Archive for Tetsuya Nakadai

The Walls Have Ears

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on April 30, 2008 by dcairns

I love this! Chris B. demonstrates how Shadowplay has brainwashed him, forcing him into buying DVDs and books. My real intent of course is to short-circuit the capitalist system and have everybody trading bootlegs. “You wouldn’t steal a car!” scream the ads. But, as one unknown comedian put it, if a friend came round and said, “I just bought a Mercedes, can I burn you a copy?” most of us would probably be amenable.

On Chris’s monitor we see some strange walls of facial features, which reminds Brandon of THIS:

From Hiroshi Teshigahara’s THE FACE OF ANOTHER, starring the great Tetsuya Nakadai. If you haven’t had the pleasure yet, Teshigahara’s films are well worth getting into. In terms of pace, composition, movement, vibe flavour and whatnot, he quite simply has HIS OWN THING GOING ON. There are only a few H.T. flicks available out there in the west, but it’s a start.

Shadowplay Swordplay

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2008 by dcairns

Back in December, I wrote very briefly about the opening scene of Masaki Kobayashi’s SAMURAI REBELLION, which I’d sneaked a peak at.

The Edge

Blur

Smile

The Wicker Man

Swing High, Swing Low

The Field

Well, rather belatedly, we finally watched the whole thing.

Fiona: “He’s one of my favourite filmmakers.”

Me: “You’ve seen TWO of his films. And five minutes of this one.”

Fiona: “Yeah.”

I knew just what she meant. Fiona is a huge fan of KWAIDAN (which should really be kaidan — Kobayashi’s films have suffered considerable retitling in the west). I admire it enormously — it’s as beautiful a film as was ever shot and designed — but I don’t find it too dramatically compelling or scary. But I was utterly wowed by SEPPUKU (which Criterion have decided to call HARA KIRI), an excoriating attack on the samurai ethos, and what feels like an incredibly bold film to have come from a film culture like Japan’s. Reading up on how the young Kobayashi did his best to resist his nation’s plunge into militarism in WWII deepened my respect and understanding for him. He’s somebody whose life story really feeds into and illuminates his work.

SAMURAI REBELLION (Jôi-uchi: Hairyô tsuma shimatsu — I don’t know what that means but I doubt it’s been translated literally, and the IMDb lists several alternative English titles) is a Kobayashi from 1967 that confirms the man’s mission: to tell the stories history has omitted to record. In this and SEPPUKU, Kobayashi makes a point of telling us that his characters will be not only defeated but erased from the record. We will inherit the myth of the honourable samurai code simply because all other stories have been bloodily suppressed.

Face / Off

This movie’s ending isn’t quite such a spectacular downer as the earlier film’s, which in a way makes it seem a lesser work. But neither film is actually depressing, despite the bleakness of their message and the violence of their action. Kobayashi’s style is hard, beautiful and incisive, using strikingly modern sharp push-in movements on his characters, Langian cutting to illustrate the cause-and-effect unfolding of the plot, and sometimes wild flourishes like theatrical lighting changes, freeze-frames and jump-cuts. Conversations between sitting or kneeling characters on the floor, an essential feature of Japanese period drama, have unique edge and ZING in Kobayashi’s work, as he holds his edits back until they really count. The intensity and grace of the technique prevents the film from becoming depressing, in the same way Shakespeare’s poetry prevents his tragedies from ever acquiring a deadening gloom (unless Peter Brook is on hand to steamroller them into submission).

The plots of these Samurai tragedies are genuinely Shakespearian, it seems to me. They also relate to the classic western. Unlike any modern action movie, both films build to an inevitable outburst of violent conflict, but tend to avoid decorating the path with action set-pieces. You have to wait for that promised samurai rebellion. While it’s hard to envisage a pacifist action film, what Kobayashi does with his stories almost amounts to that: as he slowly builds the sense of injustice, tension rises to the point where violence comes to seem essential, the only human response to the oppression on view. And at the same time, the violence harms only the underlings and the innocents: in the long term, it achieves nothing, and is destined not even to be remembered.

to the hilt

With Toshiro Mifune AND Tetsuyo Nakadai, the film has plenty of iconic honourable bloodshed stature, but at the same time undercuts its genre superbly, making it simultaneously a samurai film for those who don’t like samurai films, and one for those who do.

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Surprisingly, script collaborator Shinobu Hashimoto also worked with Kurosawa on projects such as THE SEVEN SAMURAI which, though they include some knocking of the samurai myth, ultimately reinforce it.

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There doesn’t seem to be any more Kobayashi available in the west for us to groove to. Criterion’s imprint of his epic three-parter THE HUMAN CONDITION is out of print and retails for exhorbitant prices second-hand. If anybody wants to burn me a copy I will love them madly.

Love Conquers All

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 10, 2008 by dcairns

The heat is on 

SIEGFRIED, the first part of Lang’s DIE NIBELUNGEN, has quite a lot of magic and fantasy elements — a dragon, petrifying dwarfs, a lake of fire, a magic satsuma bag that turns you invisible when you stick your head in it. In part two, KRIEMHILD’S REVENGE, most of that is stripped away, and what we get, mainly, is Kriemhild’s revenge.

(Which is all about LOVE. It’s rather like Lang and his Mrs. to re-conceive romantic love as the most powerful destructive force in the universe.)

It’s during this part, which I don’t think I’d ever really watch all through before, shame on me, that things started to feel familiar.

There'll be a hot time in the old town tonight

Well, a burning fort is a burning fort, but it slowly dawned that Kurosawa was maybe the right age to have seen Lang’s epic two-parter on its first release (AK mainly saw American and European films as a kid with his dad) and that there’s a rogue element in Kurosawa’s RAN that doesn’t come from Shakespeare’s KING LEAR, the movie’s credited source. The avenging woman.

Creamhead

In Kurosawa’s 1985 masterpiece, Mieko Harada puts in a terrifying turn as Lady Kaede, whose family were massacred by the Lear figure in his youth, and who has been married to one of his sons. With cunning, strength and a vampiric sexuality, Kaede manipulates the men around her into a course of action that results in the total destruction of her enemy’s family.

The critics, impressed but nonplussed by this extra-canonical character, likened her to Lady Macbeth and suggested that her presence compensated for the loss of Lear’s daughters from the storyline (Japanese women could not inherit a kingdom, so Kurosawa had performed a sex change on Goneril, Regan and Cordelia, turning them into Lord Hidetora’s sons). The second point is basically true, Kaede supplies a feminine evil that would otherwise be absent, but of course Lady Mac is not a figure of vengeance, she is merely ambitious for her husband. The particular brand of treachery practiced by Kaede and whose true purpose is kept concealed from us until the moment of her triumph/death, corresponds far more closely to the models of Brunhild and Kriemhild provided by Lang’s film.

(Incidentally, in both Lang and Kurosawa, this Oni-Baba devil-woman figure takes over the story altogether and becomes the strongest and most involving character.)

hey Mieko

I’m so convinced of this connection that I would declare the matter proven if I could in any way show that AK had seen DIE NIBELUNGEN, which I can’t.

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The Flame and the Arrow

In the ever-reliable Patrick McGilligan’s Fritz Lang, The Nature of the Beast, we learn that Lang ignited his Hun fortress personally, by firing a flaming magnesium-tipped arrow onto the roof of the primed edifice. The crowd of extras watched awestruck (you can see them shift their weight from foot to foot in a kind of dazed dance) as the castle, a former factory building, was reduced to cinders inside ten minutes.

Kurosawa’s longtime assistant, Teruyo Nogami, has written a fabulous and heartbreaking book, Waiting on the Weather, about her career alongside A.K. Her account of the conflagration scene in RAN is both mind-boggling and thrilling. The 1.17 million-dollar specially-constructed castle was to be filmed by five cameras, as star Tetsuya Nakadai, playing the insane Lord Hidetora, descended the steps. Then those five camera crews had to get the hell out of the way so Hidetora could be filmed leaving the front gate, the castle still blazing behind him. Not the kind of scene you can retake.

An arrowing experience

The castle, coated four times with cement, and filled with lumber to make it burn more slowly than Lang’s factory, was set alight.

‘”Ready!” shouted Kurosawa, in an unusually high voice. The cameras all started rolling at once.

‘”Smoke!”

‘Clouds of white and gray smoke billowed from the castle windows. Cries of “The smoke is rolling! Smoke is ready!” rebounded from the castle.

‘”Action!” thundered the director. The bar on the clapperboard snapped down.

‘”Nakadai!” This was the actor’s cue. All eyes turned to the castle entrance. We were breathless with suspense. Kurosawa gripped the megaphone tightly with apparent concern. Pure white clouds of dry ice swirled and billowed, but no Hidetora came out. His eye pressed to the camera, Takao Saito said to his assistant, “No sign of him?” Kurosawa muttered worriedly, “What’s he doing?”

‘Then all at once a clatter arose inside the castle, and through the smoke Hidetora finally appeared, carrying his sword scabbard. Some twenty-five seconds had gone by, but it seemed like an eternity.’

Anyhow, they get the shots. Once things are a little more relaxed –

‘As Nakadai came over, looking pleased with himself, Kurosawa burst out, “You took so long coming out, I was worried. Was everything okay?” Nakadai laughed. “I took my time because I thought it wouldn’t do to rush.”‘

You would think that a shoot like that would be the highlight of the book, but it’s just ONE OF MANY. Buy this book.

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