Tag Archives: Shochiku Company

An Autumn Afternoon (1962, Ozu Yasujirô)

In An Autumn Afternoon, director Ozu has a peculiar approach to how he presents his cast delivering dialogue. They stare just off camera and speak calmly, gently, no matter what. Ozu and photographer Atsuta Yûharu are incredibly precise with the composition; while Hamamura Yoshiyasu’s editing needs that precision, it also creates a distance. And Autumn is a character study, so it having such a definite, consistent distance is a little strange.

Especially when Saitô Takanobu’s music is always playful, always inviting.

Ozu presents a couple hours of these characters’ lives–during what could be a momentous occasion, but he and co-writer Noda Kôgo skip it–and lets the viewer get to know them. The way Ozu shoots the dialogue, the way he shoots medium shots–never from the character’s perspective, always from something impossible as a participant–the viewer is intrusive. But that intrusiveness is never acknowledged.

An Autumn Afternoon is a film constructed to keep the viewer aloof while never acknowledging there can be a viewer; all while the music and Kanekatsu Minoru’s gorgeous production design invites the viewer into the film. Ozu doesn’t even let himself get excited about his accomplishment in that aloofness. He’s always focused on the characters.

It’s like he can’t be bothered with the idea anyone’s going to watch Autumn.

All the acting is strong, especially Ryû Chishû in the difficult lead role, Okada Mariko as his daughter-in-law and Tôno Eijirô as his old schoolteacher.

An Autumn Afternoon is hostilely brilliant.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ozu Yasujirô; written by Noda Kôgo and Ozu; director of photography, Atsuta Yûharu; edited by Hamamura Yoshiyasu; music by Saitô Takanobu; production designer, Kanekatsu Minoru; produced by Yamanouchi Shizuou; released by Shochiku Company.

Starring Ryû Chishû (Hirayama), Iwashita Shima (Michiko), Sada Keiji (Koichi), Okada Mariko (Akiko), Nakamura Nobuo (Kawai), Kita Ryûji (Horie), Mikamo Shin’ichirô (Kazuo) and Tôno Eijirô (The Gourd).


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The Human Condition I: No Greater Love (1959, Kobayashi Masaki)

The Human Condition I: No Greater Love is about, you guessed it, the human condition and the problems with being a humanist when you’re working in a foreign country your country has invaded and occupied. The film takes place in 1943, in Japanese-controlled Manchuria. It’s a desolate spot, but lead Nakadai Tatsuya doesn’t want to go to war and the assignment lets him get out of the draft and he gets to marry his sweetheart, Aratama Michiyo.

These developments occur in the first fifteen minutes of Love, which runs three and a half hours. They should be important in establishing Nakadai and Aratama, but really it just shows the actors to have very little chemistry and very poorly written roles.

Director Kobayashi doesn’t bring much to film (he also cowrites the overcooked screenplay); he can’t direct the actors, wherever they shot on location adds all the tone and, even though Miyajima Yoshio’s photography is good, it’s clear the weak composition is holding it back.

Love is a historical melodrama. The cast is huge, nothing good ever happens to anyone, but it’s also a political melodrama and Kobayashi doesn’t like subtlety. At all. The film runs head first into any place it can make commentary–racism, classism, sexism–and leaves the characters racing to catch up.

At least they’re running through gorgeous landscape.

Yamamura Sô gives the best performance as Nakadai’s sidekick. The rest of the performances are, graciously put, thin.

Love avoids every interesting possibility and embraces every predictable.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Kobayashi Masaki; screenplay by Matsuyama Zenzô and Kobayashi, based on the novel by Gomikawa Jumpei; director of photography, Miyajima Yoshio; edited by Uraoka Keiichi; music by Kinoshita Chûji; production designer, Hirataka Kazue; produced by Wakatsuki Shigeru; released by Shochiku Company.

Starring Nakadai Tatsuya (Kaji), Aratama Michiyo (Michiko), Awashima Chikage (Jin Tung Fu), Arima Ineko (Yang Chun Lan), Yamamura Sô (Okishima), Ishihama Akira (Chen), Nanbara Kôji (Kao), Miyaguchi Seiji (Wang Heng Li), Abe Tôru (Sergeant Watai), Mishima Masao (Kuroki), Ozawa Eitarô (Okazaki), Mitsui Kôji (Furuya), Kôno Akitake (Captain Kono), Nakamura Nobuo (Head Office Chief), Sazanka Kyû (Meisan Chô) and Sada Keiji (Kageyama).


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Scandal (1950, Kurosawa Akira)

Scandal presents an incredibly humane side of Kurosawa, one his historical pictures don’t convey. He shows the desperate sadness of people and offers little visible hope throughout. There’s one scene, when the protagonist (played by Mifune Toshirô) and the main character (Shimura Takashi) come across a pond reflecting the stars and Mifune comments about the frequent beauty one finds in daily life. Scandal isn’t so much about those aesthetic moments, rather the type of person who can fully appreciate them. Mifune’s character, a painter, has it a little easier than Shimura, the alcoholic, gambling lawyer, but that scene equalizes them and allows them to communicate.

Mifune kept reminding me of Gregory Peck in this film–maybe because of the pipe (though I don’t think Peck had the pipe until later than 1950). He’s handsome and kind and he’s definitely the protagonist–but he’s not the main character. Or maybe he’s the main character and Shimura is the protagonist. I can’t remember… The Oxford says the main character and the protagonist used to the same, but in the modern sense, there’s room for a main character and a protagonist. In a Kurosawa film of this era, there’s definite room. He’s not as loose as usual with his character emphasis, but again, until forty minutes into the film, I didn’t know who the story was going to track. Shimura is in lots of Kurosawa films (in addition, of course, to Godzilla), but Scandal is his finest work. His role is the fallen character Renoir never could work out and Kurosawa does it instinctively. Instead of using the character sparsely–as the viewer painfully watches him repeatedly fail everyone he cares about–Kurosawa keeps it going, keeps bringing him back, keeps the viewer in as much pain as the character is in… and he or she is just as able to change the character’s behavior as the character is able to do.

Scandal is really early, so Kurosawa hadn’t gone over to scope yet and watching the film, one can see him pushing the frame. I’ve never seen Kurosawa projected and I realized almost immediately, these squarer images were just as breathtaking as his other framings. I suppose it’s one of the drawbacks of letterboxing–you realize what you’re missing by not seeing it in the theater. Since Scandal is so early, since the story is so traditional (a magazine slanders a romantically innocent pair of celebrities), and since Mifune is such a traditional leading man, it’s shocking when Kurosawa breaks the film out of the traditional form. There’s a wonderful scene at the end: on the right side of the frame are the two heroes and their amiable sidekick and on the left is Shimura. Kurosawa keeps it all in focus–Scandal has no relieving close-ups either–and the scene just goes on for a little while. Something about the positioning of the actors while surveying the desperation… in that shot, it is immediately clear how important a storyteller Kurosawa already was and was going to be.

Scandal is, of course, not readily available in the United States. I watched the UK Masters of Cinema DVD release, which–just like the last Masters of Cinema release I watched–had video problems, this time with interlacing. The film was available on VHS in the States, from Criterion’s parent company’s VHS arm, so maybe there’s a nice region 1 edition in the works.

The most pleasant part about Scandal is it gets better as it goes along, constantly building toward its final achievement.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kurosawa Akira; written by Kurosawa and Kikushima Ryuzo; director of photography, Ubukata Toshio; music by Hayasaka Fumio; produced by Koide Takashi; released by Shochiku Company.

Starring Mifune Toshirô (Aoye Ichirô), Yamaguchi Shirley (Saijo Miyako), Katsuragi Yôko (Hiruta Masako), Sengoku Noriko (Sumie), Ozawa Eitarô (Hori), Shimura Takashi (Attorney Hiruta), Himori Shinichi (Editor Asai) and Shimizu Ichirô (Arai).


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