And So We Put Goldfish in the Pool (Makoto Nagahisa, 2017)

I’ve been catching up on short films lately and filling out my “Top Films of 2017” list. One favourite has been Makoto Nagahisa’s And So We Put Goldfish in the Pool (2017), the Short Film Grand Prize Jury Winner at Sundance earlier this year. The short follows Mayu (Reina Kikuchi), Tamiko (Rina Matsuyama), Ryoko (Marin Nishimoto), and Akane (Nina Yukawa), a quartet of rebellious sixteen year-olds unfulfilled in their hometown of Saitama and who release 400 goldfish in their high school swimming pool. Nagahisa aimed to emphasize “speed, dialogue, and sound” in Soushite watashitachi wa pûru ni kingyo o and the short draws quick comparisons to Edgar Wright for its exuberant style. For those won over Nagahisa energetic portrait of teenage apathy and cynicism, we encourage you to explore his previous works in music video and commercial film profiled on his website.

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Our Little Sister (Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2015)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Our Little Sister.

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Our Little Sister (Umimachi Diary) is a scenic and gently sensitive domestic drama that confirms its maker’s reputation as a great director in the tradition of Yasujiro Ozu and Mikio Naruse. Adapted from a popular Japanese comic book, the film concerns three twentysomething sisters – Sachi, Yoshino, and Chika – who live together in an old, large house in the seaside city of Kamakura. When their long absent father dies, they travel to a small countryside town for his funeral and meet their shy, teenage half-sister for the first time. Bonding quickly with the orphaned Suzu, they invite her to live with them and the four sisters commence a new life of tentatively joyful discovery. With documentary precision and picturesque elegance, Our Little Sister is a touching survey of love, generosity, and the weight of family histories.

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I, the Executioner (Tai Kato, 1968)

AV_Inferno_DVD_.inddMMC! rounds out this proposed Tai Katô set with another film from the director’s tenure at Shochiku and arguably the best work considered here – Minagoroshi no reika (1968), otherwise known as I, the Executioner or Requiem for a Massacre. Of course, you don’t have to take my word for it; Tony Rayns shouts his admiration for I, the Executioner loudly from the rafters of the Time Out Film Guide.

Up there with Oshima’s Violence at Noon and Imamura’s Vengeance is Mine as one of Japan’s most disturbing anatomies of a serial killer, Kato’s shattering film eschews suspense (it confronts male violence against women head-on from its very first shot) in favour of mystery. What links the murders of five women with the suicide of a 16-year-old delivery boy? Plodding cops (one with a bad case of piles) investigate, and solarised flashbacks eventually provide a denouement, but the near metaphysical ending ensures that the mystery somehow lingers. Kato anchors it in location-shot observation of Tokyo’s quotidian realities, which makes the unorthodox approach to questions of sexual politics all the more bracing.

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By a Man’s Face Shall You Know Him (Tai Kato, 1966)

AV_Inferno_DVD_.inddAfter emphasizing Tai Katô’s career with Toei, MMC! turns its attention to the director’s work with Shochiku studio. Otokonokao wa rirekisho (1966), also known by the astounding English titles By a Man’s Face Shall You Know Him and A Man’s Face Shows His Personal History, examines the grievances and burdens of post-war Japan through the lens of the bloody gangster film. Loud and short-tempered, Katô creates a man vs. yakuza tale that feels at once familiar and aesthetically irregular.

By a Man’s Face opens with its main character, Dr. Suichi Amamiya (Noboru Ando), standing in profile, a circular scar extending from the left corner of his mouth nearly up to his eye. In the background, his nurse asks of his intentions for his practice while construction equipment works outside his window, the post-war economic boom threatening to inevitably push him out of his current office. Amamiya’s prominent wound seems to declare the film’s title, although By a Man’s Face may also refer to the patient rushed into the doctor’s clinic. Emergency responders bring in a man severely injured in a motor vehicle accident, blood soaking through material of the stretcher transporting him. Amamiya refuses to treat the man, stating he has inadequate resources to save him, but his nurse pleads for him to intervene, pointing out that the prospective patient will surely not survive the ride to the closest hospital. Amamiya is firm in his view until he sees the injured man’s face, recognizing him as “Choi.” From there, the doctor begins treating Choi and their shared past is recollected in extended flashback sequences that attend to Japanese occupation and emasculation in the post-war context and the grievances held by Koreans brutalized before and during WWII.

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Fighting Tatsu, the Rickshaw Man (Tai Kato, 1964)

AV_Inferno_DVD_.inddMMC!‘s proposed collection of Tai Katô films continues with another exceptionally titled movie – Fighting Tatsu, the Rickshaw Man (1964). Adapted by Katô and Noribumi Suzuki from Gohei Kamiya’s novel, Shafu yukyoden – kenka tatsu (Fighting Tatsu‘s Japanese title) is a lighter take on the yakuza genre, injecting a romantic comedy into its story of mob politics and gang warfare. The film still manages its share of bloodshed, untimely deaths, and wild, riotous street fights to satisfy strict genre fans.

The movie opens in 1898 with scruffy and truculent rickshaw driver Tatsu (Ryôhei Uchida) arriving from Edo to Osaka ready to start his career with the town’s only rubber-wheeled carriage. Before even leaving the Victorian-designed train station, Tatsu bumps into a high-ranking official and gets into a brawl with him, his assistant, and his bodyguard. When told to mind his place and defer to the official, Tatsu proclaims that they live in a new era where all are “born equally now.” By these first few minutes, the film’s main character is immediately and perfectly defined – headstrong, independent, egalitarian, pugnacious – and no question is left as to how Fighting Tatsu will develop its dramatic conflicts.

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Cruel Story at the End of the Tokugawa Shogunate (Tai Kato, 1964)

AV_Inferno_DVD_.inddTai Kato’s Bakumatsu zankoku monogatari goes by multiple translated titles such as The Executioners and various permutations on Brutal/Cruel Story/Tale of the Shogunate’s Downfall/at the End of the Tokugawa Era/Shogunate. In this bundle of terms and referents are numerous evocations – institutionalized murder, mercilessness, the degradation that typifies a historical era’s demise, a retrospective view and an exemplum account. Made by Toei as a no frills genre picture, Tai Kato offers a daringly grim view of Japanese militarism and the radical lengths such top-down pressures drive individuals toward.

Hashizo Okawa, a handsomely baby-faced actor departing from more commercially agreeable fare, plays Enami, a naïve and unskilled samurai looking to join the Shinsengumi. During the mid- to late-1860s, the Shinsengumi acted as a special militarized police force devoted to protecting the Shogunate and, though valourized in some dramatic treatments as heroes, they are regarded by many historians as vicious death squads. Kato’s film prefers the historical view of the Shinsengumi, first introducing them as blood-drenched foot soldiers stoically overseeing the aftermath of some late-night operation on an urban street. Enami’s story commences with a savage try-out held for samurai aspiring to join the group, forced to display their swordsmanship against one another with wooden swords rather than bamboo ones, thereby inflicting grave injuries on each other. The savagery of these sword-fights and the shock of the injuries sustained leave many of the hopefuls in utter panic and Enami vomiting under a nearby tree.

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