Tag Archives: Tsutomu Yamazaki

Tampopo (1985, Itami Jûzô)

Tampopo is a cinematic appreciation of Japanese food culture. Writer and director Itami also has some love of cinema things, but it’s all about the food. Even when it’s played for humor. Or for nurturing. Or for sex. Sexy foodstuffs abound in Tampopo.

But Tampopo is also this traditional narrative. It’s a Western’s narrative, but it’s a narrative. Truck drivers Yamazaki Tsutomu and Watanabe Ken intercede on the behalf of a woman’s honor (regarding her position as the owner-operator of a ramen shop). It’s Shane, okay? I didn’t realize it until the end but it’s Shane. You don’t think a lot about the narrative because it’s very reserved, sort of muted. The humor’s easier and less ambitions.

Miyamoto Nobuko is the woman. She’s also Tampopo. She’s a widow, with a kid, a suitor, the failing business, questionable ramen cooking talent. Yamazaki agrees to help her learn. He sets up assorted, eclectic instructors and occasionally bewildering, always entertaining lessons. And he falls for Miyamoto, but he’s just a traveling man. Or is he?

There’s no question about Miyamoto’s shop eventually being successful. It’s just how long it will take. The film starts not with the main cast but with Yakusho Kôji. He’s sitting down to watch a movie with his lady friend (Shinoi Setsuko). He likes movies and food. No talking during movies, as someone finds out. But eating during movies is fine. Just quietly.

Then Itami kicks off the main plot with some didactic structuring. But it turns out to just be a mold. He doesn’t keep it. He keeps the same kind of asides, just without the overlay. The asides (because sketches would require cameos and everything else seems to need quotation marks)–so, the asides. These asides have no narrative requirements. Itami can do whatever he wants. Or can get an actor to do involving an egg yolk. Tampopo is a lot. It’s also brilliantly edited by Suzuki Akira. Suzuki’s got to have showy cuts to match the content because Itami’s always matching intensity with content. There’s a tension between the two and it gives Tampopo its anticipatory energy.

That energy stays consistent throughout. Suzuki and Itami keep the same pace during the main plot scenes as they do the asides. It’s really cool.

Great photography from Tamura Masaki and music from Murai Kunihiko. The film never gets long, the asides stay fresh. The acting is great.

Yamazaki takes Miyamoto through the urban landscape–because even if it’s a Western, it’s still set in a big city–to find the instructors. There’s Katô Yoshi, a former ramen-master burnt out, and noodle-man Sakura Kinzô. Wanatabe is around a bit. And Yasuoaka Rikiya is the guy who’ll be there for Miyamoto when the open road calls to Yamazaki and he abandons her, the shop, and the kid.

The kid who’s uncredited?

Anyway. It all works. It’s delightful. Itami falls back on broader humor whenever he wants to hurry a scene, but it’s fine. They’re good laughs, they’re just at the expense of character development. Itami, Suzuki, Tamura, and Murai do phenomenal work. And the actors are good too, but none of them get to do phenomenal work because no character development. Not even for an Audie Murphy Western much less Shane. Spoof and homage have definite limits.

They also kill a little turtle onscreen. So. I’m not down with that. I don’t want to talk about it, but, no. Uh uh.

Still, it’s a rather good movie.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Itami Jûzô; director of photography, Tamura Masaki; edited by Suzuki Akira; music by Murai Kunihiko; produced by Hosogoe Seigo, Tamaoki Yasushi, and Itami; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Yamazaki Tsutomu (Gorô), Miyamoto Nobuko (Tampopo), Yakusho Kôji (Man in White Suit), Watanabe Ken (Gan), Yasuoka Rikiya (Pisuken), Sakura Kinzô (Shôhei), Katô Yoshi (Noodle-Making Master), Ôtaki Hideji (Rich Old Man), and Kuroda Fukumi (Man in White Suit’s Mistress).


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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).


Go (2001, Yukisada Isao)

Go opens with an unbelievable shot. Pimples. It opens with the bad skin of the protagonist’s forehead. Once my initial reaction–ick–was over, I started watching Go wrap itself into a drug-free, fighting-heavy Trainspotting homage. Then it started reminding me of True Romance, if only because the theme sort of sounds like it (the one from Badlands). Then, nicely, Go did something different. It got really good.

Go‘s the first film I’ve seen that discusses Japanese racism. The main character is a Korean living in Japan and, apparently, Japanese people don’t like Koreans very much. This external conflict slowly becomes important in the film, as it becomes important to the protagonist, which is a nice way of doing things.

There’s so much good stuff in Go–the romance is all right, but easily the least, except some of the comedic scenes–particularly the family relationship and the friendships. Go features a father and son beating the shit out of each other to show each other how much they love each other. It’s a stunningly great scene, but there are a few others. So, if you do get ahold of it (Nicheflix has it), don’t give up during the derivative first act… stick with it. Even with denouement problems, it pulls itself into something damn good.

Oh. I never went anywhere with the Badlands thing. Later, the romance reminds me of Badlands. Not in the killing folks sort of way, but the loving people sort of way.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Yukisada Isao; screenplay by Kudô Kankurô, based on the novel by Kaneshiro Kazuki; director of photography, Yanagishima Katsumi; edited by Imai Takeshi; music by Kumagai Yôko and Urayama Hidehiko; production designer, Wada Hiroshi; produced by Kurosawa Mitsuru; released by Toei Inc.

Starring Kubozuka Yôsuke (Sugihara), Shibasaki Kou (Sakurai), Ootake Shinobu (Michiko), Yamamoto Taro (Tawake) and Yamazaki Tsutomu (Hideyoshi).


Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World (2004, Yukisada Isao)

Boy meets girl, boy woos girl, boy gets girl, girl gets sick.

Crying Out Love has a frame too: boy never gets over it and still hasn’t, twenty years later, when he’s engaged to be married. The engagement actually doesn’t set off the story, some of the silly plot contrivances do, but it doesn’t really matter. Crying Out Love succeeds where most films of its sort fail–it creates a good teenage love story. It does it small and it does it with good acting. The kid in it, whose name you can find on IMDb if you care (he hasn’t been in anything else), is fantastic, so’s the girl. Even the acting in the modern day is good, it’s just that the character never worked himself out, so it’s sort of unbelievable that anyone would want to marry him. It’s adapted from a romance novel and I’ll bet the fiancée has a limp in it too–but I bet she isn’t supposed to be so good-looking.

Of course, the film falls apart once the girl gets sick, mostly because it’s no longer from the kid’s perspective. The perspective just loafs around after that point and there’s something at the very end that’s bad, but I don’t even remember what now and I just finished watching it five or six minutes ago. It’s also incredibly predictable.

The director is a complete champ, however, and that alone would make the film worth watching. But, it’s got the good acting to top it off.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Yukisada Isao; screenplay by Yukisada, Sakamoto Yuji and Itou Chihiro, based on a novel by Katayama Kyouichi; director of photography, Shinoda Noboru; edited by Imai Takeshi; music by Meyna Co.; produced by Haruna Kei and Ichikawa Minami; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Osawa Takao (Sakutaro), Nagasawa Masami (Aki), Moriyama Mirai (Teenage Sakutaro), Shibasaki Kou (Ritsuko), Yamazaki Tsutomu (Shigezou) and Takahashi Issei (Ryunosuke).