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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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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Oh, My Bomb! (Kihachi Okamoto, 1964)

Eclipse LogoThe sixth generation boss of the Ona yakuza, Daisaku Ona, attempts to return to his old gang after three years in prison, only to discover that it has transformed into a corporation and that its new leader is campaigning as a candidate in the municipal election.  The deposed boss finds offense at his old gang’s abandonment of tradition and, with the help of his loyal cellmate and bomb-maker Taro, sets out to take revenge against his usurper with a brilliant idea – a bomb hidden within a fountain pen!  Based on Cornell Woolrich’s story “Dipped in Blood”, this tale of generational conflict and uneasy Westernization features a tour-de-force performance by its star, Yunosuke Ito, and is constructed by Kihachi Okamoto as a kind of slapstick musical merging broad comedy and black humor with an eclectic mix of musical and theatrical styles.

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The Kihachi Okamoto Touch

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.

Eclipse LogoKihachi Okamoto was a pioneer of New Japanese Cinema and a master of genre film, producing outstanding samurai films, gangster movies, and modern war epics, however his best films may have been a collection of comedies produced in the 1960s.  Ever the iconoclast, Okamoto used established genres like salariman comedies, yakuza films, musicals, and spy flicks to satirically examine modern Japan and its wartime legacy.  The four films collected here each bear the mark of Okamoto’s idiosyncratic style, employing elegant camerawork, black humor, and up-tempo, rhythmic montage to embody his humane and compassionately rebellious spirit – simply called the Kihachi Touch.

The Elegant Life of Mr. Everyman  (Eburi manshi no yûga-na seikatsu)

A lowly ad agency writer drunkenly promises two magazine editors he will create for them an impressive story and finds unexpected acclaim when he creates an autobiographical novella admitting his personal struggles and financial insecurities in post-war Japan.

Oh, My Bomb!  (Aa bakudan)

A slapstick, musical comedy, Oh, My Bomb! follows an elderly yakuza boss, recently released from prison, and his plan to assassinate a gangster-turned-political candidate using an explosive fountain pen.

Age of Assassins aka Epoch of Murder and Madness  (Satsujin kyo jidai)

Okamoto’s wildly hilarious spy spoof follows the efforts of a nebbish university professor, together with a confused car thief and a plucky female reporter, against an ex-Nazi mad scientist and his cadre of murderous patients.

The Human Bullet (Nikudan)

A conflicted kamikaze at the tail-end of World War II, floating in an oil drum and adrift in the Pacific Ocean to man a single torpedo, reflects on his efforts to enjoy his last days in this disorienting and savage anti-war satire.

With notes on the films by Japanese-cinema historian Chris D.

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