Japanese Classics III

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House is a 1977 Japanese horror film directed and produced by Nobuhiko Obayashi. The film stars mostly amateur actors with only Kimiko Ikegami and Yōko Minamida having any notable previous acting experience. The film is about a schoolgirl traveling with her six classmates to her ailing aunt’s country home, where they come face to face with supernatural events as the girls are, one by one, devoured by the house.

This is some weird shit but make no mistake, this is good shit! It has totally no logic but the movie feels like a full-on assault on your senses. This one is all style, kitsch, excesses, schizophrenic pop-art and total bombardment on everything you think you know about cinema. OMG! I know nothing! I thought I have seen everything. Apparently, not. I have not seen death by pussy, piano, lamp, mattresses, a bloody Red Sea in a bedroom and bananas! This is one clusterfuck of weird ideas, cringeworthy stylistics and old-fashioned visual effects, with seven girls (named Gorgeous, Mac, Melody, Prof, Sweet, Fantasy and the crazy-ass Kung Fu) in various forms of undress as they die to beautiful music. I think it is a disservice to call this a horror movie. It is too funny to be horror and too horrific to be funny. My fave line is when Gorgeous’ soundtrack composer father says with deadpan seriousness “Leone said my music was better than Morricone’s.” I laughed so hard my tears streamed down. What a wild ride!

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Yasuhiro Ozu’s Early Summer (1951) is a simple film but it is profoundly moving. Like most of Ozu’s post-war films, it deals with many issues ranging from communication problems between generations to the rising role of women in post-war Japan. In this story, 28-year-old Noriko lives contentedly in an extended family household that includes her parents and her brother’s family, but an uncle’s visit prompts the family to find her a husband. The entire plot then revolves around finding a husband for Noriko. That’s it. But if you have seen Ozu’s masterpiece Tokyo Story you know you are in for a rich and rewarding time. I never find the pace slow. I find it moves with the pace of life. Ozu’s simple static shot always carries lots of depth, both literally and metaphorically, as characters weave in and out of the frame. His characters are always richly and tenderly observed, and it is so easy to see myself in them. I love watching Setsuko Hara who plays Noriko. When she smiles, she smiles with her entire being and I feel an instant connection with her. I love how everything comes together in the end even though the family is broken up. I read somewhere this is the second in a trilogy of great films involving an unwed woman named Noriko. All three films are in the list. Can’t wait to see Late Spring. Sometimes it is so nice to see something without violence, car chases and gun shots.

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Tampopo (1985) is a comedy film by director t, starring Tsutomu Yamazaki, Nobuko Miyamoto, Kōji Yakusho, and Ken Watanabe. The publicity for the film calls it the first “ramen western”, a play on the term Spaghetti Western. I started watching this alone and in the first 30 min I was already laughing like nuts. I had a feeling my wifey will dig it and immediately stopped the movie. I was right; she loves it and she laughed even harder than me. This is just brilliant stuff and I dare say it may be the best film about food ever made. Forget about Chef, The Hundred-Foot Journey and even The Lunchbox, Tampopo is one scrumptious buffet. Itami freestyles with the story into different setups with finesse and I had no idea where the story will go. It mocks, cajoles and celebrates everything about food, especially ramen, in terms of the preparation, cooking and eating, and even to the point of customer service. The film is just flawless and so original. I can’t even compare this to anything I have seen from the years after 1985 till now. I will buy the blu-ray in a heartbeat if it is ever released.

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Vengeance Is Mine (1979) is directed by Shōhei Imamura, based on the book of the same name by Ryūzō Saki. It depicts the true story of serial killer Akira Nishiguchi (Iwao Enokizu in the film). It stars Ken Ogata as Enokizu. The film won the 1979 Best Picture Award at the Japanese Academy Awards, and won Best Screenplay at the Yokohama Film Festival, where Ken Ogata also won Best Actor. This is one chilling film and Imamura did an tour-de-force job of telling the story of one crazy sociopath without any conscience or moral scruple. What makes it so chilling is that Imamura doesn’t paint a clear picture of why the fella is a killer. It feels like he was placed on this earth to do one thing – kill. The film is populated by all types of shady characters engaged in all manners of depravity. Everyone is using everyone. Yet, this is no ordinary tale of a serial liar and killer. He is never sympathetic but yet I admire his methodical approach to any situation. Brilliant film and one of the best films about a serial killer I have ever seen.

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