Friday, June 30, 2017

Youth of the Beast

"Minami, Let's Get It Over With."

Short notes on Suzuki's Youth of the Beast [Yajû no seishun, 1963], which I originally wrote for the back-cover blurb of the Masters of Cinema Blu-ray in 2014. "The film that Seijun Suzuki considered the first to execute his full-formed kaleidoscopic style."


Right on the heels of the riotous Go to Hell, Bastards: Detective Bureau 2 3, Seijun Suzuki unleashed what would come to be seen as his true breakthrough, the film that cement "the Suzuki sensibility": Youth of the Beast [Yajû no seishun]. A delirious fantasia that contains "youth" and "beast" only insofar as in 1963 youth culture, yakuza, and yakuza movies were violently upstart things...

Youth of the Beast is a yakuza tale with a premise like Akira Kurosawa's Yôjinbô, whereby neither of two rival gangs can claim moral superiority over the other. The film stars Suzuki's iconic '60s regular Jô Shishido, with his dare-you-to-call-them-out artificial cheek implants like a new kind of screen-star blasphemy. There are drug-addled whores, gunfights in a toxin-hued apocalypse, and at least one alien landscape — a a mind-searing eruption of sulphur yellow desert like an action-figure playset reeking of sex.

Suzuki's infectious go-for-broke energy is assisted by wide-angle lenses and stunning production design that add a Minnelli-worthy sensuousness to the picture's 'Scope framing. His film would go on to inspire John Woo's forthcoming remake titled Day of the Beast [—??? CK.]; Nikkatsu have in recent times deemed Youth of the Beast one of their treasures. •


More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Seijun Suzuki:

"Jûsan-gô taihisen," yori: Sono gosôsha (w)o nerae ["Sidetrack No. Thirteen," or: Take Aim at That Police Van, 1960]

Subete ga kurutteru [Everything Goes Wrong, 1960]


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Muriel, or: The Time of a Return

Guess What's Coming to Dinner?, or: The Amnesiacs

(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing on the Criterion Blu-ray disc; no screen-capturing is capable during playback.)


A furious montage, then we learn that objects are too fleeting and, so, too silent to yield up symbolic interpretation — if, if we're looking hard enough. These are zero-hand, 1.5-hand, items. They permafrost the flat at first glance but will ostensibly be sold at appointment by their merchant Hélène (Delphine Seyrig). Clearly, dig the ambiguity around the whole situation with these solids. For example: what of Seyrig in this wig — an item like the rest? We think of Hitchcock, or: we think of Godard thinking of Hitchcock — as he says in the Histoire(s) du cinéma Alfred's "the inventor of forms."

And Bernard (Jean-Baptiste Thierrée) says: "You never know what period you'll wake up to in this place." I pause personally not so much at "this place" as I do "wake up to". Muriel, ou le Temps d'un retour [Muriel, or: The Time of a Return, 1963] is no dream-saga or cannot be so easily internalized as such regardless of Last Year at Marienbad — this is dedicated hardcore montage form confronting and abutting in certain prolongation Cocteau, materially.

The town of Boulogne (or Boulogne-sur-Mer) — is there such a place? Was there? Whatever you do, don't ask Hélène. We see it starkly in the light of day, concealed at night except in neon or half-shadow, Jeanne Dielman's Brussels with a casino. Present-time and morning-after, then back, or not — eruptions of time immemorial, frozen, eternal, personages present or not... place, place, place... More profoundly strange than Marienbad, Hiroshima, Nevers. And Algiers is the Mission San Juan Bautista.

Nearly twenty years after the Liberation. Muriel Carlotta is the victim of a war crime that Bernard participated in the act of — or observed — during his time in Algeria, 'down-there.'

Does a fight between friends mean you're finished for life? No, not a war-crime — an argument, a misunderstanding. But what misunderstanding! Alphonse Noyard (Jean-Pierre Kerien) (character's last name an emendation of noyé, par exemple, des clochards) has this put-on about having owned a café down-there, constructed history, but in essence he's a lunatic who cut free from the asylum. However: look at proximate cause. (Paradoxical thoughitsobe: for Muriel is one of the greatest films about cause-and-effect, which is to say, the lack thereof, ever made, existentialist Sartrean strain.) Who in this menagerie could make a fair claim to moral high-ground, or to truth? Hélène is a lie, Bertrand is a lie, Françoise (Nita Klein) is a lie. Property, ownership, is a lie.

Hélène, Alphonse, and Françoise march to the entrance of Hélène's building (one of the four post-war Neubauten of Boulogne), cuts between them twelve-tone, chromaticism in the close-ups (the storied detail: no camera movements in Muriel till the last shot). Hélène: "Many died, were shot. I don't remember how many." Bob Dylan: "From the boat I fish for bullheads — / I catch a lot, sometimes too many."

Françoise: "This is paradise."

Hélène's bedroom at one point functions as an impromptu dining room, or vice-versa. (All the furniture and appointments are in flux from scene to scene.) The Hélène-Alphonse relationship is often swapped/echoed with the Hélène-Bernard relationship: after Alphonse shows up, she says, "The two of us should have gone into hiding."

Bernard: "I don't want to be a filmmaker. I'm just collecting evidence."

The Alsatians say, Merci vielmol. Two shandies. •


More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Alain Resnais:

Nuit et brouillard [Night and Fog, 1955]

Le chant du styrène [The Song of the Styrene, 1958]

Hiroshima mon amour [Hiroshima My Love, 1959] — a piece I regret now, from 2007


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Letter from Siberia {American-Language Version}

A Place on the Earth

(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the FilmStruck app on Apple TV; built-in screen-capturing is disabled during playback from the Web and from the FilmStruck app on iPhone/iPad.)


Chris Marker (Господин Маркер) was interesting to me because he self-fed genuine and insatiable interest re: planets' civilizations, cultures, societies. — Could I keep up such enthusiasm from day to day? It would always be difficult... and these days, 2017!... The suitability of self-extinction regards the face of mediated terror, repression, and — resultant guilt... — I might piss a spider-line of faith to social governments in better moods... Yet they are metonymies of indifferent ecocide and of petty self-interest, they double-dog-down my typical temperament to the level of red-state farmers (au contraire to Rohmer's Fermière de Montfaucon), my parents, and all those who sow 'good' poison wisdom.

Never take Marker for an optimist. (If you can believe it, never take me for a pessimist.) There's no surprise that the opening shots in Lettre de Sibérie [Letter from Siberia, 1957] will be landscapes. And I recognize it's very easy to get upset with the exploratory mode 'striking off.' Yet Marker begins the narration and his consideration post-haste — does a quick switch to contemplate the Tyga: "I'm writing you this letter from the edge of the world..."

For Marker, Siberia is the earth and the sky. The Eastmancolor does what it can to reproduce the blue of the latter — but it was really made for the tan of the pastures. After all, Siberia is something of a byword for 'Geography' itself: it's always spoken of in terms of "it could contain the United States" or "it sports the longest railway in the world." Marker puts it better: "A rationalistic aspect of Siberia is that a hiker walking in a straight line is always sure to get lost in the forest. If he walks north long enough, his reward will be 2,250,000 square miles of tundra and ice-floe that will have to be transformed and studied."

Implicitly, explicitly, no easy categorization for this monster-mass Siberia on our planet can be told. Marker in Letter from Siberia — his letter mind you — allows the escalation of the fortitude of thought to jump from the "epistolary" which was always just a feint past the framing "film"-form itself! — Letter from Siberia is films within films! Animated films about the woolly mammoths, with voice-over written by Marker in terrible (he knew it) English pentameter! — the peril of the rhinoceroses!

He can't help himself but cut to (mechanical) cranes, the good materialist... He can't help himself but cut from the frames to the predicament of the native black fox!

Reindeer as an alternative to vehicles! The preciousness of Chris Marker is the eradication of the line between the ironic observation and the critique. He always grants us, the spectators, the respect of being equal to the intelligence or to the innate-quotient of the animals...

You've got to see the owl-interludes. No Tootsie-Pop, but...'s hard to gauge how much the Siberians loved Yves Montand. This is not, after all, a documentary film, let the permits read what they will. Four impressions of the Irkutsk foundation-laying with the drag-beam — the patriot, the critical, the objective poet...

"The season of dying water is winter..."

Letter from Siberia is Marker's newsreel — even though the black-and-white segments are false. When he goes back to color: "We might realize what a victory even the simplest achievements represent: houses protected from the cold; schools; libraries; and all the other things which they point out to us so proudly, we can't help smiling. And yet our irony may be more naïve than their enthusiasm."

Images of both the blank fields and the construction of the houses recall the method of Resnais's Night and Fog — and, adding the "I Hate Elvis" and "Mishka" scenes, of live-action Disney television. Ten or fifteen minutes after, sure enough, the narrator remarks of Aldan, the Camp Invisible prospectors' settlement: "You're in frontier-America."

Unabashedly I admire the gaiety of Marker's investigations — cf. Siberia's gold rush, "on those same steamers with the tall smokestacks that would one day bring Charlie Chaplin home a millionaire."

(Sidenote of personal local interest: "The American 49ers were already exploring Arizona...")

As in Marker's previous Sunday in Peking a local theater performance cadenzas the final section of the film. From opera to Sputnik: "Switching from sleds to rockets is the Siberian way of keeping abreast with the times."


Other writings on Chris Marker at Cinemasparagus:

Sunday in Peking [1956]

Leila Attacks [2007]
(posted in 2007, and including a note in the Comments from Chris Marker himself)


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Floating Clouds

Fatal Distractions, Colliding Regrets

(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the FilmStruck app on Apple TV; built-in screen-capturing is disabled during playback from the Web and from the FilmStruck app on iPhone/iPad.)

Prefatory note: The go-to reference work in English about Naruse's films is Dan Sallitt's A Mikio Naruse Companion: Notes on the Extant Films, 1931-1967, which exists as a WordPress site accessible from the link. I've been reading his entries on each film after my initial viewing, and have been enjoying tremendously the lucid and sensitive considerations he's drawn from his own viewings over the years.


'Death from consumption.' - Cancer? Pneumonia? Tuberculosis, the flu? With the practically epidemic levels that pervade the 19th-century novel and Japanese cinema of the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, illness has always seemed in these works, no matter the real-world basis, the deus ex machina of choice to push the plot forward to its tragic dénouement. How many Ozu films feature a child stretched beneath a sack of ice-water scaled to meet their brow? How often was the inducer of the fever the film-world (scenario) itself?

The sitting-room as the theater of death: "theater" in two senses: that of the common usage, and that of the "operation theater" that featured recently on the cover of one of my favorite New Yorker illustrations of all time. (I think of The New Yorker here not only in relation to this cover, but also in the context of critical mass, in all the senses of the phrase.)

The patient fixed ("like a butterfly on a pin" [it takes 12 years more till Suzuki's Branded to Kill]), with the physical body and the condition itself as fulcrum; the patient as the operative element of the narrative procedure. I think of Stahl's Magnificent Obsession, Franju's Eyes Without a Face, Frankenheimer's Seconds, Almodóvar's The Skin I Live In. The procedure will transform the film-world itself, transubstantiate, shake the story. (Note written: "Ripe enough for Preston Sturges in Sullivan's Travels." Okay...)

Sallitt compares Floating Clouds [Ukigumo, 1955] to Ford's The Searchers as a work that evinces the full distillation of themes, idea-concerns, all taken to their most complex height of insight, most insightfully and ambiguously, by its respective author, here Naruse. But Naruse it seems to me cannot thrill a general audience as Ford did, never mind color, action, or tech: he makes his ideas expositionalized through incessant one-on-one dialogue pinned against a decor filthy enough to reinforce the emotional ordure. The fact that Floating Clouds was Number 3 in Kinema Junpô's all time Japanese greats some year (mind you the magazine is closer to Sight & Sound than it is to the yellow covers of Cahiers du cinéma) seems a mistake or as they say in the parlance "a misunderstanding." In 2017, whether Floating Clouds is a good or a great movie strikes me as an irrelevant qualification. It's cinema that 'goes too far, and yet, not far enough.'

I believe the Japanese public experienced Floating Clouds as a kind of release: a portrait of the post-war struggle and vicissitudes of finding employment. I suspect too it was moving for audiences as a doomed-romance-story. In a sense it is exemplary Naruse: plot-deployment heavy, claustrophobia around writing in which no breath might be stolen by character or viewer in the seams of dialogue or flung upsets.

That being the case I've sometimes found writing about these Naruse pictures — as much as I admire them — a tedious task. I lapse into recounting their overcomplicated plots, which is to say character definition often resolves after accumulation of plot-beat upon plot-beat. Let's take the matter at end, Floating Clouds, adapted from a story by Fumiko Hayashi. It begins in late-1946 with the arrival in Tokyo of repatriates from French Indonesia. Goads the viewer into the time-honored Japanese cinema tradition of war as backdrop for most acute melodrama.

Naruse and unrelenting story: lyric moments are thankfully folded within: a walk; the movement through a marketplace; a cloistered hall; a forest. This film exhausts me with its two stars (Hideko Takamine as Yukiko Kôda and Masayuki Mori as Kengo Tomioka) playing poor.

We have a flashback structure: Da Lat (exotically scored): the forest administration. A senior official explains to Yukiko, early-20s typist freshly arrived from Japan and garreting at their HQ, "Our mission is forestry, not fighting." And yet, Forester Tomioka: "I have to go check the quinine garden."

Beautiful cuts that link actions into and out of flashback (such as the kisses early in the film), and though the film is not entirely constructed out of the flashback structure, Floating Clouds still existed four years before Resnais's Hiroshima mon amour, which I broach not for nothing given this earlier film's relative naïveté and unregistered troglodyte effectiveness.


Tomioka: "You must forget the past." Yukiko: "For us the past is the only reality. Without it, where would we be? I wish I hadn't seen your wife..." A few minutes later, Tomioka: "My wife has suffered enough. She kept the home while I was at war. I can't walk out on her now." — thereby breaking his promise that he and Yukiko would marry upon their return to Japan.

Tomioka to his wife: "I'm trying to make a go of my business. I need to raise capital. I have to sell the house to raise some! The price of lumber is soaring." — We will never see Tomioka at work on building the business.

Yukiko's brother-in-law (through her sister) raped her before the war — they run into one another in a marketplace and eat noodles together; there's an explanatory conversation (flashback to the precipice of the rape); back to present, she admits she's sold some of his things (mostly bedding) for the money.

Yukiko gets picked up on the street by an American G.I.; she becomes his kept woman. Tomioka, dropping in on her pad, intimates she's casting a wider net as full-on prostitute.

These idiot-winders are determined to keep their flags emblazoned after Da Lat as means of self-preservation. Yet upon their reconciliation at the small-town town of Ikaho, they fantasize over sake about double-suicide. Then the morning after Tomioka eyes Osei (Mariko Okada)... the innkeeper (Daisuke Katô)'s helper and young wife. Tomioka extends his and Yukiko's stay, and he and Osei get together: he moves on to a new woman, she moves on to a new man. She has designs of moving to Tokyo. When Yukiko catches on, Tomioka confesses: "I feel so empty, bored."

Etc. etc. and months later, Yukiko visits Tomioka's residence (inquiring for "Takase-san"?) only to discover he's moved to the "countryside": Yukiko visits a room at the rear of a dark warehouse in an industrial sector of Tokyo by the railroad, Osei living there, who explains that Tomioka visits but lives with his wife who is ill — but when he visits, she stays with a friend: a lie: Yukiko spots his kimono and then two toothbrushes... — she asks a neighbor boy if a man lives there and does he come every day — and he says Yes to both. Tomioka shows up and she tells him she's quite pregnant...

Then there's the House of the Sun God: false healers: the racket Yukiko's brother-in-law is all into now. She borrows money, she chances an abortion: at the clinic eyes a newspaper: "Jealous Husband Kills Barmaid." Cut to Tomioka writing a statement and reading a letter: "Kuniko is dying. We need money." Yukiko shows up. — during her breakdown, the odd punctuation of the children outside playing house: "Honey, dinner's ready," cut back...

More time passes. Tomioka stops by one Mr. Iba's (the rapist's), where a rejuvenated Yukiko now resides. She goes through many transformations in the crazy pattern that's this film. Tomioka tells her Kuniko died yesterday. He needs to borrow money for the funeral (yet money would have allowed his wife the surgery to remove her tumor). — Leaves her place:

...At another point the passage of time (days) is conveyed by the now-absence of Tomioka's medical eyepatch he was wearing due to a stye, otherwise we would think he was arriving straight from Yukiko's place (impossible given that his flirtatious neighbor informs him she stopped by).

Yukiko steals 300,000 yen from Iba's House and absconds to an inn; sends telegrams to Tomioka to join her. (In the course of a drunken evening between the two there, Yukiko invokes Maupassant's Bel ami saying to Tomioka he reminds her of the main character — second reference in Naruse to the novel since Ginza Makeup) — ("He's a poor man and he fools girls to help him succeed.")

Tomioka is headed to the island of Yaku to be forest-ranger. And with this, for the final half-hour, the plot machinations slow down: as the film gets easy: and in response to Yukiko's begging he takes her along — it's their journey — their Narusean storm — her illness — and his regret. (She busts into chills the moment he acknowledges her as a common-law wife.)

And he breaks down over her corpse as flashbacks register of her posing to his camera in Da Lat — "So short is the life of a flower / Yet how many hardships it suffers." Echoing forever the memory of happiness measured by a flower...


More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Mikio Naruse:

Koshiben ganbare [Flunky, Work Hard, 1931]

Nasanu-naka [No Blood Relation, 1932]

Kimi to wakarete [Apart from You, 1933]

Yogoto no yume [Every-Night Dreams, 1933]

Kagirinaki hodô [Endless Pavement, 1934]

Ginza keshô [Ginza Makeup, 1951]

Meshi [Repast, 1953]

Tsuma [Wife, 1953]

Yama no oto [The Sound of the Mountain, 1954]


Friday, April 07, 2017

The Sound of the Mountain

The Sound of the Mountain Is "Resignation" ("Silence")

(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the FilmStruck app on Apple TV; built-in screen-capturing is disabled during playback from the Web and from the FilmStruck app on iPhone/iPad.)

Prefatory note: The go-to reference work in English about Naruse's films is Dan Sallitt's A Mikio Naruse Companion: Notes on the Extant Films, 1931-1967, which exists as a WordPress site accessible from the link. I've been reading his entries on each film after my initial viewing, and have been enjoying tremendously the lucid and sensitive considerations he's drawn from his own viewings over the years.


Naruse doesn't devise his films in this period with a 'reading' of mise-en-scène in mind — the style is 'invisible,' with the exception of such hallmarks as the alternation between (1) axonometric travelings of the act of walking, filmed in full-shots, and (2) cuts-in to two-shot medium close-ups of same. Sallitt mentions, sharply, the cuts in certain scenes — those sudden cuts that seem to bring the curtain down abruptly in the film, as happens too in Repast for example. Naruse's découpage, particularly in the scenes of family living rooms, might be likened to a round-robin, a sliding from shot to shot, glissando-esque: taken in tandem with variations on shot distance, the impression is one of "invisibility," of silence. This is highest-order mise-en-scène.

mise-en-scène: décoratif -> (aesthetique) | contre | (psychologique) -> stylistique

The Sound of the Mountain [Yama no oto, 1954] is adapted from Yasunari Kawabata's novel. The setting is the city of Kamakura. Kikuo (diminutive: "Kikko") (Setsuko Hara) shares a loving connection with her father-in-law, Ôgata (Sô Yamamura), at whose house she and her husband Shûichi (Ken Uehara) reside. Ôgata notes early in the film that he and his wife have no grandchildren from Kikuo and Shûichi. The latter regularly goes out after work (he's in the employ of his father), spends the evening with his long-time mistress (one Kinuko — whom we'll meet late in the film, played by Reiko Sumi), and doesn't return home till late. Often drunk, he heads straight to bed, but doesn't fall asleep before, supine, calling out: "Kikko!". In the first instance of this scene, Naruse cuts from the interior of the house to the backyard...

Shûichi's sister Fusako (Chieko Nakakita) and her daughter Satoko and baby arrive at the Ôgata residence. Her husband is having an affair with another woman. Fusako already has footing as the least favorite child, and her parents seem to have resigned themselves to the inevitability of her divorce. Her daughter Satoko further irritates the Ôgatas — "She pretends to cry?" — whenever she doesn't get her way. During one such scene, Shûichi enters the room and, perfunctorily drawing the contrast, announces to Kikko, "You can't take care of children. You're a child yourself." Later, word comes from his secretary Ms. Tanizaki (Teruko Nagaoka) (who, it is suggested, herself harbors feelings for Shûichi) that he's told his mistress Kinuko, with whom Tanizaki is close, that his wife is "like a child." She adds: "You can't expect a proper wife to act like a prostitute."

(In one scene, a Narusean typhoon strikes. During the storm, Shûichi for the second time in the film grunts from his bed: "Kikko.")

In his own way, Naruse is as elliptical as Ozu, but in the former's body of work the omissions are more often associated with the unsavory details of the characters' lives than with temporal leaps in the storyline. The director allows himself the occasional visual metaphor to foreshadow or suggest unpleasant business, or topics unbroachable (at least by the 'standards' set by the early portion of the narrative). Take for example Kikuko's nosebleed (on the heels of the character Satoko's in Repast) which at once stands in (1) for The Feminine insofar as menstruation prevails as the corps' foundational process: mechanism of ovulation and, chauvinistically considered, the crucible of the humors; and (2) as the primary marker of post-adolescence, post-pubescence. Shûichi regards Kikuko as something of an obscenity. Her abortion, an act half-co-dependent and foreshadowed by the bloody nose, releases Shûichi from the burden of fatherhood and from new consideration (or considerations) of his wife. In an exemplary instance of the Naruse walk-and-talk, Shûichi, back turned, gaze persistently adverted, admits to his father (his father who has only recently displayed a decorative noh mask as his wife exclaimed: "THAT'S supposed to be a child?") after confronting him with news of Kikuko's abortion: "She said she wouldn't have my child with the way I am now." Upon a visit by Ôgata to Shûichi's mistress Kinuko, he learns she's broken things off with him. She is pregnant with his child. He tried to induce a miscarriage. She'll bring the baby to term on her own.

Everyone in The Sound of the Mountain has one foot in the past of habits (and habitual thinking) except for Kikuko, Fusako, and Kinuko: pregnancies and abortion and walk-outs. Early in the film Ôgata (who himself admits to Shûichi having carried on his own affairs, which has much to do with his visit to Kinuko to straighten matters, and with his strongly felt kinship with his son) proclaims that a successful father is one who makes his children a success. This, of course, is nothing more than a depressing Japanese post-war platitude that I feel Naruse no more endorses than does Ozu. Among both directors, however, one always senses that the effort to give shrift to both sides of the argument — family+tradition vs. independence — is at work not so much in the directors' own personal predilections as in the films themselves. Naruse and Ozu possess a willingness to air opposing positions to the film and the audience itself, in order that they reflect upon the given conceit. Both filmmakers are constantly obsessed with families (the audience is a set of families itself), even if they at essence have no more personal druthers in the matter than the one who punches the missile codes when the signal is struck.

After Kikuko returns from her convalescence at her parents' home (one has the impression of strained terms between the two families — her own is relegated to a phone call informing the Ôgatas of her staying there — "She'll be back when she feels better."), she meets with Ôgata for a walk-and-talk in a park, and here announces she will divorce Shûichi. In time, Ôgata remarks: "Soon my wife and I will go to the family house in Shinshû — and if it's livable we'll make it our final abode."

The open prospect of the park vista makes for a poignant end that brings no closure. Kikuko's main loss will be that of her (spiritual) father, Ôgata, who recited: " 'Without fulfilling the climbing of Mt. Fuji, I have reached old age.' "


More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Mikio Naruse:

Koshiben ganbare [Flunky, Work Hard, 1931]

Nasanu-naka [No Blood Relation, 1932]

Kimi to wakarete [Apart from You, 1933]

Yogoto no yume [Every-Night Dreams, 1933]

Kagirinaki hodô [Endless Pavement, 1934]

Ginza keshô [Ginza Makeup, 1951]

Meshi [Repast, 1953]

Tsuma [Wife, 1953]


Sunday, March 05, 2017

Everything Goes Wrong

It's Okay Mom I Feel Relaxed Eating at Home

(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the FilmStruck app on Apple TV; built-in screen-capturing is disabled during playback from the Web and from the FilmStruck app on iPhone/iPad.)


The year is 1960: Suzuki takes on (is handed) a project about Shinjuku Sun-Tribe trash. Everything Goes Wrong [Subete ga kurutteru].

The year is 1960: Suzuki's resulting movie offers up a 3-minute chat, in the middle of a busy Tokyo crosswalk, shot via telephoto while cars whizz port and starboard of the characters Etsuko and Ono in the middle of conversation around an unwanted pregnancy — with... designs on abortion.

I'll speak curtly about this film which, I think if you see it, you'll understand the way I deliver these notes and thoughts —

The film that begins under the credits at the Shinjuku theater, shown in 1.37 within the 2.35 Scope widescreen of the movie proper, is a WWII film with lots of exploding mud and jungle palm called: "FIGHT TILL THE LAST DROP OF BLOOD."

Throughout there's a youth-party atmosphere; again: this is Sun-Tribe trash. This is a mix-up imagination of "youth gone wild" and the exaggerated Tokyo-world that is without parents, with 1-minutes statutes of limitations, and its title is A Clockwork Plum.

Jirô (Tamio Kawaji) goes nuts on this girl he fucks and throws her arcade-coins — the more nonsense that comes to the fore, absurd, in a Suzuki picture, the more one can feel his outrage — as rare a case in society as this degree of misogyny might be, — [beat and:] — voilà, that's why these Suzuki/Nikkatsu movies exist.

Why should one want to watch this? The lead is unsympathetic when he meets a friend on a Ferris wheel; we are condemned to "visual flair," to a shot set-up where the two raising and lowering reminisce in dialogue about high-school events, — events I'd rather see. And yet I have more respect for Suzuki for bullying on with this and not "fleshing it out." Who cares? Let's get in and out. The script is Sun-Tribe trash.

Toshimi (Yoshiko Nezu), with her butchy voice sprouting from capri pants, and her ruinous chewing-gum smack, is the most powerful Suzuki star up to this point, without question.

Rock-and-Roll: Masayo (Tomoko Naraoka).

Jirô's mother's gentleman-interest, Nanbara-san: Jirô has a dead father — Jirô has a restaurant...........

Nanbara financially supported Jirô and Mom for 10 years — "Hookers take money," Jirô tells his mother. "Our home isn't a sex hotel. Dad was run over by a tank in the war. Nanbara builds those tanks. So it's like Nanbara killed Dad!"

I suppose it is. Koichi is the boisterous friend.

Coleman Hawkins posters go up not only to take us out of the stupidity of the scenario and experience of the movie, by image and by sound of the music track, but also to close us out when the movie's over.

Patron: "What did you do at their age?"

Bartender: "I was put to work in wartime labor."

Jirô throws the coins post-coitally at Toshimi — "Women take money!"

Etsuko swindles Nanbara (looking for Jirô at their local) to travel to a beach and pleads "I want you to buy me!" — he just gives her the money. In the meantime Jirô has told his mother Nanbara's gone on a tryst — Jirô and the mother walk in on Nanbara just as Etsuko, in her negligé, is trying to return his cash.

Masayo: "We don't live as freely as young people do today." — CUT TO: Waves breaking with force on rocks.

We don't discover Nanbara is married till 10 minutes before the end.

Ono: "We don't interfere with one another; we're independent."

Jirô wrenches Nanbara and flees; Etsuko in a fit falls down a subway entrance and miscarries.


Sunday, February 26, 2017

"Sidetrack No. Thirteen," or: Take Aim at That Police Van

We OPEN on a rainy-night train platform. CUT TO: The erotic pawing of a rifle-butt.

(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the FilmStruck app on Apple TV; built-in screen-capturing is disabled during playback from the Web and from the FilmStruck app on iPhone/iPad.)


In the course of rewatching Seijun Suzuki's 1960 Jûsan-gô taihisen," yori: Sono gosôsha (w)o nerae ["Sidetrack No. Thirteen," or: Take Aim at That Police Van], and planning on doing a series writing about many of his films that have been posted on FilmStruck / The Criterion Channel, the great master died at the age of 93 after having long suffered at the hands of an oxygen tank. I will celebrate the life of this remarkable director, whom I discovered in my early 20s by way of the original Criterion DVD releases of Tokyo Drifter and Branded to Kill. If I recall I saw his penultimate film and penultimate masterpiece Pistol Opera four times in Seattle theaters on 35mm (1.37:1 original aspect ratio) — one of the greatest films of the 2000s.


Caressing his rifle — a sniper, on the margins of a prisoner-transport-van accident set off by a truck rolled roadward, fires shots into the pile-up, and it's six months suspension for the presiding prison officer on-duty, Tamon (Michitarô Mizushima). As Tamon sees it this will be vacation — to enter the labyrinth of the crimes' solution and, even if subconsciously, expand his agency beyond "prison officer." Trauma luck comes to some. "An armed marksman walking the streets worries me."

(Imagine the frantic trepidation of 1980s America moms dropping their kids and kids' neighbor-friends off for a matinee at the new Suzuki... Imagine '10s mothers...)

The opening sequence glides into incomprehensibility unless you see the film twice in a row: Tamon/Fuyukichi/Gôrô... a sniper in wait... then suddenly a man comes up to pick up a rock near the sniper as though to attack him — but he chucks it at a truck parked on a nearby incline — the sniper readjusts his position as the other man kicks a rock out from under the tire of the truck causing it at the precise second to roll into and block the police van, bang! bang! — Tamon cuts open the tied wrists of the prisoners — Gôrô is reluctant to escape — Fuyukichi's shot and killed — CUT TO: bachelor Tamon's six month suspension and regaling his housekeeper how he's happy to use the time off. But he's already practicing with an unloaded pistol and wonders in inner-monologue V.O. why try to shoot on a prisoner transport? drugs? smuggling?...

Looking at my notes:

Hamaju Agency: Akabori (trying to sell Hamaju to Akiba with Yûko's father, the Hamaju owner indisposed)

Akiba (boss)

Yûko (child of a mother who was a prostitute in Southeast Asia), taken in by Hamajima

Shôko – ex of?

Tsunako (Gôrô's GF, the one sighted on the side of the road in the opening van attack)

Fuyukichi — sniped

Tamon and Yûko are ambushed by Akabori — a struggle, and Tamon wrests away the gun — he demands they be taken to "where the girls are" — Gôtenba — Gôrô's there — Akiba told him to fake his own death — he's there presenting girls for sale — the girls are given sedatives — Akiba arrives — unseen, camera POV and shots of his feet and gloved hand only. Tamon and Yûko are apprehended at or nearby the scene and tied up — this leads to an amazing attempt at execution by means of a gasoline tanker truck.

The police who grab Tamon in the back of the restaurant, they're like thugs themselves, but...

The two men killed in the sniping; Ryûta Komine (who killed a fellow thug) and Fuyukichi (who peddled prostitutes).......

Tamon investigates, Ryûta's sister used to work at the burlesque — Mari Sanjô quit yesterday — but another headshot... that's Tsunako Andô, who quit with Mari and put up bail for somebody... She gives Tamon a lead, she's probably in Atami with Gôrô....

Anyway the plot goes on and on... — Make this movie a priority for your Oscar Sunday.