Sansho the Bailiff

sansho-1

In exile

Directed by master director, Mizoguchi Kenji, Sansho the Bailiff is based on a Japanese folktale. I wasn’t familiar with the original tale, but got caught up in the film. It’s the story of a family of noble station. The father, who’s an official, gets into trouble for prioritizing the peasants. He’s taken away and his wife and young children, a daughter named Anju and son named Zushio must leave their home and go into exile. En route to their destination, a priestess meets them and tricks them so that the mother is taken to a brother and the children are separated and sold into slavery.

The principled father taught his children to always be merciful to the needy. Yet as he grows, Zushio forgets this lesson and as a slave brands another slave on the forehead to gain favor with the Bailiff. His sister scolds him for this heartless action, which is a catalyst for Zushio’s turn around.

best-kenji-mizoguchi-films

Mizoguchi

The mother laments the lost of her children and it’s amazing how they find she’s alive and how in the end Zushio finds her and does live by his father’s principles though it costs him dearly.

I didn’t realize that there was slavery in 11th century Japan. I found the film a wonderful history lesson as well as lesson in self-sacrifice. The film’s beautifully constructed and the Criterion Collection DVD comes with an enlightening commentary by an expert in film and Japanese culture. My only unanswered question was what was the role of a bailiff in medieval Japan. He held so much power compared to a bailiff today.

I highly recommend Sansho the Bailiff.

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My Beautiful Girl Mari

In the Korean animated film, My Beautiful Girl Mari, adult Nam-woo remembers his 12 year old self, who struggled with coping with his mom’s new boyfriend who’s awkwardly trying to win him over after his father dies. At school he encounters trouble from a bullying snarky girl. His one friend Jun-ho is even more bungling and awkward than Nam-woo, but Jun-ho is soon to leave for school in Seoul.

While at a stationery store with Jun-ho, Nan-woo discovers a magical marble while enables him to escape to a lyrical, pastel fantasy land inhabited by an ethereal blond girl. Yes, that sounds very non-PC, but it’s cool and Nam-woo does deserve some respite.

The film is quite realistic in portraying issues modern Korea teens face – uncertainty with fragile families, aging grand parents, and school bullies.

The art is done using Illustrator and has a simple look. It did look like something many people could achieve with a bit of training, but that’s not bad. I liked that the animators made the most of cost-effective tools. The scenery was authentic. I liked that in some instances the setting was an old, dilapidated light house. In American animation, everything seems so new and perfect. In My Beautiful Girl Mari most of the scenes just looked real.

This 2002 can be enjoyed by age 11 and up. Made in 2002, it proved that Korea has a lot to offer the world of animation.

Kedi

Even if you’re not a big cat person, I think you’ll find Kedi a fascinating film. A documentary set in Istanbul, where cats run free and the bipedal residents care and feed these nomads, Kedi looks at the relationship between the cats and people of the city.

I’ve never been to Istanbul and prefer dogs to cats, but I still enjoyed the mysterious, aloof felines and the people who respected them. The film consists of people’s views of the cats and their beliefs about the cats’ personalities and benefits. Many people offer very candid narratives, such as one man’s story of how he was down and out after suffering tragedy and how feeding the cats contributed to his turning his life around and becoming gainfully employed and starting a family.

The cats are beautifully photographed in all their regal grace as they move about the city, vying for dominance amongst themselves and adoration from the people. It’s an unusual film that I found curiously uplifting.

On My TBW List

TBR, i.e. To Be Read lists of books is a hashtag and a meme. They’re also real lists. Since there’s been a publishing industry, readers have had lists of books they want to read.

I haven’t seen this yet, but there should be TBW (i.e. To Be Watched or TBS, To Be Seen) Lists. Here’s mine. I’m posting this so I can throw away the miscellaneous scraps of paper I’ve collected in the last few weeks.

1. Like Someone in Love

2. A Kid with a Bike

3. The Petrified Forest

4. Public Enemy

5. The Silence of Lorna

6. The Son, a.k.a. Le Fils

7. Half the Picture

What films are on your list To Be Watched?

The Cave of the Yellow Dog

Filmed in Mongolia, The Cave of the Yellow Dog is a simple and powerful film that captured my heart. The actors aren’t professional. They’re real nomads who live in a yurt and live off the land.

The oldest daughter Nansal, age 6 or 7, returns from the city where she’s going to school and while exploring finds a black and white dog that she brings home. Her mother allows her this pet, but her father later objects. He’s worried that since the dog was living in a cave, he may have lived with wolves and could attract them. Namsal does everything in her power to keep this dog, even though wolves have been a threat to the flock, which is the family’s source of life.

The film was a marvelous look at a culture that I know little about. It’s colorful and compelling. I was amazed at how much autonomy and responsibility these young children had to look after each other and after the herd.

Many thanks to the librarians at Skokie Public Library for challenging me to watch The Cave of the Yellow Dog. I think you’d like this family-friendly film too.

If you like The Cave of the Yellow Dog, you’ll probably also like director’s first film The Story of the Weeping Camel. 

Wadjda

As I mentioned when I wrote about the must-see Loving Vincent, this week I asked for the Fall Film Challenge to suggest some “groundbreaking” films and received Wadjda, which depending on whom you talk to is the first or second Saudi movie to be made. In Saudi Arabia there are no movie theaters since films are prohibited (like a lot of other things).

Directed by a woman, Haifaa Al Mansour, who had to direct from a van via walkie talkie because passers by would make trouble for a woman giving orders to a man, Wadjda showed me what life is like for women and girls in the Kingdom.

Wadjda is an 11 year old girl who dreams of riding a bike, although it’s taboo because there’s a fear that a bike accident would affect a female’s virginity. That’s what they believe. Really. Nonetheless Wadjda is determined.

She’s a spunky girl, who though not defiant, just spirited gets in trouble at school a lot. The school is run by a principal who gets after any girl who isn’t covered enough, reads magazines or wears nail polish. Even being in the vicinity of such behaviors can get you scrutinized.

Wadjda’s closest friend is a cute boy, who’s about a head shorter than her. They strike a deal that if she lets him hang election materials for his uncle from her rooftop, she can ride his bike up there out of sight.

Wadjda gave me a look inside a Saudi family. Wadjda is an only child and while loved, something of a disappointment since she’s female. While her mother loves her father, who’s rarely home, she fears that the father will get a second wife to get a male heir.

There were no feminists other than possibly Wadjda in the film. Even the mother who wears jeans at home and works, is constantly scolding Wadjda for small “unload-like” infractions. Women were often looking at each other to judge any impropriety. The minute rules that must be followed to be considered a pure woman are overwhelming.

I was surprised that this oil rich country had such a shoddy middle class neighborhood. There were no sidewalks, new cars, or modern classrooms. Living conditions were on par with Indonesia. (Saudi Arabia’s GDP per capita is $20,890 vs. $3,817 for Indonesia). I wonder why the public roads and schools were awful in the capital city.

I rooted for Wadjda in her quest for a bike and would love to see this girl in other films. The plot took some unexpected turns for me. I’d say this is a groundbreaking film that anyone interested in other cultures should watch.

Here’s a reaction by a Saudi blogger to the film.