Sunday, March 25, 2007

March 25th Log

2006, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan
1st Viewing, DVD

I can understand your feelings, but this is how I see it. If after living his whole life, your father left you nothing but hate, it would be unbearably sad.” Hirokazu Kore-eda may be the best filmmaker of contemporary Japanese cinema. With his fifth feature film (not including several of the documentaries he has made), Kore-eda gives us a unique perspective of the samurai film. Here the Bushido code of seeking honor through revenge is re-imagined with a charming and peaceful film. Set in the early 18th century, the story centers around a young Samurai (Soza) who has moved into a poor village to fulfill his fathers final request to avenge his death. Soza wants to avenge his fathers request and ultimately financially secure his family, yet he does not process the fighting skills of a samurai. Above all Kore-eda is making a film of anti-violence and the endless cycle that comes through violence. Hana is a humanist samurai film. One of gentle compassion, and humor. The result is a beautiful and charming film to celebrate and embrace. This is quite a departure not only of the genre, but for Kore-eda, whose previous films dealt with philosophical expressions of death and memory. Of course, his trademarks are still evident, most notably in the compassion and celebration of the human spirit. Hana also captures Kore-eda’s stylistic sense of expression with sounds and visuals (most particularly the use of close-ups of hands and feet). On a narrative level the film has some flaws or some un-evenness. However, this never really effects the gentle charm of the film and maybe only heightens it. While Soza remains the focal point of the film, Kore-eda begins to establish his relationship with the villagers and at times the film goes into different directions with some of the characters. Kore-eda keeps the tone smooth through the film and we really begin to engage ourselves with these characters and the small little details of their lives. I found the film to be highly engaging because you truly care for these characters (each wonderfully played by the entire ensemble cast). Kore-eda has made a samurai film that is about peace and about community. It speaks of humanity and is full of humor and energy. Though light-hearted and gentle, I found Kore-eda’s film to be one that connects on a deeply spiritual level of peace and togetherness. Perhaps not on the level of his greatest works (After Life, Maborosi, Nobody Knows), Hana is another great film from a highly original filmmaker.

2003, Takeshi Kitano, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

The popular Japanese director/writer/actor Takeshi "Beat" Kitano returns to more familiar genre (if that's what you want to call this) with his latest film Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman. Many of Kitano's elements are here: violence, irony, sentiment, unique sound and editing techniques, slapstick humor (ala Buster Keaton), and of course blood. However, here the exaggerated spurts of blood are shown in a graceful and poetic style. Kitano made the blood CGI, which makes it look fake, but it's intentionally done as if to give it a life of its own. Kitano also features his usual dead-pan acting approach which results in some pretty humorous moments. Akira Kurosawa as well as the American westerns he influenced, certainly are referenced numerous times throughout. The film wraps up with the type of odd, exciting and clever conclusion you'd expect from Kitano. A musical song and dance sequence that's both head-scratching and absolutely joyous…. In fact, I absolutely love the ending (even more so on this my second viewing of the film)!!

2005, Yamada Yoji, Japan
Repeat Viewing, DVD

This is the second film of Yamada Yoji's 'Samurai Trilogy' (which began with the acclaimed 2002 film Twilight Samurai). Like Twilight Samurai, Yamada expresses themes of love, friendship, honor, betrayal. Also Yamada distances the film from the violence instead capturing a simplistic realism. His focus is above all on the inner psychological battle. This approach leads to a more emotionally felt climax of battle. Yamada has been making films for nearly 50 years (many of which are part of the Tora-san series, which is beloved in Japan and has spanned 26 years and included 48 films). Yamada is master storyteller who's films are heart-warming, beautiful, and deeply affectionate. Yamada's films blend melodrama, romance, and longing with such a sense of simplistic, creative, and sensitive methods to make his films so emotionally involving and timeless. The Hidden Blade has an old-fashioned look and feel in recreating a 19th Century Japan of chaos upon embracing to the West. It is this historic connection that lies in the metaphoric core of the film. I put this film alongside Twilight Samurai as a great work that is not Yamada's very best but remains a beautifully constructed narrative and emotionally involving epic. I look forward to Yamada's continuation of this series.


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