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Fighting Elegy Review


Excellent
A little background information (conveniently provided in the essays accompanying the new Criterion DVD release of Seijun Suzuki's 1966 Fighting Elegy) helps. Propelled by an unprecedented wage gap separating the urban rich from the rural poor, Japan in the 1930s was home to a rising movement that called for the militaristic reform of the nation's government. Central to this revolt were the writings of political extremist Ikki Kita; inspired by Kita, a small army of young military officers - many of them from peasant stock themselves - led a revolt in Tokyo in February of 1936 that left key members of Japanese government and industry dead. Martial law was instated and the rebellion quelled; the following year Kita was executed for treason, and Japan was set on the deadly course that led her into WWII.

It matters for the reason that Suzuki's muscular Fighting Elegy, which opens in 1932, follows the exploits of a middle school student named Kiroku (Hideki Takahashi) as he fights his way to the top of the testosterone-fuelled machine that this rise in militarism first tooled. In this he is driven by patriotism, of course, but his primary motive in building his body and defying authority is to sublimate the intolerable lust he feels toward proper, Catholic Michiko (Junko Asano), with whose family he is lodging. In the gangs with whom Kiroku spends time, chasing after girls is for "sissies." And Kiroku, a Catholic himself, can predict all too easily how Jesus would feel about the whole thing. Masturbation helps, provided you can find a spot in the house where there are no crucifixes hanging in plain view, but Kiroku's primary mode of release remains fighting.

Continue reading: Fighting Elegy Review

Onibaba Review


Very Good
The title translates, I believe, to "the hole," and an impressive specimen of that particular topographic feature yawns in the middle of Kaneto Shindô's 1964 Onibaba with the determined gravity of the primary symbol. Not to say that this hole yields its meanings easily. Anyone who's seen Ringu, or its American counterpart The Ring, knows to what those titles refer - physically or otherwise - by the time the end credits roll. But there was a time when Japanese ghost stories were a more delicately evocative animal, and when, by giving less, their carefully unresolved symbolic meanings offered more.

The premise of Onibaba has the ring of folklore: in feudal Japan, two women - a mother and her daughter-in-law - manage their hardscrabble existence on a marshy plain by luring errant samurai to their deaths and selling off their wear. The bodies are disposed of in the title void, a remarkably deep - possibly bottomless - abyss. Two events unsettle their lives: a male neighbor returns from battle, taking up with the younger woman (technically the wife of the older woman's son); and the older woman procures from a samurai a peculiar mask (the film's secondary symbol), an item that soon develops a character of its own.

Continue reading: Onibaba Review

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