Posts in May 2009

The fourth episode of my Japanese film series can be found on my YouTube channel. I have also included a critical review of the film.

Shin Heike Monogatari Review

The 1955 film Shin Heike Monogatari follows the Taira clan’s early rise to power. It focuses on the political elements of the consolation of power around the Taira clan as well as the personal relationships between the main characters. Like the original manuscript of the Heike monogatari, the film idealizes the virtues of the samurai and cannot be considered completely accurate. However, despite some romantization, the film ultimately presents a fair depiction of samurai during this period, particularly their comparatively low social standing and the absence of a fully developed sense of a collective group identity.

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The second installment of my film series, this time it’s Akira Kurosawa’s 1945 Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail.

Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail Review

Akira Kurosawa’s 1945 film was made and distributed during one of the most pivotal moments of Japanese history. To boost civilian and soldier morale during the Asia-Pacific War, the Japanese Imperial government financed many films that glorified Japan’s feudal past and idealized the sacred bonds of loyalty that supposedly existed between lord and vassal (and by extension the emperor with all Japanese citizens). Akira Kurosawa’s 1945 film Men who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (Tora no o fumu otokotachi) is no exception. An adaptation of the famous kabuki play Kanjincho, the story revolves around the relationship between Yoshitsune and his loyal vassal Benkei, a warrior-monk. Though the film was initially criticized as being too democratic by the Imperial government before Japan’s surrender, it was banned by the American Occupation for it’s “feudalistic idea of loyalty” and was not released until 1952. With the exception of an additional porter, who adds a very Western-style comic relief to the film, Kurosawa’s adaptation is almost a straight reproduction of the kabuki play.[1] Therefore, the film contains both a representation of Tokugawa-era sentiments as well as the ideology of the 1940s.

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This is the first installment of a new series I am doing on YouTube where I review Japanese films. This episode is about Takashi Miike’s AUDITION. I have written a review AND translated the final chapter of the novel that Miike’s film was based on. You can find them both here.

Japanese Film Reviews #1: Miike Takashi’s AUDITION

Murakami Ryū’s Audition is best known for the 1999 film adaptation by director Miike Takashi. Written in 1997, the novel was first serialized, ironically, in Penthouse Japan (Murakami, 226). Despite the film’s status as a cult classic, the novel has yet to be translated into English and distributed in the United States. This is very unfortunate because Murakami’s Audition is one of his most focused novels and Miike’s film is one of the best film adaptations I have ever seen. While Murakami Ryū is well-known for his shocking and often grotesquely descriptive stories about sex, violence, and drug use in modern Japan, Audition is remarkably subtle and a large part of the novel is devoted to developing the relationship between Aoyama Shigeharu, a likeable though somewhat old-fashioned widower, and the beautiful, enigmatic Yamazaki Asami. Seven years after the death of his wife, Aoyama’s son, Shigehiko, suggests that he get remarried. Unsure of how to find the right partner and unwilling to sift through all the available young women (whom are presented as spoiled, uncultured and annoying), Aoyama’s friend decides to arrange a mock audition where he can meet beautiful young women and find the ideal partner. Aoyama quickly becomes infatuated with Yamazaki Asami and decides that she will be his future wife. However, it gradually becomes clear that Yamazaki, who has always seemed rather detached and strange, has a violent and traumatic past. Aoyama chooses to disregard this until Yamazaki’s disappearance forces him to investigate it further. After her disappearance, the novel becomes increasingly dark and twisted, culminating in the shocking climax for which the story is famous.

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