Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Watched this week, September 18 - 24, 2006

Tokyo no Yado / Tokyo Inn (Yasujiro Ozu, 1935)

My favorite Ozu silent (though it is a bit of a close call), this follows the fortunes (or misfortunes) of two homeless families -- a single father (Takeshi Sakamoto) with two boys and a single mother (Yoshiko Okada) with a little girl as they look for work in depression era Tokyo. Things finally seem to be looking up for Sakamoto and his kids (the older of which is played by always wonderful Tomio Aoki) when an old friend (Choko Iida) helps him find work -- and the boys are able to finally return to school -- but then Okada (still vainly seeking work) and her daughter vanish...

Ozu may not have inspired the neo-realist movement (as they probably knew nothing of his work), but he clearly anticipated it in this clear-eyed study of the lowest rung of the working class. The surviving source materials are quite deteriorated -- but I am simply happy this masterpiece survives at all.

Nagasaki no Kane / the Bell of Nagasaki (Hideo Oba, 1950)

This is the first Japanese film to deal with the atom bombing of Japan. It tells the real story of Dr. Takashi Nagai, a physician and medical professor from Nagasaki, engaged to a Catholic woman (but also loved by his faithful nurse) who converts on the battlefield (in the 30s) and then returns to his teaching post, marries and has children. At the beginning of 1945, he learns he is suffering from terminal cancer and likely has only a year or so left to live -- but he goes on working. As the war situation worsens, the children are sent to live with an elderly rural relative (played by "Uncle" from Ozu's "Early Summer"). His wife remains in town -- and is incinerated (nothing being left but her rosary) in her home when the bomb explodes over Nagasaki. Despite being injured by the bomb himself (and despite his personal loss), Dr. Nagai took charge of the effort to provide medical care to the survivors, working virtually non-stop until he physically collapsed. After his (partial) recovery, he returned to teaching for a couple of years, but soon has to retire due his worsening cancer. At this point, though confined to his bed, he began writing feverishly, documenting the impact of the bomb and its consequences for the survivors of the bomb. In his last days, he won acclaim from both the Emperor and the Pope.

Surprisingly, this film doesn't come across as stilted hagiography -- but is mostly vigorously effective even if not "high art" (as was Oba's prior "Woman of the Typhoon Zone"). Good performances from Masao Wakaharas ("Carmen's Pure Love") as Dr. Nagai, Yumeji Tsukioka (Aya in "Late Spring") as his wife and Keiko Tsushima (Setsuko in "Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice").

Bu jian bu san / Be There Or Be Square (FENG Xiaogang, 1998)

An enjoyable romantic comedy about two Chinese immigrants (from the same town) to the USA, whose paths keep crossing. While our heroine (XU Fan) doesn't dislike our hero (the great comic actor GE You), he always seems to bring disaster in his wake. nonetheless, every year or so, their paths accidentally cross again... (A Chinese friend says that the title is better translated as "If you're not there, I'll just keep waiting")

A first-rate entertainment -- with first-rate performances. The DVD edition of this seems to be out of print, but the still-available (and cheap) VCD has English subtitles -- and is passable.

No comments: