Ken Ogata

Ken Ogata

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Man Walking on Snow Review


Excellent
Welcome to the end of the world. Mashike, Japan is a forlorn fishing village on the Western coast of Hokkaido where, as in Sarah Palin's Alaska, you can see Russia from your porch. When winter slams into the town, life pretty much stops, and the people turn inwards, finding plenty of time to stew over resentments going back decades.

That's how life is for 65-year-old widower Honma (Ken Ogata), a semi-retired sake maker who lives in a humble house with his younger son Yasuo (Yasufumi Hirashi). Father and son pretty much despise each other and make great sport of hurling insults back and forth, but since Dad needs help with the daily chores of life and the aimless Yasuo needs a place to stay, the two are stuck with each other.

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The Ballad of Narayama Review


Excellent
As you make your way through previous winners of the Cannes Film Festival's Palme D'Or, be sure to stop at 1983 to watch The Ballad of Narayama, a remarkable comedy/drama that lives up to that overused adjective: haunting. Director Shohie Imamura, who left behind a remarkable body of work before his death in 2006, is well-served by a 2008 remastered DVD that captures the film's beauty effectively. He would be pleased.

Set "100 years ago" in a primitive and remote northern Japanese village, Narayama takes an intimate look at village life in a place where constant near-famine forces the townspeople to banish their elderly citizens to a mountaintop death at the age of 70. Next up for this passage -- which, by the way, almost no one seems to protest -- is Odin (Sumiko Sakamoto), the spry matriarch who is in such good health that she actually pulls out some of her own teeth to convince her family that yes, her time has indeed come. But before she goes, she has business to attend to.

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Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters Review


Good
I'm not familiar with Yukio Mishima's work as a writer, but Paul Schrader obviously is. This intricate portrait of Mishima's life -- intertwened with sequences dramatized from his novels and other works -- is unlike many cinematic biographies you've ever seen. Mishima (Ken Ogata) isn't just a rebel and a bisexual, he's borderline insane and suicidal to boot: His 1970 death by ritual decapitation is apparently what he's best known for today. Mishima lays out the man's life (though fictionalized) in all its glory and horror, and anyone with a passing interest in Japanese literature will be held in thrall by Schrader's work. (It's aided considerably by a haunting Philip Glass score.)

The Demon Review


Excellent
One of the great things about writing about movies is the ongoing realization that, no matter how deep you delve, there always remain revelations to be made. There are a number of heroic distributors who make their money proving it, among them Chicago's Home Vision Entertainment; a pair of recent DVD releases of films by Japanese director Yoshitaro Nomura are the latest example of fascinating offerings to be shepherded by HVE from relative obscurity to a conveniently nearby video store.

Like its companion release Zero Focus, what registers first about 1978's The Demon is its Hitchcockian air. Based on a story by Seicho Matsumoto, the best-selling Japanese mystery writer of his day, The Demon tracks the domestic horrors that befall three young children whose mother abandons them to their father's care. I use "abandon" because the father is not ideally positioned to care for them: he's married, and the mother of these children is not the wife. What's more, his wife has no inkling of the children's existence until the very day they're dumped at the small printing shop the couple runs. You might say that she does not react gracefully. Still, the demon of the title is not this resentful and cruel woman, nor a supernatural force of any kind - nothing happens in The Demon that science can't explain. Rather, this demon is the father himself. The tragedy and horror of the film reside not only in the acts this man commits, but in the way director Nomura ensures that the audience understands - maybe even, to a small extent, sympathizes with - the psychic terror this demon experiences at the thought of what he's done.

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Autumn Blossoms Review


Terrible
Petals and sex are just starting to go together in movies. In American Beauty, Mena Suvari's roses made sure we knew how great everything was underneath them. In Autumn Blossoms, the flower is the crysanthamum, and two aged blossom makes aspire to provide them for Misha -- a 19-year-old hooker/cellist -- to bathe in. The two fight over flowers, try to keep secret fertilzer recipies, and end up being the envy of all crysanthamum planters in their town.

Needless to say, I would rather watch American Beauty, a decent film that deals with flowers and is actually fun to watch, than sit through another showing of Autumn Blossoms, a film that is about flowers and is about as much fun as a root canal. Autumn Blossoms is one of the foreign films that gives foregin films a bad name. It is slow, drawn out, ultra-bohemian, and incredibly highbrow. Instead of accepting the simple fact that a cow on a rural road moves faster than this movie, writer-director Shunsaku Irehata opts for the unoriginal. He inserts subplot after subplot of every moralistic story that he can, from the desperation that leads a middle class 19-year-old to sell herself to the incredible frustration that a lighter-skinned Nipponese child felt in the post W.W.II. years.

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Ken Ogata

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