Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Village of Eight Gravestones (1977)

Village of Eight Gravestones (1977)

October 31st, 6:30PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

Village of Eight Gravestones (1977)

Tatsuya Terada (Kenichi Hagiwara) works at an airport and leads what seems a happily mundane life. Suddenly he is summoned to a lawyers offices and confronted with his aged grandfather who he didn’t ever know existed. He is then informed that he apparently has many relatives in the form of a wealthy family presiding over a small rural village in a valley surrounded by heavily forested mountains. On top of that he is informed that he has become the next heir to the family fortune. At this very moment to double the shock his grandfather has some kind of strange attack and dies horribly right in front of his eyes.

He then travels to meet this unknown family and upon arriving discovers an atmosphere of suspension and strange goings on. Soon after he arrives people connected with the family begin dying strangely and many believe it is somehow connected to a curse put upon the village by eight wondering Samurai who met there fate there centuries before.

When people talk about the great suspense film directors of the 20th century two names seem to always come up, British Director Alfred Hitchcock and French Director Henri-Georges Clouzot. But as more of his films begin to be widely available in the west in the coming decades, you might see the name of Nomura Yoshitaro added to that list. Nomura Yoshitaro, or Yoshitaro Nomura if you are using the western name order is a prolithic classical studio director, working under Japans large Shochiku Studio. During his time there he learned from and mentored many of Japans greatest directors including Akira Kurosawa in the former and Yoji Yamada in the latter. But even with his large and varied career what he tends to be best remembered for in Japan are his suspense films. He began with 1958's The Chase which was based upon a story by famed mystery author Matsumoto Seicho. It was so popular that he then directed a string of other films based upon the authors works including 1974's The Castle of Sand which is routinely pointed out as one of the greatest Japanese films of all time.
Apart from his collaborations with Matsumoto he also directed sever other suspense films based upon other works Village of Eight Gravestones being the most famous of these. Based upon a novel of the same name by Yokomizo Seishi, the films creates a murky mixture of horror and dread that few suspense films could ever hope come close to. While watching it the viewer is constantly hit by the feeling that there is something horrible just below the surface that seems to be drawing all the characters into a dark abyss. Another hallmark of a Nomura film is the cinematography, in this case opening up upon grand rural views that even in broad daylight tend to have the feel of some kind of gothic hell.

It looks like Nomura’s death in 2005 might have speeded up the recognition of his films outside of Japan compared with the trickle of praise that has been slowly growing in the west for decades. More of his films are now receiving domestic American release then ever before. For anyone who loves the genre of suspense and mystery this directors films are required viewing and Village of Eight Gravestones remains one of his best.
Japan, Director Nomura Yoshitaro. Cast Kenichi Hagiwara, Ogawa Mayumi, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Kiyoshi Atsumi, 151 minutes.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fun Movie (2002)

Fun Movie (2002)

October 23rd, 6:30PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

Fun Movie (2002)

Fun Movie was billed as the first ever South Korean movie parody film. Since the mid 1990's the Korean film industry has seen a dramatic rise as it watched its films gain worldwide circulation and domestic Korean box office dominance. From romantic comedies like My Sassy Girl and Marring the Mafia, to big budget action films such as Shiri and Tai Guk Gi: The Brotherhood of War as well as everything in between the Korean cinema in embracing its modernity while earning acclaim from around the world.

Fun Movie is a visible example of this in that it uses the idea that Korean film is finally grand enough to support a high profile parody film. The film is especially enjoyable to those who have seen the blockbusters of the late 90's early 2000's but still functions as a entertaining comedy either way.

The main story is a variation on the popular action film Shiri in which a rouge group of special forces commandoes try to stop unification talks between the North and South. The parodies go on to include Nowhere to Hide, My Sassy Girl and Ditto.

South Korea, Director Jang Gyu-Seong. Cast Lim Won-Hie, Kim Jeong-Eun, Kim Su-Ro and Seo Tae-Hwa 120 minutes

Monday, October 6, 2008

Charisma (1999)

October 9th, 6:30PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

Charisma (1999)
aka Karisuma

Detective Goro Yabuike (Kôji Yakusho) is called in as a hostage negotiator. It seems a lone enraged man is holding a high profile politician at gunpoint in the his office. Upon arriving Yabuike enters and begins to converse with the gunman. He is then told by the man to "restore the order of things". This has a dramatic effect on Yabuike and things then take a turn for the worse.

With the end of the hostage taking Yabuike is told he is being put on extended leave and to go home. Instead after being dropped off by an officer he starts to wonder deep into a forest. There he encounters several strange individuals. They include a Botanist by the name of Mitsuko (Jun Fubuki) and her unstable sister, Kiriyama (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi) a young hermit and a group of forest rangers. All of them is seems have become obsessed with a strange old tree located in a clearing which they have named Charisma. Some of them want to destroy it, others to sell it while still others want to protect the tree at any cost. Yabuike is given several conflicting stories regarding the tree and its relationship to the decline of the health of the forest. Over the course of several days Yabuike wonders the forest observing and interacting with its inhabitants.

Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to Akira Kurosawa) has been growing in renown and is now widely seen as one of the best of the current crop of Japanese directors. The film that rocketed him into major international fame was 1997's Cure which told the story of seemingly random pointless murders committed by a variety of people and the detective who attempts to understand what is going on. Later films such as Kairo aka Pulse (2001) and Bright Future (2003) have further cemented his reputation as a film maker of note.

In 1999 he created what many see as one of his best and also most puzzling films, Charisma. Originally the screenplay was written in the early 1990's and submitted to the American Sundance institutes film workshops and was thought of highly enough to allow Kurosawa to come to the US to study American film. This high profile learning experience helped to revitalize his, at the time waning career that had hit a bumpy patch after a falling out with director Juzo Itami. After that it lay dormant until finally being filmed later in the decade. In that time another Kurosawa film Cure had come about that in tone and feel was almost a sequel of sorts to Charisma. This is heightened even more so do to the fact that Kôji Yakusho starred in both playing a similar police detective, although the name of his character differs from one film to the other.

Some of the basic structure of the film is often compared to 1964 Japanese film Woman of the Dunes and many see this as a homage on Kurosawa’s part. These similarities however are only skin deep. The films plot and style are loaded with Kurosawa director trademarks. These include the slow pacing and the fact that the plot is a hodgepodge of allegory and metaphor. In this way it is a film that the viewer must actively be observing and pondering the meaning of the events in order to pick up on what is really going on. Most theories regarding the meaning of the film center around modern Japanese society and ecology, but it really is something that the viewer should at least for the first viewing tackle on there own.

Country Japan, Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Cast Kôji Yakusho, Ren Osugi,Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, Jun Fubuki, Yoriko Douguchi, Akira Otaka, Yutaka Matsushige, Sachiko Meguro, Masayuki Shionoya, 104 Mins