Black Rain (1989)

November 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Also known as Kuroi Ame, this film has the look and feel of a film shot in 1950. The film is about the devastation caused by the dropping of the atomic bomb, on the survivors. The film begins in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 as people go about their normal daily activities. Suddenly a blinding light flashes and a thunderous blast is heard. Almost every single building is destroyed or damaged beyond repair. Zombie like creatures with their faces melted away roam the streets begging for water. The black rain in the title refers to the combination of ash, radioactive fallout, and water that fell one or two hours after the explosion.

The film tells the story of Mr and Mrs Shizuma, and their niece Yasuko, make their way through the ruins of Hiroshima, just after the atomic bomb has dropped. Yasuko was not exposed to th “flash”, but did have drops of black rain fall on her face in the aftermath of the bombing. Is she “damaged goods?”

Five years later, Yasuko is living with her aunt and uncle, and her senile grandmother, in a village containing many of the bomb survivors. Yasuko does not appear to be affected by the bomb, but the Shizumas’ are worried about her marriage prospects, because there are “rumors” about her exposure to the bomb.

The movie begins to unfold like a story of Ozu, who Imamura had begun his career under, except the tone is much, much darker. But the same desperation is there : the family must find an appropriate spouse for Yasuko for the sake of the family honor (and also for Yasuko herself).

There is an interesting dialogue about half way throught the movie between Mr. Shizuma and a friend.

“Something’s been puzzling me. Why did the Americans drop the A-bombs? Even if they hadn’t done it, Japan’s defeat was already certain.”

“Why did they do it …? They say it was to end the war quicker.”

“Then why didn’t they do it in Tokyo? Why did they bomb Hiroshima?”

“I don’t really understand it.”

“I won’t be at peace if I die without understanding why.”

As Yasuko prospects fade Mr. Shizuma begins carrying exerpts from her diary and a doctor’s report that “proved” she was healthy, and wasn’t exposed to the “flash” but only to the “black rain.” It almost takes on the aspect of his marketing an animal for sale in the market.

There is also a former soldier in the village, Yuichi,, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and runs out whenever he hears a motor and tries to place a rock (bomb) under the passing vehicle. During the was he was on a suicide squad that tried to blow up enemy tanks. The scenes almost play like comic relief, but Imamura keeps the tone very serious.  Yasuko finds she can talk to him and they soon form a bound. When the subject of marriag is brought up Yasuko is not against it.
Imamura examines the horror inflicted on the thousands of people (over 100,000 people died of radiation poisoning) by showing us the tragic lives of Yasuko and her family. The movie is slow moving and really doesn’t have a compelling narrative story, but the overall story presented is compelling and very important.

It’s hard to believe that a director who was so irreverent and comedic in Warm Water under a Red Bridge could be so serious in this movie. But when you think about it it is because of the subject matter. By 1989 Japan was able to take a look at the devastation that had been wrougth on them by the atomic bombs. I think they are going to begin to examine the issue of whether nucleur weapons was a reasonable response to their milartism, which they take responsibility for. I’m sure future Japanese film makers are going to examine this in even greater detail.

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Warm Water Under a Red Bridge (2001)

November 2, 2010 Leave a comment

I usually really like off-best movies and I really liked the tone of this movie, but it was a little bit too wacky for me. Kôji Yakusho who was so good in The Eel, was also really good in this.
After losing his job, his wife decides she is going to drop him too. Yosuke goes off to look for a treasure that an eccentric old man told him about, but he instead meets a wacky woman.
Funny, entertaining, off-beat but not exactly my cup of tea. Still pretty good though and worth seeing if you like your movies a little bit on the wild side.

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Pigs and Battleships (1961)

October 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Also know as The Flesh is Hot (Buta to gunkan), this movie is about a wannabe yakuza and his girl friend in Japan during the years of the American occupation. Kinta wants to hit it big, but his girlfriend wants him to leave the gangster life. She has some trouble herself trying to follow a straight life.
Immamura takes shots at gangsters, Americans sailors and the Japanese women who took up with them.
In some ways the movie reminded me of the neo-realist films of de Sica as Immamura took a look at how war had devastated a country and a culture. However, Immamura couldn’t really take a straight look at the events. He interjects a lot of comedy and he also casts a cynical eye on everyone involved.
In the end the pigs are running loose in the streets with the gangsters, the sailors and the loose women. There are no heroes in this excellent movie.

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Murderous Instincts (1964)

October 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Also known as Intentions of Murder and Unholy Desire, this film is about a common law wife, Sadako, who is treated like a servant by her husband, who has a mistress, and her mother-in-law. After being raped by a burglar, Hiraoko, she thinks of committing suicide, but her love for her son Masaru keeps her from it. She can’t tell anyone what happened, or she will be disgraced and her life would be over. The rapist, who has heart problems, then starts coming back claiming to love her and we can see Sadako beginning to question her feelings about him.
The very controversially themed film, might not seem correct today. The psychologically abused woman decides that the love of a rapist is better than the oppressive life with her husband and his family. Imamura’s story is in fact be a very strongly pro-feminist commentary on the status of women in 1960’s Japan.
The shots of Masaru’s pet mice running around on their wheel are a statement on the lives that many women were trapped in abusive relationships by society’s conventions. In some ways I am reminded of the American movie Pleasantville, where Betty discovers that she doesn’t have to stay inside the oppressive world of the 1950’s American homemaker.
Hiraoko keeps returning because he has fallen in love with Sadako. Sadako know that relationship is crazy, but she can’t help how she feels. She has probably never felt loved before in her life. As her relationship deteriorates with her husband, her strange relationship develops with Hiraoko.
Sadako’s young son, who she lives for, also begins to treat her badly. He calls her a liar, an idiot and fatso. He is growing up in a house where there is very little respect for Sadako, and he is mirroring the behavior of his abusive father.
Sadako finally gives in to her feelings and goes to meet with Hiraoko. At first she tries to buy him off, telling him not to come see her again. But she eventually gives in to her feelings and begins to share his dream of escaping from her life and going with him to Tokyo.
Sadako decides that for the good of her son, the only thing she can do is to murder Hiraoko. She goes off with him, as her husband’s mistress takes pictures for evidence. They climb a mountain in the snow and enter a train tunnell, which is symbolic of freedom and Tokyo. Sadako hands Hiraoko a poison drink, but she can’t go through with it and stops hom before he drinks it.
A really different, very brave film, that is probably unmakeable in American cinema, at least in the somber, serious tone that this was set in here. This is a movie that should he seen, analyzed and discussed. It is a wonderful piece of art that has a lot to say about the human condition. A masterpiece.

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The Eel (1997)

October 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Yamashita thought he had a good life. He had a good job and once a week he would go over night fishing with his friends. He started getting anonymous notes that his wife was cheating on him while he fished. One day he came early, snapped when he saw what was going on, and brutally murdered his wife.
Eight years later he gets out of prison, along with a pet he had kept : an eel. He starts practicing the barber trade he learned in prison. He finds the body of a woman, Keiko, who tried to commit suicide and later comes work in his shop. She reminds him of his wife, but he keeps her at a distance.
Yamashita tries to come to grips with killing the one he loved so much. He tells his eel : “When I killed Emiko, I died along with her. I didn’t want … I couldn’t accept anyone else.”
Keiko leaves and goes back to her former life and takes her insane mother’s money out of the company she was going to invest it in.
A fellow ex-con comes back and gives Yamashita a hard time about his past. The ex-con also can’t forget about his past. They fight, but Yamashita just wants to be left alone.
People from Keiko’s former company come to Yamashita’s shop looking for Keiko and the money she took. When one of the guys gets rough with, Yamashita loses it again and slashes him with a razor. He has broken parole and is headed back to prison, but Keiko will be waiting for him.
A really good, really different movie from Shohei Imamura about how you try to cope after your world has ended.

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Ballad of Narayama (1983)

October 16, 2010 Leave a comment

A look at life in a rural village in Japan one hundred years ago.  Grandma is looking forward to going up to the top of the mountain where villagers go when they turn 70 to die. Baby boys are left to die, baby girls are sold off, thieves and their families are buried alive. Life can be brutal but Imamura presents it all as just being part of nature.
Before she leaves Grandma is trying to fix up some things with the family. Her elder widowed son must get a new wife. Her second son (a yakko), who like all surviving second sons, is an outcast, but she would like to see him happy too. Her grandson is proud and arrogant and she would like to set him straight before she climbs the mountain.
Combining harsh realism with broad comic relief, Imamura uses many of the techniques of John Ford, although his movie has a darker tint. The movie doesn’t show the lives of the samurai (or calvary or sheriffs) but is instead is interested in portraying how the other half lived.
Making it through the next winter is a question that is on all villagers’ minds. Social customs, as brutal as they may seem, have evolved because they were necessary for survival.
Tatsuhei eventually does bring his mother up to the mountain top and leaves her on Mount Narayama.
I think Imamura is showing us that some older traditions from different societies may seem strange to us today, but our ways may seem just as strange to those in the future.

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Vengeance is Mine (1979)

October 10, 2010 Leave a comment
This was a very, very disturbing movie based a true story about a serial killer on the run in 1960’s Japan. The movie is filled with sex and violence.
The movie, directed by Shohei Imamura, is beautifully filmed and has great style. The movie jumps from the present to the past as the serial killer, Iwao Enokizu, looks back at the events of his life with a calm detachment.
When he is very young we see a naval officer embarrassing his Catholic father in front of the village because his father doesn’t want to turn his boat over to the navy. From then on we see a very angry young man who turns in a sociopath. Is the vengeance he is taking on the world because of the incident involving his father?
The movie has a Hitchcockian feel and tone. It is particularly disturbing because we find ourselves identifying with the psycho killer.
The movie is all the more disturbing because we never find out what makes Enokizu tick. In some ways it reminded me of No Country for Old Men. Evil is out there and you may be unlucky and run in to it, there is nothing you can really do about it.
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