stuff for some. All power to this film and its admirers, it's just that it bored me to death practically from second one.

Sensations, Lasse Braun, 1975

It starts on a ship, here they are, the wind in their hair, getting acquainted ... and where do you come from? One is from America, not quite as liberated probably, not quite as confident in her make-up choices, but she will surely have lots of sex very soon, we already know that. Do you want to take a picture of us? Of course. Later on, on land, everything dissolves into a loose series of coupling, sexual attractions generously spread out, until everyone zeroes in, as expected, on the America, leading to a moment, a single cut, in fact, of perfect sexual transcendence.

The very best of eurotica condensed in a single film.

Stage-Struck Tora-san, Yoji Yamada, 1978

This might be it: my perfect Tora film. This time he is confronted with a full blown showbiz melodrama - one of the most beautiful modes of cinema, of course, and at the same time not really compatible with Tora-style cinema. But that's the beauty of it: He gets to take part in something that is obviously too big for him, and in a way he realizes this. It's not just that he learns that, once again, she is "not the one for him". Instead, he encounters a different mode of gesture, of performance, and thereby his own separateness.

Also, those revue scenes are marvelous, the flow between backstage and stage, the focus on bodily stress, the audience reactions... Just magnificent filmmaking.

Three moments in Tora 21:
-Octopus has his face, while fighting with Tora, turned sideways for a few seconds. Quite a sight.
-The country bumpkin visiting the revue, transfixed by the spectacle of reified erotics. Or maybe just by that single, gleaming light in the background? A magic source of energy embalming the world?
-The dancer watches her former world, already one step removed, tears in her eyes.

Porno Holocaust, Joe D'Amato, 1981

These crabs here might not look all that big, but listen! This particularly species normally is tiny, so these somewhat sizeable ones are actually huge! And clear proof that something fishy is going on on this island, probably some kind of nuclear experiment!

The stuff you can get away with when you call your film PORNO HOLOCAUST. D'Amato probably knew his work was basically done once he came up with the title, and anyway, his eye for beautiful island scenery never leaves him, so that's half the movie right there, and the other half will come together in due time, too. For example, we got some extremely ugly monster make-up right here. So, to be sure, certainly no one has to invest more than the bare minimum in the hardcore scenes (although Mark Shannon's body language sure suggests that receiving one blowjob after the other is a truly Herculean task), and in the girl on girl scenes actually not even that. The first of those scenes of two women lazily rubbing against each other and sometimes, as if by accident, engaging in a very loose approximation to cunnilingus, starts with them slapping each other quite violently, but also joyously, and completely without reason, too. Maybe the only real burst of energy, here.

Talk-of-the-Town Tora-san, Yoji Yamada, 1978

Another extremely well made entry, this time with a surprising social realist bent. Could almost have developed into a kitchen sink Tora at one point!

Three moments from Tora 22:
-A whole sequence filled with bridges, one more beautiful than the other.
-Tora drawing closer to a woman from offscreen, entering her space when we still expect him to be an observer.
-A harsh and sudden onset of winter coincides with Tora leaving his family and Madonna once again.

Le concerto de la peur, Jose Benazeraf, 1963
Awesome little piece of pulp nihilism, erotic death mask cinema, there's quite a bit of plot on the surface, but when it comes down to it it's just two amour fous cancelling each other, and everything else, out.

Tora-san, the Matchmaker, Yoji Yamada, 1979

Another one that completely floored me, and once again it isn't a "pure" Tora film that got me but an outlier. This announces its intentions early on, with a threat of sexual violence - violent, sadistic seventies cinema almost breaking through into the Tora world ... of course, the levee doesn't break after all, and the would-be rapist just ends up being the most ridiculous character in Tora world, the butt of every single joke. And still, suddenly there's a 70s sing-along tune competing with the Tora theme, Akira Fuse gets to to sing a wonderfully cheesy song, too, and of course there's Kaori Momoi, a completely different kind of Madonna, lamenting the expectations of tradition weighing on her in a throaty, not yet streamlined voice.

All of this, of course, pitted against the classic Tora mise-en-scene, an absolutely solid backdrop, a canvas you can just about paint anything on, if you find the right entry point. The strange thing is, this one could easily be described as heavy-handed, starting with Mitsuo discussing the marital dynamics of his parents, foreshadowing the Madonna's much bigger marriage crisis. In a way it plays out like a liberal message movie, and somehow Yamada really does manage to drive his points home without sacrificing Tora's integrity one bit. A marvel.

Three moments from Tora 23:
-Just one shot of pitch-perfect Tora mise-en-scene: Sakura in the foreground, splitting her family / her world in half.
-The would-be rapist, already thoroughly humiliated, shooting for a gesture of rage, and even this doesn't work.
-The bride's face at her wedding.

Venom, Ruben Fleischer, 2018

Decent body-switch comedy suffering surprisingly little from being attached to a very bad superhero movie.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Andy Serkis, 2021

Once again two films in, haha, one body. As superhero mayhem this might be even worse than part one, the church finale especially must be one of the most incompetent action set-pieces in recent memory. The comedy, though, is much more unhinged this time and comes from a place of erotic curiosity Hollywood normally shies away from these days. Also, like everyone keeps pointing out: the runtime. If one leaves the moment the credits start rolling (an absolute must these days when it comes to franchise movies), one is out of the theater in 80 minutes tops. Can't think of a single better development in recent big budget filmmaking.

All in all, a nice surprise, those Venom films. I was expecting something in the vain of DEADPOOL, but they feel more like shoddy blockbuster offshoots of IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA. Maybe hire an actual filmmaker next time, though?

Tora-san's Dream of Spring, Yoji Yamada, 1979

This one doesn't get much love on letterboxd, but to me, gently poking fun on a lanky, sad-sack American vitamin salesman while boiling down the issue of cultural difference to a question of expression and perception of feelings is more than enough to fill a Tora-san movie. The man himself doesn't get all that much to do, for a chance, this one really belongs to Sakura and the American.

Three moments from Tora 24:
-Tora walking through an Orange (Persimmons?) grove. Smoothly embedded in yellow dots.
-The American's mother, reading his letter, on a dusty Arizona porch. A dream of America dreaming of Japan.
-A flower called Adonis.

Tora-san's Tropical Fever, 1980

Tora entering the 80s together with Lily on Okinawa. Another attempt to widen the scope of the series, and although this one doesn't quite come together, I actually liked the long stretch away from the shop and the usual family troubles. As for Tora's intimacy issues, it kind of makes sense to connect his perpetual, compulsive joking with a fear of sex, but to really follow up to this the series would need to go to places it is obviously not prepare to go (I mean, I clearly don't want it too, either), and because of this the central conflict feels unresolved in the end. It's not quite clear if we have just witnessed yet another melodrama of missed opportunities, or if we have indeed glimpsed into the darker areas of Tora's soul.

Three moments of Tora 25:
-A passerby rudely intruding into a streetside conversation and Yamada's carefully calibrated mise-en-scene.
-Genko scaring children with a dead animal.
-Tora sleeping like a child while planes thunder above him.

Claude et Greta, Max Pecas, 1970

Heterosexuality (as symbolized by nothing less than the ultimate symbol of phallic chauvinism, the Eiffel Tower) as disillusionment, a sobering "truth" negating the poisonous beauties of same-sex lovemaking ... a decidedly 19th century vision of homosexuality, to be sure, a private, decadent world of flittering gauze and idealistic eroticism lightyears removed from the sexual revolution the film at the same time seems to be reacting to. Anyway, fascinating, sensual stuff, need to see more Pecas.

Halloween, David Gordon Green, 2018

Best in the few fleeting moments, mostly concerned with standard teenager stuff, it allows itself to be a David Gordon Green film; most of the times, though, this desperately longs to be a HALLOWEEN movie and doesn't quite know how to. A shame because it actually looks nice, one of the rare films to make a vintage visual style work. The slow drift from autumnal soberness to day-glo night-time artificiality works very well; the transformation of world into props and of human skin into papier mache. The rest is treading water, unfortunately, overlong mythology rehashs and showy yet completely uninvolving kill scenes which are obviously only there to prepare for an overblown finale which would've needed much more stakes to work.

Foster Daddy Tora!, Yoji Yamada, 1980

Tora in night school. An unobtrusive, gentle entry.

Three moments in Tora 27:
-Tora ironing a couple of banknotes, his way of keeping up appearances.
-A couple of lively female factory workers thirsting for Tora.
-The young, irreverent night-school crowd, a perfect audience for Tora and one of the rare moments the series manages to successfully break away from its family-centered, petite bourgeoise leanings.

Halloween Kills, David Gordon Green, 2021

Nasty, bloodthirsty and surprisingly unhinged, the chronicle of a night of terror and not much more, with the slashings no longer tucked away in artsy sequence shots, but shoved right in front of the gaze, categorically too close for comfort. Overall a bit too random to be as effective as its best scenes, and still, I was on board pretty much the whole time, I even liked the much-maligned vigilante storyline, the original HALLOWEEN is one of the great what goes on behind closed doors neighborhood horror films, and this is just the even uglier flipside of it.

Also, they found a way to both age and even further dehumanize Michael, that alone is quite a feat.

Tora-san's Love in Osaka, Yoji Yamada, 1981

When spending more time away from shop and family, the films tend to become a bit less complex, because Tora's destructive side doesn't have that much chance to shine. As long as they are as sweet and heartbreaking as this one, I won't complain one bit, though.

Three moments in Tora 27:
-Tora waking up after the opening dream, having used his suitcase as a pillow. One of those small details illuminating his fundamental loneliness.
-A surprising cut to a rapid travelling on a city highway. A shocking intrusion of another Japan, synchronous yet completely incompatible with Tora world.
-Tora gazing towards a thundering sky. He probably finds beauty there.

Tora-san's Promise, Yoji Yamada, 1981

My least favorite Yamada-directed Tora so far. The class reunion in the beginning hits hard, but the two main plot strands feel unusually by-the-numbers and uncommitted. The brat is especially annoying, a way of looking at youth that makes the series, for once, really feel out of touch with its time. The madonna also never quite comes into view... and still, the goodbye scene is handled so beautifully, might even retrospectively illuminate the preceding film in new ways.

Three moments from Tora 28:
-Video games invading the Tora series.
-Those long, straight alleyways in Kyushu, a woman walking away from Tora, into depth. A pureness of feeling that would not be possible in chaotic Tokyo.

Hearts and Flowers for Tora-san, Yoji Yamada, 1982

Feels like another watershed-moments in the series, although watersheds are always relative in Tora country, because the fabric - the gaze as a way of placing figures on the screen - always stays the same. Still, Tora stays away from the store for the whole first hour, even a bit longer, and instead gets lost in the most quiet, opaque of romances, a love story that is more about a yearning for another world than about any real-life future prospects.

Three moments from Tora 29:
-The guitar melody announcing the madonna, and then taking a firm grip of the film, announcing a temporary suspension of Tora style realism. Only at the very end, the familiar melody reestablishes itself.
-A group of schoolgirls invading a pottery.
-Mitsuo imitating Tora. Often a bit annoying, this one.

Die fünf verfluchten Gentlemen, Julien Duvivier, 1932

The crudeness of early sound cinema will never cease to fascinate me. This one frames Marocco in several sequences as a spectacle of unhinged, rhythmic sounds, drowning out any sense of narrative logic or tension. Unfortunately the version I watched is beyond crummy, hope to catch it under better circumstances at some point.

Blondes Have More Fun, John Seeman, 1979

Expected the worst after the clumsy, bumbling "comedy" at the beginning, but as soon as the serious fucking starts, this goes to some special places. The euphoria and desperation of total orgasm. One of the great San Francisco films, at least intermittently.

Tora-san, the Expert, Yoji Yamada, 1982

Pleasant, meandering entry with a by now almost completely benign Tora quite comfortable with his role as somewhat erratic matchmaker rather than romantic martyr. Also by now the touristic aspects of the series really are front and center.

Three moments from Tora 30:
-After Tora has left: a sad miniature of family life without its abject center, just a bunch of isolated individuals sharing space.
-Giraffes invading Yamada's mise en scene and throwing it off balance during a visit at a safari park.
-Salesgirls at a department store roll call.

Gaslight, Thorold Dickinson, 1940
Such a neat little exercise in total terror. Interestingly, it is the man's performance that's the spectacle here. Wohlbrück/Wolbrook deals in big gestures detached from any sense of reality, from sadistic coldness to burning rage to complete breakdown, while Wynyard, even in supposed madness, is just processing cues fed to her, translating input into countenance.
Tora-san's Song of Love, Yoji Yamada, 1983

The Tora series goes Schlagerfilm: The main plot - Tora falling in love with a famous singer whom he does not recognize, with both of them being chased around a scenic island by the singer's clumsy management - feels like right out of a Music House production.

In the end it's another one that doesn't quite come together, unfortunately. Harumi Miyako's role never rises up beyond gimmick status, and unfortunately, the whole film is built around her. Still interesting in its surprisingly wholehearted embrace of the surfaces of modern mainstream pop, in a way the first Tora film that at least at times feels like an 80s movie.

Three moments in Tora 31:
-Tora and Harumi looking at fireflies.
-A spontaneous musical number involving fishermen.
-Octopus watching a performance of the singer on television and singing along with her, silently.

Die englische Heirat, Reinhold Schünzel, 1934

Wohlbrück is smooth as ever, and his killer gaze when "Liebe ist ein Geheimnis" plays is reason enough to watch this ... and still, I guess I might just not be in tune with Schünzel's satiric and rather heavy-handed style of comedy. Also, while this one indeed lacks the more obvious markings of nazi cinema, the whole British decadence vs German honesty angle isn't exactly underplayed. Not just the collection of upper class twits who might deserve some of the ridicule, but also the "floozy" Hilde Hildebrand.

Part of my diminished enthusiasm might have to do with the fact that I'm just not a Renate Müller fan. I only really liked her in WALZERKRIEG so far; she has her moments in here, too, like the car mechanic bit in the beginning, but altogether she's way too wholesome for my taste. Her good girl act always comes with at least a tiny bit of moralistic judgement.

Gaslight, George Cukor, 1944

I can understand why these days quite a few people enjoy the British version more than this one, as Dickinson's take in many ways feels more modern: the central relationship is dissected rather than represented, the mechanisms of gendered power laid bare unflinchingly, as an objective structure. This also means, though, that the cinematic gaze remains strictly external to it: in the (smart, economical) prologue, the characters are placed in the story and also in the house which is transparent not only to us, but also to society as a defining outside force.

For me though, GASLIGHT 1944 is still it: the ultimate vision of romance as a method and practice of anti-realism. Cukor is not interested in demystification. Quite the contrary: He fires up the fog machine to seal off Thornton Square from the outside world and places us strictly on the inside. We're introduced to Gregory and Paula not by way of a criminal investigation (like in the British film) but through romance. Meaning we're the ones falling prey, and not just to Boyer, but to the lure of a hermetically sealed otherworld of elevated madness which, in the end, might not even have an outside.

A key to the difference of the two versions is the role of Frank Pettingell / Joseph Cotten. In the older film, Pettingell is the complete antithesis to Walbrook: the no-nonsense representative of law and order, practical reason personified and also completely sexless. Cotten, on the other hand, is almost the mirror image of Boyer. They have the same stature, the same hairdo, the same softness in their voice and in a few scenes, they are framed in almost exactly the same way. Cotten breaks the case not by breaking open the cocoon around Bergman, but by way of inserting himself in it.

The fog never really dissipates, there is no sense of grounding, no reality check - and consequently, at some point psychological realism is no longer distinguishable from utter madness. One of the remarkable aspects of Bergman's masterful performance is that it isn't quite possible to pinpoint the moment in which she switches over into complete craziness. Even more important: She never really switches out of it after the revelation. When Wynyard grabs the knife in the 1940 film, this is an obvious gesture of empowerment, a proof of agency (the prime fetish of modern day film criticism), when Bergman grabs the knife, it is impossible to decide whether this is part of the healing or just another symptom of the disease.

The film ends on the balcony overlooking the city. It's still dark outside and while Cotten ensures Bergman it will clear soon, we do not have much reason to believe him yet. In fact, his words point in the opposite direction: "In the morning, when the sun rises, sometimes it seems as if there never was a night. You'll find that too." So his proposition comes down to substituting one illusion with another. The last shot, though, belongs to the busybody neighbor, played by May Whitty. If there's any hope left, it resides with her and her benign but also slightly twisted, gossipy curiosity.

The Last Duel, Ridley Scott, 2021

I guess the Ridley Scott brand of producer's cinema auteurism belongs to the aspects of contemporary cinema which only will be appreciated once they're gone. Because who else would even try for something like this: a muscular, unironic big budget swashbuckler that ends up an uneasy marriage between a woke RASHOMON remake and a psychodrama of armoured masculinity.

The rather obvious problem is that the latter works much better than the former, meaning that at heart this is a film about Jean, not about Marguerite. And in itself this isn't even a problem. Genre cinema almost always is better at autocritique than at "revisionism", and this also means that, no matter if people like to hear it or not, a film about raging masculinity in the middle ages might even be better off without a "strong female character", at least of the kind Hollywood (and not only Hollywood) tends to write these days.

His gazes towards Jacques Le Gris, his sturdy but also clumsy gait in the presence of a more eloquent, more natural asshole tell us much more about Jean than the "revelation" in the Marguerite chapter that his self-image may not be entirely accurate (surprise surprise). Unfortunately this also means that she is from the start the least interesting character of the three. (That Comer's performance, unlike Damon's, Driver's and even more Affleck's always stays on the safe side doesn't help either).

Of course, in theory her perspective could add something to the story: the reality check of domesticity mostly, a materialistic angle, but while the script makes some attempts in this direction like in the scene at the stable, the film never really commits to this, perhaps rightly so - stuff like this deserves its own movie, probably its own cinematic language. The rape storyline, meanwhile, in Marguerite's retelling gets reduced to a checklist of contemporary grievances and at times doesn't even shy away from the worst kind of pandering like the shots of impoverished countrywomen celebrating Jean's victory in the duel.

In the end, though, the self-serving political smugness dissipates quickly after the credits start rolling. What will stay with me is Matt Damon's way of riding a horse and Ben Affleck's mad smile.

Tora-san Goes Religious?, Yoji Yamada, 1983

Probably the least Tora-centered Tora-film so far. Not only is he external to most of the plot strands in this, he doesn't even really try to insert himself in them. His almost becoming a priest, meanwhile, is treated strictly as a gimmick, both by Yamada and the characters in the film. To me the highlight here is Kaoru Sugita's desperate teenage heartache.

Three moments from Tora 32:
-Tora meeting the madonna for the first time on the temple stairs. Just one of many examples of the beautiful way Yamada uses location shooting.
-Sugita recognizing herself as the bathing beauty on a photograph cherished by her love interest.
-Tora using his jacket to form wings, an itinerant bird forever fluttering through the streets of small-town Japan.

Maskerade, Willi Forst, 1934

Basically a continuation of the earlier Reisch-Forst-collaborations at Super-Film in Berlin, with Forst replacing von Bolvary as director and casting Wohlbrück in his own role. Of course, especially the latter intervention does make a huge difference; Wohlbrück's approach to playacting is much more self-confident and straight-forward - a means to an end rather than something to be cherished in itself. Anyway, it all comes together wonderfully, Forst already is a master of the tracking shot and in the last scene, he manages to add a signature note of madcap romantic transcendentalism.

König für eine Nacht, Paul May, 1950

Trying to recreate a pre-war Vienna film as a post-war Munich film. Some of the textures are there but the spirit is gone. While I mostly can relate to blahr's take-down of this, I guess I found a little bit more to enjoy. Annelies Reinhold looks good in black, and I even liked the film's obsession with the water fountain - from some point on really every single scene ends with the thing even flourishing up or shriveling down, mirroring the film's reluctance to commit to its own horniness. Also, it's interesting to see Fritsch and Wohlbrück together (often quite literally, in the same shot), mostly because the former has aged so much worse, basically a sad clown now while Wohlbrück is still Wohlbrück, through and through.

But yes, otherwise it's mostly a dud, and the awkward attempts to poke fun at militarism and authorianism point towards deep-seated anxieties obviously no one involved in the production was willing to confront.

Marriage Counselor Tora-san, Yoji Yamada, 1984

The series moving away from the shop for ever longer stretches of course also means that the madonnas become more important. Rie Nakahara is one of the most impressive ones, and consequently, this is the best entry in quite a while, a sad love ballad shot through with an unusually strong sense of tragedy and futility.

Three moments in Tora 33:
-Impressions from an emptied out fun fair, with the remains of the bustle dirtying up, but also still gracing the streets.
-Mitsuo almost being forgotten and lock in a car.
-And, of course, Tora being chased by a bear.

 Tora-san's Forbidden Love, Yoji Yamada, 1984

A kaiju dream sequence! I guess they had to do it at some point, and it is quite lovely. They probably also had to enter the world of stock brokers at some point, and while the plot of this one is a bit stupid (of course, the broker suffers from burn-out), it also comes with a pleasant sense of naivete.

Three moments from Tora 34:
-A long shot of the stock exchange. A totality Tora cannot and will not enter.
-Tora learning (and deliberately forgetting again) how much his escapades are costing his family.
-Tora wanting to take the train, but the rails are gone!

Der Student von Prag, Arthur Robison, 1935
First and only sound version, and very much a Wohlbrück show. Unfortunately I don't remember all that much from the two silents, but I guess this one gets rid of quite a few expressionistic flourishes in favor of a more straight-forward, character-centered aesthetics, an approach that fits the material quite well.

Tora-san, the Go-Between, Yoji Yamada, 1985

Starts with a parody of BALLAD OF NARAYAMA, which made me think about how singular Yamada's commitment to this series was: while the other auteur filmmakers of his generation at least to some degree looked towards the outside for recognition, he strictly stayed at the home front. Very successfully so, of course, but still.

The structure of this is mostly a throwback to entries early in the series (especially the one with the weird professor). It's also quite silly and even comes with some wacky sound effects.

Three moments from Tora 35:
-Tora waiting for the train in the beginning - a stretch that stretches time.
-Church music invading first the film and then even the Tora theme.
-A winking Beethoven portrait. This one really is silly.

I Accuse!, Jose Ferrer, 1985

Of course not much effort here to reveal the true scope of the "affair", that would better be described as a full-blown pogrom, but I guess at least the rare film from the 50s that acknowledges the existence of anti-semitism. More court-room mechanics and less Zola grandstanding would've been appreciated, though.

Tora-san's Island Encounter, Yoji Yamada, 1985

Octopus's daughter Akemi has been a very welcome presence in the last few films, if only for the juvenile bluntness of her voice, and it is nice to see her rise to co-lead for the first half. Unfortunately though also consequently she's been given a more visible role only in order to being tamed in the second half. In the end there just isn't an escape from petite-bourgeoise respectability. Or rather: there's just one single, eternal escape - Tora-san's.

Anyway, an interesting entry, with more friction than the previous ones.

Three moments from Tora 36:
-Tora and Akemi talking about love on the beach.
-A guy losing a number of beverage cans and thereby leading Tora into a new story.
-Aunty searching for the island Tora has made it to this time on a map, and has to use a magnifier to find it. Japan has been pretty thoroughly pervaded by the series by now.

Die vertauschte Braut, Carl Lamac, 1934

A pleasant surprise. Lamac's direction makes up in irreverent vitality what it lacks in elegance; he basically hands over the film to a completely unhinged Anny Ondra who clearly knows what to do with it. Really much closer to the Weimar spirit than most other 1934/35 comedies I've seen so far - a film that escaped the streamlining of production that soon would leave no room for shoddily / charmingly knocked together low-budget star vehicles like this. At times a bit too childish even for my taste and the ice revue finale is terrible, as expected. Still, so much energy on display here.

Tora-san's Bluebird Fantasy, Yoji Yamada, 1986

The first one in a while to take real risks, and consequently the best one at least since HEARTS AND FLOWERS... Once again, the film spends a lot of time away from the shop, and this time even away from Tora. In fact, the scenes with Miho and Kengo do not feel like part of a Tora film at all, and for a while their desperate artist romance and the standard Tora shenanigans are running in parallel without much interference or points of contact. Even the ending brings together the different strands only on the surface; there clearly are more things going on here than usually.

(To be sure, generally this seems to be a less loved entry, and I even get why - Kengo especially is a bit annoying, but to me, his strong, offbeat presence makes the whole film appealing.)

Three moments from Tora 37:
-Tora chasing a train conductor in order to present him with change.
-Kengo painting a bra on the picture of a topless woman.
-When a worker leaves Octopus's print shop for another job, a female colleague starts to cry, suddenly uncovering a melodrama no one knew anything about.

The Red Shoes, Powell / Pressburger, 1948

Don't ask me why I never got around watching this, since it is pretty much all I want out of cinema in a single film.

Tora-san Goes North, Yoji Yamada, 1987

Good Tora-film dominated by an impressive late Mifune performance. The main dynamics here is, I believe, the difference between Mifune's extreme, categorical outsider status and Tora's much softer mode of self-exclusion from society. The love story and everything else really takes a backseat this time, although Akemi once again has some nice scenes.

Three moments from Tora 38:
-Akemi luring cutomers into the shop. A new mode of address.
-A touristic cut to the local waterfalls.
-Tora goes fishing and catches a ... shark.

The Man From Morocco, Mutz Greenbaum, 1945
Spy yarn that tries to invoke the tradition of anti-fascism as a foundation of a new post-war Europe. Well-meaning and the lively visuals as well as the two very good leads make it a somewhat pleasant watch, but it really falters almost every time someone opens his or her mouth.
Last Night in Soho, Edgar Wright, 2021
Guess I'm with most of my timeline here: quite good as long as it sticks to the girl from the provinces encountering big city life formula, and even the first dream sequence has some charms, but boy is Wright out of his depth when he shoots for delirious psychosexualia. Almost on the level of Boyle's TRANCE when it comes to mismatch of subject and sensibility.

Koichiro Uno's Wet and Riding, Junichi Suzuki, 1982

Quaint, workmanlike comedic pinku that solely relies on the charms of its two great lead actresses. Safe for a decidedly tame rape fantasy in the beginning, sex has been thoroughly domesticated and all sense of style has vanished into thin air. Still, some itches are left, so why not scratch them.

Tora-san Plays Daddy, Yoji Yamada, 1987

Introducing another little boy because Mitsuo has grown too old points towards the sentimentalist imperative of the series in rather obvious ways, and also introduces a travelogue formula which is in itself a bit uninspired... slowly but surely Yamada seems to get tired of his material, but in individual scenes, this one is quite lovely yet again. That piss fountain sure is a grace note.

Three moments from Tora 39:
-A cruel miniature: A father teaching his son to throw rocks at Tora.
-Akemi stumbling over Genko's feet. Two of the best characters collide, maybe for the first and only time.
-Sakura and the priest speculating about Tora being a buddha.

Tora-san's Salad-Day Memorial, Yoji Yamada, 1988

The doctor's choice. Devastating, didn't expect something like that that late in the series.

Three moments from Tora 40:
-A ghost talks to Tora.
-Tora alone in a lecture hall.
-Tora wondering about the meaning of a handshake.

La Ronde, Max Ophüls, 1950
Wasn't really on board with this previously, for reasons I no longer care about. Now I just succumb to the Wohlbrück-eye view on humankind, both incredibly beautiful and incredibly cruel, because how could it be otherwise.

Red Notice, Rawson Marshall Thurber, 2021

A faux blockbuster, yes, the corruption of an already corrupted form, yes that too, lazy, unimaginative, incompetent action scenes, you name it, and still, it is often enough surprisingly touching to watch three of the biggest stars of the present desperately trying to remain relevant in a world that no longer needs them. Every showy tracking shot arriving at yet another empty Dwayne Johnson smile, every throwaway Reynolds line, that terrible car chase through a mine scene that is basically just a bunch of headlights bopping up and down... It's all so clearly second rate that one just has to feel for everyone involved. At least they haven't stopped trying.

Plus, Gadot unfortunately has little to do, but she's still magnificent, the only full-blown ridiculous Hollywood goddess we got right now. (And, who knows, Ryan Reynolds might turn into Harrison Ford yet.)

Tora-san Goes to Vienna, Yoji Yamada, 1989

Tora heads for Vienna. A bit too much Tora out of water clowning for my taste, but all in all not the gimmicky diversion I thought it would be. Instead, this is quite serious in its portrayal of different aspects of life in exile, the isolation and also the charged, uneasy friendships among exiles.

Three moments in Tora 41:
-A long shot of a busy train station. No place for Tora in this crowd.
-Maybe the first Tora-return to the shop from the perspective of Tora.
-A dancing Japanese guy being transformed into expressionistic shadow play.

Tora-san, My Uncle, Yoji Yamada, 1989

I have to admit I would've vastly preferred a Sakura-centered film over a Mitsuo-centered one, but I guess this would be outside of the scope of the formula. Yoshioka is a great actor, though, and Yamada finally warms up to pop music, too. In the end this is just the breath of fresh air the series clearly needed.

Three moments in Tora 42:
-Mitsuo jumping up a wall to fetch a persimmon.
-Mitsuo trying to kiss his girlfriend with his bike helmet on.
-Mitsuo looking at balloons.

Ich war Jack Mortimer, Yarl Froelich, 1935
Wohlbrück is great as always (was this his real accent, though? He is Viennese, but it still sounds rather fake), but I have to admit that Froelich's direction is quite good to. He obviously didn't lose his touch after becoming a Systemregisseur. Surprisingly tight and inventive.

Tora-san Takes a Vacation, Yoji Yamada, 1990

A bit too similar to the last one to make a real impact. The doubling of Tora's and Mitsuo's love story is way too mechanical this time, although Kumiko Goto makes for a lively and funny madonna. Just a few of them left, now, I hope there's enough fuel left.

Three moments from Tora 43:
-Hiroshi watching a tv program about the fall of the Berlin Wall.
-Hiroshi and Sakula listening to Mitsuo and his girlfriend playing the piano. The danger starts when the music stops.
-A tracking shot alongside an escalator in a modern warehouse, marking the outdatedness of Tora's world.

Pink Curtain, Yasuaki Uegaki, 1982
Upbeat, incesty standard pinku elevated by a positively radiating Jun Miho.

Tora-san Confesses, Yoji Yamada, 1991

I don't know, this one I once again absolutely loved. Tora's own love story isn't given much space and the store doesn't get much exposure either, but all the better, because Izumi's and Mituo's story really shines. A young, beautiful, long haired sad girl and a naive, clumsy, overwhelemed boy, lost in a romance of waves and sand and absence and distance. Tora's world is not part of this young love, but it acts as its framing device, an anchoring.

Three moments in Tora 44:
-Tora miming a number of jobs; respectably jobs he can access only through playacting.
-Rose light from the past illuminating Tora and an old flame.
-An extremely regular-formed artificial waterfall.

Allotria, Willi Forst, 1936

Really didn't expect this to be this good: a full blown German screwball masterpiece, completely with endlessly rotating quadruple-bedroom-balcony-hallway scene, treacherous cigarette lighters and magnificent dog close-ups. Wohlbrück is the expected treat, and Jenny Jugo wonderfully bubbly, but miraculously, Forst also knows how to turn Rühmann (a child-man smeared with custard pie, always playing with his little mouse) and Renate Müller (a woman of complicated morality with intricate hair) into pure delight. What really makes this stand apart from almost every other nazi cinema production is the uncompromising commitment to surface pleasure, and, by extension, to pleasure. There people really dare to value their own personal happiness and libidinous fulfillment over everything else. And Forst really dares to not punish them for this, but to just follow them on some of their wilder trajectories. If not for a short excursion into murky ethnic humor ("naked savages"), one might almost forget what country this came from.

Tora-san Makes Excuses, Yoji Yamada, 1992

I obviously love both Izumi and Mitsuo and there are those wonderful moments of youthful ennui now, but still, since the focus switched to the younger generation, there's a soap opera tendency creeping in that wasn't there previously. I mean I refuse to rate any of the remaining Tora films below three and a half stars, that would just be rude at this point, and yet, there really is a sense of things winding down and probably that's not a bad thing.

Three moments in Tora 45:
-Mitsuo introducing fitness culture to the series.
-Izumi in bed, singing quietly.
-The priest's head being shaved by Genko.

Non ho sonno, Dario Argento, 2001

The one stroke of genius comes very early: turning a train, with a few decisive gestures and especially two masterful cutaways to hallucinatory long shots, into pure terror-space (space as terror, terror as space) while swallowing up the rest of the world. Soon after this starts to get a bit dull, though. Mostly it plays like a mediocre standard giallo, with a boring lead, way too little female presence (complaining about gender in giallo is rather useless, I know, but here, women really only show up to be killed and Argento works overtime to make the one exception, the Gloria storyline, as unexciting as possible - not casting Asia in the role probably was the first cue) and too much repetitive investigative stuff. Probably his most "normal" approach to narrative since IL GATTO A NOVE CODE, and that one had at least much better set-pieces.

Still enough little bits and pieces of weirdness to keep me on board, and even the Goblin-gore inserts, as perfunctory and fan-servicy as they feel, are not completely useless, but all in all a film that plays it safe, especially after the much more invigorating experiments of TRAUMA and IL FANTASMA DELL'OPERA.

Taro-san's Matchmaker, Yoji Yamada, 1993

Mitsuo making his way through the very same machine of Japanese corporate culture Tora had managed to escape from. For the younger guy, the films offer only temporary relief, a short island adventure in this case, afterwards he will return to the hustle. Nice film, not a lot of new angles, though.

Three moments from Tora 46:
-Mitsuo receiving a rejection after a job interview per phone. A quiet build-up of tension, and no release.
-A neighbor opening the window in order to listen to Mitsuo and Sakura quarelling.
-Mitsuo and his girlfriend exchanging sweaters.

Oh... Rosalinda!!, Powell / Pressburger, 1955

Pretty much a perfect film in my book. It also touches on one of my special interests to be sure, since this is not just a modernization of the Strauss operetta, but also of the tradition of the pre-war German operetta / Vienna movies, a genre Pressburger was himself involved in at the beginning of his career.

Now he and Powell visit the genre again, staying clear of all old-Vienna-nostalgia by setting the whole thing in an exorbitant card-board universe, an artificial world of props and color and extras (really not much difference in impact between these three element), at the same time sealed off and limitless, forever unfolding in perpetually expanding cinemascope vistas, a wimmelpicture aesthetics downplaying traditional notions of perspective and anticipating Tati, Iosseliani and Altman, but combined with the dynamic sense of montage and expressive corporeality of a 1930s Hollywood musical while some of the more openly antirealist techniques like the explicit mismatch between Wohlbrück and his singing voice almost point towards Resnais ... and all of this in service of a vision of post-war Europe as a hotbed of incestuous, polyamorous desires cutting through all political affiliations. Well, a masterpiece.

Une derniere fois, Olympe de G., 2020

Never finds the right kind of balance between the fictional setup and a de facto autobiographical take on Lahaie's life as a public sexual being. Also more a catalogue of contemporary discourses on porn rather than a film interested in the diversity of bodies. In the end pornography might really be dead by now - as art that is, if certainly not as a mode of communication and self-expression.

Tora-san's Easy Advice, Yoji Yamada, 1994

This time Tora's love story has more punch than Mitsuo's, thanks mainly to the Madonna, the melancholic photographer Rino Katase. Really just waiting for the big blow-out at this time, though. I'm basically in tears already.

Three moments in Tora 47:
-Mitsuo making his way through a busy modern shopping street, completely unlike the one he grew up in.
-Tora being reminded of his mother when handling pencils. Or maybe he's just making it up on the spot, as a sales pitch.
-Genko wetting himself with a garden hose, a throwback to early cinema (slapstick, Lumiere...).

Horrors of Malformed Men, Teruo Ishii, 1969

The rare exploitation film in which the craziness of the imagery is matched, point by point, by the craziness of the plot - narration as an abyss one can never quite pull oneself out of, there's always another crazy flashback around the corner. Also, the constant foregrounding of presentation instead of representation, starting with the first scene, in the prison, a sleazy women in prison miniature that turns out to be more like something of a knife ballet, with everyone in on the joke, only that there is not really a joke. Later on the island of freaks is basically a performance pieceand keeps on being treated as such even by the people who are about to fall prey to it.

Most importantly: it never stops. Also, Ishii luckily never lets good taste get in the way of his imagination, while at the same time still making use of the studio apparatus of Japanese cinema. Just one of those films in which everything clicks.

Tora-san to the Rescue, Yoji Yamada, 1995

A bit too much concerned with wrapping everything up neatly to arrive at something truly great, and still, Yamada gives us what we want, and this is all anyone could reasonably expect from this. The scene with Izumi and Mitsuo on the beach is the most perfect piece of cinema I've seen in a while.

Three moments from Tora 48:
-Tora's surprise when encountering a wireless phone.
-A man trying to exit a car and repeatedly falling into a roadside channel.
-Was this the first underwater footage in the series during the diving scene?

Eros + Massacre, Yoshishige Yoshida, 1969

Can't deny the ambition, and I probably will have to come back to parts of this soon, and still ... this just very much isn't my thing. What works best here - the performances of Mariko Okada and Yuko Kusonoki, the use of empty / negative space, those circling camera movements as ersatz-expressions, like in early Antonioni - basically all belongs to classic melodrama, while the modernist gestures feel terribly forced. As a political text, too, it is completely airless, which might correspond with the state of the Japanese left at the time, but still... unlike Oshima or Wakamatsu, Yoshida needs the grand architecture, the European art film trappings, the burnt-out whiteness unsexing even the nakedest of bodies, as a safety net because on scene to scene basis, his image-making just isn't dense enough to sustain a noose.

Tora-san, Wish You Were Here, Yoji Yamada, 2019

Would've preferred a different new scenes vs clip show ratio and once again there's not enough Sakura, but what can you do, Yamada is a populist at heart and if he weren't Tora would never have existed, which of course is the most terrible of thoughts once one has gotten used to him.



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