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!

Criterion Made Mine! The Tampopo Edition

868_dvd_box_348x490_originalCriterion’s April 2017 titles have been announced and in addition to Buena Vista Social Club (Wim Wenders, 1999), Woman of the Year (George Cuckor, 1942), and Rumble Fish (Francis Ford Coppola, 1983), Juzo Itami’s Tampopo (1985) has made its expected arrival to the Collection. Now MMC! can’t take all the credit for Tampopo‘s admission to the Collection, but I can’t help but note the upcoming Criterion edition includes The Making of Tampopo, Rubber Band Pistol, and a Nobuko Miyamoto interview and addresses the concept of seishin in Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos’ video essay. MMC! so rarely gets to pat itself on the back when Criterion makes its announcements, but I’ll say that MMC!‘s proposed edition from nearly four years ago had this.

Thanks Criterion! Now bring on Minbo: The Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion, A Taxing Woman, and A Taxing Woman’s Return!

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 the 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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A Taxing Woman (Juzo Itami, 1987) and A Taxing Woman’s Return (Juzo Itami, 1988)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents A Taxing Woman and A Taxing Woman’s Return.

criterion logoRyoko is Japan’s hardest working female tax inspector, a ruthlessly diligent investigator whose only match is Gondo, a “love hotel” owner and master tax evader.  Against a backdrop of stake-outs, searches, and a spectacular raid, this taxing woman and her clever prey test their respective skills of detection and deception, stirring their mutual sexual attraction.  Nobuko Miyamoto and Tsutomu Yamazaki give performances in the best tradition of romantic farce, resulting in a hit film for director Jûzô Itami and a darker, edgier sequel, A Taxing Woman’s Returns, that pits the title character against a religious cult leader and a complex conspiracy involving gangsters, politicians, and a prestigious construction project.

Disc Features:

  • New 2K digital restorations, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Introduction with Nobuko Miyamoto, star of the films and wife of filmmaker Jûzô Itami
  • Masayuki Suo’s 108 and 110 minute documentaries on the making of A Taxing Woman and A Taxing Woman’s Return
  • New interview with Jake Adelstein on the films, the Japanese yakuza, and Japan’s National Tax Agency
  • Theatrical trailers and teasers
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum

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Minbo: The Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion (Juzo Itami, 1992)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Minbo: The Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion.

criterion logoThe upscale Hotel Europa wants to attract government meetings and international summits, but it is infested with gangsters who extort millions from it through cons, intimidation, and implied violence.  Unable to tolerate the exploitation any more, the Hotel hires feisty attorney Mahiru Inoue (Nobuko Miyamoto) to advise the hotel’s inexperienced anti-yakuza task force, made up of a lowly accountant (Yasuo Daichi) and a bell boy (Takehiro Murata), and expel the gangsters once and for all.  Jûzô Itami’s classic underdog story is a feel-good comedy gem and a brave statement against the semi-official corruption tolerated by the Japanese public, a message that would make the filmmaker himself a target of yakuza violence.

Disc Features:

  • New 2K digital restoration, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Introduction by Nobuko Miyamoto, star of Minbo and wife of filmmaker Jûzô Itami
  • New interview with journalist Jake Adelstein on Minbo, the Japanese yakuza, and the death of Jûzô Itami
  • Rubber Band Pistol, Itami’s debut short film
  • Theatrical teasers and trailer
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS:  A booklet featuring a new essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum

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Tampopo (Juzo Itami, 1985)

criterion logoThe Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Tampopo.

The vow of two truck drivers to help the widow Tampopo with her modest noodle shop is just the start of Juzo Itami’s singularly hilarious political satire and intertextual genre mash-up.  The film’s strange brew of unusual characters and narrative asides includes gangster gourmands, food squeezers, pasta slurpers, vagabond foodies and some very kinky sex.  Lampooning conventional definitions of the Japanese identity with a joyful and eclectic embrace of individualist thinking, Tampopo bulges with social commentary while being a guaranteed recipe for provocative entertainment.

Disc Features:

  • New high-definition digital restoration
  • New Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack
  • New audio commentary with film scholar Tony Rayns
  • The Making of Tampopo, Toshiro Uratani’s 87 minute documentary
  • Juzo Itami: The Man with 13 Faces, Uratani’s 120 minute made-for-TV documentary
  • New interviews with actor Tsutomu Yamazaki and Itami’s widow and star actress Nobuko Miyamoto
  • Original teasers and trailers
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS:  A booklet featuring an essay by film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum and an illustrated guide to Japanese cuisine by Oishinbo writer Tetsu Kariya and artist Akira Hanasaki

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