Asian Film Hall of Fame

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Think you used enough dynamite there, Butch?
Thanks for the heads up
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What to do if you find yourself stuck with no hope of rescue:
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Spoilers ahead



Black Rain

Spoilers ahead

I don't think I've ever seen a film nail a disaster (natural or man-made) so well. The chaos of the A-bomb being dropped on Hiroshima was fantastic, it almost seemed like something out of Dante's Inferno when people were walking around with their skin melted or a baked corpse lay stiff on the ground and power lines were down and people were getting shocked and black rain was falling from the sky, it was just perfect. For some reason, when a film nails something like that, I never expect the rest of the film to go as well, but in this case it just about does. The characters feel lively and real, almost fun to be around, they have senses of humor, it almost reminds me of the Jason Isbell song "Elephant" in that we know what is going to go bad and it will be heartbreaking but there is the other parts of life that get to go on before that last bit of life where "no one dies with dignity". My heart broke as soon as I saw Yasuko pull that first clump of hair out. I have a problem now too of not being sure if a film (or other art) is really as effective as I think it is or if my experience with losing my mother just makes me extra-sensitive to things like this. I just bring this up because the hair coming out reminded of when the chemo started causing my mother to lose her hair, so that moment was heavier than it might have been otherwise. I forgot multiple times during my viewing that this film was only 30 years old and not 70 years old. I don't know if classic Japanese directors were supposed to be payed homage during the film, but different moments had me thinking of at least Ozu. Maybe it's unfair to think of every black and white Japanese film about a family as being a nod to Ozu, but I guess that speaks to Ozu's legacy. It's not stylistically relatable to Ozu that much, but I did think of him. The only thing keeping this from being a five-star film for me were a couple moments of exposition that were a little too on the nose of being anti-war that took me out of the film. Not because I'm in love with war, but because no sh*t war is bad. But the next thing I say will kinda make me sound like I enjoy wars, but I didn't like the comment about unjust peace being better than a just war. Yeah, nope. I'll take a just war over unjust peace when the unjust peace would lead to things like slavery or Nazi world domination. Minor quibbles, this film is great. I look forward to more Imamura. Stream of consciousness over.



I didn't like the comment about unjust peace being better than a just war. Yeah, nope. I'll take a just war over unjust peace when the unjust peace would lead to things like slavery or Nazi world domination.
I thought the quote was more in regards to how Japan was taken out of WW2. There was nothing morally right about targeting civilians with atomic weapons. That was what made the peace unjust. Bombings that should've been war crimes were instead heralded as a great victories. Even after personally suffering through that injustice, Shizuma would prefer never going to war again. No retribution, or repeating the cycle of violence.



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Rashomon (1950)

I'd seen this once before. I've assumed throughout this HOF that this would be my #1. My second watch made that abundantly clear. This is an absolute masterpiece - probably one of the 25 greatest films ever made and certainly among the most influential. A searing, heart-wrenching exploration of the philosophy of man, justice, and objectivity itself.

First the big picture: Rashomon is rightly famous for its subjective storytelling. The story involves four different perspectives on the same event, a murder in a heavily wooded grove. It is framed by philosophical discussions at the Rashomon city gate between a woodcutter, a monk, and a commoner. The monk and woodcutter relate a disturbing story to the commoner based on their own experience. The woodcutter tells of coming upon a murdered samurai while on a trip into the forest to cut wood. While in the forest, the woodcutter finds a woman's hat, then a samurai cap, then cut rope, then an amulet, and finally the body, at which point, he claims, he then fled to tell authorities about the body. The monk notes that he saw the samurai traveling with a woman in the same wood the day of the murder.

The film shifts to a trial format, at which the first three stories are told. Notorious bandit Tajōmaru (Toshiro Mifune) is accused of the murder. Tajōmaru claims he saw the samurai and his wife walking by and was so enchanted by the woman that he followed them. He claims to have tricked and captured the samurai, tying him to a tree, then seduced the samurai's wife (Machiko Kyō). The wife, shame by her behavior, begs Tajōmaru to release her husband and fight a dual for her heart. Tajōmaru agrees and, he claims, fights a glorious battle with the samurai, ultimately prevailing and slaying him while the wife runs off. The wife next tells her story, which materially differs in the details, followed by the murdered samurai's spirit via possession through a medium. The film concludes with the woodcutter's story, quite different than his original tale. The details should not be spoiled. Suffice it to say that the characters, their actions, and their motivations, differ significantly in each telling, with a spirited debate about whether man is hopelessly savage. It's a profound and mesmerizing look at the human condition, with all its warts.

Besides revolutionizing storytelling, Rashomon inspired decades of exciting, creative cinematography thanks to the groundbreaking work of Kurosawa collaborator Kazuo Miyagawa, who boldly pointed the camera into the sun, something then unheard of, and by constructing an abstract yet unified space for the action in the grove. It is impossible to tell how far into the woods we are at any point, where we are within those woods, or what the way out is. Kurosawa's and Miyagawa's him incredible composition is also present throughout, framing characters a bit like a Renaissance painting, in perspective and facing different angles, creating a dazzling depth of frame.

Then there is the acting. The first time I saw the film I was put off a bit by Toshiro Mifune's aggressive acting style. He spends a lot of the movie yelling, posturing, and being well...big. At the time, I decided this was probably a function of Japanese acting style/philosophy but I still found it jarring. I think I was correct, but I found it less jarring this time. Perhaps because I've seen a lot more Japanese films and a lot more Mifune. It's also partially because I think the style really embodied the character he was playing in such a strong way. Mifune is meant to embody our id and its selfish, frenzied desires. It's difficult to argue he doesn't hit the mark. Even better is Kyō, in a tour de force as the samurai's wife. Given the nature of her part in the narrative, she is required to play vastly different roles and motivations, yet handles each one flawlessly, going from the most gentle, weak flower, to a strong aggressor, to pure evil. It's genius.

In all, Kurosawa's first masterpiece is justly regarded as such. A giant leap from prior films and one that stands as one of the most influential films in cinema history. Bravo. 10/10.



Dust in the Wind (1986)

A fragmented series of looks into the lives of people in a small Taiwanese town. I lost my attention halfway to the film and ended up watching the rest on a second monitor while surfing the web. Nothing ever happens, I have no idea why I should care about these people, and I fail to see the point of this movie.


On the positive side, it looks really good. Picture compositions are great and in theory, the slow pacing fits them. I would have preferred to watch a series of still photographs and save like 90 minutes of my time, though.

Dust in the Wind is undoubtfully skillfully made, but it doesn't connect with me at all. The only thing I got out of it was a series of beautiful images. I want stories and characters but failed to find either.
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The trick is not minding
Paprika


Satisfied Kon made four animated movies, 2 of which I have seen now (Perfect Blue and Paprika). Millennium Actress will follow soon since it’s available on Amazon. And then there is Tokyo Godfathers, which follows a similar theme of three strangers caring for a abandoned or orphaned infant. (A plot that had been used previously in Ford’s 3 Godfathers, Three men and a Baby in France and America, and Ice Age)

I mention all of this because his films had been highly influential, and had Kon not passed away so suddenly, who knows where his career could have gone and what other films he could have released. As such, we have only a small glimpse of his talent.

In Paprika, we get a better sense of his talent then even in Perfect Blue. A decent film on its own. But in Paprika, we see a tighter approach to the plot. Even if it still gets a little confusing.

In the future, a psychologist uses a head band like device to enter ones dreams to aid them in their psyche. One day, a thief steals one with the intent to invade others dreams and manipulate them as they please. We get a few suspects in the beginning, but it isn’t hard to figure out who is behind it.
One of the psychologists, Dr Chiba has created an alter ego named Paprika. There are times Paprika seems to have her own identity early on. She said Ed in her search for the thief by a Chief scientist and a detective who she had been aiding as Paprika. The detective seems to have his own demons.

Anyways, without going too much into the plot reality and dreams merge, and I found myself captivated by the story and the animation.

After watching it, even if it did get a little confusing at times, I found myself wondering what Kon could have accomplished. Much like James Dean, Rainer Werner-Fassbinder or Pier Paolo Pasolini, he perished before his time but not before making his Mark with a small filmography.



Nice review of Paprika, Wylde. I liked your insight into the director's career and your personal thoughts on it. I was confused by Paprika but I think that's OK because the characters in the movie were confused too by what was going on around them.



The trick is not minding
Nice review of Paprika, Wylde. I liked your insight into the director's career and your personal thoughts on it. I was confused by Paprika but I think that's OK because the characters in the movie were confused too by what was going on around them.
Yeah, it did get a little confusing towards the end. I feel they didn’t explain how the villain was able to become Omnipotent through the use of the device and how the dreams merged into reality. But then again, I guess it’s not necessary to enjoying the film itself.



The trick is not minding
Rashomon

A storm rages outside the gates of Rashomon. Inside, seeking shelter, are two men. A monk and a woodcutter. Each harbors a storm within themselves that mirrors the one outside. For both are troubled by the multiple accounts of a murder they have just heard.

So begins Rashomon. Hailed by many as Kurosawa’s best, or among his best.
It’s a film that debates humanity and openly asks how far it has fallen. And can it be redeemed?

Everyone knows the plot, by now. So I won’t go into it. This is my second time watching it in as many years (the first being last year’s personal Recc). As I suspected then, it is a film that grows with each viewing. Again, I found myself impressed by Mifune, as the bandit Tajomoru. Scratching himself, wiping the sweat from his brow, haphazardly sapping at some insect that happened on him. The way he laughs at others. It’s exaggerated at times, but it’s a rather exaggerated character anyways.

A great classic that seems to get better upon repeated viewings.



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Hanagatami (2017)

Well this was something! I'm so glad this was nominated, as there was virtually no chance I would have seen this otherwise, and it was a fascinating and beautiful film, notwithstanding some serious flaws.

The film is primarily comprised of the hyper-visual, gorgeous, impressionistic, coming-of-age memories of the main character, Toshihiko Sakakiyama, and a brief time in his life prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Toshihiko was then at a tender age, going to college, and naively immersed in the world (and Japan's) breathtaking beauty. Toshiko has left his mother in Amsterdam to attend school in Karatsu, a small town on the western coast of Japan. He stays with his aunt Keiko and his beautiful, but very sick cousin Mina. We know she is beautiful, both because she is and because the film tells us she is over and over and over again. I'm sure at least 10 minutes of the film's prodigious 169-minute runtime is the film telling us Mina is beautiful. At least 30 minutes of the film is comprised of the men of the film fighting over her. Less than 5 minutes is dedicated to her inner life, if that. This isn't great, but more on this below.

Toshihiko is fascinated by two fellow students: Kira, a crippled, moody, philosophical, cruel creature who commits an unforgivable act in the film's first 30 minutes that turned me against him for the rest of the film, and Ukai, a carefree, often shirtless manchild, who seems to eat the world whole. Shunsuke Kubozuka, who plays Toshihiko, was an inspired choice. He has huge, open, joyful eyes, that clearly convey his wonder at the cotton candy colored world imagined by director Nobuhiko Obayashi. Two girls, the tall, mischievous, and (by her own reckoning, unlucky in love) Akine, and plain Chitose who is treated horribly throughout the film by just about everyone including her supposed best friend Akine, round out the main cast.

Pros: Glorious visuals. This film is a treat for the eyes - for the most part, more on that in cons. Toshihiko's enthusiasm is contagious and is a great entry into the world. For the most part the film is fun to watch - I didn't even mind the run time. The story is captivating and well told. The surreal, dreamy cuts and abstract, stream-of-consciousness editing style is interesting and generally serves the themes of the film quite well. It's a fascinating look into pre-WWII Japan that includes points-of-view I've never been exposed to but was glad to experience.

Cons: As great as the visuals often are, the persistent imposition of just plain awful green screen really takes you out of the film. I initially thought the bad green screen was a filmic technique, like some of the odd speed/motion shots featured prominently early in the film. I realized this is not the case eventually, when it became clear that the technique was being used to fill in shots that were not adequately captured on location.

As mentioned, an early scene involving Kira was upsetting and, I thought, gratuitous. Here I was, enjoying the film immensely for 25 minutes and then - BOOM. Nothing was shown, thankfully, but it was still a problem for me. I wanted to turn it off for good. I'm glad I didn't, but I still hated the choice made here.

But the real issue with the film was its antiquated, regressive treatment of gender. I recognize that the film is based on a 1937 novel and set in a different culture, but this movie was made in 2017 ffs. Mina was literally just a symbol - I use the word literally properly here as the film expressly tells us this. But it's more than just Mina. This film seems sometimes to exist as proof of why the Bechdel Test is a thing. NONE of the women exist except in relation to the men. It's inexcusable, and really hurts what otherwise might have been a fantastic film.

So, what to do with this one? Let's go with 3.5/5 or 7/10 because it was really enjoyable to watch, if flawed.




Hanagatami (Nobuhiko Ôbayashi 2017)

When you are young life can seem like an endless horizon...a horizon with endless possibilities and the world around is still fresh. Time is on your side. Even the specter of looming war can feel like more of an adventure than an immutable doom. Youth is hope and hope is life. Hanagatami is very hopeful and full of the exuberance of youth and the dreams they envision. Yet with the coming of war those dreams evaporate and youth becomes aged.

I can tell you that I had a hard time at first getting into this film. And I can say that it took me three tries to finally allow the film to sink in and understand it, at least in some degree. I can tell you that I respected and even enjoy it for the most part, and that's all true. But what affected me most was a simple short paragraph that I read on IMDB after watching the film:

On August 2016, just before the film start the shooting, director Nobuhiko Obayashi was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer and told he only left 3 months to live. But the strong will of making the film helped him living and finished the film.

Those few words changed the meaning of Hanagatami for me and the film then became an epitaph for a dying man. Now, I can see the director Nobuhiko Ôbayashi in the movies characters and in the choices they make. I can see him in Mina who knew she was dying and wanted to live on, if only in a photograph. I can see his choices as a young man in the exuberant Toshihiko who's so thrilled to learn how to smoke, while his friends caution him smoking does no good. I can feel his presences in the people who are long lost and live on in the setting sun of Manchuria. It's like he's recorded his own life via surrogate characters. Such a strange odyssey life is...Godspeed Nobuhiko Ôbayashi.




I've sent my list in now too. Luckily I finalized it before starting the 25th, instead of procrastinating haha. Many spots for me were really close. Great set of films overall.



I've sent my list in now too. Luckily I finalized it before starting the 25th, instead of procrastinating haha. Many spots for me were really close. Great set of films overall.
I had a bit of a hard time settling on my list. There was so many films this time that were worthy of winning, IMO. I'd only seen two of these in the past so I discovered some really neat stuff.



Think you used enough dynamite there, Butch?




Paprika aka Papurika (2006)

A TRUE contender for fitting an Animation Film into my Foreign Countdown Voting List; let me just start by saying that now. (Unless I am able to fit in a viewing of Tokyo Godfathers beforehand and the two "duke it out".)
In regards to the marrying of the dream world and reality using pseudo technology, this, for me, clearly knocks it out of the park for Director Satoshi Kon.
Unlike his thoroughly, intentionally ambiguous Perfect Blue, and the slow meanderings of Millennium Actress I found this "Goldilocks Recommendation" quite ideal for me. My Old Fart's Brain comprehending the storyline's very enjoyable sojourn amidst the D.C. Mini's ever-expanding pageantry taking complete control of specific individuals. The "Race" to discover who is at the bottom of it all playing out quite expertly for me.
A well-crafted, visually impressive collage of cohesively chaotic imagery.
I was entranced - throughout.

I highly applaud and am completely, utterly delighted to have FINALLY experienced this.


Can I get a [email protected] YAYYYYYYYYYY?

YAYYYYYYYYYY!!!