Shura (Toshio Matsumoto, 1971)

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

Experimental filmmaker and critic Toshio Matsumoto followed up his queer opus, Funeral Parade of Roses, with a “mere” samurai film, yet underneath its seemingly traditional surface lurks just as many subversions. In Shura, a samurai poised to join the famous 47 ronin and avenge the death of his master becomes distracted from his duties by his love for a lowly geisha, who in turn betrays him. Driven mad by his desire for vengeance, the samurai embarks on a bloody path of revenge marked by riveting intensity, a nightmarishly black aesthetic, and an uncertain blurring of fantasy and reality. A Borgesian satire in the guise of samurai horror, this nocturnal masterpiece is one of the darkest films of its era, both visually and politically.

Disc Features:

  • New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interview with critic, filmmaker, and festival programmer Tony Rayns
  • Security Treaty, a 1959 short film by Toshio Matsumoto
  • For My Crushed Right Eye, a 1969 installation piece by Matsumoto
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring essays on the film by Matsumoto and Nagisa Oshima, director’s notes, and an essay by Japanese film scholar Hirofumi Sakamoto

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Trailer Tuesday

Let’s kick off this “Trailer Tuesday” with the Janus Films trailer for Jackie Chan’s two Police Story films. This sizzle reel for every wild stunt and action sequence in the two movies is as thrilling as they come. I had never really imagined that a future Criterion release would boast “NEW ASS-KICKING 4K RESTORATIONS” but here we are and I’m grateful for it. These films arrive to the Collection on April 30 so start hydrating now!

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The Bodyguard (Ali Khamraev, 1979)

When a Red Army detachment captures Sultan Nazar, the leader of a Basmachi contingent opposing Soviet forces, a decision is made to urgently escort the prisoner to the neighboring Bukhara province. The difficult mission is entrusted to Mirzo, an experienced mountain trapper and conscientious revolutionary whose expertise is essential to traversing the precarious paths and steep mountain ridges along the way. Mirzo, his brother Kova, the Sultan, his daughter Zaranghis, and his slave Saifulla set off on this journey, pursued doggedly along the way by Fattobek, the ruthless new head of the Basmachis, a cadre of loyal fighters, and his prophetic wife, Aibash. Recalling the Western psychodramas of Anthony Mann, The Bodyguard is yet another of Ali Khamraev’s harshly beautiful and action-packed Easterns.

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The Seventh Bullet (Ali Khamraev, 1972)

The Seventh Bullet is set after the Russian Civil War as Soviet power established itself in Central Asia and as opposing Basmachi rebels cross the border bringing death and destruction to peaceful villages. Local militia leader Maksumov struggles in his campaign against Basmachi warlord Khairulla who has captured most of his men and won them to his side. With little other option, Maksumov gives himself up in hopes of being reunited with his men and winning them back to the Revolution. Ali Khamraev’s take on the Red Western was an international hit, featuring rollicking action, reassuring heroism, and an unstoppable performance by its star, Suymenkul Chokmorov.

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The Rugged Odysseys of Ali Khamraev

Eclipse is a selection of lost, forgotten, or overshadowed classics in simple affordable editions. Each series is a brief cinematheque retrospective for the adventurous home viewer.

An artist of rock-solid humanism and amazing expressive power, Ali Khamraev is a giant who sits astride the history of Uzbek cinema. A graduate of Moscow’s Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography in 1961, he went on to make more than thirty documentaries and twenty feature films – criss-crossing between romantic comedies, Western adventures, political dramas, TV mini-series, and art cinema. Through them all, Khamraev engages in the unveiling of traditional Muslim Uzbekistan and expresses a faith in the modernizing influence of Soviet values and technology. A wizard with landscapes and an instinctual expert of social dynamics, Ali Khamraev is truly an underappreciated master of world cinema.

White, White Storks (Belye, belye aisty)

Influenced by Mikhail Kalatozov’s black-and-white classic The Cranes Are Flying, the Italian Neorealist movement, and the interpersonal dramas of Yasujiro Ozu, Ali Khamraev traces the impossible romance of a married woman and an unconventional outsider in a small, traditional Uzbek village called “White Storks.”

The Seventh Bullet (Sedmaya pulya)

Set during the Central Asian revolts of the 1920s, a Red Army commander allows himself to be captured by a Basmachi warlord to reunite with his imprisoned battalion and lead them to victory in this Western-inspired adventure in the Soviet frontier.

The Bodyguard (Telokhranitel)

A grizzled mountain trapper and a conscientious revolutionary are tasked by a Red Army unit with the difficult task of transporting a captured sultan, along with his daughter and his loyal servant, through a harsh mountain landscape to a neighbouring province while pursued by a ruthless Bashmachi warrior.

Triptych (Triptikh)

This modernist political melodrama set in a small northern town in 1946 follows three women struggling with the social constraints of post-World War II Uzbekistan: an illiterate girl who wants to build a house on her own, a school teacher aiming to bring progressive ideas to the villagers, and an old woman kidnapped in her youth by a poor peasant and forced into marriage.

I Remember You (Ya tebya pomnyu)

In this semi-autobiographical meditation on the past, an adult son’s journey from Samarkand across Russia to find the grave of his father becomes a poetic voyage into his subconscious memory and an exploration of intersecting Uzbek and Russian traditions.

With notes by Kent Jones

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Trailer Tuesday – A CFF Preview

With the Chattanooga Film Festival just over a week away and with a stacked program stuffed into only 3½ days, careful planning and difficult prioritizing is required to get the most out of this year’s CFF. MMC! takes this opportunity to celebrate this year’s bounty and offer a quick preview of the CFF with a “Trailer Tuesday” devoted to making some hard choices.

1. Lowlife vs. Madeline’s Madeline vs. WTF

The CFF’s opening block of films is a doozy, programming Ryan Prows’s wonderful Lowlife opposite Josephine Decker’s Sundance darling Madeline’s Madeline and the WTF (Watch These Films) block of short films. I’ve already expressed my admiration for Lowlife, which is both an excellent pastiche of 1990s New Hollywood Violence and a canny take on MAGA-era America, and with director Ryan Prows in attendance for a Q&A and Carey Williams’ short Emergency accompanying it, that’s a hard to miss screening. Madeline’s Madeline came out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival with great reviews, reportedly a coming of age drama/experimental film about a young actor who joins an acting troupe and immerses herself in her current role rather too deeply for comfort, and the WTF block of shorts has some really intriguing titles including Laura Moss’s Allen Anders, a found footage presentation of a notorious stand-up performance from 1987, and John F. Beach and Jonathan Hoeg’s The Accomplice, about a man who discovers his unwitting participation in a bank robbery through a series of answering machine messages. All of these screenings reappear later in the CFF schedule, but that doesn’t really make the choice any easier!

 

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