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  • Message From Space (1976)
    I saw this on TV one Saturday afternoon when I was about 7 or 8, and tried to find it for a very long time. A space opera, the story is absolutely mindless, but it has landmark special effects. This film is called the "Japanese answer to Star Wars, but the weird thing is that some of the most similar stuff are pre-dates the American movies: the chase across an asteroid belt in The Empire Strikes Back or the flight through the inside of a giant spaceship from The Return Of The Jedi.

  • The Funeral (1984)
    A family gathering for the funeral of the grandfather, with family members revealing all kinds of hypocrisies. What the film achieved is a blend of subdued comedy and serious drama/character study. It was the directional début and first major success of Juzo Itami, a dominant figure in Japanese film in the 1980s.

  • Tampopo (1985)
    Itami's next, and most well-known, work is a hilarious comedy about a widow running a ramen [Japanese noodles soup] shop who gathers a strange team of advisers for improving the shop. The main story is broken by various stories about food with other characters, with a bit of Monthy Python feeling. (The film had several re-runs on public TVs I can access but I always missed the start and even snippets convinced me I should watch from the start.)

  • A Taxing Woman (1987)
    Itami's third film is about a tax investigator going after a real estate shark. It is labelled a comedy, but IMHO it is much more of a serious drama, and pretty good at that. I found it a defining portrait of a Japan now long gone: the thoroughly corrupt Japan of the 1980s real estate bubble. (The film also has an IMHO very much inferior sequel, A Taxing Woman's Return, but that film was at least daring in attacking religious sects, years before Aum Shinrikyo gave occasion to public criticisms of religious groups.)

  • The Anti-Extortion Woman (1992)
    This is not your usual yakuza movie. In this Itami comedy, while the gangsters are scary and violent like in other movies, the story doesn't bother much with their honour code, and shows them as basically stupid and uncouth tricksters. The film is also a how-to manual for businesses on how to get rid of the yakuza (on the example of a hotel). The real yakuza were furious and Itami got subjected to a severe beating. He was undeterred and was about to film another yakuza-themed movie when he died in an apparent suicide jump. A few years later a yakuza told a journalist that the suicide was staged by his gang.

  • Outrage (2010)
    Takeshi Kitano (of Hana-bi fame) returned to the yakuza genre with this film about a gang war. IMHO Kitano focused too much on explicit violence, to the extent that it takes away from the film's otherwise interesting themes: the sacred honour code is hollow in the eyes of scheming bosses (it is feigned to trick opponents or demanded to force people onto a suicidal path), and an apparently powerless and corrupt police can rein in the mob with a little manipulation.

  • Beyond Outrage (2012)
    The sequel to Outrage is like its anti-thesis: gone is the explicit violence, and a yakuza following the honour code defeats the victorious boss of the previous film, as well as the scheming police officer.

  • Sumo Do, Sumo Don't (1992)
    A story about a university sumo club with a pretty standard sports genre script (misfits pull themselves together and achieve victory). The characters and situation comedy are especially hilarious, however.

  • Shall We Dance? (1996)
    A bored salaryman joins a Western dance course, initially to get near a teacher, but then dancing changes his life as it does that of his classmates. That's a short summary for a long but strong sentimental film made special by the fact that couples dancing together was against traditional Japanese customs. (There is a re-make starring Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez which I shall avoid.)

  • Departures (2008)
    This is an absolutely stunning film. It is about a failed cellist ending up in the profession of an "encoffiner", someone who, in the place and in front of the family of the deceased, conducts the preparing and placing of corpses into a coffin as a ritual ceremony (one not widely known and practised even across Japan). The idea is that the ritual gives dignity to the dead and solace to the bereaved. The film was the brainchild of the main actor, and he and the actor playing his mentor (incidentally, the male lead in Tampopo) have a big part in both getting that across and making a film about the dead watch-able.


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Mar 7th, 2015 at 04:32:29 PM EST

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