Tag Archives: kon ichikawa

XL Popcorn – An Actor’s Revenge

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 708/1007Title: Yukinojō Henge (An Actor’s Revenge)
Director: Kon Ichikawa
Year: 1963
Country: Japan

An Actor’s Revenge is the final of the three films by Kon Ichikawa on the 1001 list that I had yet to see. Previously I was impressed by his take on the sport documentary in Tokyo Olympiad and now consider his World War II drama The Burmese Harp among my favourite films. With An Actor’s Revenge I am, yet again, seeing Ichikawa deliver something completely different – a revenge drama with a female impersonator as the protagonist.

A bit of background (that I wish I had) for this film. An Actor’s Revenge marks the 300th film that lead actor Kazuo Hasegawa had a role in; plus it is a remake of a film he made nearly 30 years earlier. This explains the key discrepancy that took me out of the moment somewhat, the fact that he was able to have two young women fall for him. Looking at him at the age of 27 and in the same make-up, I kinda get it – but not so much at 55.

Casual ageism aside (apologies for that), An Actor’s Revenge makes for an incredibly interesting watch. From the get go, where we watch onnagata (female impersonator in Kabuki theatre) Yukinojo engaging in a theatrical performance and bewitching the crowd in a beautifully done snow scene.

The rest of the film feels like it never leaves that theatre with Ichikawa using many theatrical (rather than cinematic) style tricks to compose set pieces and light his actors. This, combined with the use of whites and rare flashes of colour, make An Actor’s Revenge an incredibly stylish and visually interesting film to watch. What backs it up is rather unusual story of reluctant revenge.

You see, Yukinojo has sworn revenge against the three men that ruined his parents – which led to their suicides. In the years since losing his parents, he has become a renowned Kabuki actor in Osaka and finds himself in Edo based on a tip that this is where he will find the focus of his vengeance. However, he doesn’t want to just run them through with his sword Lady Snowblood style, but rather completely ruin them.

I say that Yukinojo is reluctant since, at many points, he is conflicted about certain actions that he has to take to reach his goal (mainly because it involves the manipulation of an innocent party to fully realise his vengeance). There are also a few times where he is clearly looking for an out, claiming that certain events mean that the gods must be against him and so should stop. I mention this because I really liked this more unusual take on a revenge protagonist – someone who, although smart and very driven, is still undeniably human.

From here on out I now have less than 300 films left before reaching my end goal of completing this list. It feels like I am really making some progress now (which was in part down to my husband’s work trip abroad) and this should grant me the impetus to try and fit in some more films whenever I can. Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to cross this whole thing off completely in the next 3 years.

XL Popcorn – The Burmese Harp / Crimes and Misdemeanors

One month in and it is spreading up into my neck from my right arm. Dictated reviews will be continuing until I know more about what I am dealing with.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Title: The Burmese Harp (Biruma no tategoto)
Director: Kon Ichikawa
Year: 1956
Country: Japan

What makes a film worthy of a perfect score? I am not entirely sure, but I know that there are not many films that I can give 10/10 on my IMDB ratings. In 2015 I only gave out two of these; one to Inside Out and the other to Don Hertzfeldt’s excellent World of Tomorrow. The Burmese Harp is the first film that I have seen in 2016 to gain this rating.

It has been an awfully long time and an awfully large number of films since I have seen a film that has given me goosebumps on so many different occasions. I guess that is just the power of music in film – especially when that music is sung by an all men’s chorus. And believe me, there is a lot of music in this film.

The Burmese Harp takes place in Burma at the end of World War II. A group of Japanese soldiers find out that their homeland has surrendered and so allow themselves to be taken in by nearby British forces so they can await repatriation. One of the soldiers, a skilled player of a homemade Burmese Harp, is employed by the British to reason with another group of Japanese soldiers… and spoilers from there.

I don’t know why but, with the exception of Schindler’s List and The Best Years of Our Lives, the best World War II films I have seen are neither American nor British. Films like Grave of the Fireflies, The Cranes Are Flying and The Lives of Others are able to it on the human experience better.

In the end, in order for these films to work they need to be relatable on a primal level. Since the famous song ‘Home! Sweet Home!’ is a recurring theme (being sung in Japanese) it is a lot easier to get the feelings of the soldiers. Loss and a longing for home are things that all people can relate to in some way, maybe not on the level of these Japanese soldiers.

However, I don’t think there are very many people who can understand what it would be like to see piles of your own people piled high and having their corpses picked by birds. Those who have… I just cannot begin to comprehend.

It is very hard to believe that The Burmese Harp started off as a children’s book. I guess that it is very hard to explain the surrender/defeat of your country to your children. In a way I can imagine this being a beautiful story, but there is a lot you would have to remove. I wager that the extra material and bleakness would have come from Ichikawa… and well played to him. Amazing film. And from the director of Tokyo Olympiad too.

crimes and misdemeanorsTitle: Crimes and Misdemeanors
Director: Woody Allen
Year: 1989
Country: USA

Well it has taken five Woody Allen films to say this, but I’ve finally seen one of his films where I enjoy his character. In fact, I believe this is the most I have ever laughed at one of Woody Allen’s films. Without a doubt Crimes and Misdemeanors is my favourite Woody Allen film so far.

In many ways Crimes and Misdemeanors in many ways to Hannah and her Sisters. There’s divorce, infidelity, philosophy, anxiety, people with jobs in media, New York as a supporting character and two central storylines that are very loosely connected. However, everything just felt like it flowed better in this film.

In a nutshell, Crimes and Misdemeanors tells two stories. One of a philanthropic ophthalmologist who is dealing with his mistress of two years who wants to come clean to his wife; the other is the story of an independent documentary maker falling in love with the producer of a film he is making of his pompous brother in law.

When it comes to the comedy elements of this dramedy Woody Allen saves it all for his section. I had a real belly laugh in a scene where he cuts footage of Mussolini into the documentary is making and shows it to his brother in law. Is it childish? Very much so, but you are with him all the way and that’s why it’s funny. This is really the first time in a Woody Allen film where I have most definitely been on his side.

When it comes to the other storyline I’m very much not on the side of Martin Landau. Then again you’re not exactly meant to be. Kudos to Martin Landau and Anjelica Huston (playing the mistress) for their roles in this section of the film. As people go Martin Landau’s ophthalmologist character is incredibly cold. We actually see him go through a nervous breakdown (somewhat) which is very much deserved. He almost goes back to his belief in god… but if final scene is anything to go by he gets over that.

In terms of endings Crimes and Misdemeanors is very different to the Woody Allen comedies that I’ve seen so far. Usually he wraps things up and gives people a somewhat happy ending. Not here, in fact you could say the ending is somewhat nihilistic. It’s a thread that runs through the whole film, this idea of god verses truth, but thematically I hadn’t really cottoned on to how central this idea was until the last 5 minutes. It’s been a good pair of films.

Progress: 530/1007

XL Popcorn – Tokyo Olympiad

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 466/1007Title: Tokyo Olympiad
Director: Kon Ichikawa
Year: 1965
Country: Japan

It’s been slightly under a year since I watched the Olympia films. Two German-made propaganda films depicting the 1936 Berlin Olympics where the spectre of Nazism loomed large. By stark contrast we have a post-World War II Japan.  A country so scarred by the dropping of the atomic bombs that they have become staunch peace-mongers. I can imagine there being some semblance of outcry at their hosting of the Olympics, but it really was a stroke of genius.

Taking Olympia and Tokyo Olympiad you have two very different ways of looking at the Olympics and, as an extension, humanity. In Olympia you have Leni Riefenstahl’s vision of the athletes as modern day demigods. The picture I chose for my write-up really sums up the vision of that film.

Tokyo Olympiad is the complete opposite. Whilst it is still artistic (albeit not as artistic as Olympia) it is rooted in the idea of celebration and peace. A rather sweet example of this is how much Ichikawa focuses on the team from Chad. This was their first games and, in true Chad style, they did not come close to winning a medal. However, Ichikawa sees past that and uses them as a way to demonstrate the Olympic spirit.

Not that Ichikawa doesn’t build tension. I was transfixed during the footage that he included of the women’s volleyball final between Japan and the USSR. I actually started cheering for the Japanese team, such is the power of sports and the reason why I choose not to follow anyone. Apart from Novak Djokovic. I’ve been following him for nearly 10 years now.

As with Olympia, the athletics make up a substantial part of the footage. However, it felt like the balance of sports was better in Tokyo Olympiad with attention also being paid to fencing, gymnastics, field hockey, 50km walk, sailing and others.

Also, like I said, Ichikawa doesn’t just include footage of victors. In the clips of the women’s shot put there is almost equal attention being paid to the guys out in the field placing flags and sending shot puts back to the athletes. To use a London 2012 phrase, he showed the ‘games makers’ in action. In footage of the marathon you see the people on the lines filling up bottles and soaking sponges. A role just as important as whoever won that particular marathon.

Another thing that puts Tokyo Olympiad ahead of Olympia for me is the setting of Tokyo. There is a bit in the beginning where the flame is going through Hiroshima Peace Park. It just evoked strong feelings being reminded of that incredible honeymoon.

Also great? Tokyo Olympiad is up on YouTube completely legally. So if you wish to watch it… just click below: