Archive for Kobayashi

Disc Drive

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2008 by dcairns

Elizabeth Wiener Investigates 

Regular Shadowplayer Jenny wrote this in our Comments section: 

‘This is off-topic but I wanted to know your opinion on the DVD-market in Britain.  After 10 years in this format are we getting a good choice of films?’ 

First, I have to ask, relative to what? I’m cheered by the fact that there’s more films available, and more good ones, on DVD than were ever accessible on VHS, and the quality is generally much better (pan-and-scan is almost becoming extinct). On the other hand, the selection in America seems to be much better (plus the U.S. has the wonder that is Turner Classic Movies — the British equivalent is a pale and simpering shadow of the mighty stateside behemoth). So the situation could still stand monstro improving.

Deeper Into Films

‘I rent from and often find it galling that they don’t have more international and older films available to rent – they do seem to have everything that is available on region 2 but it doesn’t seem enough.’ 

It definitely isn’t. (NOTHING IS EVER ENOUGH!) I may actually be getting near the dregs of what I want to rent in this country, even though new stuff keeps coming out.

There IS a sorta-solution for British residents, but it doesn’t involve renting, and depending on how far you take it, it could get… illegal.

barely legal

First, you need a multi-region player. These are just as cheap as single-region ones, sometimes even cheaper (they actually ADD something to the DVD player to make it single region only). You can also find online hacks for most DVD players that actually convert them to multi-region, easy as π.

Then you buy from You can already buy from, etc, since European discs use the same region coding as the UK. Once you’ve watched the film you can sell it on eBay, so the cost ends up being relatively low.

Now comes the illegal bit. With free software like DVD Decrypter, DVD Shrink, combined with the more expensive Nero, it’s possible to copy every film you buy or rent. I’m not suggesting you do this as IT IS WRONG. Bruce Willis and Jeffrey Katzenberg will wind up BEGGING IN THE STREETS if you do this. Could you live with yourself?

It could be argued that ripping movies that aren’t available in the UK is a way to correct a problem in the marketplace, where a demand isn’t being met, or prices are too high. But it’s a slippery slope. Once you start ripping you may find it hard to stop.

So don’t do that. But the buying from abroad thing is legal, and you’ll be helping out others by re-selling what you buy.

It’s great if you’re interested in getting French movies without English subs, because (a) you can learn a lot of storytelling technique from watching films where you don’t understand the dialogue and (b) if you speak French, then a whole new set of nuances in the dialogue will be open to you, and also (c) you’ll be able to see lots of great French films that aren’t available anywhere with English subtitles, like these weird things.

ecstasy of cinema

Jenny also said:

‘Recently I emailed [Lovefilm] to ask if they could start renting out films from other regions but make it clear that they don’t have English subtitles.  As always with their customer services they emailed back some piece of the  terms and conditions that they think has something to do with my query but doesn’t actually answer it at all (many businesses seem to communicate in the same way as an MP these days).  So I clicked “No this doesn’t answer my question” and tried again.  This time they came back with “We only rent out region 2 DVDs”.  But hang on, this is a suggestion from a customer – at least say you’re going to put it in a suggestion box.  Pretend!  This is called running a business!  So I don’t know if it’s illegal or if they don’t work in UK DVD players.’ 

Generally a DVD distributor only has the rights for a certain set of territories, so it wouldn’t be legal for a U.S. or a French DVD to be offered for rental in the U.K. But if Lovefilm are failing to give you this information, keep hassling them — I think unhelpful customer service should be repaid in kind by obstreperous customers who refuse to give up.

My favourite Lovefilm moment is when they suddenly increased their databse by about a thousand, and were offering films for rent like THE CASE OF LENA SMITH, which not only is unavailable on DVD anywhere in the world, it’s actually a LOST FILM — only fragments survive.

‘If small, critically acclaimed films that I read about don’t make it on to DVD and TV continues to ignore films I literally have no chance of watching them.’

The issue of British TV’s slide into a completely insular world that ignores art cinema is a really serious one which I should blog about soon.

‘I also think that great directors should have all their films released on DVD – with smaller production of their less-popular work.  I think they have managed this with Hitchcock but not with many others.’

Unseen in UK

I totally agree. One consequence of having a filmmaker’s entire oeuvre available is that even the weaker films become more interesting when you can see them all together. And yet at present in the UK you can’t even see every Spielberg film.

I understand that with a filmmaker like Akira Kurosawa, who was both long-lived and prolific, and who worked for more than one studio, gathering all the rights together at one DVD distributor would be tough. And while servicing movie buffs who want to see all Otto Preminger’s movies, Hollywood studios also want to keep fans happy who are more interested in movie stars, so for instance RIVER OF NO RETURN may get a release ahead of DAISY KENYON, even if it’s not as interesting, purely because it has Monroe.

Then there are commendable outfits like the womderful Criterion and Masters of Cinema, which exist to deliver the creme de la creme of film culture, and which therefore don’t go in for complete filmographies.

Where a filmmaker has made a relatively small number of films, it would be nice if they were all made available by SOMEBODY. There’s a Clouzot box set, but it doesn’t contain many of his films. Masaki Kobayashi was far from prolific, but most of his stuff is still not obtainable in the west, and hardly any in the UK. Of Von Sternberg’s 22 existing, complete features, about half are not available, including all his silent films (although a few of these WERE released on VHS).

For all these reasons and more, the capitalist system doesn’t serve the discerning film lover very well, even if it did allow many of the great films to get made in the first place. (BUT — free BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN in today’s Guardian).

All images from Henri-Georges Clouzot’s LA PRISONNIERE (not available in the US or UK, not available with English subtitles ANYWHERE).

More Masaki.

Posted in FILM with tags , , on December 3, 2007 by dcairns

Tatsuya Nakadai 

In Masaki Kobayashi’s SAMURAI REBELLION (1968) he starts off with a lesson in montage, reminiscent of Eisenstein, where a simple scene is made intensely dramatic just by being splintered into Ecstatic Fragments.

Here is the blade of a sword.

Here is the man who holds the hilt.

Here is a straw effigy, his target.

The sword.

The man.

Now, onlookers…

We draw in on the straw figure, remorselessly.

We’re all in a field!


“One cannot be betrayed if one has no people.”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on December 3, 2007 by dcairns


Seppuku (AKA Hara Kiri). 1962. Directed by Masaki Kobayashi. Shochiku Co. Ltd.

Masaki Kobayashi (Yes, Pete Postlethwaite’s character in THE USUAL SUSPECTS, quoted above, seems to be named after him) was the nearest you could get to a conscience objector in WWII Japan and still live. Conscripted into the army he refused to fight or be promoted to a rank above private. When he started making films he brought with him a fierce sense of anti-authoritarianism, a contempt for the status quo, and a lust for justice.

Geometric compositions present the clean, rational panels of Lord Iyi’s manor. An ordered world. We drift down perfectly-squared off corridors like the phantom protagonist of LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD. But in a back room lurks a scary suit of armour in smoky backlight, like a creature from Bava’s BLACK SUNDAY.

The armour is Japanese society at the start of the Edo era: fierce, martial, sturdy, and filled only with an inhuman vacuum. “The samurai code of honour is an empty façade,” insists Tatsuya Nakadai, our protagonist, as he waits for death. It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing anybody could get away with saying in an Akira Kurosawa movie, although the writer of this one originated RASHOMON, the film that introduced Kurosawa and Japanese cinema to the west.

Scene-setting: Japan is swarming with ronin, masterless samurai, and they roam around begging for money and threatening to chop themselves up if they don’t get it. The nobility is sick of this and has started to call the ronins’ bluffs, forcing them to commit seppuku as promised. Nakadai arrives at Iyi Manor apparently quite determined to follow through on his suicidal mission, but just as we reach the point where it seems likely to be a very short movie (half an hour in) the plot starts jumping and jiving in unexpected ways.

For Nakadai is on a mission not of self-immolation, but of revenge. The House of Iyi has destroyed, in roundabout but unutterably cruel fashion, his daughter, son-in-law and grandson. The film is merciless in coldly laying out the facts of his case. Shots of a sleeping toddler coated with spray-on sweat make us feel like spectators at a cot-death. And while Nakadai has nothing left to live for, he’s determined not to cross to the next world without righting at least some of the wrongs done to his loved ones.

I’m not much of a one for depressing films, but movies like this, and Kon Ichikawa’s FIRES ON THE PLAIN, seem able to go into very dark places indeed and emerge with such beautiful images and feats of narrative that the effect is curiously uplifting and energizing. A Man is going to be Destroyed. He is going to cause considerable collateral damage on his way out. And all trace of this is going to be erased from history. Nothing will be learned. But we, the lucky viewers, will know all about it…

Hanshiro Tsugumo (Tatsuya Nakadai)

Tatsuya Nakadai is someone I have liked, but underrated. He seemed like the poor man’s Toshiro Mifune in RAN, where Mifune would have run amok and made the film his own.

Tosh entered movies after being demobbed, aimed for the camera department and missed, finding himself, to his own considerable embarrassment, the greatest leading man in the country. He covered his discomfort by attacking every role with maximum ferocity: there seemed no part he couldn’t convey by shrieking and glowering. A neurotic braggart? Easy, just yell and prance around. A quiet, dignified businessman? Glare and bark until pink smoke issues from the celluloid. A wicked bandit? Scream like a maniac. A vanquished nobleman? Scream louder. He could shoulder-charge his way into any character, and the gusto always worked.

Nakadai lacked Mifune’s endless reserves of wanton mania, but in SEPPUKU we see what he had instead: a voice as deep as Mifune’s (I well remember my friend Kiyo explaining, “Japanese audiences like their leading men…extremely masculine.”); a sinewy, tightly-coiled physicality; a stare that bores through the lens, the audience, the fabric of the World.

There is much talk of the World here: how you can’t fight IT, can’t change IT, IT is what IT is. All of which Kobayashi might agree with, but he finds it intolerable. Whatever the cost, whatever the futility of the struggle, we must defy the World, embodied in that spooky damn suit of armour, sitting smugly behind the scenes as death sentences are doled out like sweeties. This film is a cry of rage at that malevolent tinpot general.

Kobayashi, who made the lovely KWAIDAN in wondrously lambent colour, here applies his considerable stylistic verve to widescreen black-and-white. SEPPUKU has the classic flatness and geometrical precision of Japanese graphic art, and at other times it goes into pop-art sixties expressionism, all canted angles and crash zooms, like an episode of BATMAN with added evisceration by bamboo stick. The clashing tricks are a perfect match for the narrative’s dizzying spins and reverses which deliver the required tragic inevitability while provoking spluttering cries of “What fucking next?” every twenty minutes.

Here is a more compassionate use of bamboo: