Itami’s slices of life

‘I must get back to

some Japanese film watching’

I said, and I did


After a bit of a gap in Japanese film-watching, I decided to go browsing for films and ended up making this weekend a Juzo Itami weekend after watching Minbo (ミンボの女) on Friday and The Funeral (お組織) last night , while A Taxing Woman (マルサの女) is planned for this evening. Thank you video-streaming website in question (and, of course, the people who put these films up)!  After watching Minbo, I saw The Funeral pop up as a recommended film and then A Taxing Woman showed up later.  I do remember watching Minbo while at college but had kind of forgotten a lot of it, while before this weekend I had never watched the other two.  In December it will be 20 years since the death of Juzo Itami, in 1997, apparently forced to commit suicide by a branch of the Yakuza who he had pissed off through his portrayal of them in the film Minbo where the Yakuza characters are defeated by the wiles of a sassy lawyer, played by Nobuko Miyamoto, and the staff of the hotel the Yakuza make trouble for.

Miyamoto Nobuko (宮本 信子) and Yamazaki Tsutomu  (山崎 努) co-star in A Taxing Woman, The Funeral and of course Tampopo, another of Juzo Itami’s gems.  Yamazaki doesn’t appear in Minbo.  You might know him from Departures (2008), – not The Departed as I mistakenly called it in a rush to write, an entirely different film Hong Kong or US-wise hehe ; ) – already gushed about in this blog, where he runs an undertaker business and coaches the main character in how to prepare deceased folk for burial.  They’re both brilliant in all the films. I’m going to include A Taxing Woman even if I am yet to watch it as I’m confident I’ll enjoy watching them in that as well.   The four films, as I’m including Tampopo, have other actors in common as well, playing supporting characters.

I really enjoyed Minbo and the Funeral, though in different ways.   Minbo has a strong female character standing up to the bullies that are the Yakuza, and teaching others to stand up to them (although if you ask me the final scene shows them still a little apologetic to them, so clearly there’s only so far you can go).  It also shows how the police were somewhat afraid to deal with them as well.  Ordinary cops on the beat at least as the detective and his gang had a great attitude to defeating them.   There are bound to be police that were and still are either afraid of them or colluding with them.

The Funeral shows that funeral procedures are the same in many countries in the ways people deal with them, personally at least.  In this one, the couple who have taken charge of organising the funeral, played by the afore-mentioned actress and actor, have to watch a How To video on how to put on a funeral, use the correct speech to funeral-goers and so on.  There is a lot of awkwardness and indecision about the funeral arrangements and family disagreeing over said arrangements, and comments on the personality of the deceased, which I’m sure many people watching would empathise with.   Uninvited guests make it yet more awkward but there is humour in the film as well.  There’s also a very brief cameo by the elderly father from Tokyo Story,  who plays the priest who appears in a Rolls Royce (another thing in common with clergy around the world – where’s your vow of poverty?).

I recommend these films without hesitation. A Taxing Woman, The Funeral and Tampopo are from the 80s but Minbo is from the early 90s (Minbo, 1992) but don’t let that put you off.  There is somewhat of a dearth of films coming from Japan at the moment but even if we were flooded with films from today’s Japan I would still watch and recommend these old favourites.


Any thoughts? In haiku form or not?

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