Paprika

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Holy moly, what a film!

Paprika is another fabulous Satoshi Kon creation. It left me stunned by its mastery and left me wanting to figure out what exactly had I experienced.

I’m not a big anime fan so I don’t know much about the history or depth or breath of the art, but wow, Paprika took an art form to its limits. I never knew what to expect and while the basic story’s easy to follow, it’s till perplexing.

The story revolves around a group of psychologists who’ve developed a device called the DC mini that allows people to view another person’t dreams if they are also wearing a DC mini. Boy, I had no idea how bizarre some dreams might be. The technology gets out of the hands of its creators, who then go on a quest to protect this amazing invention, which has a purpose they realize isn’t only good.

From start to finish the film moves in and out of dream worlds that are colorful, boisterous, scary, and bizarre. Dr. Chiba, the lead female character is a very serious, very beautiful psychologist who’s often bickering with her obese, irresponsible colleague as they try to track down his assistant who’s taken the DC mini. Paprika is Chiba’s alter ego who mainly inhabits the world of dream. She’s a sexy, super girl, who rescues a cop who’s having a little existential crisis.

Yet Paprika is not a film about plot. It plays with plot and constantly twists and turns defying any expectations. It’s ultra cool and something any adventurous filmgoer should see. Once I get my VPN to work, I’ll find the trailer on YouTube and post it here.

Sepia Saturday

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This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt sent me looking for favourite old movie photos. I’m sharing images of some favourite international directors: Ozu and Kurosawa from Japan and Sacha Guitry of France.

You can find my reviews of Ozu films here, Kurosawa films here, and Guitry films here.

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Kurosawa

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Millenium Actress

I learned about this amazing animated film from Every Frame a Picture (below). Created by Satoshi Kon, Millennium Actress is a unique, dreamy film that tells the story of Chiyoko, an old woman who looks back on her life when a documentary filmmaker, Tachibara, finally convinces her to agree to being interviewed. Tachibara, who was always sweet on Chiyoko, presents Chiyoko with a long lost key, which like Marcel in In Search of Lost Time opens up a storehouse of memories. Then the story goes back in time in an incredibly imaginative way mixing flashbacks, dreams and daydreams to show why Chiyoko went against her mother to become an actress during WWII.

The story skips back in time to various times in Chiyoko’s life and further goes back to various periods in history which her films were set in. There are a few political messages, which like Kurosawa’s No Regrets for our Youth, criticise how Japan imprisoned those who disagreed with the war. Because Kon’s techniques are so innovative in how they harken back to the shape-shifting that’s a frequent feature of Japanese folktales (but you don’t need to know that to enjoy the film), the film constantly surprised and delighted me. Throughout the film, the current day filmmakers were present in the past and that technique was particularly intriguing and innovative — at least to me, a novice in the anime world.

This video by Tony Zhou is incredible and made me want to see Millennium Actress.

No Regrets for Our Youth

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Directed by Kurosawa, No Regrets for Our Youth surprised me as it’s the story of a young woman by a director whose prolific body of work otherwise emphasised male characters. The heroine Yukie is carefree and playful at the start of the film. She has no use for anything serious. The film opens with Yukie strolling through the mountains with her father’s university students. When they come to a shallow creek, she halts and waits for someone to rescue her.

Noge, a very political, man of action carries her across the water that seems about three inches deep. On the sidelines looking awkward is his friend Itokawa who has feelings for Yukie, but is too shy and unsure of himself to do anything. Yukie likes teasing men more than anything and  plays Noge and Itokawa off each other.

As political tensions rise in Japan leading up to WWII, Yukie’s father is fired by the government because he’s spoken out against military aggression. Made after the war No Regrets for Our Youth, contains several scenes with characters discussing the importance of academic freedom, free speech and the importance of self sacrifice when working towards a greater good. Both Yukie’s father and Noge, who is arrested and imprisoned pay for their ideals.

After seven years, Yukie leaves her hometown Kyoto, to work in Tokyo. Here she bumps into Itokawa who’s continued to play it safe. He’s a lawyer and is married. He’s kept in touch with Noge, who’s just been released. Now Yukie’s matured somewhat and when she sees Noge again she’s willing to give up a conventional life to risk life with a rebel.

Soon Noge is arrested and she’s imprisoned, questioned and eventually released. We’re not entirely sure of what Noge did with his underground work but he says that in 10 years the Japanese will thank him and Yukie. From then on Yukie’s life is full of hardship, hardship she voluntarily takes on despite protests from her parents and Noge’s parents. It’s amazing to see someone who was such a flibbertigibbet turn into an honest to goodness heroine.

While the film was made early in Kurosawa’s career and lacks the mastery of later films, No Regrets of Our Youth tells a compelling story and enlightened me on anti-war protests in Japan prior to and during WWII.

Kurosawa: Movement in Film

I’ve watched this engrossing, enlightening YouTube video by Tony Zhou of Every Frame a Painting, three times. He makes it clear how much more absorbing a Kurosawa film is than your average Hollywood film often due to the masterful use of movement.

What’s more, I enjoyed spotting the films I’d seen: The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail, One Wonderful Sunday, I Live in Fear and Ikiro.

The Only Son

An Only Son

An Only Son

My guess is Ozu can’t make a bad film. Though I’ve only seen a handful, from what I’ve read and seen, I think it’s impossible.

The Only Son (1936) tells the story of a poor boy who’s widowed mother doesn’t have enough money to send him to middle school. Only 9 boys in the class are planning to go. When the boy’s teacher obliquely urges her to see that her gifted son goes on to school, she finds a way to do so.

The film then jumps ahead to the boy’s adulthood. After college, he’s living in Tokyo. His mother surprises him with a visit and he surprises her with a wife and baby he never mentioned. In Japan this is quite a disgrace. Why wouldn’t you tell your mother you’d married? It makes her look like a bad mother. (And in the US it’s also not done.) She accepts her new daughter-in-law and dotes on her grandson.

Though he tries to hide it, his life has not worked out. He lives on the outskirts of pre-WWII Tokyo in a desolate area beside a factory. He’s scraping by teaching math classes at night. He can’t get a good job and has to ask his boss for an advance so he’ll have money to make sure his mother has a good trip.

What was all her deprivation for? Her son’s not even happy. The promise that education will lead to a good job, to security or prosperity, has not proven true. She brings this up to her son as they sit in a field of dried grass. He’s frustrated by the situation himself. He can’t and doesn’t argue with her. He has little hope and little motivation to succeed.

Yet a heroic act for a neighbor shows the mother that all isn’t lost and that her son, while he may never be rich, has a stellar character.

The film is stark and beautiful. The environment captures the characters’ plights. While the ending isn’t one you’d find in a fairytale, it’s authentic and powerful.

A Stitch of Life

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I got to see A Stitch of Life on the flight home from San Francisco. I was delighted my United plane had personal TVs because I used to find such good foreign films that way.

A Stitch of Life is a Japanese film about Ichie who’s taken over her grandmother’s tailoring business. A young buyer urges her to create a brand and for most of the film she refuses as a “successor’s role is to carry on the originator’s work.” So Ichie will only alter or rework her grandmother’s designs. Her grandmother made clothes that lasted a lifetime, dresses and suits people wanted to wear their whole lives. Every year she held a soirée for her customers and they came in their favorite clothes and danced.

The film slowly unfolds as the buyer persists in getting to know Ichie’s process and talent. While he’s a pest, he’s not a stalker. He’s entranced by her mastery, her art and feels she’s making a mistake in not creating her own designs, in not branding her works. He reveres her talent and the more he sees her world the more he realizes that mass marketing would ruin her. In her small, traditional workshop she not only creates art, she creates community.

In the end the film is about art and craft, and what we lose when an art or craft dies. It’s a powerful examination and elegy for traditional arts. Simply beautiful.

Ohayo/Good Morning

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In Ozu’s 1959 film Good Morning (Ohayo) two young brothers take a vow of silence when their parents refuse to buy them a television. Complications ensue when the neighbors and teachers read in all kinds of things into the silence. Gossip spreads and at one point to boys run away. The youngest brother, who’s probably 6, is particularly cute.

All in all, it’s a charming film that shows Japan on the brink of prosperity.

One Wonderful Sunday

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Kurosawa’s 1942 ironically titled One Wonderful Sunday should be called One Looooong Sunday. It just didn’t do it for me. The film depicts two young lovers on their weekly date in post-WWII Tokyo. Inflation is sky high and the couple just have 35 yen to spend. Times are tough as the woman’s shoes have soles that flap and holes. She can’t afford a winter coat and neither can he. Since they only can meet on Sunday, I assumed they both have jobs, which they never talk about.

Masako, the woman, makes every effort to stay cheerful, while despite some upswings in mood, Yuzo, the man reminds me of Eeyore, a real downer. Yuzo always sees the downside in every situation. Masako, would you really want to marry a man whom you’re forever bolstering and cheering up? Who does so little to support you?

At one point the couple tours a model home and he just complains about the poor craftsmanship, materials and high cost. Later we see where he lives. Hovel would be too kind. On the one hand, the gap shows how out of reach a good life is for the average Japanese worker at the time, on the other it showed me that nothing would every satisfy Yuzo, which is why time and again, I wanted to tell the smiling Masako to “Run!” Find someone who isn’t so needy. While some of his depression could be due to the emotional scars of serving in the war, Masako, it could just be how this guy is and he ain’t gonna change. That he just brought 15 yen for the day, while she had 20, can be taken symbolically as well as literally.

This sums the couple up completely

This sums the couple up completely

Masako and Yuzo had no plan for the day and ended up playing baseball with some kids, buying buns when the ball hit a bun shop, viewing a model house, meeting a homeless boy, looking for an apartment, visiting the zoo, trying to get into a concert (but scalpers bought the last of the cheap seats and Yuzo started a fist fight over that, which was understandable, but counterproductive), having tea, crying — a lot, pretending to own a café. Scenes were long — really long for me. I wished to see the couple in context because I never understood what Makasako saw in Yuzo, who seemed bipolar. The scene where Misako and Yuzo pretend to own a café, imagining the bombed out wasteland to be the site of the café was powerful. A later scene at the end when Yuzo pretends to be conducting the symphony they didn’t get to see fell flat. In that scene the depressed Yuzo gives up and Masako talks directly to audience pleading with them to clap so Yuzo’s dreams return. Evidently in Japan none of the audiences clapped. I don’t blame them at all. It was time for Yuzo to pull it together or Masako to wish him well and say goodbye.

Since Japan did flourish in the decades after this, perhaps I have too much knowledge that prevents me from liking One Wonderful Sunday . This two hour film was too long for me and Yazo infuriated me.

Ugetsu Monogatari

What a powerful movie! I just bought it because I thought a geisha film might be interesting. I had no idea that this Mizoguchi (see Life of Oharu ) film would be so entralling.

A fusion of two Japanese ghost stories and a story Guy de Maupassant, Ugetsu Monogatari tells the story of two brothers with obsessions that bring their families to ruin. One brother, low class farmer, dreams of becoming a samari; the other, a potter, dreams of making a fortune and showering his wife with luxurious presents. Given their low social status and the hierarchy of the day, both dreams are ridiculous.

Set in a time of civil war, pursuing these dreams results in the families’ destruction, one wife’s murder and the other’s rape and eventual fall into prostitution. Both men are shown as foolish and obsessed and they fall prey to ghosts as they ignore the warnings they receive.

Mizoguchi’s cinematography is exquisite and the composer’s music alluring. Mizoguchi uses cameras as no director I’ve seen does. Viewers are taken to a dreamy sometimes crazy world as they follow the brothers’ obsessions. The story is haunting, and acting, especially the actresses’ performances is quiet and powerful.

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I watched with the Criterion Collection commentary on, which helped me appreciate the story and production. I might not have realized that the princess was a ghost till the end as I lacked a knowledge of how Japanese ghosts operate. A Western ghost would not have been so subtly portrayed. This is definitely a movie I’d watch again.