Friday, June 05, 2009

Silent Bando, Gondry and Suo

Koina no Ginpei -- Yuki no wataridori / Migatory Waterbirds (Tomokazu Miyata, 1931)

Mainly this is a showcase for super-star Tsumasaburo Bando, who plays Ginpei, a rural yakuza underling in love with the pretty daughter of the local innkeeper (a semi-retired gang member). Two problems, another gang boss wants to take over the territory held by Ginpei's boss -- and the innkeeper's daughter (though fond of Ginpei) is actually in love with one of Ginpei's colleagues. After doing his duty of defending his boss's turf, Ginpei becomes a wanderer. When he returns, several years later, times have changed for the worse in his old town. Some decent fights, but overall less of a visual feast than most of the other old silent chambara I've seen.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)

Having recently enjoyed Gondry's third of a recent omnibus film (Tokyo!), I decided to check out this earlier movie. Alas, unlike his recent short film, I found it visually hyperactive and narratively over-complicated. I was glad when it was over.

Soredemo boku wa yattenai / {Even So,} I Just Didn't Do It (Masayuki Suo, 2006)

Suo's last movie was the gentle-natured romantic comedy Shall We Dance, made back in 2006. This film -- an expose of the Japanese criminal justice (?) system -- is hard-hitting and a bit didactic. It tells the story of a young man wrongly accused of groping a school girl on an overcrowded train. In it we learn the (sadly true) fact that once accused of a crime, conviction is almost certain (and that appeals mainly exist only to overturn the rare acquittals). We also learn that judges are not independent -- but rather can be demoted or otherwise punished if they issue acquittal decisions. And we learn that, if innocent, one is best advised to plead guilty (not just to groping charges, but even to rape), as the punsihments are nominal compared to what will happen if one claims innocence and demands a trial. Pleading innocence is, it would seem, an affront to the police, the proecutors, the government -- and is almost invariably punished very severely. Virtually none of the due process protections taken for granted in the US (and Europe) exist for accused criminals.

As a movie, rather than a tract, this is also pretty good. Not much real suspense, as one can guess rather early on how things will turn out. A really fine cast, with Ryo Kase as the accused and (the splendid) Koji Yakusho as his lead defense attorney -- and many others. Cinematography is smple and effective, with not much in the ways of artsiness. Music sounds rather Hisaishi-esque at times -- but was actually provided by the director's older brother.

A bit of timely news, just recently the Japanese Supreme Court overturned a groping conviction -- for the first time _ever_.

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