The Temple of Wild Geese (Yuzo Kawashima, 1962)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents The Temple of Wild Geese.

Ayako Wakao stars as Satoko, mistress to an accomplished artist who passes her along on his death to the lascivious head priest of a prominent Buddhist temple famous for its paintings of wild geese. She is drawn to a melancholy young disciple who also resides at the temple in similar dependence to the priest and who is treated cruelly for his efforts. Fascinated by the pitiable young man and aware of their similarly impoverished upbringings, Satoko seeks him out, slowly drawing him closer to her and unwittingly placing further strain on his tortured soul. Yuzo Kawashima’s film, exquisitely shot by cinematographer Hiroshi Murai, is a sharply observed exploration of moral weakness and a darkly ironic adaptation of Tsutomu Minakami’s 1961 semi-autobiographical novel.

Disc Features:

  • New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interview with critic, filmmaker, and festival programmer Tony Rayns
  • New program with Eric Nyari on the film and its restoration
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: An essay by film scholar Irene González-López and Tsutomu Minakami’s original story

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Elegant Beast (Yuzo Kawashima, 1962)

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

In this contemporary melodrama scripted by Kaneto Shindo, director Yuzo Kawashima creates a scathing depiction of greed and hypocrisy in a society facing rapid modernization and Westernization. The small apartment of the Maeda family is transformed by inventive and meticulous cinematography into a claustrophobic battleground where cheating, embezzlement, and corruption are natural occurrences and where the Maedas are turned from swindlers to swindled by a beautiful but mercenary accountant played by Ayako Wakao in a virtuoso performance. Little know outside of Japan, Yuzo Kawashima’s Elegant Beast is an underappreciated masterpiece in filmmaking and a bitter statement on what it took to get ahead in post-war Japan.

Disc Features:

  • New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New interview with critic, filmmaker, and festival programmer Tony Rayns
  • New program with Eric Nyari on the film and its restoration
  • Trailer
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: An essay by Japanese film scholar Tomoyuki Sasaki

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Trailer Tuesday

It’s another great month of announcements from the Criterion Collection and I’m very excited for Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man (1995), a film that I greatly enjoy even if I can’t ever seem to stay awake through it. This trailer is wonderful, showcasing Neil Young’s superb score, the film’s impressive cast, and my absolute favourite moment – Billy Bob Thornton’s complaints about his hair. Criterion’s edition looks great and even includes the amazing Iggy Pop reading William Blake’s poems.

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The Wife of Seishu Hanaoka (Yasuzo Masumura, 1967)

Eclipse LogoDomestic rivalry finds unexpected expression in Yasuzo Masumura’s The Wife of Seishu Hanaoka, the true-life story of the Japanese physician who first developed general anesthetic for use in 1804 and the women who competed to be his test subjects.  Hanaoka (Raizð Ichikawa) has little attention for his imperious mother (Hideko Takamine) and his dutiful wife (Ayako Wakao) while he searches for the precise formula for his herbal anesthetic.  Screenwriter Kaneto Shindo and director Yasuzo Masumura step away from the expected conventions of the bio-pic by focusing on the doctor’s spouse Kae, portraying her commitment and sacrifice to her husband’s endeavor as the truly heroic act of this dizzying tale of love and obsession.

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Seisaku’s Wife (Yasuzo Masumura, 1965)

Eclipse LogoIn this riveting examination of mad love and social obligation set at the eve of the Russo-Japanese War, Okane (Ayako Wakao) returns to the small village of her youth where she endures the scorn and rejection of the townsfolk with sullen distemper.  When Seisaku (Takahiro Tamura), the village’s “model youth,” returns from military service, the beloved patriot strikes up an unlikely romance with Okane, marginalizing himself in the process.  Based on a story by Kojiro Yoshida and written by Kaneto Shindo, Seisaku’s Wife is a sensual tale of rebel love and wild obsession standing against the strict military demands of Imperial Japan.

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A Wife Confesses (Yasuzo Masumura, 1961)

Eclipse LogoIn this complex and pessimistic melodrama, young Ayako Takigawa (Ayako Wakao) stands trial for the murder of her intolerable husband during a mountaineering accident.  Flashbacks of the incident reveal Ayako suspended between her spouse below and the young man she secretly loves who struggles to hold their safety line from above.  By cutting her husband’s rope, she saves herself and the young man, allows her husband to fall to his death, and breaches her cultural duties as both a climber and a wife.  Wakao beautifully reconciles the competing desires of love, sex, and death within her tortured character, while director Yasuzo Masumura skillfully crafts a noir-infused tale of dark passions and claustrophobic oppression.

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