Archive for Masaki Kobayashi


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on December 16, 2019 by dcairns

Theatrical lighting change from THE DEMON OF MOUNT OE (1960).

One thing Fiona and I don’t have time to get into in our forthcoming video essay on KWAIDAN (1964) is the extent to which some of the film’s stylised effects were somewhat longstanding tropes in the kaidan genre. Here, director Tozuko Tanaka is fading up a light to change the aspect of a character and show that something spooky is afoot and to present a transformation.

While I have no trouble believing Masaki Kobayashi had seen this movie or ones like it before embarking on his own ghost story compendium, what I haven’t figured out is whether Mario Bava was aware of this school of filmmaking when he started doing similarly theatrical colour changes in BLACK SABBATH and THE WHIP AND THE BODY. Easy to imagine the Italian maestro catching a look at KWAIDAN and loving what he saw, but his effects were staged before Kobayashi’s… but after Tanaka’s. But it doesn’t seem very likely that DEMON OF MT. OE was screened much anywhere in the west.

Is there a missing link in this chain?

Bava had emulated Mamoulian and Karl Struss’s lighting changes in DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1931) when he created a transformation scene in Riccardo Freda’s I VAMPIRI (1957). But that’s slightly different: you’re not aware of the lighting change, since it’s a change only of colour in a b&w movie: what it does is reveals coloured makeup on an actor, resulting in a transformation before your very eyes in a single shot. That could very well have given Bava the idea of doing something in colour where the shifting gel effects are undisguised, which would make it one of those weird cases of parallel development you get sometimes…

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:

Still Kobayashi

Sword’s Law

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on September 23, 2011 by dcairns

HARAKIRI (which is really called SEPPUKU), a truly savage piece of assault-course celluloid, was one of the first films I ever Shadowplayed, and I was happy to revisit it for Electric Sheep in the light of the welcome new DVD and BluRay from Masters of Cinema. Masaki Kobayashi might be best known for KWAIDAN (which is really called KAIDAN), but I actually prefer this one.

Buy —

Harakiri (Dual Format Blu-ray & DVD) [Masters of Cinema]

Or, if American, there’s the Criterion Blu:

Harakiri (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]