Tuesday, March 26, 2013

3 Japanese master directors

I'm afraid I don't have anything particularly profound to say about the three Japanese master directors: Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu and Mikio Naruse.  This is a case, similar to the complete masterworks list (novel version) from a couple of days ago, where I own far more films that I have actually watched.  I do hope to correct this.  Last summer, I had planned to watch a film each evening and get through the Kurosawa collection at least, but that plan was quickly derailed.  I then watched a handful of Ingmar Bergman films and everything went to pot (a little bit like the "If you give a mouse a cookie" books where I just kept jumping around as one film led me off in a different direction, then another, and I never did find my way back).  It isn't entirely my fault, as the very early Kurosawa films are not that great and I was getting a bit bored.  The next time around I will try much harder to stay on track -- Kurosawa, then perhaps Bergman, then Ozu, then Rohmer perhaps, and finally whatever there is of Naruse (not much that has been legally released, alas), then Antonioni and wrapping up with the Godard Collection as a fitting bookend (another director who really changed the direction of cinema).  There are other side roads I need to explore, but these would cover some of the main highlights.  (Though I am wondering if so much Bergman at one time is wise, maybe I should alternate with Fellini for a real mind bender.  Another truly bizarre pairing that just occurred to me is Satyajit Ray and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, though I can pretty much guarantee that won't happen this year and maybe not even next year -- I really don't sit down and watch that many films straight through.)  Anyway, this post is just be an attempt to keep track of which movies I have watched and perhaps I will add a few comments here and there.

Akira Kurosawa

Certainly the best known Japanese director in the West.  Essentially all of his films are on DVD for Region 1, and apparently they are nearly all on Hulu.

X 1943     Sanshiro Sugata
X 1944     The Most Beautiful   (Ichiban utsukushiku)
X 1945     Sanshiro Sugata Part II
X 1945     The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail  (Tora no o wo fumu otokotachi)
X 1946     No Regrets for Our Youth    (Waga seishun ni kuinashi)
X 1947     One Wonderful Sunday     (Subarashiki nichiyōbi)
1948     Drunken Angel   (Yoidore tenshi)
1949     The Quiet Duel   (Shizukanaru ketto)
1949    Stray Dog   (Nora inu)
1950     Scandal
X 1950 Rashōmon
1951     The Idiot   (Hakuchi)
X 1952     Ikiru aka To Live
1954     Seven Samurai     (Shichinin no samurai)
1955     I Live in Fear (Ikimono no kiroku)
1957     Throne of Blood (Kumonosu-jō)
1957    The Lower Depths     (Donzoko)
1958     The Hidden Fortress    (Kakushi toride no san akunin)
1960     The Bad Sleep Well     (Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru)
1961     Yojimbo
1962     Sanjurō    
1963     High and Low (Tengoku to jigoku)
1965     Red Beard     (Akahige)
1970     Dodesukaden
1975     Dersu Uzala
1980     Kagemusha
X 1985     Ran    
X 1990     Dreams aka Akira Kurosawa's Dreams   
1991     Rhapsody in August     ( Hachigatsu no rapusodī)
1993     Madadayo

Ironically, I stopped at 1948, just when Kurosawa starts getting really good.  Oh well, something to look forward to, perhaps this summer.  Of the ones I've seen, Ikiru is the most profound, maybe even life-changing for me.  I'll write about this in more detail when I get around to watching it again.  (Just a quick note that Roger Ebert (RIP) really loved this film.)  Rashōmon is quite the mind-bender, but the problem was that while it was an incredibly fresh idea in 1950 (unreliable narrators being more of a staple of fiction and not movies up to that point), it has lost some of its potency just because of the many (often inferior) films that borrowed from it.  Still quite an achievement, however.  If I am recalling correctly, Kurosawa went a little overboard at the end of the shoot and overdid it with the artificial wind and rain.

I've only seen Ran and Dreams on the big screen (Dreams in its initial US run incidentally).  Definitely worth catching Ran on the big screen, and I hope to again some day, along with Seven Samurai (if I have an entire afternoon free!).

Yasujirō Ozu
I've tried to reformat the Ozu filmography from wiki just a bit (though it may not display well at all), and then indicate whether it is available in Criterion/Eclipse put it out (meaning it is Region 1) or BFI (meaning it is R2).  R3 means basically only available in that region (and the subtitles may be really lacking).  To fully follow Ozu and the other directors below, you need to invest in a region-free DVD, which is not really the case for Kurosawa.

1929  Days of Youth                    BFI Student
1930  Walk Cheerfully                 BFI Gangster         
1930   I Flunked But...                  BFI Student       
1930   That Night's Wife           BFI Gangster             
1931   The Lady and The Beard       BFI Student                 
X 1931  Tokyo Chorus                           Eclipse 10
X 1932   Otona no miru ehon  ... aka I Was Born, But...    Eclipse 10
1932   Seishun no yume imaizuko  ... aka Where Are the Dreams of Youth?  BFI Student     
1932   Mata au hi made         ... aka Until the Day We Meet Again               
1933   Tokyo no onna         ... aka Woman of Tokyo            BFI Melodrama   
1933    Hijosen no onna         ... aka Dragnet Girl            BFI Gangster
X 1933   Dekigokoro         ... aka Passing Fancy                 Eclipse 10
1934   Haha wo kowazuya     ... aka A Mother Should Be Loved  (incomplete)     R2/R3
1934   Ukikusa monogatari      ... aka A Story of Floating Weeds         Criterion (232)
1935   Hakoiri musume         ... aka An Innocent Maid               
1935   Tokyo no yado         ... aka An Inn in Tokyo                 R3
1936   Kagamijishi                       
1936   Daigaku yoitoko   ... aka College Is a Nice Place   ... aka Tokyo Is a Nice Place 
1936   Hitori musuko         ... aka The Only Son            Criterion (524)
1937   Shukujo wa nani o wasureta ka    ... aka What Did the Lady Forget?     R2/R3
1941    Todake no kyodai         ... aka The Toda Brothers and Sisters             R3
1942    Chichi ariki         ... aka There Was a Father               Criterion (524)
1947    Nagaya shinshiroku         ... aka The Record of a Tenement Gentleman      R3
1948    Kaze no naka no mendori       ... aka A Hen in the Wind              R2/R3
1949    Banshun         ... aka Late Spring           Criterion (331)
1950    Munekata kyoudai       ... aka The Munekata Sisters               
1951    Bakushû         ... aka Early Summer                 Criterion (240)
1952    Ochazuke no aji       ... aka Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice R2/R3                
1953    Tokyo monogatari       ... aka Tokyo Story (USA)        Criterion (217)
1956    Soshun      ... aka Early Spring (USA)                 Eclipse 3/BFI
1957    Tokyo boshoku      ... aka Tokyo Twilight              Eclipse 3/BFI
1958    Higanbana       ... aka Equinox Flower                 Eclipse 3
1959    Ohayô      ... aka Good Morning    Criterion/BFI               
1959    Ukigusa       ... aka Floating Weeds                 Criterion (232)/BFI
1960    Akibiyori      ... aka Late Autumn                 Eclipse 3
1961    Kohayagawa-ke no aki  ... aka Early Autumn (or The End of Summer)    Eclipse 3
1962    Sanma no aji     ... aka An Autumn Afternoon (USA)     Criterion (446)

I've watched very few of these films, mostly the early silents, though I own quite a number of them.  Criterion/Eclipse has done a really good job of the later films (past 1950) and they also released some early Family comedies and The Only Son/There was a Father (I kind of hoped they would have included the incomplete A Mother Should Be Loved, but they didn't do so).  In general, BFI has done a better job collecting the early surviving Ozu films. The Student Comedies is probably the best value with four early films, including I Flunked But... .  BFI has just released The Gangster Films, which includes Dragnet Girl and Last Night's Wife.  I have to say, the price is a bit steep for fairly marginal films in Ozu's discography, but I may eventually spring for them.

I am also still torn over Three Melodramas, which contains Woman of Tokyo, but then two other films available from Eclipse (the Late Ozu box).  The price would have to drop quite a bit.  I've just noticed that BFI has paired A Mother Should be Loved with Late Autumn (also in the Late Ozu box), but the price is a bit better and I may eventually pick this up, despite the overlap.

Mikio Naruse

He is clearly the least known of the three in the U.S., mostly because his work is so hard to find (legally anyway).  Criterion/Eclipse does have his early surviving works, which I have actually watched and When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, and Masters of Cinema and BFI in the UK (Region 2) have released two box sets of 6 films total (with overlap of Woman Ascends unfortunately).

Thus, this is all that is out on DVD with English subtitles:
 X   Flunky, Work Hard (Koshiben ganbare, 1931) R1
 X  No Blood Relation (Nasanu naka, 1932) R1
 X   Apart From You (Kimi to Wakarete, 1933) R1
 X   Every-Night Dreams (Yogoto no yume, 1933) R1
 X   Street Without End (Kagirinaki hodo, 1934) R1
 O  Repast (Meshi, 1951) R2
 O  Sound of the Mountain (Yama no oto, 1954) R2
 O  Late Chrysanthemums (Bangiku, 1954) R2
 O   Floating Clouds (Ukigumo, 1955) R2
 O   Flowing (Nagareru, 1956) R2
 O   When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Onna ga kaidan o agaru toki, 1960) R1/R2

I am not going to post this entire list, but he has 30+ surviving films (list at Wikipedia).  To me this really suggests a market failure.  Most of his later films are not available, and virtually none of his works from the 1960s, which are highly regarded (well, curiously I read recently that his 1950s films may be his greatest achievement).  In any case, I can only hope that Criterion is working on an Eclipse set of his 1960s films; I would snatch that up as soon as I knew the street date.

I've actually only watched the silent Naruse so far.  Street Without End had some good moments, though I think my favorite was Apart From You, which is about a famous actress who wants to be reunited with the child she gave up for adoption.

I've sort of been saving the more sophisticated "talkies" for later, and I will most likely watch them in order.  Maybe some day his color films will be released.  Now some of the other films are on Hulu (up to 13 apparently), but that doesn't do me much good at the moment.  I think it is a bit more likely that someone puts these out on DVD before Hulu comes to Canada, but we'll see.

Kenji Mizoguchi is another figure only partially well served by Criterion/Eclipse and then Masters of Cinema/Eureka.  I would say that at least his final works, as well as those films generally regarded as his best, are out on DVD, and I don't think you can say that about Naruse.  Since I don't have as many films to catch up on with Mizoguchi, I won't bother listing them.  I really thought Street of Shame was incredible, though depressing.  I also enjoyed (if that's the right word) Sisters of the Gion (Gion bayashi).  The only film I didn't care much for in the Fallen Women box was Women of the Night, which was far too melodramatic, even compared to the others in this vein; it was frankly unbelievable when one of the characters seemed about to get into a "rumble" with some street prostitutes (I think I am remembering this correctly).  Of the available Mizoguchi, the main one I still need to watch is Ugetsu, though I probably also ought to also get around some day to Sancho the Bailiff.

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