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The Teahouse of the August Moon Review


OK
When Marlon Brando is first encountered in The Teahouse of the August Moon, Daniel Mann's 1956 film version on John Patrick's Pulitzer Prize winning comedy of 1953, you want to fight back. Here is Brando in comic Asian stereotype mode, playing Okinawan interpreter Sakini -- Brando hunched over obsequiously, his eyes jury-rigged Oriental style and speaking in an Okinawan accent, and you think, "Brando, you should be ashamed of yourself." But then movie memory kicks in and you recall nasty and virulent racial debauches like Mickey Rooney's Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany's and Brando's downplaying doesn't look so bad after all. Although watching a tall American white guy play a short translator from Okinawa is still discomforting, at least you don't feel compelled to rise up and heave your boots through the TV.

Sakini is the audience's guide and master of ceremonies (he beckons the audience into the film by way of a direct address to the camera) in this sharp and funny comedy about American imperialism after the end of World War II. Sakini is the interpreter for the pompous American commander Colonel Purdy (played by Paul Ford, recreating his Broadway performance, a role he would later hone to perfection as the iconic Colonel Hall in Sgt. Bilko), a windbag idiot who makes declarations like, "I'm going to teach these natives the meaning of democracy if I have to shoot every one of them" (Donald Rumsfeld couldn't have said it better). Purdy orders the bumbling Captain Fisby (Glenn Ford, in a fine comic turn, channeling Charlie Ruggles) to lord it over a small Okinawan village and give the villagers a taste of benevolent American democratic dictatorship by making the villagers build a school and organize a "Ladies League For Democratic Action." Sakini goes along with him.

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The Face of Another Review


Excellent
Japanese director Hiroshi Teshigahara didn't make many films before his death in 2001, but he left behind quite the cinematic reputation, most notably with the weird and unforgettable Woman in the Dunes (1964) and The Face of Another, an almost surreal Twilight Zone-like exercise in the ultimate identity crisis that has enough going on in it to fuel several film school dissertations.

We meet the bandaged Mr. Okuyama (Tatsuya Nakadai) as he is recovering from an industrial accident that has destroyed his face. Wrapped from the neck up like a mummy with eye and mouth holes, he's actually in decent physical shape and is sitting around at home wondering what to do with his life while his understandably skittish and distant wife (Machiko Kyo) darts around the apartment.

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Ugetsu Review


Extraordinary
Kenji Mizoguchi's mist-shrouded masterpiece Ugetsu is a morality tale that is ever mindful of the frail humanity of its characters. Set in Japan during the tumultuous sixteenth century - when the country was torn apart by civil wars - the film follows what happens to two couples, living the simple life in a small village, who get swept up in the insanity and lose their moorings to reality.

Genjuro (Masayuki Mori) is a farmer and part-time potter who's sick of being poor and is delighted when he finds that a trip with his wares to a nearby town earns him a pretty penny. Quickly getting greedy, he works night and day to make more product to sell, although his wife Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka) urges caution. Genjuro's brother-in-law Tobei (Eitaro Ozawa) is also sick of the simple life, but his way out is the dream of a little kid: He wants to be a samurai. His first attempt to run away and join one of the roving armies doesn't work out so well, though, with the samurai kicking him away, laughing and saying to come back when he has armor and a spear. After the village is ransacked by soldiers, Genjuro's kiln and wares somehow survive, so all four of them head to town to sell everything they can to rebuild their lives. All that comes before this point - pillaging, poverty, hopelessness - is just precursor, though, as the men are each presented with the ability to live out their dreams, opportunities they quickly snatch, leaving their loved ones to fend for themselves in a lawless and ghost-plagued land.

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Rashomon Review


Essential
Not many films have earned the mandate of comparison any time a similarly-structured movie follows it, but any time a modern film is told from multiple perspectives, Rashomon is referenced. It has to be.

Akira Kurosawa masterfully combines the testimony of four witnesses/participants in a rape/muder occuring in the woods in the era of feudal Japan. It all sounds straightforward at the start, but by the end, we're left to wonder exactly who's telling the truth, or even if the participants know what the truth is. The exploration of subjectivity has never been so thrilling, and Kurosawa is at his pinnacle as a filmmaker, framing testimony shots in earnest close-up and staging the flashbacks with inimitable grace. But of course it's not just a beautfully constructed movie, it's also a biting commentary on deceit, gender roles, and due process (not to mention Japanese culture). And every viewer is given the opportunity to draw his own conclusions.

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Floating Weeds Review


Excellent
All serious students of film eventually find their way to Yasujiro Ozu, the legendary Japanese director who made many small-scale yet gut-wrenching family dramas over a long career, the best example of which, Tokyo Story, is a five-star filmcritic.com pick.

Ozu's career was so long that in one case, he made the same movie twice. 1959's Floating Weeds is actually a remake of Ozu's own 1934 Story of Floating Weeds, a silent film that's included as part of this Criterion DVD and is well worth renting in tandem with Floating Weeds to see Ozu's evolution over time. Some of the same actors even appear in both films, albeit in different roles.

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