Sunday, June 14, 2009
Tokyo.Sora - was released a year after Take Care of My Cat, and they are both very similar, but I'm far more impressed with the Japanese rendition of urban womanhood. Yet, just as in ISHIKAWA Hiroshi's next film Su-Ki-Da, this presents characters more unusual than anything else I've seen. I understand that it is a culture of politeness, but his characters display a reservedness far greater than in other films. I can definitely say, no characters from the older films of the 60s and 70s were ever like this. Ishikawa's urbanites can hardly get a word out. But it has such a light touch as to earn respect, though as pretty as the film is with its transparent 16mm color, the themes that we're dealing with here aren't that profound. If only the script were more detailed, delved deeper into certain issues, then maybe I would grant it higher praise.
Camel(s) - is the most faithful expression of realism I've seen. I thought it had the potential to be pretentious, but the verisimilitude goes to the degree of discomfort (because it's all too real). It becomes hard to watch as you realize that one half of amorous couple could very well be your own parent (pick one, and you can literally see them, a couple in an extramarital affair, drowning in guilt through their eyes). Without the use of artifice, Park is able to get to a few really hard truths about our suffocating, industrial society and the distance between men and women. And while this may all sound like exactly what HONG Sang-soo has been working on for over 10 years, this analysis of the subject is all the more subtle, and completely lacking the comedy that allows Hong's films to be palatable. I'm definitely taking another look at this one in the near future, and am going to get my hands on Motel Cactus.
Tree Without Leaves - It may be impossible to render a more affectionate expression of love for one's mother. The only other works of art I've come across that approaches this are the initial pages of the "Combray" section in Swann's Way, and well.... Mother by Naruse. It is very convincing and makes me assume that Shindo added autobiographical elements. The starring family and their status as the village's patricians give it a more classic feel, as the old stories were always about the king and his kin. In addition to the expression of love for the mother, played by Shindo's wife OTOWA Nobuko (in one of the greatest roles ever), a large part of the drama deals with the families declining fortune (very old school, huh?). It may not be a film about people we can all identify with, but the technical perfection is unavoidable. Shot in such a crisp, clean black-and-white, I greatly wish that I can one day see this on 35. It's sort of strange that the movie won no awards because it's basically perfect. Maybe Shindo had lost friends that year.
The Sting of Death - I first heard about the director of this film, OGURI Kohei, in my professor's book. In her critical study of Oshima, she compared one of Oguri's films, Muddy River to The Sun's Burial(both about the poor-as-shit residents that can still be found in Osaka). Locating a copy of Muddy River isn't feasible at the moment, but there are inexpensive Hong Kong DVDs of this film, The Sting of Death, which, in the brief criticism on Oguri that is actually available, has been touted as his masterpiece. It is difficult to tell whether or not this is a masterpiece, but like any work of art that makes people pay attention, it takes itself extremely seriously. Like Maboroshi no Hikari the camera is almost completely immobile and generates an uncomfortable intensity during the scenes of the couple's marital downfall. Here, we see the story of a writer's conflict with his wife over his infidelity. For nearly two hours, we have to put up with their psychological battle, and they (and the audience) are driven ever closer to insanity in the process. There just really aren't too many other Japanese films that delve into a subject so deeply. Interspersing the marital duels, there are scenes that are terrifyingly funny, and the framing is also very beautiful, almost providing an escape from the morbid drama. Once again, MATSUZAKA Keiko proves that she was the greatest Japanese actress of that time period. Some may criticize her for overacting, but the power she brings to her performances usually matches the circumstances. For me, she represents the older generation of actors, worldwide, who just put more feeling into their performances than the young people do. In that respect, acting has shifted.