Hataraku ikka / the Whole Family Works (Mikio Naruse 1939)
More proto-neo-realism from Japan. A working class family with lots of children (mostly boys) has to struggle to make ends meet. The father seems chronically under-employed -- and depends on the older sons to help support the family. When a teacher pushes the fourth son to attend high school rather than go to work, familial strife ensues -- as the older boys also decide they want to continue their educations, rather than being stuck in the same cycle of poverty as their parents. Neither parents not children are wrong -- but their needs seem irreconciliable. Not heavy-handed, but laced with lots of passing humor -- with an enigmatic ending that struck home with my wife and myself (children doing hyperactive gymnastics in their room -- while parents below wonder whether the ceiling will cave in on their heads).
Ningen Johatsu / A Man Vanishes (Shohei Imamura, 1967)
Imamura loves to pull the rug out from under his viewer's feet -- and nowhere does he does this more audaciously than he does in this ostensible documentary about one "ordinary" white collar worker who vanished -- and his fiancee's search for him egged on by Imamura's investigator (actor Shigeru Tsuyuguchi). Despite calling upon both experts and mediums, little progress is made -- though the search causes friction between the fiancee and her sister. Then, as the end draws near, Imamura pulls the props under the film out (in a way that Fukasaku borrowed in his own 1982 The Fall Guy).
Akage no An / Anne of Green Gables (Isao Takahata, 1979), Episodes 25-30
Possibly the best Japanese animated adaptation of a Western literary classic. We have now passed the mid-point -- and Anne has weathered her green hair crisis. The series' evocation of the tangible reality of the Prince Edward Island landscape is positively uncanny.
Hana yori dango / Boys Over Flowers (Yoko Kamio, writer & Shigeyasu Yamauchi, director, 1996), Episodes 1 to 8
One of my children's friends needs to see this -- so we are all re-watching this classic, wonderfully written but parsimoniously animated, Pride-and_Prejudice-inspired shoujo manga adaptation. This looks very much like a descendant of Takahata's Anne. Always fun to re-watch.
Yeojaneun namjaui miraeda / Woman is the Future of Man (HONG Sang-soo, 2004)
Initially dismissed by some as "slighter" than his earlier work, this is nonetheless one of my favorites. Once again, Hong dissects male sexual foolishness. A (mostly) very funny (if sometimes painfully so) film -- with one of the most gorgeous sound tracks of any recent film.
Yi ge mo sheng nu ren de lai xin / Letter From an Unknown Woman (XU Jinglei, 2004)
I have yet to see Ophuls' adaptation of Stefan Zweig's story -- but it is hard to imagine a better adaptation (here the story is transposed to China in the latter 1930s through the early 1950s). Young actress Xu stars (as the adult heroine) as well as directs. I originally saw this unsubbed -- and her visual story telling was so transparent I followed almost everything (but did miss one key point revealed in the narration -- the source of the male protagonist's birthday bouquet of white roses). Utterly beautiful cinematography by Mark LEE Ping Bin.