Living in Leeds as a film fan has its perks. The city has a long historical association with filmmaking, and annually hosts the Leeds International Film Festival, celebrating films from across the world. Despite living in the city for over a decade now I only started attending the festival in recent years, but it’s quickly become an annual tradition of my own. Every year I enjoy looking through the programme, keeping a particular eye out for Japanese cinema. 2020 has disrupted this yearly ritual as much as anything else. LIFF2020 is smaller, with fewer feature films on the programme, and split between some of its usual venues and a new online player.Continue reading “LIFF2020 Programme”
I don’t always write about Japanese cinema. This week I have a piece on fanbyte covering the uncomfortable relationship between Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and some of the real-life veterans featured as playable characters:
Most of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s “operators” are wholly fictional characters created for multiplayer and Warzone battle royale. A few are drawn from the game’s narrative campaign. A handful, though, are modeled closely on real life figures. I wanted to know more about the people these characters were based on, and investigating their background took me on a strange journey into the marketing of tactical training and equipment — and what it means when that marketing makes it into one of the biggest gaming franchises on the planet.
Back when I started this blog, I was trying to keep a record as I began to explore Japanese film in greater depth. I was someone who had spent a significant chunk of their adult life either living in or studying Japan, but Japanese cinema was a blind spot for me beyond a handful of films. I started by going straight to Akira Kurosawa, whose name is still synonymous with Japanese cinema, but I’ve still barely scratched the surface when it comes to other giants of the past – those directors like Yasjuiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi, Kon Ichikawa, and Mikio Naruse whose names and careers are often linked, like in this feature from the Toronto Film Festival.
Ozu is particularly fascinating to me in the way he straddles the silent and sound eras, and in that many of his earliest works are now lost. The earliest known surviving film of his is Days of Youth from 1929: a gentle, slow-paced comedy following two university students (Ichiro Yuki and Tatsuo Saito) as they vie for the attentions of Chieko (Junko Matsui).Continue reading “Review: Days of Youth (1929)”
This week, officials unveiled the logo for the forthcoming 2025 World Exposition – and Japanese social media is delighted with the result. The red, ring-shaped mass of eyeballs and blobs has immediately been compared to a kaiju, the giant monsters of Japanese cinema fame, with Twitter users immortalising it in art.
Per the Mainichi, graphic designer Tamotsu Shimada was quoted as saying, “Like the Tower of the Sun … we wanted to create something that was unique and has impact.” The Tower of the Sun, a huge sculpture by artist Tarō Okamoto, was built for the last World Exposition to land in the city, all the way back in 1970. Though most of the expo park is long gone, the Tower of the Sun still looms over the area.Continue reading “Osaka Loves Kaiju”
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.Continue reading “Review: The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (1945)”
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.Continue reading “Ghost of Tsushima Impressions”
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.