MMC! Double Feature #37: Tough Times in Japanese Supermarkets

MMC! loves a clever double bill and the Criterion Channel makes them a regular part of its programming. With this in mind, MMC! will be offering some suggested double features of its own and what better way to start than with a pair of great Japanese titles currently available on the Channel!

Yearning (Mikio Naruse, 1964)

One of the best films by one of Japan’s true masters of tragic melodrama, Mikio Naruse’s Yearning features Hideko Takamine as Reiko, a young widow devoted to the family of her husband who died during the Second World War. In his memory, she has rebuilt his family’s grocery store which was virtually destroyed in bombing raids, however a large grocery chain has moved in nearby and business prospects are looking dim. In this knot of traditional values and modern capitalism, Reiko must negotiate the unwanted attention of her young brother-in-law Koji (Yuzo Kayama), his plan to save the business and her place in their family, and her mother- and sisters-in-law who would prefer to disentangle themselves from her and move onto commercial fortune.

Supermarket Woman (Juzo Itami, 1996)

Juzo Itami frequently used his films to cast a critical eye on fragile Japanese masculinity and his 1996 romantic comedy Supermarket Woman is no exception, although he does swap out gangsters for the next worse thing: grocery store businessmen. In this vibrant and quirky story, Goro (Masahiko Tsugawa) is the manager of the struggling grocery store Honest Mart. His business is disorganized and uninspired, and it is under siege by Discount Demon, a rival supermarket undercutting Honest Mart with underhanded tactics. When Goro runs into old classmate Hanako (Itami’s wife and muse Nobuko Miyamoto), he hires the housewife to help him whip Honest Mart into shape and perhaps win this retail war!

Tissues on Aisle !

Both Naruse and Itami are looking to elicit some tears with their respective films, although one aims for sadness and the other hopes for laughs. Looking gorgeous in black and white widescreen thanks to the cinematography of Jun Yasumoto, Yearning pits traditional Japanese values and customs against the spreading ethics of capitalist ruthlessness and the film crushes its protagonist, Reiko, between them. In contrast, Itami’s colourfully comic Supermarket Woman supposes that old ideas of loyalty, honesty, and ingenuity can succeed in business and in life, making it a complimentary palette refresher following Naruse’s impressively wrought tragedy.

Enjoy these two films (and many more) for the low, low price of a Criterion Channel subscription! Just make sure to return your cart to designated collection area when you’re done!

A Place in the Sun (George Stevens, 1951)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents A Place in the Sun.

criterion logoBased on Theodore Dreiser’s landmark novel An American Tragedy, George Stevens’ A Place in the Sun is a swooningly noir-stained melodrama featuring Montgomery Clift as a handsome young man eager to win a place in respectable society. His ambitious dream seems to fall into place when he accepts a job offer from a wealthy relation and falls deeply in love with a beautiful socialite (Elizabeth Taylor), however a secret relationship with a factory girl (Shelley Winters) and her pregnancy threatens his future and inspires his murderous impulses. Called “the greatest movie ever made about America” by Charlie Chaplin, Steven’s film skillfully alternates between affluent, sun-washed romance and shadowy, fateful film noir, crafting an idealized vision of movie love against a sour portrait of the American dream and what lies beneath it.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • New 4K digital master with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary with George Stevens Jr. and associate producer Ivan Moffat
  • New interview with film critic Imogen Sara Smith
  • George Stevens and His Place in the Sun, a 20-minute documentary on the making of the film
  • George Stevens: The Filmmakers Who Knew Him, archival interviews with Warren Beatty, Frank Capra, Joe Mankiewicz, Rouben Mamoulian, Antonio Vellani, Robert Wise, Alan J. Pakula, and Fred Zinnemann
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Optional English subtitles
  • PLUS: An essay by film scholar Laurent Jullier

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You Can Succeed, Too (Eizo Sugawa, 1964)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents You Can Succeed, Too.

Sing, dance, and get ahead with You Can Succeed, Too, the closest Japanese cinema ever came to a full-blown Broadway-style musical! Set in a tourism company looking to secure a big American client in the run up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, an ambitious salesman (jazz drummer and comedian Frankine Sakai) and his handsome, undemanding colleague (musician and actor Tadao Takashima) struggle to negotiate love and business amid the pressures of a booming Japanese economy and the American-style changes brought to their department by the president’s daughter (Izumi Yukimura). Featuring music from avant-garde composer Toshiro Mayuzumi and lyrics by renowned poet and translator Shuntaro Tanikawa, director Eizo Sugawa creates a musical comedy in the spirit of Frank Tashlin’s Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? and Frank Loesser’s How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, celebrating and skewering Japan’s growing global profile with singing salarymen and dancing office workers.

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • High definition digital transfer with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary with actor Tadao Takashima
  • Audio interview with director Eizo Sugawa and actor Frankie Sakai
  • A History of the Japanese Musical, a video essay by Hieu Chau
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Gallery of promotional materials
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: An essay by film scholar Michael Raine and 1994 interviews with composer Toshiro Mayuzumi

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Maya (Raymond Bernard, 1949)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Maya.

Maya, a Hindu word describing magic and illusion, is embodied in Bella (Viviane Romance), a bewitching prostitute in an atmospheric port town who conjures the fantasies of visiting travelers and temporarily becomes the women of their dreams. The pragmatic Bella has no expectation of finding true love or leaving her profession until she meets Jean (Jean-Pierre Grenier), a passing sailor who saves her from the police and devotes himself to building a life with her, provided fate does not intervene. Based on Simon Gantillon’s successful play and produced by Viviane Romance herself, Raymond Bernard’s Maya deftly blends the styles and techniques of poetic realism, film noir, melodrama, and Cocteau-like fantasy to create a world of mystery and eroticism.

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Restored high-definition digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • “The Film That Made You,” a 1989 conversation between Viviane Romance and Louis le Roy
  • Interview with film critic Italo Manzi on the casting and distribution
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: Essay by filmmaker Guy Maddin

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Moonstruck (Norman Jewison, 1987)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Moonstruck.

In this award-winning, romantic comedy, Cher stars as Loretta, a widowed bookkeeper in Brooklyn who agrees to marry a mild-mannered man (Danny Aiello) even though she does not love him. Unlucky in love, she promptly falls for his estranged brother (Nicolas Cage), sparking a torrid affair with the moody, young man while her fiancé is absent at his mother’s deathbed. With wonderfully stylized dialogue by playwright John Patrick Shanley and a brilliant ensemble of supporting performances from Olympia Dukakis, Vincent Gardenia, John Mahoney, Julie Bovasso, Louis Guss, and Feodor Chaliapin Jr., Norman Jewison’s Moonstruck is a modern screwball classic and an operatic fable full of moonlit enchantment and the sweet charm of sugar cubes dissolved in champagne.

Disc Features:

  • New 4K digital restoration, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interviews with director Norman Jewison, writer John Patrick Shanley, and actors Cher, Nicolas Cage, Olympia Dukakis, and Danny Aiello
  • Audio Commentary featuring Cher, Norman Jewison, and writer John Patrick Shanley
  • A Night at the Opera, musicologist Marcia Citron on opera, La bohème, and Moonstruck
  • Remarriage Italian Style, scholar William Day on Moonstruck and the comedy of remarriage
  • Moonstruck: At the Heart of an Italian Family, a featurette on the making of the film
  • Music of Moonstruck, a featurette on the film’s score
  • Trailer and TV spots
  • PLUS: An essay by scholar Mary Ann McDonald Carolan

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White, White Storks (Ali Khamraev, 1966)

In an isolated and conservatively traditional Muslim village in Uzbekistan, a married woman, Malika, falls in love with a soft-spoken foreigner, Kayum, who has brought liberal Soviet attitudes and principles to the community, sometimes setting himself against the subordination of the town’s women by their male counterparts. Tensions rise as Kayum and Malika openly grow closer, raising the ire of Malika’s father and her husband as well as among those interested in maintaining the village’s old ways. A breakthrough film for Ali Khamraev, White, White Storks is a beautifully rendered docudrama that combines the textured honesty of Italian Neorealism, the family dynamics and tragedies of Yasujiro Ozu, and the poetry of Mikhail Kalatozov’s The Cranes Are Flying.

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