Archive for Kwaidan

Stealing Time

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 3, 2019 by dcairns

I’m in the edit today — Fiona and I have recorded a video essay for KWAIDAN. So not much time for blogathoning. But I tell you what — Timo Langer and I are cutting at Mark Cousins’ place. How about I wander about and see if I can find any late films to write about, in between cuts?

The reference material from Mark’s THE EYES OF ORSON WELLES lie all around, so there’s CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT, F FOR FAKE and THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND.

There’s a Derek Jarman box set, but it doesn’t contain BLUE, which I really ought to write about — one of the ultimate late films, you could argue, made when its director had been struck blind by AIDS.

Ah, there’s WAR REQUIEM, late-ish Jarman and positively final Olivier. You can’t get later than late Olivier.

(Is it bad manners to blog about somebody’s flat when they’re out?)

Two Theo Angelopoulos box sets. Haven’t seen THE DUST OF TIME, but it’s a great title for a last film, even though its creator probably wasn’t planning to curtail his career by stepping in front of an off-duty cop’s on-coming motorcycle.

Wow, here’s THE BRAVE, the only film directed by Johnny Depp, to date. (And a follow-up seems less and less likely.)

This place is a treasure trove of cinema, including late cinema…

Mark’s back, now I feel guilty and furtive.

He’s OK with it — in fact, he mentions an article he wrote on Late Style, which you can read here, at The Prospect. Quick discussion follows on why, so often, filmmakers’ work becomes tired or boring in old age, whereas that doesn’t happen so often with visual artists. The weight of all that equipment seems to be a burden. “Look at Bertolucci, how his films shrank, until they were one-room films.” Maybe lightweight digital cameras will transform this. But the filmmaker’s

I suggest that there’s a feeling that film is done best by people who are still discovering everything. It’s when we think we know what we’re doing that we get dull. It’s like those seventies Disney films where they had filing cabinets full of old animation cels as reference. You want a dancing bear, you just trace one somebody did earlier. Sometimes our brains get like filing cabinets.

There’s a relevant line in THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND: “It’s alright to steal from others, what we must never do is steal from ourselves.”

Wall Eyed

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on November 30, 2019 by dcairns

Masaki Kobayashi’s THE THICK-WALLED ROOM is a corker. All his films seem to cork, really, and I mean that in a good way.

Japanese war criminals await release. Many of them don’t understand why they’re imprisoned while the men who gave the orders go free. But the way to peace lies in acceptance of guilt — not made easier when there’s no bloody justice in the world, of course.

Kobayashi considered himself a hardboiled realist at this point, and he certainly doesn’t shy away from tough and challenging scenes, but his realistic detail is delivered with a lot of stylisation. The soundtrack is particularly important, with the noise of prison rock-breaking continued across scenes where it couldn’t be present, creating an oppressive, unrelenting effect.

So Kobayashi is an expressionist as well as a realist (and he has the Dutch tilts to prove it). The film features flashbacks and the transitions into them are really interesting — one set are delivered via a hallucination sequence in which the titular room is blasted into Swiss cheese via gunshots which sound more like the blows of the masonry hammers. When the terrified prisoner looks through the newly-created spyholes he sees scenes from his past, including one where he’s forced to use a bound man for bayonet practice.

But then Kobayashi cuts to a reverse angle taken from inside this temporal peepshow and we can see a huge eye in the background, staring from the landscape. Not an optical effect — a big, constructed prop. I want to listen in on the production meeting where MK explained what he wanted and why. But I don’t speak Japanese.

Stephen Prince, in Masaki Kobayashi: A Dream of Resistance, relates this eyeball to the big sky-eyes painted on the cyclorama in KWAIDAN. An audience gazing from outside of our spacetime. But maybe they are ourselves, from some future vantage point.

A Dream of Resistance

Oh — Fiona also noted that when a character on day release is hypnotized by a shop display of knives, it’s a fairly direct quotation from M. I can put the images together and make one sequence:

Kobayashi
Still Kobayashi
Lang

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.

*

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.

*

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.