Saturday, March 31, 2007
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary (Guy Maddin, 2002)
Guy Maddin seamlessly blends Bram Stoker's Dracula narrative with ballet, the silent film style, as well as a more contemporary style of frantic fast paced editing and free flowing camera movements; an absurdly awesome film experience.
Hana yori mo naho (Hirokazu Koreeda, 2006)
Hirokazu Koreeda's film Hana (2006) is an atypical jidai-geki film. Most of the elements are in tact, such as archetypical characters, and familiar iconography. There is Soza, a samurai seeking revenge for the death of his father, the lovable town fool, Sadasa, the wiser elder, the subplot of Sobesan who is separated from his love, only to find out she has married the land lord, and the two lonely old folks who find comfort with each other and move in together. Despite these familiar stories and characters, Hana deconstructs "the way of the samurai." The main character, Soza, never avenges his fathers death by way of the sword, as his uncle informs him in one particular scene "revenge is not the only way to show devotion." Soza, is in fact rather inept to fight. Several scenes challenge the usefulness of the samurai during the times of peace they are living in and begs the question "Why do samurai exist?". Sobesan, a wreckless and amateur fighter, uses cheap tactics to defeat and embarrass Soza in front of many onlookers, in order to prove the uselessness of his fencing abilities in reality. Sadasa remarks soon after this scene that "the samurai revenge thing is out of style, besides with your skills, you're doomed." Another telling scene was when the samurai kids are bullying the peasant kids. They samurai children claim that they were born better than the others, while Yoshi replies by yelling, "Who says so? What's so great about being a samurai?"
Soza's weakness is a definite reveresal of expectations for spectator's used to watching classic samurai films. Everyday comedy of reality is used throughout the film such as the character's having difficulty closing the sliding doors. These sorts of trite situations are not typically explored in this genre especially. The genre itself is a means of creating nostaligia. Anyone who has seen some of Kurosawa's films can't help, but be reminded of Yojimbo, or Sanjuro because of the the comedy, the unkempt and abnormal nature of the hero played by Toshiro Mifune, and the samurai's use of wits to succeed. I also noticed Koreeda used frame wipe transitions in several instances, which Kurosawa commonly used in his films. Aside from the nostalgia of the cinema, this film creates a feel good familial bond towards the end, and perhaps can create a feeling of nostalgia reminding viewers of fond experiences.
It is not simply Soza's inabilities with a sword that prevent him from avenging his father's killer, as he has the opportunities to do so, but rather his struggle with the moral and ethic implications of it. We see several point of view shots of his "enemy" with his wife and child. These shots are meant to portray Soza's sympathy as well as inspire pathos for the audience. Soza has a conversation with his brother when he returns to his tribe. His brother informs him that "pity and and emotions have no place in a samurai's heart." In the end Soza decides human values are more important to him than the samurai code. Instead of killing a man he doesn't even know and passing on the hatred his father left him to his "enemy's" family he cleverly stages a revenge play in order to make it appear as though he avenged his father's death and collect his inheritance.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Fast Food Nation (Richard Linklater, 2006)
Maybe I'm just a pessimist, but I found the rancher's bleak outlook of the growth machine taking over coupled with Bruce Willis' monologue summarized with "We all have to eat a little shit from time to time" more based in reality than Ethan Hawk's preachy "keep hope alive...unity will lead to a change for the better" speech. It's great to believe in something, but is America really that naive to the evils of capitalism and the less than satisfactory sanitary and working conditions in the food industry? The narrative itself was rather weak, which is somewhat excusable since it was fabricated and adapted based on the nonfiction book, but this brings into question why the film was even made. I respect the unconventional nonfiction into fiction adaptation attempt, but perhaps a documentary approach would have been the best option here. The inevitable killing floor scene and conclusion of the film were at least pretty good. The ironically disgusting thing is this film made me really hungry.
Friday, March 23, 2007
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Saturday, March 17, 2007
City Lights (Charles Chaplin, 1931)
The boxing scene has to be one of the greatest comedic sequences of all time. The score which was also composed by Chaplin is brilliant and the ambiguous ending for such a mainstream film of the era is amazing as well.
Zebraman (Takashi Miike, 2004)
Takashi Miike’s Zebraman (2004) is an interesting mixture of comedy and the superhero film. The main character Ichikawa is a school teacher who is disrespected by his students, faculty, and even his own family. His daughter intentionally disobeys his orders and says it’s his fault that his son Kazuki is bullied at school, while Ichikawa’s wife is unfaithful. Ichikawa takes solace in escaping in his fantasies when he makes a costume and dresses up as Zebraman, his favorite 60s television show hero. His dreams soon become real as he gains super powers and must combat aliens.
Instead of strictly mocking or parodying the superhero genre, Miike instead pokes fun here and there, but doesn’t rely entirely on the comic aspects to carry the film. Although there is some overt slapstick comedy, some of the comedy is a bit more subtle, such as The Ring parody on the superhero television show Ichikawa is watching early in the film or the absurdity of the Zebraman song lyrics “he makes black and white clear” or even his ridiculous special moves the “Screw Punch and Zebra Kick.”
So while the audience knows not to take this film too seriously, the narrative still depends on the drama of watching Ichikawa’s pathetic character achieve his dreams and save the world. Despite all of the campy elements and comical scenes, Zebraman plays out more like a lighthearted nostalgic homage to the genre than a satire. Like all classic Japanese superhero shows, Zebraman has a theme song, and special maneuvers he uses in combat as I mentioned before. During the final battle he must overcome his inability and doubts about being able to fly to fight a gigantic alien blob.
Ichikawa undergoes the inevitable Henchi transformation. During this scene, a light emits from the Z on the Zebraman costume and his cape begins to blow in the wind. Zebraman then spins in the air, and lowers his cape to reveal the costume change. The camera cuts to his feet and tilts up showing his once tattered homemade costume is now flashy and new. The music helps to punctuate the drama of the scene as rock music consisting of electric guitar and drums is cued up. After some dramatic words of encouragement and a miraculous demonstration from Asano the crippled boy who stands up, Zebraman finally flies and transforms once more. This time he transforms into an actual winged zebra and shoots a ‘Z’ into the alien, thus defeating him.
This films major intent is entertainment, but there are also some darker more serious issues addressed, which make it hard to write off as a simple comedy or superhero film. For example, we learn Asano’s father committed suicide which lead to his paralysis. The deterioration of Japanese society is also addressed in several scenes as well as Ichikawa’s daughters sexual deviancy, and his own desires of infidelity. The most overt and albeit cliché message that is really beaten over our heads, as it is reiterated by several different characters throughout, is to “believe in your dreams” and “do your best.”
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Saturday, March 10, 2007
Friday, March 09, 2007
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Yamato (Junya Sato, 2005)
In class we discussed the reemergence of hypermasculinization within Japanese contemporary films and especially within the war film genre. When watching Yamato I couldn’t help but think about symbols of hypermasculinization. For starters there are very few female characters in the film. Aside from Uchida’s daughter during the present time narrative, Taeko and the mothers of Kamio and Nishi are the only females I recall, and they are really just one dimensional characters who are dependent upon the money their sons send home. The Yamato itself is a giant phallic symbol containing 3,000 men and various other phallic symbols (canons, machine guns, bullets, shells, missiles, etc.). The soldiers are depicted as noble men who willingly sacrifice their lives for the greater good of their country. The filmmaker in fact beats us over the head with this theme. We see 15 year old boys joining the fight and even Taeko volunteering to work in an ammunition factory. In one scene a soldier who has been pardoned to return home turns down his opportunity, in another the group of soldiers pledge “we are fully prepared to give our lives.” One of my favorite moments depicting such dedication took place during the Battle of Leyte when the wounded soldiers were using their crutches to mimic firing guns at the enemy planes. Before the final battle at Okinawa, when the Japanese have basically conceded that the Yamato will be a a necessary sacrifice towards the war effort in order to prevent even more death, Mariwaki delivers a speech saying “defeat brings understanding, and is necessary to save Japan.” The emphasis on cooperation for the greater good is emphasized through shot compositions as well. A lot of shots include groups of soldiers rather than singled out individuals. For instance when the soldiers go on leave, the camera isn’t focused on Kamio or Nishi, but rather a long shot is employed showing a group of about ten men. We see this same technique throughout, including when the young men are huddled together in boats and getting their first glimpse of the massive ship and staring at it in awe.
Each of the major characters in the film sacrifice more than just their lives. Uchida sticks up for bullied cadets, and sneaks aboard the Yamato and continues to fight despite losing his eye. Kamio sacrifices his youth and leaves his family behind to join the war effort. He also takes the blame for a mistake another cadet made to prevent the entire group from being punished. To coincide with this noble ideology or war and sacrifice, the musical score is overtly romanticized and melodramatic as well. All of these techniques used to glorify the Japanese defeat helps to explain to the spectator as well as to the characters, Kamio and Uchida’s daughter the importance of the bonds these men formed, the noble group sacrifices they made together, and why the anniversary celebration of the sinking of the Yamato is so important.