Wednesday, April 18, 2007

April 18th Log

1960, Kaneto Shindo, Japan

1st Viewing, DVD

The Naked Island opens with a series of titles cards reading “Plough and reach to the sky. The dry soil. The difficult land.” So begins a film that takes us through the cycle of human experience. Directed by internationally acclaimed Kaneto Shindo the film is perhaps best described in the filmmakers own words by describing that it was made “as a cinematic poem to try to and capture the life of human beings struggling like ants against the forces of nature.” Telling the story of a small peasant family (a married couple and their two children) struggling to survive in an isolated island. The island is void of 20th century technology and most importantly is void of fresh water. Through a minimalist filmmaking style, The Naked Island captures the repetitive cycle of the daily chores, most notably the process of acquiring fresh water from the mainland. The film is not silent, but it is completely without dialogue. Rather then used a device Shindo uses silence as a rhythmic form of expressing the endless cycle of daily duties. Shindo masterful sense of editing and narrative flow make the film one that is equally poetic, simple, and powerful. It is a deeply moving film of human struggle but one that ultimately becomes a spiritual reflection through understanding and acceptance of existence. This is the film that gave Shindo the world recognition which lead to his long-standing career of unique and versatile work. The Naked Island is one of his most celebrated films, and it stands as essential viewing of Japanese cinema.

>> Here is a scene from The Naked Island:

Zhang Yimou, China / Hong Kong

1st Viewing, DVD

Zhang Yimou is one of the most internationally (if not the most) acclaimed Chinese filmmakers in the world. The Curse of the Golden Flower finds him finally reuniting with actress Gong Li, his former girlfriend who starred in seven of his films in the 80s and 90s (which essentially propelled both her and the director to international acclaim). While Zhang has made some very good films since his spilt with Gong, there is no doubt his masterpieces came with her. The re-collaboration is a sort of a dream come true for fans of Zhang or Gong. The end result to me is disappointing only if compared to the Zhang and Gong films of years past. If there are flaws they do not extend to the lea performances, especially that of Gong. She is in full “diva” mode here and has complete control over the performance. She really is remarkable. However, the film suffers from what many of Zhang’s recent work has in that it is overblown with style. Zhang has always had a great eye for visuals and colors and the film is undeniably spectacular on levels of visual and technique achievement. However it lacks the heartfelt emotional power simply because it seems at times overtly staged and artificial. This his Zhang’s third attempt with the epic CGI/digital action spectaculars and it may just be the least effective (or perhaps a notch above Hero). There is still much to admire in the way of visuals and Gong Li’s performance is captivating every step of the way. If for no other reason see this for Gong Li. If your looking for a dazzling film from Zhang I personally prefer House of Flying Daggers, but most of all I’d recommend his earlier, more emotionally intimate masterworks (To Live, Raise the Red Lantern, Ju Dou).


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