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)”
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.
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 particularly 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!
Every now and again I stumble across a film whose premise is so fascinatingly odd that I just have to see it. Japan’s Toho studio reacting to the success of British Hammer horror in the 1960s and putting out a loosely connected trilogy of Dracula-inspired vampire films? Sign me up. Like many of the more oddball Japanese titles I watch this came via Arrow Films, who put out a Blu-Ray collecting all three of the so-called ‘Bloodthirsty Trilogy’. I picked it up when I saw it in the January sales and then promptly forgot about it until indecisively browsing for something to watch on a chilly February night. This long-winded preamble to me sitting down to watch The Vampire Doll (1970) is, sadly, probably more entertaining than the film itself.
After being so pleasantly surprised with The Tale of Zatoichi and in particular Shintaro Katsu’s endearing performance as the titular blind masseuse and master swordsman, I was keen to continue my “Zatoichi-gatsu” and watch the next entry in the series. I was also a little nervous: the series stretched to twenty-five films between 1962 and 1973, not counting later entries and remakes. Surely the quality would not be maintained for the duration, so it was just a question of when the drop would come. It was also not obvious whether a sequel would be an original story or merely a rehash of the first film; in watching many ongoing series from Japan’s 1960s and ‘70s like Outlaw Gangster: VIP or Lone Wolf and Cub, it’s clear that each film in the series follows a fairly rote formula, often with the same cast returning in “new” roles. Would The Tale of Zatoichi Continues (1963) buck that trend, or mark the start of a more formulaic martial arts film?
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me a third time — and I’m pretty sure I’ve lost all moral high ground. In Godzilla: The Planet Eater, Netflix and Toho team back up to bore the ever-loving god out of me for a third and, hopefully, final time. Any wishful thinking that the third instalment might magically turn around the series after two utterly lethargic entries was misguided, and my hopes were very quickly dashed as The Planet Eater settled into a familiar rhythm of characters no one could possibly care about reciting pseudo-philosophy no one could possibly understand. Every criticism I’ve ever levelled against the series, from the stilted animation to the lack of action to the awful dialogue still applies. Nevertheless, I powered through and watched it, so here’s my review.
Tokyo Mighty Guy • Danger Pays • Murder Unincorporated
Earlier on the site, I reviewed three films from Nikkatsu’s golden years in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Presented in Arrow Films’ Nikkatsu Diamond Guys Collection vol. 1, I found Voice Without a Shadow to be a decent early taste of Seijun Suzuki, but Red Pier and The Rambling Guitarist were both pretty forgettable, aside from the latter’s unusual Hakodate setting. So when I sat down to watch the films from vol. 2, I wondered whether it was worth digging into each film with a meaty review. I could just binge all three, I figured, and recreate the feeling of watching what I expected to be pretty ephemeral, throwaway pieces of entertainment in the 1960s.
The irony is that vol. 2’s films are much more entertaining and stand out from a crowded field of mid-’60s yakuza films by being much more comedic in tone. It actually feels unusual that rote action films like Youth of the Beast or Massacre Gun get their own standalone release, but Arrow has chosen to practically hide away these gems on the second volume of it’s Diamond Guys series. Perhaps it’s that the directors or the films themselves lack name recognition (Buichi Saito is perhaps best known for his work on Lone Wolf and Cub, while Ko Nakahira’s 1956 film Crazed Fruit is critically acclaimed but he’s otherwise unknown in the West, and Noguchi is billed as a ‘new discovery’).
Nevertheless, I’m going to treat these films more as a ‘collection’ than I normally would. Below are the reviews I wrote up while working through the disc, first posted over on my Letterboxd feed. Here’s hoping that Arrow digs deeper into Nikkatsu’s expansive back catalogue and releases another volume of Diamond Guys in the future.
I feel like I took a gamble on Zatoichi. It’s an old series whose legacy reaches far past the actual films, so I knew the basic premise of this blind swordsman from the ‘60s and ‘70s, even before the remake starring Beat Takeshi back in the early 2000s. I was hesitant to give the series a try, though, after struggling through six films of the seemingly similar Lone Wolf and Cub – and here was a series with twenty-five entries (and that’s just in the Criterion Collection, which sadly excludes the 1989 film also starring Shintaro Katsu, never mind the hundred-episode television show!). More or less totally unavailable in the UK, it was a moot point until Criterion brought their US collection over, and I finally rolled the dice.
Whether or not the rest of the series maintains the same level of craftsmanship is uncertain – or even unlikely – but the first film, Kenji Misumi’s The Tale of Zatoichi (1962) is a brilliant and surprisingly introspective drama rather than the schlocky martial arts exploitation film I expected. This is all the more surprising considering Misumi actually directed several of the Lone Wolf films that I disliked so intensely – and that Shintaro Katsu, who stars as the titular Zatoichi, is the younger brother of Tomisaburo Wakayama, most famous for his portrayal of Itto Ogami in Lone Wolf and Cub.