Sunday, December 02, 2018

November 2018: Best Disc Supplements


Every month I'll be highlighting some of the best Blu-ray and DVD supplements (along with Criterion Channel features upon its return in Spring 2019). Too often these pieces are overlooked or given the most cursory mention in reviews (or on sites like DVDBeaver where they take a back seat to "A/V" assessment and are usually copy-and-pasted from the Special Features text from the relevant label's website). Pieces cited don't necessarily hail from new releases; rather come from whatever I've been watching that particular month. They represent the very best in supplementary material — critical, historical, personal — above and beyond the status quo.

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• "Mistress of Ceremonies" by Imogen Sara Smith / 2018 essay on Marlene Dietrich, in the booklet for Criterion's Dietrich & von Sternberg in Hollywood boxset

• "Where Credit Is Due" by Farran Smith Nehme / 2018 essay on von Sternberg's and Dietrich's unsung collaborators, in the booklet for Criterion's Dietrich & von Sternberg in Hollywood boxset

• Interview with Deborah Nadoolman Landis / 2018 interview on Marlene Dietrich's costumes and their designer Travis Banton, on the disc for Blonde Venus in Criterion's Dietrich & von Sternberg in Hollywood boxset

• Interview with Silke Ronneburg / 2018 interview with the Deutsche Kinemathek curator about the museum's Marlene Dietrich Collection Berlin, on the disc for Blonde Venus in Criterion's Dietrich & von Sternberg in Hollywood boxset

• Interview with Marlene Dietrich / from 1971 on Danish TV's Ettan gästar, on the disc for The Scarlet Empress in Criterion's Dietrich & von Sternberg in Hollywood boxset

• Monocles and Cigars: Simon Callow on Charles Laughton in Witness for the Prosecution / filmed by Robert Fischer in 2018, on the disc for The Masters of Cinema Series' Witness for the Prosecution

• On-Set Footage from Female Trouble / filmed by Steve Yeager in 1973, with 2018 audio commentary by John Waters, on the disc for Criterion's Female Trouble

• Decoding The Color of Pomegranates / narrated and written by James Steffen, edited by Stephen Gurewitz, in 2018, on the disc for Criterion's The Color of Pomegranates

• "Let the Wind Speak" by Kent Jones / 2018 essay in the booklet for Criterion's The Tree of Life

• Jessica Chastain: The Tree of Life / 2018 interview with the actress on auditioning for and working with Malick, on the disc for Criterion's The Tree of Life

• Natural Cubism: The Tree of Life / 2018 annotated video essay by Benjamin B with incredible technical insights shared in voice interviews by cinematographer Emmanuel (Chivo) Lubezki and production designer Jack Fisk, on the disc for Criterion's The Tree of Life

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Cover and Package Design:

• Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life
Criterion - by Neil Kellerhouse, 2018






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Poemquotes 4


"The night spawned thousandfold monsters, / Yet fresh and cheerful was my mood: / In my veins such fire! / In my heart such ardor!"
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, "Willkommen und Abschied" [Welcome and Parting], 1775/1789, my translation

"To earn your nightly bread, you must, / Like an altar-boy, swing the censer, / Sing Te Deums in which you barely believe"
-Charles Baudelaire, "La muse vénale" [The Venal Muse], from Les fleurs du mal [The Flowers of Evil], "Spleen et Idéal" [Spleen and Ideal], 1857, my translation

"I shall whisper / Heavenly labials in a world of gutturals. / It will undo him."
-Wallace Stevens, "The Plot Against the Giant", from Harmonium, 1923/1931

"A little way within the gloom a roebuck raised his eyes / Brimful of starlight, and he said: The Stamper of the Skies / He is a gentle roebuck; for how else, I pray, could He / Conceive a thing so sad and soft, a gentle thing like me?"
-W. B. Yeats, "The Indian Upon God", from Crossways, 1889

"Maybe I'll have lost the key, and everyone around me laughs, and each one shows me an enormous key hanging from his neck. // I'm the only one to have nothing to get in somewhere."
-Pierre Reverdy, "Belle étoile" [Beautiful Star], from Poèmes en prose [Poems in Prose], 1915, my translation

"Chanter of Personality, outlining what is yet to be, / I project the history of the future."
-Walt Whitman, "To a Historian", from Leaves of Grass, "Inscriptions", 1855-1892

"I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas."
-T. S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", from Prufrock and Other Observations, 1917

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Poemquotes 3


"Vijaya. I will wait here, Amrita. // Anashuya. By mighty Brahma's ever-rustling robe, / Who is Amrita? Sorrow of all sorrows! / Another fills your mind. // Vijaya. My mother's name."
-W. B. Yeats, "Anashuya and Vijaya", from Crossways, 1889

"Between the 4 walls of this low-slung room moved dark spirits, and others extremely light and luminous. / A nearly naked man entered in the middle of these webs and in these expanses of ice and desert."
-Pierre Reverdy, "L'intrus" [The Intruder], from Poèmes en prose [Poems in Prose], 1915, my translation

"I heard that you ask'd for something to prove this puzzle the New World, / And to define America, her athletic Democracy, / Therefore I send you my poems that you behold in them what you wanted."
-Walt Whitman, "To Foreign Lands" (whole poem presented here), from Leaves of Grass, "Inscriptions", 1855-1892

"Have the greenish succubus and the rose elf / Poured you fear and love from their urns? / Has the nightmare, with a despotic and mutinous grip, / Drowned you at the bottom of a fabled Minturnae?"
-Charles Baudelaire, "La muse malade" [The Sick Muse], from Les fleurs du mal [The Flowers of Evil], "Spleen et Idéal" [Spleen and Ideal], 1857, my translation

"She too is discontent / And would have purple stuff upon her arms"
-Wallace Stevens, "The Paltry Nude Starts on a Spring Voyage", from Harmonium, 1923/1931

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Monday, November 26, 2018

Poemquotes 2


" 'What do you weave with wool so white?' // 'I weave the shoes of Sorrow: / Soundless shall be the footfall light / In all men's ears of Sorrow, / Sudden and light.' "
-W. B. Yeats, "The Cloak, the Boat, and the Shoes", from Crossways, 1889

"His head fearfully took shelter beneath the lamp shade. It is green, and his eyes are red. There's a musician who doesn't move. He sleeps; his severed hands play violin to make him forget his poverty."
-Pierre Reverdy, "Les poètes" [The Poets], from Poèmes en prose [Poems in Prose], 1915, my translation

"By sailors young and old haply will I, a reminiscence of the land, be read, / In full rapport at last."
-Walt Whitman, "In Cabin'd Ships at Sea", from Leaves of Grass, "Inscriptions", 1855-1892

"Cybele, then, fertile in generous yields, / Found not her sons too costly a weight, / But, she-wolf with heart swollen by common tendernesses, / Fed the universe at her brown teats."
-Charles Baudelaire, "J'aime le souvenir de ces époques nues" [I Love the Memory of Those Naked Epochs], from Les fleurs du mal [The Flowers of Evil], "Spleen et Idéal" [Spleen and Ideal], 1857, my translation

"Timeless mother, / How is it that your aspic nipples / For once vent honey? // The pine-tree sweetens my body. / The white iris beautifies me."
-Wallace Stevens, "In the Carolinas", from Harmonium, 1923/1931

"How I love you / With warm blood, / For you give me youth / And joy and mood // For new songs / And dances. / Be ever happy / In the same way that you love me!"
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, "Mailied" [May-Song], 1775, my translation

"There will be time, there will be time / To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet; / There will be time to murder and create, / And time for all the works and days of hands / That lift and drop a question on your plate"
-T. S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", from Prufrock and Other Observations, 1917

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Sunday, November 25, 2018

Poemquotes 1


New feature: excerpts from poets I'm currently reading.

"Then nowise worship dusty deeds, / Nor seek, for this is also sooth, / To hunger fiercely after truth, / Lest all thy toiling only breeds / New dreams, new dreams; there is no truth / Saving in thine own heart. Seek, then, / No learning from the starry men, / Who follow with the optic glass / The whirling ways of stars that pass —"
-W. B. Yeats, "The Song of the Happy Shepherd", from Crossways, 1889

"And he called loudly to the stars to bend / From their pale thrones and comfort him, but they / Among themselves laugh on and sing alway: / And then the man whom Sorrow named his friend / Cried out, Dim sea, hear my most piteous story!"
-W. B. Yeats, "The Sad Shepherd", from Crossways, 1889

"let's go elsewhere where no-one else looks."
-Pierre Reverdy, "Plus loin que là" [Further Away Than Here], from Poèmes en prose [Poems in Prose], 1915, my translation

"Does the smoke come from their chimneys, or from our pipes?"
-Pierre Reverdy, "Toujours seul" [Always Alone], from Poèmes en prose [Poems in Prose], 1915, my translation

"Of Life immense in passion, pulse, and power, / Cheerful, for freest action form'd under the laws divine, / The Modern Man I sing."
-Walt Whitman, "One's-Self I Sing", from Leaves of Grass, "Inscriptions", 1855-1892

"Lo, I too am come, chanting the chants of battles, / I above all promote brave soldiers."
-Walt Whitman, "As I Ponder'd in Silence", from Leaves of Grass, "Inscriptions", 1855-1892

"It's Ennui! — his eye laden with an involuntary tear, / He dreams scaffolds, smoking his hookah. / You know him, reader, that delicate monster, / — Hypocrite reader, — my likeness, — my brother!" -Charles Baudelaire, "Au lecteur" [To the Reader], from Les fleurs du mal [The Flowers of Evil], 1857, my translation

"The Poet is similar to the prince of clouds / Haunting the tempest and laughing at the archer; / Exiled on the soil in the midst of jeers, / His giant's wings keep him from walking."
-Charles Baudelaire, "L'albatros" [The Albatross], from Les fleurs du mal [The Flowers of Evil], "Spleen et Idéal" [Spleen and Ideal], 1857, my translation

"Every time the bucks went clattering / Over Oklahoma / A firecat bristled in the way." -Wallace Stevens, "Earthy Anecdote", from Harmonium, 1923/1931

"Behold, already on the long parades / The crows anoint the statues with their dirt."
-Wallace Stevens, "Invective Against Swans", from Harmonium, 1923/1931

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Monday, October 08, 2018

The Man with a Shotgun



Buckshot Points



(All images are iPhone photos taken of frames of the film playing from the Arrow Blu-ray.)

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The Suzuki/western trope of the drifter passing through a locale; good guy, bad syndicate. The western, but set in a locale more like the Pacific Northwest than the barren avenues, the badlands. Staged on Mt. Shūrei, The Man with a Shotgun [Shotgun no otoko, 1961] positions itself within the line of Japanese forest pictures, but in this instance the movie is framed from high angles, the perspective of the calm hovering predator (Floating Clouds, fate) as opposed to the vertiginous groundedness of the prey (Rashōmon, chaos).

Ryōji (Hideaki Nitani) arrives at the Nishioka Lumbermill on the pretense of a hunting excursion. (Mumbles one local: "Everyone who comes here has some secrets.") Three badmen — the bodyguards of the owner Nishioka (Akio Tanaka) — trail Ryōji through the sloping forest paths on the way into town, then mount an ambush which the drifter will reverse before continuing onward. From here, and across repeated attempts on the part of the assailants to subdue Ryōji, Suzuki cuts up and confuses space. One of the brigands rematerializes at the distant end of a handmade suspension bridge Ryōji's in the process of crossing, and chops at a support rope until the latter plunges into the stream below. Cut to: A near identical bridge, the villains crossing in a now expanded group look right out of frame and find Ryōji sunbathing on the rocks, his clothes drying out nearby.

Most of Suzuki in this era involves two characters talking plot logistics. Psychology an afterthought. 'Act drastically.' — But Suzuki was hired to direct these bum scenarios handed down from the main office of Nikkatsu. It was a hell studio. The scripts contain a lot of 'I'll back down this time — but next time I won't!' + the avoidance of the just-stated threat, no shooting the opponent dead. But here, for instance, in The Man with a Shotgun, we're already inside a lawless alpine town.

end of what I have to say right now

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More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Seijun Suzuki:

8-jikan no kyōfu [8 Hours' Terror, 1957]

Ankokugai no bijo [Underworld Beauty, 1958]

Fumi hazushita hara [Trampled Springtime, 1958]

Kage naki koe [Voice Without a Shadow, 1958]

"Jûsan-gô taihisen," yori: Sono gosôsha (w)o nerae ["Sidetrack No. Thirteen," or: Take Aim at That Police Van, 1960]

Kemono no nemuri [The Sleep of the Beast, 1960]

Mikkō 0 Line [0-Line Stowaway, 1960]

Subete ga kurutteru [Everything Goes Wrong, 1960]

Tōkyō knight [Tokyo Knights, 1961]

Shotgun no otoko [The Man with a Shotgun, 1961]

Tōge (w)o wataru wakai kaze [Youthful Wind Crossing the Mountain Pass, 1961]

High-teen yakuza [Late-Teen Yakuza, 1962]

Yajû no seishun [Youth of the Beast, 1963]

Akutarō [The Bastard / The Badboy, 1963]

Akutarō-den: Warui hoshi no shita demo [Stories of Bastards: Even Under a Bad Star / Stories of Badboys: Even Under a Bad Star, 1965]

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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Tokyo Knights



Extemplary Cuffmail



(All images are iPhone photos taken of frames of the film playing from the Arrow Blu-ray.)

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Kōji Matsubara (Kōji Wada) is the scion of a construction syndicate in Suzuki's 1961 color film Tokyo Knights [Tōkyō knight]. His father was chucked off a cliff. Kōji studied for a time in America then returned to Japan to finish high-school at a Catholic prep called Elizabeth. He graduates from one school club audition to the next, excelling in each and surpassing every student member, before settling at last in the music club, instructed by an American of the Beat vein who praises Kōji's natural dynamics with an earnest: "Sugeiiii."

His mother kind-of-loves a man, Mishima (Nobuo Kaneko), whom she doesn't want to suspect killed Kōji's father. Mother and Kōji are, let's figure, twenty years apart, with he being 17. (No relation, as one might by now begin to infer, with the Kōji Wada pop-star of Digimon fame who, like our Kōji, also died at the mature age of 42.) The Ozu theme of younger-motherhood and son-love snakes around in the background, but it's Mom's best friend who wants to make a move on the shachō-to-be: "How does my kimono look?" before greeting him; then: "There's no way [the company] will work out well if [Kōji] gets married, you know..."

About the cufflinks, then I'll wrap this up: One was discovered at the site of Kōji's father's death; he was pushed off a rocky crag. The Tokutake Syndicate did cahoots with Matsubara. Tokutake-san and Mishima (proxy-Matsubara head while Kōji's still distracted at school) tried to rig the bid for a roadworks contract. Tokutake hands out these prize cufflinks to his capi.

On-and-on it goes to the end, culminating (nearly) in a spectacular noh-stage set-piece in which Suzuki finally gets to let it rip a little. Above immediate stagecraft the poker-faces of feelings — an indistinguishability between men and women lovers in genre Japanese '60s milieux, beyond a prowess for the wielding of (inherited) power and the feigned acquiescence to the palanquin and the pretty face — nevertheless still preside.


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More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Seijun Suzuki:

8-jikan no kyōfu [8 Hours' Terror, 1957]

Ankokugai no bijo [Underworld Beauty, 1958]

Fumi hazushita hara [Trampled Springtime, 1958]

Kage naki koe [Voice Without a Shadow, 1958]

"Jûsan-gô taihisen," yori: Sono gosôsha (w)o nerae ["Sidetrack No. Thirteen," or: Take Aim at That Police Van, 1960]

Kemono no nemuri [The Sleep of the Beast, 1960]

Mikkō 0 Line [0-Line Stowaway, 1960]

Subete ga kurutteru [Everything Goes Wrong, 1960]

Tōkyō knight [Tokyo Knights, 1961]

Tōge (w)o wataru wakai kaze [Youthful Wind Crossing the Mountain Pass, 1961]

High-teen yakuza [Late-Teen Yakuza, 1962]

Yajû no seishun [Youth of the Beast, 1963]

Akutarō [The Bastard / The Badboy, 1963]

Akutarō-den: Warui hoshi no shita demo [Stories of Bastards: Even Under a Bad Star / Stories of Badboys: Even Under a Bad Star, 1965]

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Thursday, August 09, 2018

0-Line Stowaway



Hong Kong Smuggled Pieces



(All images are iPhone photos taken of frames of the film playing off the Arrow Blu-ray.)

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This is the story of the directed-by-Seijun Suzuki 0-Line Stowaway [Mikkō 0 Line, 1960]. —

Katori (Hiroyuki Nagato) works as an investigative reporter for the Kyōkuto Shinbun.

The 0-Line is the ship that runs between Hong Kong and Tokyo.

Katori's friend Nishina (Yūji Kodaka) is a less intrepid, less five-o'-clock, less thumb-in-the-sternum investi活火山 for rival paper the Nitto Shinbun.

Katori set up Reiko Saeki (Sanae Nakahara) for drug-trafficking. His stock-in-trade is the set-up. After Reiko it's her brother, or husband, or something, Katori's and Nishina's classmate, in a bust. When the 'force' rains down in pursuit he chomps his own tongue and dies instantly from blood-loss!

Journalists in Suzuki act like police, keisatsu with impunity.

Another man nabbed at Yaesu bites off his (own) tongue, as well.

Katori's sister Sumiko (Mayumi Shimizu) announces baseball games.

Sōmei Ryū (actor unknown?) heads a trading company. His goons beat hell out of Katori.

This woman mutters, "His strength's no match for your violent power."

You won't believe it but Akiko Sugie's been found dead in Hong Kong of murder or suicide, and her passport hadn't been issued, so — this means she was smuggled.

One challenge in Suzuki is for the viewer to take these convoluted broken-wings of scenarios as filmed and fly and turn them into their own (perceived) movie.

Nishina reads in the newspaper Katori has gone missing. Nishina goes into the semi-demimonde to find a boat to sneak him to Hong Kong. He makes the arrangements. His editor approves; he'll carry a concealed passport.

He manages his way onboard the vessel posing as a Chinese national. A party's raging in the lower quarters; it's American G.I.s and female Japanese sex-slaves.

Nishina's exposed. Thrown to the brig, he encounters Katori imprisoned makeshift too on the boat's lower coal deck. Nishina pummels Katori, then they align. The duo trigger the ship's fire alarms. Police arrive at the craft, still docked. Reiko Saeki tells Katori that Sōmei Ryū is her father. She shoots him in the calf, assuming Katori will never let her or her father get away free.

The cops were summoned by Nishina and Katori via Morse code by way of a torn electrical cable dabbed against a steel pipe in the coal hold.

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More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Seijun Suzuki:

8-jikan no kyōfu [8 Hours' Terror, 1957]

Ankokugai no bijo [Underworld Beauty, 1958]

Fumi hazushita hara [Trampled Springtime, 1958]

Kage naki koe [Voice Without a Shadow, 1958]

"Jûsan-gô taihisen," yori: Sono gosôsha (w)o nerae ["Sidetrack No. Thirteen," or: Take Aim at That Police Van, 1960]

Kemono no nemuri [The Sleep of the Beast, 1960]

Mikkō 0 Line [0-Line Stowaway, 1960]

Subete ga kurutteru [Everything Goes Wrong, 1960]

Tōge (w)o wataru wakai kaze [Youthful Wind Crossing the Mountain Pass, 1961]

High-teen yakuza [Late-Teen Yakuza, 1962]

Yajû no seishun [Youth of the Beast, 1963]

Akutarō [The Bastard / The Badboy, 1963]

Akutarō-den: Warui hoshi no shita demo [Stories of Bastards: Even Under a Bad Star / Stories of Badboys: Even Under a Bad Star, 1965]

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Sunday, June 24, 2018

8 Hours' Terror



Follow the Bouncing Bus



(All images are iPhone photos taken of frames of the film playing off the Arrow Blu-ray of the film.)

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If Paul McCartney were a student of the art of the Japanese cinema, he might refer to Suzuki's 1957 8 Hours' Terror [8-jikan no kyōfu] as a really quite sugoi little yarn. It's short and to the point — a story about the passengers on a suspension-challenged autobus getting from point A to point B after rail service to the outskirts of Tokyo has been suspended due to landslide. Before pulling out of the station, word hits that two bank robbers are on the lam in the vicinity of the bus route: to be honest, a rather wide danger-berth for a multi-hour drive, narrow and precarious though the starkly elevated mountain roads may be. The 1 hour 17 minutes of 8 Hours' Terror compress the journey, a play on time and space facilitated by the 1.37 ratio of the frame (here practically an accordion at rest in Suzuki-form), in which inevitability and improbability commingle: of course the robbers will show up to commandeer the transport; and after one of them bites it after being baited by the resident whore into a literal bear-trap (he screams in agony, "I'll tell the cops everything!" before his partner shoots him in the head), the surviving crook shows up on foot to lay siege to the bus once again after it's covered x number of kilometers. Jason Voorhees avant la lettre?

"So many different people on the bus! It's fate, isn't it!" remarks a craven lingerie salesman. The types onboard conform in shorthand to the assemblages in Maupassant's Boule de Suif [1880] and Ford's Stagecoach [1939] — the prostitute carrying a snapshot of a convalescing black G.I.; the badman who turns a new leaf for the sake of the group (and trawls a darker undercurrent than usually seen in these tales: a newspaper makes reference to his crime with the headline "WAR RETURNEE KILLS WIFE AND NEW HUSBAND"). We also acknowledge the debt owed to masterpieces by Shimizu (Arigatō-san [1936]) and Capra (It Happened One Night [1934]).

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More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Seijun Suzuki:

8-jikan no kyōfu [8 Hours' Terror, 1957]

Ankokugai no bijo [Underworld Beauty, 1958]

Fumi hazushita hara [Trampled Springtime, 1958]

Kage naki koe [Voice Without a Shadow, 1958]

"Jûsan-gô taihisen," yori: Sono gosôsha (w)o nerae ["Sidetrack No. Thirteen," or: Take Aim at That Police Van, 1960]

Kemono no nemuri [The Sleep of the Beast, 1960]

Subete ga kurutteru [Everything Goes Wrong, 1960]

Tōge (w)o wataru wakai kaze [Youthful Wind Crossing the Mountain Pass, 1961]

High-teen yakuza [Late-Teen Yakuza, 1962]

Yajû no seishun [Youth of the Beast, 1963]

Akutarō [The Bastard / The Badboy, 1963]

Akutarō-den: Warui hoshi no shita demo [Stories of Bastards: Even Under a Bad Star / Stories of Badboys: Even Under a Bad Star, 1965]

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Friday, May 25, 2018

The Sleep of the Beast



Tangling-Up Toward Inevitability



(All images are iPhone photos taken of frames of the film playing off the Arrow Blu-ray of the film.)

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The title The Sleep of the Beast [Kemono no nemuri, 1960] resonates in two ways distinct from one another depending on whether you read the title of Suzuki's 1963 breakthrough in English — Youth of the Beast — or in its original Japanese — Yajū no seishun. The titles don't have much in common with one another at first glance — the movies themselves don't, full-stop — but the internal emancipation of fueled rage and concentrated vengeance mark both pictures, and indeed all of Suzuki's films. The sleight of hand here is the difference between kemono (beast) and yajū (beast). According to the online Jisho dictionary, kemono connotes "beast, brute, animal," with a throw to "the Number of the Beast." Yajū suggests "wild beast, wild animal." Perhaps a difference in degree? Of savagery? The Sleep of the Beast vs. Youth of the Savage Beast? The latter's the wilder picture with the wilder motivations...

The Sleep of the Beast in short involves a businessman father Junpei Ueki (Shunsuke Ashida) who, embittered by his company years without a respectful compensation, takes the leap risk of smuggling heroin out of Hong Kong on a cruise-liner back to Japan on the eve of his retirement. After disappearing from his family for a spell after docking, he pops back into their lives brushing his absence off as the requirements of more business. His daughter Keiko (Kazuko Yoshiyuki) and, more astutely, her newspaperman love-interest Shōtarō Kasai (Hiroyuki Nagato) smell some flood aloft in the situation. So the suspicions, and the policier aspect of the plot, kick into place, and Shōtarō sticks his bloodhound compulsion onto the trail, not for glory, and maybe not even for the sake of love.

This will shift now into pure plot synopsis. Why? Because the tangling of the threads define the essence of The Sleep of the Beast. This is early Suzuki working off a script which just goes on and on; he finds a little bit to really flash in the few moments where he can get some air. But look at this:

After Junpei's re-emergence, he takes a job as a ship's chandler for the Kōei Trading Company. His network associate Komatsu (Kōjirō Kusanagi) bears a scar on his right hand that Shōtarō had warned Keiko about once, given his leads on the crime trail, and she witnesses it herself when she and her mother are visiting their father at his new place of employment, Kōei, so that the family might go out to lunch together. At the lunch, Junpei spots his boss sitting at a nearby table, and Junpei takes the requisite bow, with one Reverend Nagamine (Tsutomo Shimamoto) joining the boss: the latter is the head of the "Sun God Cult." He's a good cult guy, Junpei remonstrates. Following their lunch he takes the family to see a house he's interested in buying there in Yokohama which will eliminate his commute from Tokyo to get to Kōei.

Heroin-thief Satō (played by I don't know whom) collapses in the Hama Hall jazz bar. The newspaper people say they're calling it a sleeping pill OD, but the autopsy comes back saying he's been dosed with something called Luminal, a powder that dissolves in liquid...

Dead Satō's wife is a member of the Sun God Cult. She has a link with Wong (player zero_sub1). Also dead. Both he and Satō are wound up in this heroin deal of Junpei's on the way back from Hong Kong... when all the junk was stolen from his bag. A woman there at the sect's main HQ also identifies one Maki (player zero_sub2) who works in a Yokohama dry-cleaners. Shōtarō tracks him down — the launderers is a drug-front. Maki escapes out the back with the drugs and Shōtarō's in pursuit; the former visits Hama Hall. He passes off the drugs to Komatsu. Shōtarō corners Maki outside the club, and Maki attacks him with a razor concealed inside his shirt-cuff. The crook escapes, but a pair of cops on the same trail choke Shōtarō out figuring he was Maki's associate in the pell-mell hubbub; they were monitoring the heroin deal.

Shōtarō explains to Keiko that her father brought the heroin from Hong Kong. "Wild beasts sleep in the hearts of all of us," he reflects. "Sometimes the beast awakens."

This brings us to what I see as the key dilemma of the film:

Keiko implores: "Why couldn't you have just left [my father] alone??"

Shōtarō responds: "I don't know.... Because I'm a newspaper reporter."

She asks him to keep all this dirt to himself till she says he can release it. Shōtarō in typical journalist/Japanese-movie fashion counters: "I'm a reporter! I can't ignore a scoop!"

Reverend Nagamine gets a call from the Kōei boss informing him the cops caught Maki. They suggest sending Komatsu (BTW: the two policemen who were trailing him after he got the drugs have wound up dead) to the sect's private island off Kure till the heat cools down.

Maki, now in custody, uses the toilet at the police barracks to take the opportunity to slash his carotid with that same hidden razor and commit suicide.

Keiko confronts her father Junpei with all his crimes. "No-one forced me," he responds. "All those years of hard work were in vain." When the drugs were stolen from him on the ship back from Hong Kong, he offered his full retirement payment as compensation to the Kōei buyers — but that 3 million yen added up to barely one-tenth of the value of the stolen drugs. Satō and Wong were the thieves, and once they were dead, and the drugs came back, Junpei had little choice but to join the Kōei syndicate; he was afraid he'd be killed if he didn't.

Now, there's some bar-hostess named Hiroko (player y_sub1) who was friends with an earlier hostess Akemi (player y_sub2) from Hama Hall, but the former's moved on to the Blue Moon Bar. This all gets a little hazy for me. Shōtarō tracks down Hiroko, gets shit-faced with her at the Blue Moon, then let's himself get taken to her pad. She drops Luminal in his drink. Hours pass and she admits she drugged and killed Satō and Wong in the aftermath of their steal. Problem for her is Shōtarō fake-drank his whiskey while pouring it on his left breast, all while recording her confession via a pen-microphone that the whole time radio'ed-out to his associate in the hallway with a reel-to-reel. Shōtarō calls Junpei and plays it back for him.

Junpei visits the Sun God temple and alters the propane set-up so there's no flame, but still gas output. After an argument with his Kōei associates he flicks a lighter and blows the place sky-high. It's like the end of Underworld Beauty [Ankokukgai no bijo, 1958]. Finally Junpei blasts himself with pistol to the heart.

This isn't Suzuki at his best, it's early in his game and he's struggling with the assigned material, but he uses an expressionist trick twice when he superimposes a narrator zoomed-out over the play-out of some flashback material. Just enough gunpowder and drug-powder to land home the Nikkatsu essentials.

===


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More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Seijun Suzuki:

Ankokugai no bijo [Underworld Beauty, 1958]

Fumi hazushita hara [Trampled Springtime, 1958]

Kage naki koe [Voice Without a Shadow, 1958]

"Jûsan-gô taihisen," yori: Sono gosôsha (w)o nerae ["Sidetrack No. Thirteen," or: Take Aim at That Police Van, 1960]

Kemono no nemuri [The Sleep of the Beast, 1960]

Subete ga kurutteru [Everything Goes Wrong, 1960]

Tōge (w)o wataru wakai kaze [Youthful Wind Crossing the Mountain Pass, 1961]

High-teen yakuza [Late-Teen Yakuza, 1962]

Yajû no seishun [Youth of the Beast, 1963]

Akutarō [The Bastard / The Badboy, 1963]

Akutarō-den: Warui hoshi no shita demo [Stories of Bastards: Even Under a Bad Star / Stories of Badboys: Even Under a Bad Star, 1965]

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Saturday, April 28, 2018

Stories of Bastards: Even Under a Bad Star



More Bastards: An Afterschool Story



(All images are iPhone photos taken of frames of the film playing off the Arrow Blu-ray of the film.)

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Stories of Bastards [or Stories of Badboys]: Even Under a Bad Star [Akutarō-den: Warui hoshi no shita demo, 1965] is a redux of Suzuki's earlier The Bastard / The Badboy [Akutarō, 1963], set here in the Shōwa period. The Stories of Bastards title plays with the notion that this is another entry in an imaginary series devised by Suzuki; time in secondary schools is static as ever. Ken Yamauchi reincarnates as the character of Jūkichi, coming up once more against an organized disciplinary troupe made up of the upperclassmen of the school itself, who are bent on breaking the individuality of Jūkichi and all: as in the previous film he'll break them first, and more fiercely. The film opens with the enactment of a fascist recital gathered round a bonfire: the national conflagration that is yet to ignite. Suzuki chooses to provide a level of definition to the story with the Japanese low-comedy form of dunce-men by turns hollering, screaming, or flailing; and with teen boys in black school uniforms getting aroused by anatomy textbook images while clustered in their homosocial clique at a friend's house with no locked doors. The book of reference in The Bastard was Strindberg's The Red Room; here it's Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. Everyone's unwitting.

Stories of Bastards has memorable scenes arranged like the blockchain. It's free-form, but somehow constricted... A typical Suzuki film, but somehow an oddity... Irritating but not fatally so, a mixture of high contrast and low. A mishmash of family, its surrogates, and lovers tossed together by proximity. Its episodes like spikes on an uni, unified with the central body bisected, as though to split the difference for the non-connoisseurs — in any case, something way stranger than compromised repast.


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More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Seijun Suzuki:

Ankokugai no bijo [Underworld Beauty, 1958]

Fumi hazushita hara [Trampled Springtime, 1958]

Kage naki koe [Voice Without a Shadow, 1958]

"Jûsan-gô taihisen," yori: Sono gosôsha (w)o nerae ["Sidetrack No. Thirteen," or: Take Aim at That Police Van, 1960]

Kemono no nemuri [The Sleep of the Beast, 1960]

Subete ga kurutteru [Everything Goes Wrong, 1960]

Tōge (w)o wataru wakai kaze [Youthful Wind Crossing the Mountain Pass, 1961]

High-teen yakuza [Late-Teen Yakuza, 1962]

Yajû no seishun [Youth of the Beast, 1963]

Akutarō [The Bastard / The Badboy, 1963]

Akutarō-den: Warui hoshi no shita demo [Stories of Bastards: Even Under a Bad Star / Stories of Badboys: Even Under a Bad Star, 1965]

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Saturday, March 31, 2018

Best of 2017 List



TOP 10 FILMS OF 2017

Held off on this. I haven't seen everything I wanted to that premiered in 2017 — the new ARP, the new Garrel, the new Wiseman, the new Villeneuve, other things I have blasphemously less interest in seeing. If I get more links this year I'll do better.

10.
Radiohead: “I Promise"
by Michał Marczak

9.
Snowy Bing Bongs Across the North Star Combat Zone
by Rachel Wolther and Alex H. Fischer, with Sunita Mani, Tallie Medel, and Eleanore Pienta

8.
Landline
by Gillian Robespierre

7.
Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
by Rian Johnson

6.
Good Time
by Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie

5.
Win It All
by Joe Swanberg

4.
Farpões baldios [Barbs Wastelands]
by Marta Mateus

3.
I Love You, Daddy
by Louis C.K.

2.
Phantom Thread
by Paul Thomas Anderson

1.
Twin Peaks: Season 3 / The Return
by David Lynch

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Saturday, March 24, 2018

Underworld Beauty



"Do Diamonds Really Burn?"



(All images are iPhone photos taken of frames of the film playing off the Home Vision Entertainment DVD of the film.)

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Over and over in Suzuki we'll see a bar or café with a backroom full of gangsters, but Underworld Beauty [Ankokugai no bijo, 1958] is the earliest example I can remember. This movie is ahead farther in its demimonde portrayals and youth-culture reckoning (equating the two at least in regard to material deemed ripe for cinema) than the French New Wave or Samuel Fuller, though the latter had staked a starting-point for the trajectory even as early as the mid-'50s.

A guy named Miyamoto (Michitarō Mizushima) gets out of jail, he was serving time over something to do with three chunky diamonds. (Mizushima is the best actor besides Jō Shishido in all the early Suzuki films.) His character visits his accomplice Mihara (Tōru Abe) who runs an oden stand with his sister Akiko (Mari Shiraki); Mihara took the fall that landed Miyamoto in prison, and now operates with a gimp leg. He was never a bad guy, and all these years has kept his head down in the business, even as Akiko flails like a dipso-nymph in capris, not unappealing. History repeats itself, Mihara swallows the diamonds, stashed all this time, in a deal led by Miyamoto that goes wrong, and takes another fall, off the side of a building in suicide — as much out of honor as to end his crippled existence. Akiko's lover Arita (Shinsuke Ashida) cuts the diamonds from Mihara's shrouded gullet during the vigil he holds with the body on behalf of himself and the sister, who has gone off to cope by getting shitfaced with an American sailor. When she comes back to the hospital, she cracks open Mihara's coffin and pours whiskey all over the corpse's face.

Eventually she'll come into the diamonds and tamp them down into the clay of a pre-fired mannequin's tit.

The final ten minutes find Akiko and Miyamoto ("ojisan") locked in the competitors' basement, the bad guys shooting up boiler tanks and the protagonists forced to shovel coal out a shaft to free up an escape-route. Akiko emerges onto the street; Miyamoto gets gunned down bare-backed by a detective after his offing of big-boss Ōyane (actor who?). The ending sees Miyamoto recovering in a hospital bed with the implication that he and Akiko may get something hot started yet before his time to serve. Somehow, she, and this movie, constitute an Underworld Beauty.


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More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Seijun Suzuki:

Ankokugai no bijo [Underworld Beauty, 1958]

Fumi hazushita hara [Trampled Springtime, 1958]

Kage naki koe [Voice Without a Shadow, 1958]

"Jûsan-gô taihisen," yori: Sono gosôsha (w)o nerae ["Sidetrack No. Thirteen," or: Take Aim at That Police Van, 1960]

Kemono no nemuri [The Sleep of the Beast, 1960]

Subete ga kurutteru [Everything Goes Wrong, 1960]

Tōge (w)o wataru wakai kaze [Youthful Wind Crossing the Mountain Pass, 1961]

High-teen yakuza [Late-Teen Yakuza, 1962]

Yajû no seishun [Youth of the Beast, 1963]

Akutarō [The Bastard / The Badboy, 1963]

Akutarō-den: Warui hoshi no shita demo [Stories of Bastards: Even Under a Bad Star / Stories of Badboys: Even Under a Bad Star, 1965]

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