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.
Continue reading: Ugetsu Review
Zatôichi, the hero of 26 feature films and a long-running television series in his native Japan, was a wandering masseur, gambler, and warrior (played by Shintaro Katsu from 1962 to 1989) who fought for the rights of the downtrodden working-class man against villainous crime lords and land barons. In this reinterpretation of the Japanese icon, director Kitano plays Zatôichi with blond hair and a red cane (which houses his ferocious blade), and reimagines the friendly samurai as a dour, remote hero prone to isolate himself in meditative silences. While Kitano retains the character's impish chuckle and sympathy for the countryside's maligned outcasts, his Zatôichi substitutes Katsu's balletic gracefulness with a swift physicality. This new Zatôichi is a viper coiled to strike with tornado-like ferocity at any moment, and in his silent-but-deadly manner, the character more than slightly resembles the gun-toting yakuza madmen of Kitano's Sonatine and Brother.
Continue reading: Zatôichi Review
Written, directed by, and starring the infamous Takeshi Kitano (Kikujiro, Sonatine) Brother is his first film made outside his familial Japan, bringing the yakuza tradition to Los Angeles. (Yakuza translated for the average American is the Japanese mafia.)
Continue reading: Brother Review
Sonatine gives us Kitano as Murakama, a burned-out and nearly silent mid-level thug who admits to his loyal sidekick Takahashi (Kenichi Yajima) that he's just plain tired. "Maybe you're too rich for this business," retorts Takahashi, and it may be true. As a trusted member of the local gang, Murakama gets big assignments, but lately he's been suspecting that the higher-ups are trying to get rid of him. When the big boss commands him to take a team to the island of Okinawa to settle a regional gang war, Murakama is suspicious. Could it be that the boss wants to trigger a bloodbath so he can move in and take over the turf? Something smells like sushi.
Continue reading: Sonatine Review
After a short prelude in which a Bunraku tragedy is staged as a framework for what is to follow, three intersecting human stories are told simultaneously in a tedious 114 minutes of mystification. In the first, Sawako and boyfriend Matsumoto (Miho Kanno and Hidetoshi Nishijima) walk along public pathways, tied together with a red rope. This is meant for protection and identifies the pair as "'Bound Beggars,' aimless vagabonds to the outside world but desperate to find something forgotten," (according to the promo description).
Continue reading: Dolls Review
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.
Continue reading: Rashomon Review
Somehow this bit of whimsy is combined with a pedophile who tries to molest the kid, a guy who spends most of the movie naked (his privates covered by animated butterflies), and a solid, but Western, soundtrack. The road trip itself tends to go around in circles, as does the movie. It's too bad, because Kitano wants to say something about the inexplicable nature of friendship a la Harold and Maude, but it's drowned by a ridiculous storyline and the jarring presence of naked man-buttocks,
Continue reading: Kikujiro Review
Kenji Mizoguchi's mist-shrouded masterpiece Ugetsu is a morality tale that is ever mindful of the...
Seated at a gambling table with his head tilted downward in silent, intense concentration, Zatôichi,...
In close to a dozen movies as actor, director, and/or writer, Takeshi Kitano (who acts...