Archive for Kurosawa

Evil Xs

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 21, 2010 by dcairns

Not much to add to the gleeful hubbub surrounding Edgar Wright’s adaptation of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD. A rare film which takes faithfulness to its source as a call to have fun rather than stifle invention, it’s also one of the few movies that really works for me in terms of juggling sort-of-real characters with personalities and issues, and awesome fight scenes where people get exploded. There’s no sense of a mismatch at all, you don’t worry about the death side of things, you just accept that the mild mayhem is some kind of metaphor, and nobody really gets hurt within the world of this film.

Taking his cue from the graphic novel/s, Wright plays games, literally, with cinema, cheerfully eating up anime and comic book and video game techniques. It makes me curious to see what he’d do with 3D, since his showcasing of technique for the sheer hell of it makes self-consciousness a virtue. Also, it’s very funny.

Wright has always had a lovely sense of comic timing, and his hyperkinetic style actually works hand-in-hand with that. The sharp cut following Michael Cera’s reaction to the line “Bread makes you fat,” — a single, horrified, “What?” — is made retroactively funnier by the abruption of the edit following fast on the heels of the line. In a split second, your brain is reprogrammed to upgrade the line from amusing to hilarious.

Cera is of course delightful, but so is everyone. My new conversational opener for after a film viewing with a friend is “Who was your favourite?” and it works very well with this movie [Maybe wouldn’t be so helpful with something like SECRET HONOR] I asked Fiona, “Who was your favourite?” “What?” “Who was your favourite?” “Oh. Girl drummer.” An instinctive reaction to a good bob. And then, “And gay guy.” My favourite is Ellen Wong as Knives Chao, because everything she does is cute and funny. But it’s a tough call, because there’s a whole trench-full of cute funniness in the flick.

As one who’s gone on the record with a deep, almost sexual admiration for Cera, I felt uncertain about his darker hair coloring here, and Wright does a lot of profile and three-quarter views of his star, which makes him less beautiful, less a Starman and more a 21st Century Sterling Holloway. But that ain’t bad.

Is Scott sitting on a swing in the snow a reference to Kurosawa’s IKIRU? It seems like it might be. Or it might be a reference to Bruce MacDonald’s THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS, which likewise has teenage issues, split screen and Canada as sub-topics. Two references that seem fairly certain are the use of the hypnosis sting from Mike Hodges’ FLASH GORDON, and the appearance by the Monster from the Id from FORBIDDEN PLANET. What’s he been doing with himself in the last fifty years, anyhow?

He’s certainly kept in trim.


Family Viewing Time

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2009 by dcairns


How are we getting on with our teen-supervision activities, you ask?

Films watched with Louis this week include THE WRESTLER (which I didn’t see, but which Fiona found pretty old-fashioned, like a marginally more disfigured version of King Vidor’s THE CHAMP — “I like his scary fridge film better,” says Fiona, referring to REQUIEM FOR A DREAM), HEAVENLY CREATURES, and THE PUMAMAN, a bizarrely homoerotic Italian superhero movie about ancient Incan space technology which gives the hero the powers of a puma: sensing danger, achieving a death-lke trance, flying — you know, just like a puma. “I always seem to end up watching something really weird with you guys,” Louis observed affably.

Best of all, we watched George Pal’s THE TIME MACHINE, which gives new pleasures every time I see it.

While Pal’s best pal couldn’t argue that he’s particularly sophisticated as a director, he has a very smart script to work with here, and has obviously been looking around and drawing inspiration from some pretty cool sources. When intrepid chrononaut Rod Taylor (marvellous perf!) goes for a walk in the Eden-like future forest, Pal throws in a variety of tracking shots suggesting that he’s been impressed by Kurosawa’s RASHOMON. The giveaway shot is the one looking up at the sunlight blinking through the branches.

Later, when Taylor discovers that the savage Morlocks (paunchy blue guys with unsightly body hair — the Scots of the future?) have a Gremlin-like aversion to bright light, he dazzles them for a moment by lighting a match, and Pal steals from the Master, with an orange glare of POV dazzle filched from REAR WINDOW. This struck Louis as implausible: “Just how bright IS a match, anyway?” Since the Morlock’s have Jawa-style glowing eyes, do they not get equally blinded whenever they look at each other?

As a fan of TV’s The Mighty Boosh, Louis has a fine eye for absurdity, and enjoyed such moments while still appreciating the beauty and craft of Pal’s special effects sequences and the sweep of the story, which must have made some impression: when I loaned him my battered copy of the Watchmen graphic novel later in the week, warning him that it might crumble to dust, he sagely remarked, “Like the books in THE TIME MACHINE.”

Yvette Mimieux: a bit too Paris Hilton for Louis’ taste.

Another weird coincidence: on Monday morning I was lecturing on Orson Welles, doing his whole film career only in reverse, and mentioned the amazing moment in the MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS screenplay, deleted from RKO’s edit of the film, where the voice-over suggests a future time when George Amberson Minafer’s shade might be seen, kneeling, its head and shoulders disappearing through a partition wall that wasn’t there in his era (you really have to read it to make sense of this). That evening, as Rod Taylor fired up his elegant steam-punk time-sled, Louis speculated about what would happen if he materialised halfway through a yet-to-be-constructed wall…


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


But it felt like a kiss.