Benkei and the Porter

Review: The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (1945)

After writing about the BFI’s celebration of Japanese cinema earlier this month, it still took a little while before I renewed my subscription to the BFI Player and started indulging in some classic films. Over the weekend, I rewatched Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog, which absolutely holds up as a portrait of Tokyo in its sweltering summer heat, and that left me hungry for more of the director’s work. In truth, I didn’t actually expect much from The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail; I had a suspicion that the story around its banning in 1945 by occupying forces would be more interesting than the film itself. Fortunately, I was wrong.

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Ghost of Tsushima Impressions

Barring any late-breaking delays – and really, anything could happen with the coronavirus pandemic not going anywhere any time soon – 2020 will be the final year of the PS4. The final year of a platform is often when developers deliver their finest work, able to leverage a whole console generation of technical know-how. This summer just gave us two swansongs in quick succession: Naughty Dog’s gruelling The Last of Us Part II, closely followed by Sucker Punch’s samurai cinema-inspired Ghost of Tsushima.

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BFI Japan 2020

Looks a little quiet around here. I haven’t updated for months, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been keeping busy. Over on Letterboxd you can find my Lockdown List of the films I’ve been watching since the UK went into suspended animation.

It’s an eclectic mix, but extremely light on Japanese cinema – so how about something a little more relevant to this blog? Not so long ago, the BFI announced BFI Japan 2020 to celebrate Japanese cinema. I compiled their list of the best Japanese films since 1925 into another Letterboxd list (and if you’re looking for other critically acclaimed Japanese films, you’ll find links there to lists of winners of both the American and Japanese Academy Awards, as well as Kinema Junpo’s film of the year selections).

If you actually want to watch some of those movies, the BFI Player currently has collections of organised into “Classics”, “Cult”, “Yasujiro Ozu”, and “Akira Kurosawa”. You’ll find plenty of films I’ve reviewed earlier on Kino 893, including some personal favourites like Stray Dog, Female Prisoner Scorpion, and Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss.

Right now, with all the stresses of dealing with the pandemic, films are a welcome escape. Writing reviews can turn them into work, even if I enjoy analysing them, so I’m not going to hold myself to any update schedule just yet. Still, I’m not abandoning Kino 893. Not when I’ve still so many films to see.

LIFF 2019: The Lighthouse (2019)

With LIFF now over for another year, it’s time to catch up on the films from the second week of the festival. First up…

The Lighthouse

I’d been anticipating Eggers’ film since it started making waves earlier this year: I’m a big Willem Defoe fan, I’ve heard nothing but good things about Robert Pattinson’s post-Twilight career, and trailers hooked me with the moody, black and white visuals and rhythmic soundtrack. I’d also heard good things about Eggers’ previous film, The Witch, but as I’m only tangentially a horror fan I still haven’t gotten around to seeing it.

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LIFF2019: Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

My second film of the festival is being screened as part of the “Mother Cutter” exhibit showcasing female film editors (named after Verna Fields, editor of American Graffiti and Jaws, amongst others). Dziga Vertov’s landmark Soviet documentary – if it can be even called a documentary; it’s more of a pioneering visual experiment in presenting moving images without any framework like intertitles or narration – was edited by his wife, Elizaveta Svilova. Simply put, the film wouldn’t exist without her; it’s through her work that the myriad scenes shot across the Soviet Union are intertwined. She even features in the film, shown, naturally enough, cutting and splicing the frames of footage that make up the film itself.

I love the film, principally for the way it brings to life a lost era. It’s propaganda, of course, but it’s incredible to glimpse the Soviet Union as it wanted to be seen in 1929 – Vertov seems to delight in showing off public transport, industry, work, play. It’s fascinatingly egalitarian, intercutting between men and women at work, marriages and divorces, funerals and births.

It was also a pleasure to watch on the big screen, in the same way Juzo Itami’s Tampopo was at a retrospective screening last year. Man with a Movie Camera opens in a movie theatre, watching as the projectionist readies his reels, as the chairs are set and the crowds come in, as the orchestra prepares to accompany the film. It feels very similar to Tampopo‘s film theatre opening, where one of the characters speaks to the audience, who view the theatre as if looking in from the screen. Watching a film like that, one that plays with its theatre environment, feels very different when actually watched in a slightly rickety old theatre seen than on the sofa at home.

LIFF2019: The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil (2019)

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be checking out plenty that the Leeds International Film Festival has to offer, but as the majority of the films aren’t even tangentially related to Japan I won’t be reviewing them here on Kino 893. Instead, I’ll most likely be putting my thoughts up on Letterboxd, where you can find me as Korlis.

Gangster Cop Devil poster
The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil

First up was The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil from South Korean director Lee Won-Tae:

A slick, violent action-thriller that errs too far on the heavy-handed side to be truly great but is still a very fun ride built around Ma Deong-sok’s stellar performance as the titular gangster.

You can read the rest of my take here.

Leeds International Film Festival 2019

It’s November, which means the Leeds International Film Festival has returned to my city. Last year I wrote up a quick rundown on the Japanese films that would be showing. This time around, things are a little more subdued – there’s nothing as high profile as Hirokaze Kore-eda’s headline-grabbing (and later Oscar-nominated) festival favourite Shoplifters, for example, or the previous year that featured not only Takashi Miike’s 100th film Blade of the Immortal, but the prolific director’s 101st film, too.

Still, just because Japanese films aren’t being showcased in quite the same way doesn’t mean they aren’t featured across the two weeks of the festival. There are three anime features, with Studio Trigger’s visually acclaimed Promare and the latest film from Lu Over the Wall director Masaaki Yuasa perhaps representing some of the most anticipated of the festival’s Japanese catalogue. There’s also a Werner Herzog drama, a retrospective screening of Osaka Elegy (1936), and a couple of quirky looking features in the form of Five Million Dollar Life and We Are Little Zombies.

Jump below the cut for a breakdown of each film.

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Heatwave!

With my native UK sweltering in a heatwave that makes the weather more reminiscent of my time in Tokyo, what better time to revisit a hot and humid classic – Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog? Check out this breakdown from the BFI over how Kurosawa wields the weather in his films, with a shot by shot approach to the heat in Stray Dog.

Here’s my review – has it really been two years since I watched it? Time for a revisit of my own…

Coming from Kurosawa’s prolific early period, Stray Dog easily stands up next to some of his later classics. It’s a fascinating look at post-war Tokyo: the ruined city slowly coming back together, the American influence under occupation, the fashions of the late 1940s (including some truly outrageous collars). Yet the story itself is equally valuable; a gripping detective story and prototype for countless genre conventions.

Stray Dog (1949) – The Kino 893 Review

Review: Lake of Dracula (1971) & Evil of Dracula (1974)

A while ago – my reviews this year have been scattershot at best – I wrote a quick piece on The Vampire Doll, an odd Japanese horror film from 1970 that was the first of three loosely related, vampire-themed films Toho made in the early ‘70s. I didn’t particulaBloodthirsty Trilogy Coverrly care for The Vampire Doll, and it took me a while to get around to watching the remaining two films: Lake of Dracula (1971) and Evil of Dracula (1974). Like The Vampire Doll, they’re both directed by Michio Yamamoto, and all three feature a writing credit for Ei Ogawa. Unlike The Vampire Doll, these two films are actually about vampires!

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Two Decades of Ring

One of my favourite things to do recently is find cinemas screening older films I either missed the first time around or that I never had a chance to see on the big screen. Often this coincides with a big anniversary for a film, which means I had a chance to catch Alien for its 40th anniversary and Die Hard for its 30th. We’re just past the 20th anniversary of Hideo Nakata’s 1998 adaptation of Ring and Arrow Films have put out a stunning new restoration in collaboration with the original filmmakers. I picked up the box set they released that includes Ring 2, Ring Zero and the lesser seen Rasen/Spiral and while I haven’t checked them all out yet, I did manage to catch Ring at my usual cinema.

I ought to write up my experience revisiting the film after nearly twenty years – I’m fairly sure I haven’t seen it since the early 2000s, when I would have watched it on an old CRT. It’s perhaps the rare film that loses something in being on a giant screen, kind of the opposite of Tampopo and its wonderful opening sequence looking out from the ‘screen’ into an ’80s Japanese movie theatre. Even watching it at home on a Blu-Ray and a flatscreen television wouldn’t have the same impact. Whether or not I get around to writing a review, Dan Martin and Sam Ashurst of the Arrow Video Podcast have a great discussion of the film that I would highly recommend.