Spends a significant amount of time with a makeshift family who adopt/kidnap a neighbor from an abusive home. Their daily life and care for each other is seen up close for the first hour, until just like in yesterday’s movie Too Many Husbands, the decision of how to arrange their own family is taken out of their hands when the Morality Police show up and straighten it out according to the Law. Suddenly each member of our close movie family is revealed as a low-class criminal, reduced to a mugshot and named by their crime (thief / murderer / kidnapper / fraudster). It’s an extremely effective sympathy tactic – a moving film even though I could see the gears turning.

The first Kore-Eda I’ve watched since Nobody Knows, 15 years ago, even though the eight he made in between were variously acclaimed, making top-ten lists and Criterion blu-rays… I guess the Palme d’Or finally got me. Sakura Andô (Love Exposure) won Japan’s top acting award as the mother. One of the final films by Kirin Kiki (Suzuki’s Zigeunerweisen and Pistol Opera) as the grandma.

Kazuko (Tomoyo Harada, later narrator of the 1997 version) has known flower-obsessed Kazuo (Ryôichi Takayanagi of a couple other Obayashi films) since childhood. They’ve always been close, and once drank each other’s blood after a broken mirror incident. So she confides in him after passing out in a science lab and waking up with the barely-controlled ability to jump back in time, saving people from tragedies she’s seen occur from falling roofs and zooming bikes.

But it turns out these two met just recently, and Kazuo is a time traveler from the year 2660, collecting plants from the past for scientific research since the future world is barren, and he has psychically manipulated people into believing they’re friends with him, stealing Kazuko’s memories of her childhood friend Goro (Toshinori Omi, star of gender-swap comedy I Are You, You Am Me). The movie plays all this straight, just 1980’s teen drama to the point that even 1980’s-teen-drama-loving Katy, who loves the animated version, got bored and wandered off, but there’s some fun crazy stop-motion towards the end as she hurtles through time.

It’s a pretty good animated period drama, but if you watched if before the others, you’d say what’s the big idea with this Ghibli thing, their movies aren’t so hot. At least “pretty good” puts it above what I’ve heard about Tales From Earthsea from the number one Goro hater in my office. But it’s missing something, the smoothness and refinement of motion. When people turn their heads it doesn’t look so much like a person turning their head as it does progressive images of a head turned at different angles – the flow is wrong. Or I dunno, maybe my blu-ray was bad, but this came out after Ponyo, and some of the stuff in Ponyo is leagues beyond. The old timey piano music on the soundtrack was different, anyway.

It’s the ol’ story of kids saving their clubhouse from demolition by fatcats – in this case it’s a creaky old multi-story house on a high school campus where all the boys run their after-school organizations, and the school board is demolishing it to build a nicer one, so the girls pitch in to clean the place up and show off its value. Shun runs the school paper, Umi runs a boarding house, and they think they might be in love, but then see photos of each other’s dead fathers and it’s the same guy so they’re worried they might be siblings, then this gets resolved and it turns out their fathers were just friends so they are free to do whatever.

Maybe the grungiest, most lo-fi, handheld Oshima movie I’ve seen, with some apparently documentary segments. Also maybe more sexual violence than usual. Some nice closeups on hands, like in other thief movies. Whole movie looks dubbed, with some cool troubadour songs (not as funky as the ones in Izo).

Longhaired anarchist book thief Hilltop Birdman (Tadanori Yokoo, a minor role in Mishima) is nabbed by employee Umeko (Rie Yokoyama of Wakamatsu’s Ecstacy of the Angels), to the delightful indifference of her boss, who tries to give the thief more free books. But it’s the late 1960’s and if anyone’s gonna embrace the revolution in the air, it’s Oshima. The movie goes off on tangents about sex and psychology, turns from black-and-white to color, plays with poetry and literature and theater, and makes cool images and tries to freak out the normies. “I do feel something like rage toward nothing in particular.”

It’s all crying out for some explanatory blu-ray features – for instance, it’s been a minute since I watched Death By Hanging, so I didn’t realize that movie’s primary male cast appears in a roundtable discussion as themselves – but I tend to love Oshima films even when I’m confused by them.

A few days after Rashomon, we took a whole class to the Alamo for this one, all of our first times seeing it. A version of Macbeth that is plenty enjoyable on its own, through its great atmosphere and unique variations on the story, and even more so after reading about some of the design elements and historical context.

From Stephen Prince’s Criterion essay:

Noh shows up everywhere in Throne of Blood, making the project a real fusion of cinema and theater… Noh elements include the music (that assertive flute, for example), the bare sets, and especially the stylized performances by Mifune and Isuzu Yamada … Actors in Noh use masks, and while Kurosawa doesn’t do anything so blatantly artificial here, he does have Mifune and Yamada model facial expressions that resemble popular Noh masks (a strategy he extended in Yamada’s makeup) … Kurosawa strips all the psychology out of Macbeth and gives us a film whose characters are Noh types and where emotions — the province of character in the drama of the West — are formally embodied in landscape and weather. The bleached skies, the fog, the barren plains, and characters going adrift against and within these spaces — this is where the emotion of the film resides … Kurosawa wants us to grasp the lesson, to see the folly of human behavior, rather than to identify or empathize with the characters.

Toshiro Mifune’s ninth Kurosawa film, with Isuzu Yamada (landlady of The Lower Depths) as his Lady, and Minoru Chiaki (the priest in Rashomon, also Hidden Fortress and The Face of Another) as his friend-turned-rival. The three witches are replaced by a single spinning-wheel ghost, with a neat single take when the spirit house vanishes while the warriors (and camera) are distracted.

An aged film actress relates her life story to an interviewer and cameraman at her house. She draws them into her memories so they appear to be watching/filming her life from the sidelines, as she starts by explaining she only went into acting to locate a cute revolutionary artist she once met. Chiyoko’s transformations and the stagings and transitions of the flashbacks are wonderful, sliding through Japanese history and cinema – the movie could’ve happily gone on like this for another hour. Instead it has to wrap up, Chiyoko explaining that she didn’t need the boy, she just loved the pursuit, and the interviewer confessing that he’s a stalker from way back, and returns a memento he found during her studio years. Satoshi Kon’s second feature after Perfect Blue; I’ve also seen Paprika, and feel like his movies are good, but not getting why people think they’re the most amazing things in the whole world. A few years after this movie, Kon made the series Paranoia Agent, which is the most amazing thing in the whole world.

The opening scene sets up some teen school drama – girl who wants to fit in and act adult, lovestruck fool who obsesses over her, and his friends, the popular class president and their weirdo buddy Don. So it’s gonna be that kind of movie… except the lead girl (does she not have a name?) is gulping boozy drinks all at once, her throat bulging as they go down. The animation style keeps changing, and facial expressions extend off people’s heads when they get excited. It’s mentioned that the class president is famous for his cross-dressing and that Don hasn’t changed his underwear in six months. The lead dude lays out his scheme to follow the girl everywhere, bumping into her “by chance” until she thinks it’s fate that they should be together. Then she imagines she’s a train and cho-choos off into the night – this is all in the first four minutes. There’s singing and dancing, so I’m pretty sure it’s a sequel to Girl Walk: All Day.

Soon our girl is beating up a molester in another bar, meeting gamblers and gangsters and secret societies. She faces off against the droopy-eared elf leader of the criminal underworld, who she drinks under the table, the beginning of his rapid decline. There’s a nighttime book market with its own guardian spirit, a hallucinatory hot pot competition, the president using his panopticon to track down a guerrilla theater production rigged by Don Underwear to search for his missed-connection. I can’t tell if the movie believes in fate or is mocking its characters for believing in it. The night ends with everyone tired and sick, except our Girl, who delivers healing soup to everyone in town at once, Santa-like.

Don Underwear and his Apple Girl:

Placeholder post until I watch this again on blu-ray, since it didn’t stay long in theaters. Doomed adventure story in a hopeless land, like a post-apocalyptic Fantastic Mr. Fox. The animation, voice acting, production design all perfect, and an overwhelming joy to watch in theaters. Haven’t yet read the articles about how Wes’s representation of Japan and treatment of women are problematic, so I’m free to love the movie in blissful ignorance, for now.

Things I Can Remember: Yoko Ono is the scientist who leaks the government-suppressed cure for snout fever to the exchange-student leader of the revolutionary youth. The conflicted lead dog of the pack who finds young Atari is a long-lost brother of Atari’s companion/bodyguard Spots, who now runs with a gang of suspected cannibals. And I can’t think too hard about the ending when they swap dog-to-human translation devices because it makes me emotional.

EDIT: watched again two months later on blu-ray

“This is a distant uncle’s worst nightmare”

That familiar Fantastic Mr. Fox feeling… whenever I think about this movie for any reason, I have the strong urge to rewatch it immediately.

A great swordsman defeats an entire army of thugs who murdered his sister, then is made immortal by an old woman, and this entire backstory only takes up the first twelve minutes of the movie. Miike wasting no damn time with this one, supposedly his hundredth film, though I’d like to see what list they used to calculate this, since IMDB considers Pandoora a movie, and counts MPD Psycho as three movies.

Anyway… fifty years later, the “itto-ryu” is a supervillain samurai clan killing all the dojo heads in the Tokyo, including the parents of this girl Rin, who reminds our man of his sister, so he agrees to take on the gang. Rest of the movie is a series of high-energy fights, one-on-one and one-on-hundreds, against badasses with a variety of weapons. I found Sukiyaki Western Django too tiresomely goofy, 13 Assassins too classy and Hara-Kiri too faithful – this one’s just right.

Our heroes:

Clan leader Sôta Fukushi:

Our immortal hero is Takuya Kimura (Faye Wong’s bf in 2046, voice of Howl, star of two separate movies called Hero), Rin is the voice of Mary, and the fey cult leader starred in As The Gods Will. That leaves all the specialty assassins:

Kuroi Sabato (Kazuki Kitamura of Miike’s video game movie Like a Dragon) wears Shredder headgear, goes down first. Magatsu (Shinnosuke Mitsushima of the next Kore-eda movie) has long spiky hair and a sweet facemask. Shizuma Eiku (Ebizô Ichikawa, main dude in Miike’s Hara-Kiri) is a white-haired immortal who knows how they can be killed (bloodworm poison!). Makie (Erika Toda of the Death Note series) wields a double-edged spear and changes sides, and Shina (Hayato Ichihara, bullied boy of All About Lily Chou-Chou) is a blonde dude who focuses on killing the girl even when the army is attacking. Chiaki Kuriyama (Gogo in Kill Bill) is a government spy with long blonde hair, and Tsutomu Yamazaki (Goro in Tampopo) leads the government army, which needless to say in a Miike film is no better than the murderous cult. With no main-cast crossovers between this and 13 Assassins, it looks like Miike is trying to turn every actor in Japan into a badass killer.

Maatsu:

Makie:

Willow Maclay on her blog:

Miike doesn’t pull any punches as things reach a climax (with a few bloated, unnecessary side plots here and there) frequently zeroing in on Manji’s immortal body as it falls apart, but impossibly perseveres. When Manji finally confronts the man who wronged Rin … he’s barely a man anymore, more zombie than alive, and there is no elegant duel between sword wielding warriors. It is merely an act of execution, a job being completed, and a loss of life. It is with blunt honesty that Miike displays this final dance not as something worthwhile or justifiable, but another violent act in a long string of violent acts that Manji has committed during his lifetime, and some day Rin will die because of his actions.