Friday, 27 June 2014

Tange Sazen: The Million Ryo Pot (1935)

  'Tange Sazen: The Million Ryo Pot' (Tange Sazen yowa: Hyakuman ryo no tsubo) is a 1935 Japanese film directed by Sadao Yamanaka.

  An older brother passes their family heirloom pot onto his younger brother. Unbeknownst to them, there is a map on the pot leading to a 1 million Ryo treasure. The younger brother's wife sells the pot to some scrap merchants, who then give the pot to the neighbour's son. When the brothers find out the pot has the map on it, a massive hunt begins.

  Sadao Yamanaka is a little known Japanese director, which directed 26 films in seven years prior to the Second World War. When war broke out, he was sent to the front line and died of dysentery, sadly now only three of his films exist. This film is his earliest available work, so the quality isn't ideal, and the film is missing a few key scenes. Although we are lucky to have this masterpiece, that was so close to being lost forever.

  The film is a jidaigeki, a historical period film, that uses many techniques ahead of it's time. This is one of the earliest Japanese talkies that exists, and the first talkie in  the Tange Sazen set of films. Before this film, its important to imagine how the Tange Sazen character became a skilled samurai, and lost an eye in the silent films that preceded this one. Luckily for us, it's not necessary to see the earlier films, especially seeing as they are lost forever.

  'Tange Sazen: The Million Ryo Pot' feels like a cross between a Mizoguchi period piece, and a Kurosawa caper. It's even possible to see parts of Ozu, with the luscious soundtrack and the friendly atmosphere. This film was before any of those directors mastered their separate themes and techniques, some of which Yamanaka has already reached mastery on, in this film. This film is already superior to anything Mizoguchi did in the 1930s.

  Despite some obvious missed scenes, the story sticks together very well. It's a screwball caper about a Pot, and the lengths people will go to get it. While this is going on, there is a story of an orphaned child who is taken in by the samurai and the shop-owner. The whole film contains a series of great characters, such as Tange Sazen the ruthless samurai with a hidden tender loving side, the lazy head of a dojo, his jealous wife and the selfish rich brother. There are also two scrap merchants that look suspiciously familiar to two characters in 'The Hidden Fortress'.

  I don't want to give anything away, as the entire film is an entertaining delight. A truly wonderful gem of early Japanese cinema, that I couldn't recommend more.


TO CONCLUDE
A rarely seen film that is funny, sweet, visually beautiful and a whole load of fun.

SCORE
82

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Asphalt (1929)

  'Asphalt' is a 1929 silent German film directed by Joe May.

  Else Kramer attempts to steal a diamond from a jeweller, but is caught. She is taken into custody by Wachtmeister Albert Holk, a small-time policeman. He believes her false story and lets her free. After this encounter, they are destined to meet again.

  'Asphalt' is a little known German Expressionist film, released at the end of the German Cinema Golden Age of the 1920s. It's one of the final, if not the last, German Expressionist film and is acclaimed by most who watch it. The problem with that is that the core audience of the film is die-hard silent/expressionist film fans, something I am definitely not. I don't dislike the genre, I just haven't seen many of the films.

  The Expressionist movement happened during 1920-1929, and was the most exciting thing in silent cinema. These films were long before Citizen Kane, and were the first to show the beauty of the cinema. 'Nosferatu' and 'Metropolis' are the two most known of these films, both of which are seen as important staplemarks of film history and on the IMDB top 250. The truth is no-one has seen Asphalt, and has almost faded into cinematic obscurity.

  'Asphalt' plays out like a psychological Film Noir Romantic Thriller, complete with a deceiving femme-fatale and a straight-faced detective (in this case a policeman, but close enough). Even though the ending is different to the typical Film Noir film, the signs are definitely there. The thrilling aspect is present after the stealing of the jewellery. It's not possible to tell quite where the film is going, but it takes a thrilling ride to get there. The romantic part of the film was unexpected, but a welcome change of pace. The film uses lights to its advantage, even though the film is not as beautiful as any of the other German Expressionism films I have seen.

  The film could have easily been told in 20 minutes but painfully stretches every action it possibly could. Silent films are more about actions than words, but this was really testing my patience in places. There was so little happening, I drifted off in a few places and when I returned to the film, I had missed absolutely nothing. The acting is decent, although Betty Amann never reaches the heights of Louise Brooks, which she was trying so hard to impersonate. At it's worst, I thought the film was an uninteresting disappointment. There are many good aspects of this film, such as the lighting and the strange turn of events in the finale, however everything has been bettered by other films of the movement.



TO CONCLUDE
For die-hard German Expressionist film fans only. The film contains nothing that makes it wonderful or unique, although it is a part of the most exciting film movement before 1950.

SCORE
69

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

General Idi Amin Dada: Autoportrait (1974)

  'General Idi Amin Dada: Autoportrait' is a 1974 French documentary directed by Barbet Schroeder about the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

  General Idi Amin Dada was the ruler of Uganda between 1971-1979. He invited a film crew to record him as he talks about various subjects like other world leaders, his plans to attack Israel and how he aspires to be Africa's Hitler.

  I bought the rare OOP Masters of Cinema DVD and couldn't wait to see this film. I had previously seen 'The Last King of Scotland' which is a great film with Forrest Whittickers finest performance as Idi Amin. I never quite realised how accurate his portrayal was. Idi Amin is a ridiculous world leader, who was responsible for the murder of 300,000 people. The film is similar to 'The Act of Killing', where the film invites you to relate with a killer while staring evil straight in the eye.

  Despite Idi Amin's kind and heroic ideology, he is completely insane. He fetishises weapons and artillery, he has 18 kids (and divorced 3 wives because they were not revolutionary enough) and his entire regime was amateur and messy. He acts completely psychotic with a loyal country behind him. He may have kicked out all of the Asians which were previously running Uganda, and have the revolutionary ideology many countries aspire to have a leader with, but he is appalling at run a country.

  It's amazing that Schroeder and his team were allowed to film extensively with one of the most infamous dictators who has ever lived. Idi Amin is a tall, scary and frighteningly powerful leader, and even being in the same room as him must have been distressing. Idi Amin was expecting a propaganda film, but what Schroeder made was a one of a kind, chilling, mind-boggling documentary. It's remarkable this film was even made. This film works as an insight into 1970s Uganda and the infamous Idi Amin dictatorship, but as a film drops short. I don't know if it was my high hopes for the film, but I found the film uncomfortable and even boring in places. He is a unique and daunting person (to say the least), but 90 minutes of him talking to camera isn't enjoyable at all. About 95% of the film has Idi Amin's face in shot, a sight that isn't pretty. It seems too long, but that may be because of the repetition. Interviews with others about Idi Amin would be more than welcome.


TO CONCLUDE
Intriguing and chilling documentary about one of the most psychotic leaders the world has ever known.

SCORE
75

Monday, 23 June 2014

The Ghost of Yotsuya (1959)

  'The Ghost of Yotsuya' (Tokaido Yotsuya kaidan) is a 1959 Japanese horror film directed by Nobuo Nakagawa.

  Tamiya is a samurai who wants to marry Iwa, and kills her father (and several of his men) to do so. Naosuke, a friend of Tamiya, witnesses the murder and helps him dispose of the bodies. Tamiya decides to poison Iwa and her admirer, but he gets a lot more than he asks for.

  There are many classic Japanese ghost films, but few make it overseas. The most famous are 'Ugetsu', 'Kwaidan' and 'Kuroneko', which are all brilliant films, but none of them exceed creepy. That is where 'The Ghost of Yotsuya' excels. The final half of the film is constantly shocking, and has plenty of startling scares. Similar in this aspect to Nakagawa's next film 'Jigoku', which has a dull first 2/3rds, and a terrifying finale based in hell. Both these films have the scariest scenes I have seen in pre-1960 classic cinema (except for 'Onibaba'), which is a huge achievement in itself.

  One of the problems with 'Jigoku' was that the film was excruciatingly boring from the beginning until the trip to hell. The film did a poor job of character introduction and it didn't have any interesting scenes in it whatsoever. 'The Ghost of Yotsuya' doesn't have this problem and is thrilling from the first scene, although shit does get real the closer it gets towards the end.

  All Japanese ghost films have the same major problem, that is the characters are nasty evil characters. It feels great when they finally do get their comeuppance, but in the meantime they make the film tough to like. The problem would be bigger in other genres, but in these films the stunning colourful visuals and the continual strange events seem to counter the problem pretty well. 'Ghosts of Yotsuya' never stops to take a breath, with exciting events happening throughout its short runtime. Nakagawa really does take you on a dark and horrifying journey.


TO CONCLUDE
An exhilarating horror film from the first scene. Unknown and absolutely terrifying.

SCORE
78

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Kinema Junpo Top 200 Japanese Films

The Kinema Junpo 'best of Japan' lists happen once every ten years. It's a list filled with many obscure films, most of which are impossible to watch with English subtitles. I love this list due to the high hit/miss ratio, and that no-one has heard of 90% of these films. The titles in green are the films I have seen, the titles in red are the films I have not seen. This list is by the readers instead of the critics.

LINK TO FULL LIST

01 SEVEN SAMURAI- Akira Kurosawa
Considered by everyone to be the greatest Japanese film ever. It's number 20 on the IMDB top 250, and is loved by everyone.
SCORE 87

02 TOKYO STORY- Yasujirô Ozu
Placed number 1 on the Director's Sight and Sound top 10. I find people only watch this Ozu film and move on, but he is a flawless director. My favourite would be Tokyo Twilight.
SCORE 83

03 IKIRU- Akira Kurosawa
The story is a man gets cancer and builds a playground. It doesn't sound like a number 3 film, but it really is. Takeshi Shimura appeared in 21 Kurosawa films, but this is his career defining performance.
SCORE 86

04 THE CASTLE OF SAND- Yoshitaro Nomura
Incredible film. One half detective drama, one half gliding epic. The police investigation will keep you gripped and the ending is absolutely wonderful.
SCORE 85

05 FLOATING CLOUDS- Mikio Naruse
Number 202 on the Sight and Sound top 250. Naruse is often mentioned in the same breath as Ozu, Mizoguchi and Kurosawa, but not many people have seen any of his films. 'Floating Clouds' tells the story of two lovers who never seem to be together. Hideko Takamine plays the "strong willed woman" which seems to be evident in most of Naruse's films. The opening is beautiful and the ending is devastating, although the rest of it could have been improved.
SCORE 76


06 TWENTY-FOUR EYES- Keisuke Kinoshita
Loved in Japan, but was released in the same year as Seven Samurai so is often overlooked. The film spans 20 years in the life of a school teacher in a remote rural area of Japan. The wonderful relationship between the students and the teacher could only be made by the Japanese.
SCORE 84

07 A FUGITIVE FROM THE PAST- Tomu Uchida
Enthralling crime thriller, where there is a ten year gap between the crime and the investigation. The acting is incredible. 
SCORE 79

08 RED BEARD- Akira Kurosawa
Slow start, but a flawless final third. The three hour runtime flies by, with some great acting and fantastic character development. The last Mifune/Kurosawa collaboration.
SCORE 85

09 HIGH AND LOW- Akira Kurosawa
Kurosawa's best crime film. It stars both Nakadai and Mifune, Japan's two finest actors, and is tense throughout its 143 minute runtime.
SCORE 89


10 MUDDY RIVER- Kôhei Oguri
Very subtle film, inspired heavily by Ozu, about a child and his new neighbours that live on a boat in the river. 
SCORE 79

11 YOJIMBO- Akira Kurosawa
The story of Yojimbo was adapted into A Fistful of Dollars. Currently 106 on the IMDB top 250. The sequel is Sanjuro, which I think is better than the original, but both need to watch again before I can confirm a score as there has been years since I have seen either of them.

12 LUPIN III: THE CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO- Hayao Miyazaki
This very early Miyazaki work is a fun and clever caper.
SCORE 77

13 NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND- Hayao Miyazaki
The first film that obtained Studio Ghibili world-wide recognition. The film is a fantastic piece of science fiction, with a message that should resonate even more today then when it was released.
SCORE 86

14 THE MAN WHO STOLE THE SUN- Kazuhiko Hasegawa

15 HARAKIRI- Masaki Kobayashi
Word is spreading about how amazing this film is. Tatsuya Nakadai's best performance in this unforgettable film. Definitely in my all time top 10.
SCORE 100

16 I ARE YOU, YOU AM ME- Nobuhiko Obayashi
A tale of boy meets girl, boy and girl switches body, boy is now a girl and girl is now a boy. Two great (and brave) performances by the lead actors. Its hilarious and moving at the same time. I just really love Obayashi and his wonderful world he has created. This was remade in 2007. Both the original and the remake are completely unknown outside of Japan.
SCORE 82

17 UGETSU- Kenji Mizoguchi
One of the films that introduced Japan to the world. It's a ghost story set in 16th Century Japan during the civil wars. There is nothing like it in the whole of cinema.
SCORE 83

18 LOVE LETTER- Shunji Iwai

19 LONELY HEART- Nobuhiko Obayashi

20 THE LIFE OF OHARU- Kenji Mizoguchi
The life of a prostitute set in 17th Century.
SCORE 79

21 VENGEANCE IS MINE- Shôhei Imamura
A violent and shocking film about a serial killer.
SCORE 80

22 THE YELLOW HANDKERCHIEF- Yôji Yamada
A melancholic road movie between three strangers. as they journey to Hokkaido. A beautiful film that is sure to make you cry during the finale
SCORE 83

23 EARLY SUMMER- Yasujirô Ozu
Very similar to all of Ozu's other seasonal works. This one is about an arranged marriage.
SCORE 82

24 GODZILLA- Ishirô Honda
It has 27 sequels and has been remade by Hollywood twice.

25 THE GIRL WHO LEAPT THROUGH TIME- Nobuhiko Obayashi
Remade as an anime in 2006 and remade again as live-action in 2010. The only Obayashi film currently available is the cult favourite Hausu. His experimental films are scattered all across this list. I enjoyed this film more than I felt I should have. Tomoyo Harada plays Kazuko, a teenage schoolgirl, who spills a chemical in the school science lab and is then able to travel through time. Excellent film, especially the time travel scenes. This is more of a love story than a sci-fi, so it is not to everyone's taste (there have been some really negative reviews).
SCORE 85

26 FALL GUY- Kinji Fukasaku

27 CASTLE IN THE SKY- Hayao Miyazaki
A wonderful Studio Ghibili film. Definitely one of their most loved.
SCORE 82

28 THE INUGAMI FAMILY- Kon Ichikawa
Ichikawa's most known film in Japan, but is completely unheard of in the west. A death and the reading of a Will leads to a series of murders in the large and despicable Inugami family. Quite confusing in places, but very entertaining.
SCORE 79

29 THE TWILIGHT SAMURAI- Yôji Yamada
The most critically acclaimed samurai film made in the 21st Century.
SCORE 78

30 RASHÔMON- Akira Kurosawa
Japanese cinema was completely unknown in the west before this came along in 1950. Currently 93 on the IMDB top 250. I need to watch it again to give it an honest score.

31 THE SUN LEGEND OF THE END OF THE TOKUGAWA ERA- Yuzo Kawashima
I watched the blu-ray and enjoyed this film immensely. It's both funny and heartwarming, with a great finale.
SCORE 80

32 THE EMPEROR'S NAKED ARMY MARCHES ON- Kazuo Hara
Featured on A Story of Film: An Odyssey. This documentary is unlike any thing I have ever seen. It follows Kenzo Okuzaki as he visits the members of his army regiment, to uncover the secrets about the deaths of two soldiers. It is a really thought-provoking and ground-breaking documentary.
SCORE 84

33 TORA-SAN: OUR LOVABLE TRAMP- Yôji Yamada
The first of 48 Tora-San films, following the life of a yakuza returning to his hometown. Each of the films have a similar story (he returns to home, he falls in love, things go wrong), but were deeply loved in Japan. I had to import the dvd from America to watch these (a month later someone uploads all 48 to YouTube -.-), and thought they were great. Yoji Yamada, a master director, together with the wonderful cast (including Chrishu Ryu and Takashi Shimura), create a franchise which is truly heart-warming and magical.
SCORE 82

34 KIDS RETURN- Takeshi Kitano

35 MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO- Hayao Miyazaki
Studio Ghibili's most iconic film. It's impossible not to smile throughout making it great for kids.
SCORE 82

36 HUMANITY AND PAPER BALLOONS- Sadao Yamanaka
Sadao Yamanaka's last film before he was sent to war and killed. Not as brilliant as his 100 Ryo Pot film, but still bloody marvellous.
SCORE 75

37 SHALL WE DANCE?- Masayuki Suo

38 TANGE SAZEN AND THE POT WORTH A MILLION RYO- Sadao Yamanaka
Only three of Sadao Yamanaka's films exist. This is the earliest, and is a pretty well-known story in Japan.
MY REVIEW HERE
SCORE 82

39 THE FAMILY GAME- Yoshimitsu Morita
This hard to find film, is about a typical Japanese family, thrown into jeopardy, when a private tutor is hired to help the son. This film is very 80s. Morita focuses on the relationship of the son and the tutor, and how daunting society's expectations of success in school are.
SCORE 85

40 ZIGEUNERWEISEN- Seijun Suzuki

41 LATE SPRING- Yasujirô Ozu
The first film in his seasonal series of films. This one concerns a widowed father and the marriage of his daughter.
SCORE 82

42 THE HIDDEN FORTRESS- Akira Kurosawa
One of my favourite Kurosawa films. George Lucas stole part of the story for Star Wars.
SCORE 86

43 PASTORAL: TO DIE IN THE COUNTRY- Shûji Terayama
I randomly watched this, and was stunned. It's a crazy Japanese new wave film, about remembering childhood. Everything is nice and happy, until about a third of the way through the runtime, when he realizes his childhood was terrible. What ensues is a nightmarish version of what happened previously. Terayama is an brilliant auteur, and this is a great starting place for those new to him.
SCORE 97

44 SONATINE- Takeshi Kitano

45 NOBODY KNOWS- Hirokazu Koreeda
Beautiful and devastating film about a group of children, whose mother leaves them alone. My favourite Koreeda so far (He is one of the few auteurs that is still making fresh and exciting films).
SCORE 85

46 THE CRUCIFIED LOVERS- Kenji Mizoguchi
Another great period film from Mizoguchi. His most tragic.
SCORE 80

47 STRAY DOG- Akira Kurosawa
A man steals a colt from a policeman, and goes on a killing spree with the seven bullets in the gun. Not as good as Drunken Angel, but still a great film.
SCORE 79

48 DEPARTURES- Yôjirô Takita
It won the Oscar for the Best Foreign Language Film in 2009. Definitely deserved. A wonderfully crafted film, that is genuinely beautiful.
SCORE 87

49 WHERE SPRING COMES LATE- Yôji Yamada
A film that shows one family's struggles as they migrate to Northern Japan. Completely breathtaking and deeply engrossing. Yamada's direction and the remarkable performances by the cast made me care about this family as I personally knew them.
SCORE 88

50 THE HUMAN CONDITION- Masaki Kobayashi
My favourite film. Set in three parts and lasting almost 10 hours. Every camera shot is beautiful, Tatsuya Nakadai is a phenomenal acting as the protagonist, and the story is about as epic as you can get. The first part is set in a Chinese POW camp in Japan, the second part is training for war and the third part is behind enemy lines in Russia.
SCORE 100

51 HER BROTHER- Kon Ichikawa
More commonly known as 'Younger Brother', Ichikawa's film shows the ups and downs of the relationship between a sister and her juvenile brother. One of the saddest films on the list, so bring tissues if you like a good cry.
SCORE 71

52 THE MAKIOKA SISTERS- Kon Ichikawa

53 THE STORY OF THE LAST CHRYSANTHEMUM- Kenji Mizoguchi
The best 1930's Mizoguchi film. It's not flawless, and is remarkable for the time.
SCORE 77

54 HULA GIRLS- Lee Sang-il

55 THE NAKED ISLAND- Kaneto Shindô
Not a word is spoken throughout its runtime. The peaceful yet harsh life of a family living on a desolate island is utterly mesmerizing.
SCORE 91

56 THE INSECT WOMAN- Shôhei Imamura


57 THE YAKUZA PAPERS: BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY- Kinji 
Fukasaku
The first of six films in the Yakuza Papers series. Plenty of lively characters,  many gruesome deaths and a fast-moving plot make this engaging and hugely enjoyable to watch. All 5 films in the series are brilliant, although I agree with Kinema Junpo that the first and third are superior.
SCORE 87


58 THE DEVIL'S BALLAD- Kon Ichikawa

59 TIMES OF JOY AND SORROW- Keisuke Kinoshita

60 SANJURO- Akira Kurosawa
Better than the first one. I still need to rewatch them.
SCORE 78

61 TORA-SAN MEETS THE SONGSTRESS AGAIN- Yôji Yamada
The fifteenth Tora-San film.

62 THE ROCKING HORSEMEN- Nobuhiko Obayashi

63 CHIZUKO'S YOUNGER SISTER- Nobuhiko Obayashi

64 THE CHERRY ORCHARD- Shun Nakahara

65 FOUNDRY TOWN- Kiriro Urayama

66 ALWAYS - SUNSET ON THIRD STREET- Takashi Yamazaki

67 AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON- Yasujirô Ozu
All of his films in his late period are great movies. This film is one of his most profound.
MY REVIEW HERE
SCORE 83 

68 WET SAND IN AUGUST- Toshiya Fujita

69 BULLET TRAIN- Junya Sato

70 THE YAKUZA PAPERS 3: PROXY WAR- Kinji Fukasaku
The third Yukuza Papers film. The whole film is build-up, with underbosses switching sides and pledging allegiances with other Yakuza. Even though the pay off is in the fourth instalment, it doesn't stop this film being constantly exciting.
SCORE 87 

71 CURE- Kiyoshi Kurosawa

72 THE YOUTH KILLER- Kazuhiko Hasegawa

73 KAMIKAZE GIRLS- Tetsuya Nakashima

74 LOVE EXPOSURE- Sion Sono
The best four hours you can spend. You won't want it to stop
SCORE 96

75 HANA AND ALICE- Shunji Iwai

76 FIGHTING ELEGY- Seijun Suzuki
My first Suzuki film. I have heard many things about how crazy ad whack his films are. Turns out they are true. This film is about rebellious youth, young love and rival gangs. It's told in a zany and uncontrollable way, that makes the film stand out above the rest. It's a great, fast-paced film to watch.
SCORE 79

77 THE IVORY TOWER- Satsuo Yamamoto

78 BROTHEL NO. 8- Kei Kumai
       
79 DISTANT THUNDER- Kichitaro Negishi

80 BREAK THROUGH!- Kazuyuki Izutsu

81 A GENTLE BREEZE IN THE VILLAGE- Nobuhiro Yamashita

82 THE SUBMERSION OF JAPAN- Shirô Moritani

83 MEMORIES OF MATSUKO- Tetsuya Nakashima
Visually crazy, and uses a few awful choices of soundtrack. Confessions is a far superior film.
SCORE 74

84 MR. THANK YOU- Hiroshi Shimizu

85 DOUBLE SUICIDE- Masahiro Shinoda

86 THE RENDEZVOUS- Kôichi Saitô

87 MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR. LAWRENCE- Nagisa Ôshima
Starring David Bowie.

88 TOKYO HEAVEN- Shinji Sômai

89 PRINCESS MONONOKE- Hayao Miyazaki
My favourite Studio Ghibli film. A beautiful adventure into a wonderful fantasy world.
SCORE 94

90 SWING GIRLS- Shinobu Yaguchi

91 THE LONG DARKNESS- Kei Kumai

92 STILL WALKING- Hirokazu Kore-eda
This could be an Ozu film. Peaceful, meditative and a expertly crafted.
SCORE 82

93 BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF THE TODA FAMILY- Yasujirô Ozu
The worst Ozu film I have seen. It was also my second, so maybe it needs a second viewing.
SCORE 67

94 IMMORTAL LOVE- Keisuke Kinoshita
Melodramatic with a Spanish flamenco soundtrack. Tatsuya Nakadai plays an evil character for a change.
SCORE 81

95 KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE- Hayao Miyazaki
There is a live-action remake being released soon. The original is a classic that is criminally under-seen.
SCORE 80

96 GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE- Shusuke Kaneko

97 BLOOD OF REVENGE- Tai Katô

98 GONIN- Takashi Ishii

99 GRAVEYARD OF HONOR- Kinji Fukasaku
Part of a Yakuza box-set I recently purchased. This film tells the true story of a powerful Yakuza member and his uncontrollable self-destructive behaviour. It's violent tale that is expertly told in an rock and roll way. The wide-screen action is very fast-paced, keeping me entertained and engaged thoroughly throughout.
SCORE 76

100 SPIRITED AWAY- Hayao Miyazaki
Won the Oscar for best animated film 2001. Widely considered to be the greatest anime film ever made. No wonder as its a colourful portal into a breathtaking world that's unlike any other.
SCORE 86

101 STREET WITHOUT END- Mikio Naruse

102 I LIVE IN FEAR- Akira Kurosawa
Kurosawa's worst film. Everyone else seems to like it though.
SCORE 62

103 HUSBAND AND WIFE- Mikio Naruse

104 THE GHOST OF YOTSUYA- Nobuo Nakagawa
Available on YouTube HERE
The scariest pre-1960 film I have seen. The film crescendos into some shocking final scenes.
MY REVIEW HERE
SCORE 78

105 THE CEREMONY- Nagisa Ôshima
My first Oshima film is very dark. 
MY REVIEW HERE
SCORE 78

106 STATION- Yasuo Furuhata

107 FIREWORKS- Takeshi Kitano
Kitano's most critically acclaimed film about a cop with a dying wife and a suicidal friend.
SCORE 78

108 THE HUMAN BULLET- Kihachi Okamoto

109 A SCENE AT THE SEA- Takeshi Kitano

110 THE HIDDEN BLADE- Yôji Yamada
A retelling of The Twilight Samurai, but also very good. I actually preferred this! Fans of action will be disappointed, but its replaced with character development and beautiful landscapes. I adore the unique meditative atmosphere and the greatly developed characters.
SCORE 80

111 SUMMER DAYS WITH COO- Keiichi Hara

112 THE DEMON- Yoshitaro Nomura

113 MACARTHUR'S CHILDREN- Masahiro Shinoda
Post-war Japan set on an island village, showing the struggles of the villagers attempting to return to normal life after the losing the war. It's comical and upbeat, making the film easy to enjoy. Although it is nothing too significant.
SCORE 77

114 SHE WAS LIKE A WILD CHRYSANTHEMUM- Keisuke Kinoshita

115 RED PEONY GAMBLER 5: ORYU’S VISIT- Tai Katô

116 THE EEL- Shôhei Imamura
Takuro comes home to find his wife having intercourse with another man. He kills her. 8 years go past and he returns to the small village, and opens a barber shop. Imamura is fantastic, with each of his films having a distinct vibe and striking visual detail. However this film is the least distinctive. Still, a fine film that doesn't quite go the mile, like Imamura's other films.
SCORE 76

117 I JUST DIDN'T DO IT- Masayuki Suo

118 LIGHTNING- Mikio Naruse

119 INTENTIONS OF MURDER- Shôhei Imamura

120 DAIMAJIN- Kimiyoshi Yasuda

121 BOY- Nagisa Ôshima

122 THE CATCH- Shinji Sômai

123 RYUJI- Toru Kawashima

124 SANSHO THE BAILIFF- Kenji Mizoguchi
Mizoguchi's finest film. A tragic story about two wealthy children which are taken from their mother to live a life of slavery. Set in medieval times, the mythic landscape is gorgeous.
SCORE 89

125 TOKYO OLYMPIAD- Kon Ichikawa

126 TAKE CARE, RED RIDING HOOD- Shirô Moritani

127 EUREKA- Shinji Aoyama
I saw this film far too long ago, so I'll have to give it a second watch before submitting a score.

128 THE FACE OF JIZO- Kazuo Kuroki

129 CARMEN COMES HOME- Keisuke Kinoshita

130 VACUUM ZONE- Satsuo Yamamoto

131 YEARNING- Mikio Naruse

132 JAPAN'S LONGEST DAY- Kihachi Okamoto

133 WOMAN IN THE DUNES- Hiroshi Teshigahara
An entomologist gets trapped in a hole in the middle of the desert, with a widow for company. They eventually fall for each other as his escapes get more and more desperate.
SCORE 79

134 THIRD- Yôichi Higashi

135 THE FUNERAL- Jûzô Itami

136 JOSEE, THE TIGER AND THE FISH- Isshin Inudo

137 SISTERS OF THE GION- Kenji Mizoguchi
Mediocre film from Mizoguchi's early period.
MY REVIEW HERE
SCORE 73

138 STAKEOUT- Yoshitaro Nomura

139 THE RICKSHAW MAN- Hiroshi Inagaki

140 DEATH BY HANGING- Nagisa Ôshima

141 FAILED YOUTH- Tatsumi Kumashiro

142 SAMURAI VENDETTA- Kazuo Mori

143 MOTHER- Mikio Naruse

144 THE GARDEN OF WOMEN- Keisuke Kinoshita

145 GIANTS AND TOYS- Yasuzo Masumura

146 AKITSU SPRINGS- Yoshishige Yoshida

147 SCATTERED CLOUDS- Mikio Naruse

148 MIRRORED MIND- Sogo Ishii

149 TONDA COUPLE- Shinji Sômai

150 TYPHOON CLUB- Shinji Sômai

151 MY SONS- Yôji Yamada

152 (HARU)-Yoshimitsu Morita

153 LINDA LINDA LINDA- Nobuhiro Yamashita

154 SUMMER TIME MACHINE BLUES- Katsuyuki Motohiro

155 ONE MILLION YEN GIRL- Yuki Tanada

156 I WAS BORN, BUT...- Yasujirô Ozu
Ozu's most acclaimed silent film.

157 CAPRICIOUS YOUNG MAN- Mansaku Itami

158 DRUNKEN ANGEL- Akira Kurosawa
His first known film is a personal favourite. Shimura and Mifune are excellent in this gripping crime thriller.
SCORE 83

159 WHERE CHIMNEYS ARE SEEN- Heinosuke Gosho

160 13 ASSASSINS- Eiichi Kudo
Thirteen samurai vow to take revenge on a feudal lord.

161 THE AGE OF ASSASSINS- Kihachi Okamoto

162 KAGERÔ-ZA- Seijun Suzuki

163 TSURUHACHI AND TSURUJIRO- Mikio Naruse

164 KAMIKAZE TAXI- Masato Harada

165 RING- Hideo Nakata
That horror film with the cursed videotape. Many sequels, remakes and sequels of remakes. I bought the trilogy the other day. The first is a tense and very claustrophobic horror film that genuinely scared me in places (nothing scares me, so this is an achievement). The Second film feels similar to the first one, but the story gets increasingly ridiculous, and the overall atmosphere never manages to reach the terrifying heights of the first film. The third film 'Ring 0-Birthday' is a pointless prequel that is completely unnecessary and not scary whatsoever. The first is most definitely the best.
SCORE 79

166 NABBIE'S LOVE- Yuji Nakae

167 PRIEST OF DARKNESS- Sadao Yamanaka
His second existing film, and the least known. It is still enjoyable, and feels very similar to his other two films.
SCORE 75

168 SINGING LOVEBIRDS- Masahiro Makino

169 THE BALL AT THE ANJO HOUSE- Kozaburo Yoshimura

170 TILL WE MEET AGAIN- Tadashi Imai

171 SUSAKI PARADISE: RED LIGHT DISTRICT- Yuzo Kawashima

172 GALAXY EXPRESS 999- Rintaro

173 A TAXING WOMAN- Jûzô Itami

174 TOKIWA: THE MANGA APARTMENT- Jun Ichikawa

175 AFTER LIFE- Hirokazu Koreeda
The film takes place in Limbo, where a group try and recreate the memories of the deceased. The wonderful story, peaceful tone and great direction make After Life a pleasant viewing.
SCORE 75

176 PULSE- Kiyoshi Kurosawa

177 HUSH!- Ryosuke Hashiguchi

178 THE BURIED FOREST- Kôhei Oguri

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Conflagration (1958)

  'Conflagration' (Enjo) is a 1958 Japanese film directed by Kon Ichikawa, adapted from the Mishima novel 'Temple of the Golden Pavilion'.

  Goichi Mizoguchi returns to the Temple of the Golden Pavillion, that his, now deceased, father was acquainted with. The head priest takes him in, in hope to find a successor. His mother soon arrives to try and help him, but Goichi rejects her, due to her infidelity. Goichi becomes friends with the crippled Tokari, who insists he makes the priest angry.

  Kon Ichikawa is one of those directors which I would watch more of his films if they were available. 'Tokyo Olympiad' is one of my most wanted to see films, but the only version I can watch, is a Criterion DVD selling for over $100. In the meantime, I decided to watch this little known film from his golden 1950s classic period, which includes the devastating war films 'The Burmese Harp' and 'Fires on the Plain'.

  'Conflagration' is proof that there are amazing films hidden in the depths of Japanese Cinema. It's a film that no-one has ever spoken about, and isn't on any best of film lists (except it's number 124 on the Kinema Junpei's top 200 films, 2009 list). I watched it because it starred Tatsuya Nakadai, Japan's finest actor, and is directed by Kon Ichikawa, a brilliant director from the films I have seen of his. Turns out the film is adapted from a novel by Yukio Mishima, and that I had already seen an adaptation of the story in Schrader's 'Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters'.

  The film is riveting and exciting throughout. While watching it, it's clear the film has a tragic atmosphere. It's obvious that something bad will happen, but it's unclear what it is (unless you look up conflagration in a dictionary, which is a spoiler). The feeling of an inevitable disaster is achieved by the protagonist, Goichi, being a misunderstood character, that never does anything good. He treats the stutter as a curse, and refuses to speak due to his embarrassment. Instead of conquering the defect like most films would have ('Like Stars on Earth'), he is tormented and teased until he is, mentally, pushed over the edge ('Klass'). It may not be the only thing that got him into the negative mind-set, but it's the most shocking and hard-hitting. It's like the anti-'The King's Speech' in that aspect.

  Goichi is a character which wouldn't prevent something bad happening, but would watch from a distance, a point which Kon Ichikawa shows clearly. His timid and desperate personality is acted authentically by Raizo Ichikawa (no relation to Kon), most known for his acting in the 'Shinobi no Mono' ninja films. Every other character in this film is unsympathetic including Tokari, played by Tatsuya Nakadai, who returns to playing an evil cripple ('Immortal Love'), a role he is flawless at.

  The visuals remind me of Kinoshita's 'Immortal Love', where the outdoor scenes are stunning and the indoor scenes are framed well, and have a great use of lighting. The excellent lighting made me notice that Ichikawa has a tendency for sweating characters, especially during the more intense scenes. Despite this, Ichikawa lacks any auteur trademarks, that make Imamura and Oshima masters.

  Overall I would definitely recommend watching 'Conflagaration'. It does the opposite of what so many films do ('Red Beard'), and it does it fantastically. Oh yeah, it also features the strangest reaction to a miscarriage in film history.


TO CONCLUDE
Don't be put off by its obscurity, it's a great film from beginning to end.

SCORE
80

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Silent Duel (1949)

  'The Silent Duel' (Shizukanaru ketto) is a 1949 Japanese film directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring Toshiro Mifune and Takeshi Shimura.

  Dr Kyoji Fujisaki (Mifune) is a surgeon, operating on soldiers in World War II. He contracts Syphilis from a patient while performing surgery by cutting himself with a knife soaked in the patients blood. There is treatment for the disease, but its close to incurable. Once home and working at his father's clinic, he tries to keep the disease a secret and refuses to tell his long-term girlfriend this. Troubles soon arise as he meets the infected patient he saved during the war.

  Akira Kurosawa is definitely the greatest director that has ever lived, directing 30 films throughout his long career. There is an incredible 26 amazing film streak, between 'No Regrets for our Youth' and 'Madadayo', not a single bad film was made in that period. All of those films have above a 7.0 on IMDB (to put that in perspective, Amanda Seyfried only has one film in her filmography with an above 7.0 score), and the 21 films I have seen of them range from good, to phenomenal. His smaller films are bound to be lesser seen, but some of them hold up to the big guns (I think 'Madadayo' is one of his best works). I have all four BFI boxsets, plus the DVD releases of 'The Idiot' and 'Ran', just in case you needed proof of how highly I think of him.

  'The Silent Duel' is near the start of his career, after 'Drunken Angel' and before 'Stray Dog'. It stars his two favourite actors, Toshiro Mifune, who has starred in 16 Kurosawa films, and Takeshi Shimura, who has starred in 21 of Kurosawa's films. The film is worth it for their brilliant acting, especially as the scene where they the son confronts the father is the best scene in the film. Their on-screen presence alone makes the film worth a watch.

  Kurosawa's directing is (of course) great, with some thrilling tension-building surgery scenes that are edited and framed perfectly. It's surprising to see he has developed some of his best techniques so early on in his career.

  The story of the film feels like a condensed 'Red Beard'. The majority of the action is set in a hospital that's not as exciting or beautiful as 'Red Beard', and the story lacks the epic scope Kurosawa is known for. The film plays out as a gripping, and overly melodramatic soap opera, which I got tired with way before the end.

  Although the film is far from his best works, it is still a decent and affectionate film.


TO CONCLUDE
Acted and directed by Japan's finest, but disappointingly ordinary.

SCORE
72

Monday, 9 June 2014

The Organizer (1963)

  'The Organizer' (I compagni) is a 1963 Italian film directed by Mario Monicelli and starring Marcello Mastroianni.

  The factory workers of a small town in Turin, Italy decide to go on strike to obtain better working conditions. They enlist the help of a professor (Mastroianni), who is passing through.

  Monicelli is different from other Italian directors, as his films don't focus the crazy and camp (Pasolini, Fellini), or harsh neo-realism (Rossellini), but rather Italian Comedies. They aren't spoof or slapstick, and use a mixture of crazy Italian archetypes, unusual situations (rebelling against authority) and sad endings. 'The Organizer' is a fantastic ensemble comedy, with a large cast and great acting.

  The film does feel, partially, like Rossellini's hard-hitting war trilogy, with the truths of poor living conditions shown explicitly. The characters include every Italian stereotype imaginable, including a crazy fat man, ladies with attitude, and loud children. The unflinching realism, matches well with the comedic characters and creates a funny and dramatic film. The narrative is linear and quite predictable, until the shock finale. Monicelli's films rarely end in happiness, so I should have expected the events of the end.

  The wonderful characters are acted by some of Italy's finest. Marcello Mastroianni is widely known as Italy's greatest actor (thanks to '8 1/2'), and he appears in films by some of the world's greatest directors including Altman, Angelopoulos, Petri, Visconti and, of course, Fellini. He might be the best aspect of this film. Even his presence in the film elevates it to a high standard. There can't be many actors who can play the part of a fish-out-of-water professor any better. The scene where he gives a speech to persuade the workers to strike longer, sent shivers down my neck. The first time this has happened for a speech scene in a film.

  The whole film is a resounding delight, even more enjoyable than 'The Great War'. It takes a while to get into, but when the characters are fully introduced and the professor arrives, the film is mesmerising.


TO CONCLUDE
An unexpected pleasure, that is powerful, funny and acted to perfection.

SCORE
80