Haiku reflections on Japan

Film Fest – making up for lost time I hope

Film Fest!!  Time to make up for lost time and so I`ll review some films.  I have been brief with the descriptions, bar the last one, but hopefully they will get you going if you have not seen them already.  Each description is headed of course by a haiku.

 

Sansho the Bailiff

How bad was he? Making slaves

of man, woman, child

Sansho the Bailiff (1954, director Kenji Mizoguchi), a Japanese classic.   Based on a short story by a writer by the name of Ogai Mori.  Having heard of it before but not watched it,  I found it while looking for new (or in this case old) films to watch.   I find some really good films that way.   The actress playing the youngest daughter in Tokyo Story, Kyoko Kagawa, appears in this as the one of the two siblings torn from their parents as children and made into slaves.  I had no idea people in those times (in Japan) were kidnapped and made into slaves, even wealthy kids.  Kyoko Kagawa and the actor who plays her brother were excellent.  Bit strange that the title is named after the main villain but I suppose the point was to defeat him and what he represented (the slave trade) after all.

 

Chikamatsu tale 

of young adulterers and 

old stingy husbands

 

Kyoko Kagawa appears again in Chikamatsu no Monogatari (1954, director Kenji Mizoguchi) as a young woman who ends up realising she is in love with her husband`s employee and they end up running away together and caught for adultery which was a crime punishable by death at that time.    Her much older, stingy, husband at least ends up with his possessions taken from him by the authorities for not telling the whole truth to the police about something related to his business and she was very content-looking on the procession to her execution, back-to-back and holding hands with her co-adulterer (I thought he looked more wistful) on the back of a horse.

 

Uuuh, get you and your 

ghost woman and your samu-

-rai sword. Silly sods.

 

Ugetsu Monogatari (1953, director Kenji Mizoguchi yet again) is a morality tale of what happens when you do not appreciate what you have in life.  It is also based on a literary work.  The wives in this film are brilliant, strong women who foresee the reality of war more clearly than their reckless husbands, one who gets sucked in by money and the other by the desire to be a samurai.   The end is quite sad but for one of the couples there is a happy ending.  Lady Wakasa and one of the husbands (Genjuro) are played by the actress and actor who play the couple in Rashomon.   Machiko Kyo and Masayuki Mori being their names.

 

I was born yeah but

so not born with the patience 

for stalling ***tube!!

 

You-know-what Tube.  I was born but… (1932) is Yasujiro Uzo`s contribution to silent films (maybe he did more than one silent film but I know only of this so far) and my first silent film in Japanese.   I have yet to make it to the end because the video keeps stalling on me!!   Aaaargh!!!  From what I`ve watched so far it is really enjoyable.  Good Morning (also 1954 by Uzo with some actors from Tokyo Story), which came about 20 years after I was born but… is similar in theme about two children making a point to their parents.  I was born but… can almost be considered a silent film fore-runner of Good Morning.  I`ve mentioned Good Morning before so check out that post.

 

The last tale of these 

is difficult to watch and

not a patch on Uzo.

 

Tokyo Family is nowhere near a patch on Uzo`s Tokyo Story of which it is a modern remake.  Yeah 60 years have passed (Tokyo Story being 1954, Tokyo Tale being a 2013 remake) so times would have changed but honestly, I felt like turning it off after barely 20 minutes had gone.   I persisted though, out of curiosity.   The characters all have the same names as you`d expect, though Noriko is now the fiancee of Shoji, one of their living sons, rather than the daughter-in-law and widow of a lost-at-war son in Tokyo Story.   In Tokyo Tale, Noriko doesn`t have the same emotional link with the parents at all.  Shoji in 1954 is seemingly single as we do not hear of a wife or girlfriend while the parents stay at his on their way home.    Of course given that there is no place for a war widow in 2013, that is somewhat understandable but like I said she does not have the same link with the parents though she gets on really well with the mother when she meets her (why she`d be given the watch though when she barely knew the mother just annoyed me, remake or not!!).  You sense in the 1954 film that Noriko knows the parents from before.  Despite the son living far from home and then going off to war, Noriko has met the parents and is fond of them and the feeling is mutual.  She looked the happiest to see them in Tokyo and she was more pleasant to them than their own kids.   The point the father makes at the end.  There is a sense of history in their relationship through the lost son (the parents have differing opinions on whether he is just missing in action or actually dead but this is irrelevant really as they are so fond of the daughter-in-law who remains) .  I did think the actress who plays Noriko in the remake reminded me a little, looks-wise, of the actress who played her in 1945.   The character Shoji adds a bit of spark to this film I must admit and he does represent a different kind of Japanese man to the other brother Koichi or the son-in-law husband of the hairdresser i.e. a man who may not want to have a long-term, probably boring salary-man like job  (like the train station staffer Shoji in the 1954 film, a different era completely) and so he might be seen as irresponsible by either or both of their parents, as is the case in the remake (along with the other siblings).  The hairdresser daughter of the couple is as irritating in this as the daughter in 1954, possibly even more so as she has nothing positive to say about Shoji`s more carefree character (hellooooo there!!  It`s 2013 not 1954!! This is one fitting thing about the remake being in 2013 – the characters cannot complain about things like that) but the difference is this character had a nice guy husband in 1954 to balance out her whinging, haha, whereas the husband in the remake is not likable at all and comes across as an oaf.

Basically the acting is of a totally different standard.    They might be good actors in their own right and perhaps it is unfair to compare them to the greats of the 1950s (big shoes to fill after all) but that is even more a reason for thinking they`d make a better effort!!  There are some films you should just not remake as there is no matching them for class.

What I find even more disappointing about this film is that it is directed by a really good director, Yoji Yamada, who has directed one of my favorite Japanese films – Twilight Samurai (part of his very good trilogy).  Oh well I guess directors can`t get it right all the time!!  I don`t want to be too harsh about him because Twilight Samurai is such a great film.  He`s now 82 and apart from C.E. in Hollywood how many 82 year old directors are out there?   There are a few actors/actresses (saw Amour lately with Emmanuelle Riva who is 82/83 – she should have got that Oscar – brilliant performance which I had not seen before the Oscars came around)  but not directors as far as I know.  I hope that does not sound patronizing.

Cafe Lumiere which I have mentioned here before is not a remake of Tokyo Story but a tribute to  it (but just as much to Yasujiro Ozu`s style as to the film itself). I think it is much better than this remake for portraying the drifting apart of a family in modern Tokyo.  I`ve watched it a few times now and will again.

So all these films, bar Ugetsu Monogatari, have Tokyo Story in common,  either through the actress Kyoko Kagawa or the director.  As I mentioned, the actors who play the couple in Rashomon both appear in Ugetsu Monogatari.   Toshiro Mifune, also in Rashomon, was often Kyoko Kagawa`s leading man so there is another more indirect link with the rest of the films after all.  Maybe the actors were part of the same studio as the set up was back then.  The modern link between Cafe Lumiere and Tokyo Family (made 11 years apart) is that the father of the girl in Cafe Lumiere plays the friend of the father in Tokyo Family (he goes drinking with him).  This actor is also in Twilight Samurai as Seibei`s superior.

Well, hope you enjoyed this post.   Pretty long I know but I think I broke it up with the haikus and I did say I was making up for lost time.  Plus talking about films is one of my favorite things to do.  Ok, I`m going to check out the rest of that I was born but … film and it had better run smoothly for me tonight!!

 

 

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