Thursday, October 26, 2006

Watched October 16-22, 2006

Tange Sazen yowa: Hyakuman ryo no tsubo / The Pot Worth a Million Ryo (Sadao Yamanaka, 1935)

One of the funniest historical comedies ever made. A samurai lord gives away an unprepossessing-looking heirloom pot to a younger brother as a (stingy) wedding present. Shortly afterwards, he discovers the pot actually served as a clue to finding an immense hidden treasure (one million ryo). He sends an emissary to reclaim the pot. only to find his brother's young wife has sold it to junk collectors. Meanwhile, the young man is feeling a bit smothered by his wife's solicitude -- and welcomes the chance to go out and search for the pot. As it turns out, the pot has wound up in the household in which Tange Sazen (a one-eyed, one-armed, and comically lazy samurai sword master) resides. Tanga Sazen lives with a lady friend who runs an archery gallery -- and the two of them acquire an orphaned boy, who uses the sought-for pot as a fishbowl for his gold fish.

No plot summary can do justice to this revisionist comedy (which seems to have a serious core despite its surface frivolity). Not only doies it have a superb script, it is beautifully shot (by Jun Yasumoto -- who would later do great work for Naruse and Inagaki) and directed -- and perfectly performed by Denjirô Ôkôchi (as Tange Sazen) and the rest of the wonderful cast.

Da nao tian gong / Uproar in Heaven (WAI Lai-ming, 1965)

A delightful surprise. One of the most lovely and entertaining animated films I've ever encountered. Made in Shanghai, on the eve of the Cultural Revolution, this tells the story of the Monkey King's difficulties with the Jade Emperor (whose court was in heaven) due to his lack of deference. Colorful and delightful, practically perfect.

Toki o kakeru shôjo / The Little Girl Who Conquered Time / Girl of Time (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1983)

A disappointment, a passably decent science fiction idea (an ordinary high school girl begins to experience events before they really happen) executed in a generally mediocre fashion. While the acting was okay, the script and direction were mediocre and the special effects were too often simply dreadful. We in the West forget that this sort of ephemeral fluff is the real norm of Japanese cinema -- not the (often not terribly popular) masterpieces we think must be typical.

Goo laam gwa lui / Needing You (Johnnie To & WAI Ka Fai, 2000)

An utterly delightful romance starring Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng. Lau is a section chief (and super salesman) for a computer company. Cheng is an employee with romantic problems and an extemely annouying family (for whom she appears to be the chief breadwinner -- as both her parents are seemingly unemployed and her younger siblings are still in school). Initially the two get on each others' nerves, but they soon find that they are growing fond of each other. Of course, the course of true love never runs smooth -- and Lau's "colleagues" (led by regular To "bad guy" LAM Suet) are conniving to bring him down -- to cover up their own screw-ups. Unfortunately our copy of this DVD skips 13 minutes in the middle of the film (though the material is on the disc -- and can be watched if one views the raw files on one's computer). so, while I can recommend the film highly, I would caution you against the Tai Seng DVD on sale in the US.

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