David and Trevor discuss four films of the 1930s by a highly prolific and all-but-forgotten master of Japanese cinema.
My latest podcast just went online. “The Eclipse Viewer” is a monthly podcast focused on discussing the films in the Criterion Collection’s Eclipse Series box sets of “lost, forgotten or overshadowed classics.”
What can I say? Looking at it from a humane, rational, and logical perspective, this book certainly ticks the patient reader. Isabella “Bella” Swan has unparalleled stubbornness, an extreme absence of self-regard, and the love and crush of a teenage girl…
Wait, isn’t that exactly what it’s about? Stephenie Meyer does a beautiful job of taking a not-so-normal experience of a teenager, stuck in a town where she deems futile, placing her in the middle of a hot and very sensual relationship with a just as “sexy” vampire. Who woulda thought?! A sexy vampire? And his beautiful family? Too much hotness in a not so hot town! Which leads me to the mind which the narrative stems from.
Bella, a stubborn, young, and (by my imagination) an interesting looking teen, is depicted as a very mature young woman. Having enough self-control to leave so much behind, and take on a new school deems her mature in my books. But even then, her desire for Edward is so strong, not even her own self-control can keep her from loving him (throughout the book).
This love is incomprehensible, it makes up the center of the story, and most of this review.
Comparing her love for Edward to a “normal” human teenage crush is inevitably going to lead you down a road of disappointment. It all seems too mushy, too sensitive, too perfect to be real. A girl helplessly in love with her “boyfriend” who is, in return, hopelessly in love with her.
And that is the beauty of this book, it is in that this love that they share, is not human. It is half surreal and half real, which is Meyer’s point throughout the book. She’s always highlighting Bella’s own human perspective conflicting with Edward’s vampire (for loss of a better word) perspective. In that, this book is marvelous as it causes romantics to dream of a more beautiful way to fall and wander in love.
I can just imagine how so much girls must fall hopelessly in love with Edward’s character, I did so myself. Edward, I believe, is an amazing “creature” as he has such a magnifying effect on Bella, who at the same time, seems to be totally unaffected by her environment.
Lastly, it is breath-taking to see such a strong love and bond between the two. Bella’s thirst for Edward is just as strong as vice-versa, and because of this, they are perfectly made for each other. Whether human or not.
Though Bella’s and Edward’s love is repetitive, it is luscious, abundant, and never-ending. The story is very lovely, and the romanticism behind it, I can agree, cannot be matched.
Though too “perfect” of a fairytale for me, I can say that this is a beautifully conjured story.
This Criterion Collection Eclipse box set collects five films from Nagisa Oshima, probably best remembered as the director of In the Realm of the Senses (that Japanese movie where they’re actually having sex). These five films are from a period where Oshima worked under his own production company and wasn’t under the obligation to make anything commercial. Violence at Noon is the only essential film in the lot, but the rest are definitely provocative and experimental.
Pleasures of the Flesh (1965)
This was Oshima’s first film under his own production company. Despite a rather ridiculous concept and lurid name, Pleasures of the Flesh is hardly explicit, slowly paced, and the least experimental of the set. The plot follows a guy named Atsushi who gets blackmailed by a government official to hold on to about $300,000 until he gets out of prison. Seeing his life going nowhere, Atsushi decides to spend all the money in one year on women.
That would seem like a pretext for getting into all kinds of sexy shenanigans, but from there the film is a depressing slog full of multiple levels of irony. Rather than just go after a bunch of prostitutes, Atsushi pays women to live with him and play house. They all come with their own baggage, though, and he never really has the sexy romp he, and probably the audience, want. Meanwhile, he’s also going a little crazy and seeing people that aren’t there. Pleasures of the Flesh has some beautiful cinematography and a few instances of these sensual and disturbing matte shots.
I was expecting something a little more out there here. Pleasures of the Flesh is fine, but says everything it’s got within the first half hour. (Rating: B-).
Violence at Noon (1966)
A vast improvement over Pleasures of the Flesh, Violence at Noon is an experimental film covering a murder/rapist and two women who protect him. It utilizes an extreme number of fast cuts, unconventional camera movement, and was filmed in this striking high-contrast black & white. The film takes some of the imagery of Rashomon to the extreme and combines it with the styling of Breathless, minus the humor.
The film opens with a startling home invasion by Eisuke, an animalistic demon reminiscent of Toshiro Mifune’s character in Rashomon. He attacks the housemaid Shino, but lets her live and kills the woman of the house instead. Shino seems to know who he is, but is hesitant to tell the cops. Instead, she reaches out to Eisuke’s wife Matsuko, a school teacher in a small town.
From there, we spend most of the time jumping back to a small farming community the three all lived at. There they are involved in a death-obsessed, suicidal love quadrangle. At first I was a little disappointed this wasn’t just a pure exploration of a serial killer like Vengeance is Mine (definitely a must see for fans of Japanese cinema), but by the end I was pretty fascinated with unraveling what happened and all the connections (there’s also more disturbing material that comes after the ruthless, sweat-drenched opening scene).
What I didn’t understand at first is this is also a very political film. While the plot seems to be about destructive sexuality—an Oshima standard—it’s also about the failure of post-WWII democratic enthusiasm. This is some depressing stuff, but it’s pretty brilliant (Rating: A-).
Sing a Song of Sex (1967)
The following year’s Sing a Song of Sex starts in a stark, color realism that’s a far cry from Violence at Noon. And at first, pretty boring stuff. Oshima’s take on the horny high school/college movie is a weird, jumbled mess that makes sense only after reading the accompanying essay.
Four similar students finish taking their entrance exams for Tokyo University. Afterwards they go on a quest to find an attractive girl from the test. Along the way, one of them possibly kills their professor, they wade through a bunch of protests of the Vietnam War, and fantasize and possibly rape the aforementioned girl. There’s tons of singing bawdy drinking songs and a strange monologue about Japan’s Korean ancestry.
By the end this got fairly interesting, but clearly Oshima’s crazy ideas here never quite came together. It’s an occasionally compelling, failed experiment that I can’t imagine I’ll ever want to watch again (Rating: C+).
Japanese Summer: Double Suicide (1967)
Following the craziness that ended Sing a Song of Sex, Oshima followed up with a new wave film that defies classification. A young Japanese woman starts the film in a barren Osaka trying her hardest to get a guy to have sex with her. She bothers men in parades, Buddhist monks, and anyone else she can find to no success. It’s pretty ridiculous and the black and white cinematography in these early scenes is particularly stunning.
Eventually, she bumps into a suicidal man and they interrupt a group of Yakuza digging up weapons. The Yakuza take both of them prisoner and leave them in a warehouse with a bunch of crazy thugs. Most of the movie is a warped take on Sartre’s No Exit with these people trapped together. The young woman repeatedly tries and fails to get the attention of every man, the suicidal man tries to get someone to kill him, and the other thugs attempt to kill each other.
There’s also a young American man shooting Japanese people with a rifle and plenty of references to the JFK assassination. The trapped people become increasingly obsessed with him and eventually go to find him and the film manages to get weirder from there. I appreciated how Oshima was trying to obliterate genres and cinematic connections here and make something provocative, but the film suffers a bit due to the lengthiness of the warehouse parts. They just aren’t as interesting as what goes on before and after (Rating: B-).
Three Resurrected Drunkards (1968)
The final film in the box set can be as perplexing as Japanese Summer or Sing a Song of Sex, but it’s the most outright enjoyable and actually quite funny. Oshima addresses the topic of Japan’s Korean ancestry and treatment of Korean immigrants through three goofballs whose clothes are stolen at the beach by a couple of Korean refugees.
Now the cops think they’re Koreans trying to avoid serving in the Vietnam War and the Koreans want to kill them to avert attention away from them. There’s also a young woman trying to help the three drunkards, though she’s being chased by a crazy guy with a hook hand. It can get pretty ridiculous.
Halfway through something very strange happens. The movie appears to start over and replays the first five minutes entirely. Honestly I thought I’d accidently hit my remote. Subtle changes start to happen as the boys relive the events and semi-consciously send everything into another direction for more zaniness.
No clue what it all means and there’s definitely I missed not understanding the Japanese-Korean cultural tension. This isn’t the best movie in the set, but it’s the most outright fun and enjoyable one (Rating: B).
Törst (1949) (aka Thirst) Directed by Ingmar Bergman Starring Eva Henning, Birger Malmsten and Birgit Tengroth
A couple in a bad marriage travel back to Stockholm after a trip to Italy.
Ah, man-oh-man-oh-man. Let me shed some light on how I feel about Bergman. He was a genius. Tough to digest. But a genius. I’m far from obsessed with him but I admire what he’s done.
Side note: You can watch Woody Allen speak about his favorite filmmaker here.
Bergman’s made some of my all-time, and I mean all-time favorite films: Sawdust and Tinsel, The Seventh Seal (the Dignitary Loss song “King of the Rook” is about The Seventh Seal), Wild Strawberries, Hour of the Wolf, Persona (which was my first - I was a kid when I watched it and nothing compared at the time), and I think The Silence is one of the most beautifully slow-paced and absurd films ever shot. I’m missing more, but my point is that he’s also made some stuff that I won’t ever watch again in my life. I just don’t get anything out of those films.
Törst (or Thirst, as it’s known in the states - or Three Strange Loves in the UK) is one of his early films. I don’t think a lot of people like it. I love it. It ain’t perfect but it’s one of his most entertaining films.
The plot can get muddy. But if you like my stuff, then you’ll know why I love this. The basic premise follows a couple whose marriage is falling apart. The cat-and-mouse game they play is pretty much what every couple does in every relationship that’s gotten to the point of no avail…
Three simultaneous stories are told: the couple on a train (exchanging dialogue reminiscent of Linklater’s Sunrise movies), a flashback depicting alcoholic (the wife) Rita’s affair with a married military man, and another portraying Viola - a friend of Rita’s whose heart Bertil (the husband) broke after having an affair with her.
The scenes with Rita and Bertil glow. They’re fun and bleak: two modes in unison. There’s also a scene towards the end with Viola (played by Birgit Tengroth who co-wrote the screenplay) and a female character named Valborg, who has turned to women, that breaks the boundaries of censorship at the time. The lighting in that scene seals the deal for me. The tension. It’s great.
Thirst. Thirst. That’s the title, right? Keep in mind when watching the movie.
From what I’ve seen, this is the first time Bergman (slightly) succeeded in depicting his themes…his demons…