Tag Archives: Tatsuya Nakadai

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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The Face of Another (1966, Teshigahara Hiroshi)

Novelists make interesting screenwriters (though maybe not as much any more). When they adapt their own work, however, it might not be the best idea. The adaptation allows them to package their interpretation of themselves, as opposed to actually adapting a work from one medium to the next. The Face of Another, adapted by Abe Kôbô from his own novel, is a good example of how not to adapt a novel into a film. Besides including some decidedly bad visuals–not everything can be visualized for film and work in the context of a film, after all–he also made some really bad pacing decisions. The first hour of the film, about a man whose face is horribly scarred in an accident, drags along. It opens well with a scene between the man and his wife and the marriage scenes do play well in the film and should have been it’s secondary focus. However, most of the first hour is spent with the man (who is in bandages for that first hour, until he gets a life-like mask in the second) and his psychiatrist. The psychiatrist somehow becomes the film’s focus, which doesn’t fit….

What does fit the film is the rather novelistic juxtaposition between the man and a pretty young girl with a radiation burn (from Nagasaki) on her face. She appears in the second half and the film switches focus a few times. While he’s desperately trying to fix his psychical appearance amid people who really don’t care (except his wife), she’s kind and good and trying to help people even though child point and scream. In her scenes, there’s a real sense of the post-war condition. His scenes aren’t just missing that setting, they’re missing any subtext. The psychiatrist’s mad dreams of lost identity are a poor substitute for anything going on with the man below the surface. Even the relationship with the wife, which disappears for a good forty minutes only to come back with some promise, fizzles in the end. The end really fizzles as the film gets visually theatrical and Abe keeps novelistic elements film is incapable of presenting.

The acting is excellent, which makes the film’s faults all the more glaring. If this cast couldn’t iron them out, they must be bad. The scarred girl, Irie Miki, never appeared in any other films. The lead, Nakadai Tatsuya, has an impressive emotional range given the first the bandages, then the mask, which stays static, and the character is too shallow. As the film’s configured, the suffering wife (Kyō Machiko) should have been the protagonist, but obviously she isn’t. Only the psychiatrist, Hira Mikijiro, gives a less than stellar performance in one of the main roles, but since his character changes so much from scene to scene, it’s not really his fault.

When I started Face of Another, I was expecting something great, but as it drug on and on–and particularly when it failed to stay on the good course it found in the second hour–I really wondered whether or not a novelist should be adapting his own work. Especially Abe (though I’ve only read one of his novels), who seems to have a good setup then a poor resolution.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed and produced by Teshigahara Hiroshi; written by Abe Kôbô, based on his novel; director of photography, Segewa Hiroshi; edited by Shuzui Fusako; music by Takemitsu Toru; production designer, Awazu Kiyoshi; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Nakadai Tatsuya (Okuyama), Hira Mikijiro (Doctor), Kishida Kyoko (Nurse), Kyo Machiko (Mrs. Okuyama), Okada Eiji (Director) and Irie Miki (Girl).


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Kagemusha (1980, Kurosawa Akira)

When I was a kid, I was always curious about Kagemusha because of the VHS box art. It was a silhouette of the battle armor, giving it a real eerie feel about it. Like it was a sequel or remake of Night of the Demon. Later, I learned it was not a supernatural samurai movie. I started getting into Kurosawa about the same time I discovered aspect ratios and laserdiscs and I never got around to seeing much… Most Kurosawa discs were Criterion and expensive or Fox and expensive. I actually just came across my laserdisc copy of Kagemusha, still in shrink-wrap, which I got on remainder.

It’s an incredibly impersonal film. IMDb confirmed it’s based on historical events, which explains why much of it feels like a history lesson. It’s a long two hours and forty minutes too, but I don’t think anything could actually go. Actually, I think the film would probably benefit from more. There are a handful of human relationships that work in the film–most of them since there are so few–and there are a lot of moments that work. But these moments often interrupt expository scenes and lecture moments.

Kagemusha is still a good film, it’s just not very deep. It was apparent, an hour in, the film could only end one way (and it did). But this realization made the next hour and a half a little labored… Just because we know it can only end one way doesn’t mean the film should treat us like we know it. There’s also an attempt at commentary on warfare that pops up in the third act and, while it could start a different film, it certainly doesn’t rightly end this one. But, it’s still good… it’s just not exciting (it’s no Night of the Demon, for instance).

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Kurosawa Akira; written by Kurosawa and Ide Masato; directors of photography, Saitô Takao and Ueda Masaharu; music by Ikebe Shinichirô; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Nakadai Tatsuya (Takeda Shingen / Kagemusha), Yamazaki Tsutomu (Takeda Nobukado), Hagiwara Kenichi (Takeda Katsuyori), Nezu Jinpachi (Tsuchiya Sohachiro), Otaki Hideji (Yamagata Masakage), Ryu Daisuke (Oda Nobunaga), Yui Masayuki (Tokugawa Ieyasu) and Momoi Kaori (Otsuyanokata).