Archive for kiyoyuki Murakami

Win One for the Gifford

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2010 by dcairns

Watched HOUSE, or HAUSU, as the Japanese call it — our friend Kiyo had recommended we obtain it, and then we read a glowing FaceBook recital of its many virtues from regular Shadowplayer and critic Anne Billson. Eaten by a piano? Drowned in cat’s blood? This sounded like a film to give Ozu a run for his money.

What concerns us for the moment, however, is a moment relatively early in the film, which has an unusually long preambular sequence setting up the arrival of seven cheeky Japanese schoolgirls (soon to be dead and possibly naked) at the titular haunted hausu. We’re on a coach, heading into the country. But what’s this extra on the left reading?

“The Gifford!” cried Fiona, startling me worse than anything in the movie would.

What a nice tribute from director Obayashi-san: Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies (far left of frame), suggesting a possible clue to his movie’s patchwork style — he’s been inspired by the random collection of images approach taken by Gifford in illustrating his Big Green Tome.

As I’m working my way through all the films illustrated in this book, it was a pleasure indeed to find a fellow fan.

So how am I doing?

Candace Hilligoss, so effective in her goose-like beauty in CARNIVAL OF SOULS, makes her only other appearance in CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE (that’s not her above, though), a movie that actually does try hard to be good, and even seems to have a partial, coffee-stained map guiding it in the right general direction. Period flavour has been aimed for, unusual dialogue attempted (“The body is a long insatiable tube!”), and suitable actors engaged (a nubile Roy Scheider, not yet tanned to alligator-hide perfection, is particularly effective). Plus a decent nasty plot premise, in which some insufferable rich folks in period New England are wiped out (perhaps by a departed relative) in the manner of their worst fears. Lest the gimmick and the talking stuff don’t quite carry the day, some gore and some decorous semi-nudity are laid on. It doesn’t quite make it to being memorable or actually, y’know, good, but one can’t fault the intent.

Attempts to obtain THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE have so far defeated me — anyone out there can help?

I have, however, got my sweaty mitts on FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, a Japanese kaijin flick using the man-made man, grown to giganticular proportions, as protag. Can’t wait to sample this Ishiro Honda weirdfest.

Also obtained but not yet watched: the 1957 THE VAMPIRE, which for some reason Gifford illustrates twice; THE PHANTOM OF SOHO, in two distinct versions;

Enjoyed two surviving Melies masterworks, THE VANISHING LADY, from which Melies produces three frame enlargements for a before-during-and-after account of M. Melies magic trick, and THE GIGANTIC DEVIL, whose oddly simpering Satan I had long admired in still form. This year I intend to recreate, in my own fashion, the lost movie LA PHRENOLOGIE BURLESQUE, so I can tick that one off my list also.

CRY OF THE WEREWOLF was directed by I LOVE A MYSTERY’s Henry Levin, but disappointed on most levels: there IS a werewolf, but it’s played by a large-ish dog, and the transformations are just crummy dissolves. Nina Foch lends low-budget class, but it’s all uphill.

VOODOO MAN amuses pretty thoroughly (especially George Zucco runnign a gas station) and DR RENAULT’S SECRET is genuinely, like, good, with an affecting monster act by J. Carrol Naish. Appallingly, I mainly knew this fine thesp for his swan song, DRACULA VS FRANKENSTEIN, a truly tragic affair in which his struggle to keep his false teeth inside his head while mouthing idiotic lines is the sole memorable feature, unless you count a mute Lon Chaney Jnr, who, like his great father, had been robbed of the power of speech in the last months of his life, and thus appears here as a wordless monster.

THE MAGIC SWORD, known to Gifford as ST GEORGE AND THE SEVEN CURSES, making it slightly trickier to track down, is a full-to-bursting confection of sub-Harryhausen fantasy FX. Not half bad by Bert I Gordon’s standards (and he does have standard — though if challenged I’m not sure I could quite explain what they are). The prosthetic hag in Gifford’s still turns out to be Maila Nurmi, AKA Vampira, and the hero turns out to be Gary Lockwood of 2001 fame. Basil Rathbone and Estelle Winwood heap on the ham, but the film’s finest thespian delight turns out to be busty nonentity Anne Helm, playing “Princess Helene” in the manner of a concussed cosmetologist. It’s so wrong it’s exactly right.

THE MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES seems to exist not to honour MGM’s 25th anniversary, as suggested, but merely to prove that even James Cagney’s talents have their limits. The real casting coup is Robert Evans as Irving Thalberg, before Evans made the transition from tanned-yet-pallid toyboy leading man to high-powered, wide collared exec. It’s perfect casting, with what one might politely call Evans’ limitations as an actor (Peter Sellers, on hearing of Evans’ appointment as head of Paramount: “Why, you silly cunt, you couldn’t even act the part!”) serving him well in the role of the ultimate empty suit.

In fact, it’s a pity Chaney never played The Invisible Man, robbing us of the sight of two shirt collars, encircling vacuum, nodding in cheerful agreement.

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(sp?)

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 18, 2009 by dcairns

So, picture the scene. You’re an evil genius megalomaniac head of a top secret criminal organisation. You’ve kidnapped the heroine and strapped her down in your diabolical tickling machine. You nestle down in your comfortable rotating armchair, in your giant subterranean HQ, to enjoy a spot of mechanically-assisted torture, and ~

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Goddamnit! They spelled “SCORPION” wrong! It’s supposed to be Secret Cult Organisation Ransacking Perniciously In Outer Nagasaki. Everybody knows you can’t have a sentence without a verb! 

The toon in question is TV show Lupin III, from the manga by Monkey Punch (call me cynical, but I’ve a sneaking suspicion that’s a nom de plume). I was aware of the character of Arsene Lupin III because of the Hayao Miyazaki movie CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO (which Spielberg credits with having the best car chase ever put on film — I wonder if he’ll try something like it in his TINTIN film, his first venture into pure[ish] animation?) and also because my Japanese friend Kiyo, who first introduced me to Miyazaki’s genius, showed me a couple of TV show episodes directed by the master. One featured a giant aeroplane, a sort of sci-fi Spruce Goose, which transformed into a giant robot rather like the ones in LAPUTA/CASTLE IN THE SKY. On his recent visit Kiyo recommended a few earlier episodes made before Miyazaki joined the show, but I’m sorry to say that despite the near-constant action and crazy inventiveness, I didn’t enjoy them as much.

The TV show always had a marked tendency to titillating sexiness which Miyazaki was careful to eradicate from his feature version, but which returns with added strength in later movies. I recall seeing one on the sci-fi channel which ended with a cut from Lupin’s finger touching Fujiko’s nipple, to an atomic bomb detonation…

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Shake that disturbing conjunction from your minds, though, because here’s Melvyn Douglas with an armful of puppies! The movie is ARSENE LUPIN’S RETURN, and asides from the fact that the plot set-up — a retired master criminal finds his hideaway threatened when a copycat burglar starts thieving in his name — is identical to that of Hitchcock’s later TO CATCH A THIEF, the main interest here is the absurdly high number of familiar faces crowded into what is essentially a B-movie. Apart from the relaxed, comically-serious and seriously-comic Douglas, there’s Warren William at his most good-humoured, playing the vain cop who’s out to nab Lupin. Adding their support, we have Virginia Bruce, Jon Halliday, Nat Pendleton, Monty Woolley, EE Clive, George Zucco, Vladimir Sokoloff and Tully Marshall. You may not know all their names, but you’d know their faces. An incredible panoply of talent to assemble for what’s essentially an above-average B-caper.

The year was 1938, and Hollywood’s talent pool was not yet depleted by war. In a couple of years, Monty Woolley would be leading the Bearded Battalion to victory in Northern Europe, while Warren William would join the Legion of Celebrated Profiles, striking fear into the Japanese invaders in darkest Burma.

To dispel such grim, martial imagery, here is an image of Melvyn Douglas with an armful of piglets.

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Dragnet

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2009 by dcairns

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DRAGNET GIRL is a stunningly beautiful Ozu silent — rich b&w tones, crisp compositions, beautifully modelled lighting on faces, and a subtly soft-focus glaze over everything. I made the mistake of watching it while thick with the cold, which meant following the simple plot was a challenge, but the imagery washed over me like a crashing wave of beauty.

Being a relatively early Ozu, I guess, this one doesn’t have any of the characters look directly into the lens, but Ozu still has an idiosyncratic approach to eyelines, sometimes preferring to jump the line so he can frame each character in a conversation to match the other exactly, rather than mirror-reversing them as is common in the western shot-reverse-shot pattern. Since Ozu is incredibly adept at this kind of thing, it’s never confusing.

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But it’s good to see he already loves a good still life, although in this film they’re a lot less still — he introduces the office setting with a shot of the clock, then tracks past a row of hats on hooks, one of which symbolically drops to the floor as we reach it. Then he does a matching track past a row of typists, ending on the criminally-inclined Kinuyo Tanaka, a gangster’s moll who’s romancing the boss’s idiot son. It’s accurate enough to call these “establishing shots” in a way, but they also have a structural function — when Ozu repeats them at the end, when Tanaka and her b.f. heist the place, we not only know where we are but we sense the story is near its conclusion. Elsewhere, Ozu pirouettes around his objects, either elegantly with a slow track, or in finger-snapping jumps with his editing — the Victor Records shop where good girl Sumiko Mizukubo works is dotted with H.M.V. dogs, and Ozu seems to be playing at cramming at least one dog into every shot. This kind of formal playfulness does seem to be very much Ozu’s bag, and has emerged as a much more productive avenue to explore than all that “transcendental style” nonsense Paul Schrader put about back in the day. Thanks to David Bordwell for clearing the air, I think.

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Meanwhile, he often freezes his actors, so that they adopt rigid stances like props themselves, crackling with pent-up emotion, activated when the camera position jumps around them just as it did with the inanimate objects.

The Japanese love of Von Sternberg, the use of the word DRAGNET in the title, and the crime-movie genre all led me to expect some kind of Ozu-Sternberg fusion, but the Josef Von influence isn’t too obvious. Ozu throws in a homage to another 30s filmmaker by featuring a French poster for ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, and those tracking shots of hats and typists do actually relate in a way to the much fast tracking shots of trench warfare in Lewis Milestone’s epic.  In each case the movement makes the shot about a large number of things (hats, dying soldiers) rather than a single subject, but the movement causes us to view them in a sequential fashion, so that we see how the large number is made up of individual examples.

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Leading man Joji Oka is extremely handsome, and allows Ozu to celebrate his love of booze (in my experience, the Japanese are constitutionally well-suited to massive alcohol indulgence — as my friend Kiyo said, “I don’t really get drunk. I saw Shuju drink a bottle of vodka one night, and he was… quite good.”). Kurosawa favourite Koji Mitsui plays the good girl’s brother, who wants to be a bigshot gangster like Joji. Like I say, the plot is very simple, but it barely penetrated the big wad of imploded mucus that was my head.

I was introduced to Ozu with the usual nonsense about the camera always being at the height of a kneeling person, and all that hooey. And there was a good bit of talk about the camera staying behind when people leave the room. Here, Ozu withholds a clear view of the action on only a couple of occasions. There’s a terrific fight, played only on the reactions of Joji’s gang, as he single-handedly defeats his rivals. And then there’s a bit of surprising girl-on-girl action — the jealous Tanaka confronts the innocent Mizukubo, intending to shoot her, but decides she likes the girl. What throws a lot of strangeness and dramatic weight onto the kiss that follows is that Ozu cuts to pavement level, showing Mizukubo’s feet in the foreground, and Tanaka’s feet rushing abruptly towards them, then retreating. Then we cut to the startled Mizukubo putting her hand to her cheek. I mean, we only intuit that a kiss has occurred, with the onscreen information available, it COULD have been a slap.

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But it felt like a kiss.