砂の女 (Woman in the Dunes), 1964
Dir: Hiroshi Teshigahara
There's really a lot of great stuff in this. It's just that the film begins to drag and I mean really fucking drag at some points. There's certain movies where half way through, despite loving it you get the feeling there's nothing much more the film can offer. This is sort of how I felt. I mean, I did enjoy the rest of the film but not nearly on the same level. It gets sort of tedious after a while, I suppose. The ending is really bad too. Teshigahara's decision to show the main character's "missing persons" report is something you'd probably see in a Twilight Zone episode. It's almost like he's saying, "Hey, did you ever know a person that went missing? Well, maybe they're enduring something like this?!" - just feels kinda gimmicky. Everything else though, I completely love. The Eraserhead-esque visual style, the perfectly framed shots and the (surprisingly) great acting. The story is about this guy in the Japanese boonies who gets tricked by locals and is sort of stuck in this hut where he can't escape and is forced to shovel sand. There is, of course, a woman there too. There's a lot of philosophical stuff that goes with this ("Am I shoveling to live, or am I living to shovel?") mostly associated with Sartre or Beckett, but most of it is only implied so it's never unbearable. I was quite surprised to see how well the academy ratio worked in a film that I thought was going to be filled with landscapes. Instead, it's a much more claustrophobic piece.
座頭市物語 (The Tale of Zatoichi), 1962
Dir: Kenji Misumi
This kind of gets stuck in between something that wants to be taken seriously (which I'm almost positive it does) and something that should be completely ridiculous. I mean it's about a blind swordsman, and this is the first film of the "classic" samurai saga that would include 26 films from 1962 to 1989. There's typical Yakuza stuff in this, and also the "don't underestimate me" stuff that is in every shonen anime ever ("He's just a blind guy!'). Other than that though, this can be pretty fun. Shintaru Katsu actually does a decent job of playing a blind man, and Hirate (Shigeru Amachi) is a pretty all right "villain." The fact that the girl is "begging" to be with him at the end is kind of unbelievable ("My yakuza boyfriend is such a dick! All he does is drink and gamble. But you, you're so nice and mature. Take me with you! Blahblahblah!"), so the fact that he rejects her and continues his wandering life did not matter that much to me as it might to someone else. Hey, you can watch this on Hulu! Might be worth it...
上意討ち 拝領妻始末 (Samurai Rebellion), 1967
Dir: Masaki Kobayashi
Here's something where overacting, one-dimensional characters and too much talky and not enough killy make me completely lose interest. I think that Harakiri (1962) suffers from a lot of the same problems, but this is not even close to being as cool as that. I mean, I know Mifune overacts all the time (check next review), but most of the time I don't care. Samurai are supposed to mask their emotions right? Tatsuya Nakadai is great in this as usual, though he kind of loses his edge for a moment at the end. Kobayashi just doesn't have a whole lot to say. The whole "Japanese feudal life was terrible. I am against any authoritarian power" isn't a terrible thing to have in your movie, but when it's what your movie is about, it's gonna be overblown, which of course this is. If it weren't for the meticulously perfect cinematography, this might be a complete loss for me.
羅生門 (Roshomon), 1950
Dir: Akira Kurusawa
Yup, just saw this for the first time. And yes, I get why this was the first big Japanese film to make a huge international splash. It's because it's totally easy. Sure, there's the "who dunnit?" stuff, which is interesting, but the other stuff just gets to me. Every scene that is at the Roshomon Temple is exposition, and it's really annoying. Oh, the film is about the ambiguity of human nature? Rain? Ohhh. The rest of the film couldn't tell me that? If the stuff at the temple and even the trial weren't in this, I might think this was really great. People make a big deal about the dappled lighting in the grove scenes for all the right reasons, though. That is the way to portray ambiguity. You don't need some dumb monologue to tell everyone. The production values and cinematic ingenuity are all top notch. The acting also leaves a lot to be desired. Mifune is annoying retarded as the bandit, but you get the point. This is the third movie that I've seen with Masayuki Mori (the murdered samurai) and I must say that I'm a big fan. He is the only really good performance in this. So yeah, I get it, but it doesn't mean that I have to love this.