Tokyo Fiancée [2014)

I have been absent.

Because work.

Not working, but looking.

Labor.

Jobs.

Money.

Healthcare.

I have been absent because anxiety.

Always.

But better.

Walking.

Stretching.

Exercise.

Rest.

Time.

And now the cosmos brings me a perfect film.

Because Pauline Étienne.

Actress full of joy.

But the grand auteur is Stefan Liberski.

Every color.

Every gesture.

You must pinstripe, tuck up your hair you haven’t.

You must primary color.

Yellow and red.  Made in U.S.A.

“You must fall in love with me,” says Pauline Étienne.

“I command you.”

[she continues]

And of all the girls in the world, the Belgians and Finnish are the most diabolically beautiful on film.

Godard said the Swiss.

Clear bias.

And so we have a Belgian film set in Japan.

If we try hard, we can hear Debussy.  Estampes…

Pagodes…

Sado Island… […]

To dream in the rain.

Cross the bridge.

And the river steams.

You seek a nectarine.

A noisy kiss.

Pauline Étienne.

Buttermilk legs joy rollerskate skinny.

Was taken from Salinger.

Joyce said spittoon.

As cuspidor.

The most beautiful word.

Girl.

Some films, books so good…too much to handle.

My wish.

To marry.

To have that happiness.

A mere handful of fives away from Valentine’s.

When Colombia and Ecuador will be pumping out roses for Starbuckers.

All along.

They said that sex was uncouth.

Or resorted to farm metaphors of propagating species.

But.

They couldn’t talk about love.

Excitement.

When your breath is stolen by a cold kiss.

In the autumn.

Winter.

And yet warmth from optimism.

But we must get on to the little back alleys of Tokyo.

And for a moment stop this dream.

To be born.

In Japan.

Of Belgian parents.

Does not a Japanese make.

I can suck the life out of Auden.

Elliptical.

Though I thought I was aping Céline.

But director Stefan Liberski is aping no one.

personne

We must mention the author and not the auteur, though in French there is no difference (save for the milieu of cinema).

And she gives us a fantastic story.

Amélie Nothomb.

No thumb.

Better than “all thumbs”.

Rhombus.

Can you suck on a diamond lozenge from a ring?

Lots of sucking.

But that’s the aw-kward + loneliness which makes a great film.

This one just happens to pull in Belgique and Nippon to boot.

It depends.

On her yellow socks.

On her haircut.

Pauline Étienne.

On sweater with blue stripes.

Like Edward Hopper did the cinematography.

But the Francophones have it figured out.

Every trick.

Which is to say.

No tricks.

Just emotion.

Realism.

No bullshit.

Embrace the history of film.

Compare and contrast.

What works?  What doesn’t?

What speaks to you?  How does a culture (French, par exemple) see a film?

Answer:  it doesn’t fucking matter.

What matters is the overflowing love and romance which infuses Tokyo Fiancée.

Only thing Lars von Trier ever did well was film Kirsten Dunst in the nude.

Stefan Liberski surpasses von Trier’s entire oeuvre with this one film.

Yes, I’m polemic as fuck!

I’ll take François Truffaut (the film critic) and a bottle of white wine for my friend.

I like red.

And Guy Debord.

I’ll take chances.

Damn.

I have taken so many fucking chances.

But we get scared.

Worn out.

Frightened by inexperience.

All of that is in the film.

Taichi Inoue is really sweet as Rinri.

But I keep coming back to Pauline Étienne.

She has cast a spell over me.

And I must ask:  who does she signify?

Forget the character name.

For each sad soul who dreams their way to the end.

She represents someone.

Fondue.

Teeth which nave never left the village.

New born yellow as unripe baby corn.

On the farm.

Maybe.

A different register (accent?) of French in Belgium.

Immediately recognizable to a Parisian.

And with little modesty lambasted as yokel French.

But perhaps the Belgians and Quebecois have this in common.

A cause for solidarity.

And add in the Swiss…with their weird counting and smoky lisp.

Is it?

Tokyo Fiancée hits harder than La Religieuse (2013) because it is not stilted nor steeped in period costumes.

Just tell a fucking story, we say.

Pauline Étienne.  Born in Ixelles.

How could anyone from such a place be any less than ravishing?

When we think in microcosm.

If we only know one Indian person.

They become India.

For us.

And complicate this with a multicultural relationship.

That is the gasoline of Tokyo Fiancée.

It is clean.  And genius.  Like Magritte.

A bowler hat.  An apple.  And MoMA depth.

We want to be in this Japan.

Because the eyes have captured the essence of magic.

Ingenuity.

Frivolity.

Fun.

Tokyo Fiancée succeeds at every point where Lost in Translation failed (which was at every point).

This is the real deal.

Real acting.

Real art.

Not a dilettante piece.

Sofia Coppola should send her usage permissions for My Bloody Valentine and Kevin Shields tracks to Stefan Liberski posthaste.

Such music is the only thing which could make Tokyo Fiancée any better.

And yet, it is a perfect film.

Don’t fuck with perfection.

Maybe again MBV and Liberski can have a meeting of minds.

But make sure to include the Anna Karina of our age.

Pauline Étienne.

An actress for which Francophonie has been searching for 60 years.

Well, here she is.

And this is the model:  Tokyo Fiancée.

Let the joy in her heart hit the screen (splat!).

Jump on the bed.  Ahhh!!!

In the mountains.  Wooh!  The rush.

An actress with all 21 petals on her Fibonacci daisy.

Which is to say, fully capable of cinema immortality.

I believe it was Mallarmé who wrote of “bursting pomegranates” (!)

Very few films have ever had this effect on me.

And I needed this one very bad.

To confirm that there are quirky, special people in the world.

That there are eyes who see beauty in the details I notice.

And that genius in the cinema is not dead.

Thank you Mr. Liberski.

And thank you Pauline Étienne for your performance which has brought hope to a very sad person in Texas.

Je veux exprimer ma plus profonde gratitude.

C’est infini.

-PD

続・座頭市物語 [1962)

I must admit that The Tale of Zatoichi didn’t leave a lasting impression on me.

But this film, The Tale of Zatoichi Continues, is a masterpiece.

This time out, we are treated to the direction of Kazuo Mori.

It is a very artful, weightless creation.  Floating, as they say…

Entertainment…the fad of movies…with ever changing tastes.

But yet art, all the same…like Hokusai.

It seems that this was the last film Mr. Mori directed.

It’s a very special picture.

But we must return to the man who plays the blind, wandering masseur (!) Zatoichi.

Shintaro Katsu is so phenomenal here!!!

It all revolves around integrity.

Simple actions.

But we find real cinema in the tickling massage of an eccentric lord.

Indeed, wandering masseur does not exactly translate to American genres such as the Western.

But Zatoichi is a swordsman of the highest renown.

His walking cane contains his sword (just in case).

He is a reasonable man.

Not to be bullied.

It’s unnecessary.

Karma will bring about one last shared laugh.

After stopping by the stream.

After Beethoven Symphony No. 6.

The underwater grass swaying with the currents.

And the three levels (worlds) about which M.C. Escher taught us.

A bug…or a pebble…polished stone…sinks…ripple.

Little blossoms of yellow.

We don’t know.  1962.  We imagine.

Friendship has withered like fish left on their lines in the summer sun.

Dried.  Desiccated.

Decision theory.

Yes, it is abrupt.

But not to be missed.

 

-PD

座頭市物語 [1962)

How are we supposed to understand Nissan?

If we don’t understand Hokusai?

And Fukushima.

And Zatoichi.

This, here, is The Tale of Zatoichi.

Directed by Kenji Misumi.

Artful camera-pen pans to heightened senses.

But Shintaro Katsu is our humble warrior.

As you like it.

But you must have a keyhole.

You must have a way into this oeuvre.

And so we think Nissan.

But also Roland Kirk.

Forever, Roland Kirk.

Maybe Marcus Roberts at the piano.  Yes.  Computing.

And Art Tatum as a whirlwind.

Professional courtesy.

No one could understand me.

You must get deep to understand the soldier.

Stage 4.

All the world’s a Dutch proverb.

 

-PD

里見八犬伝 [1983)

Woof.  I really got my years mixed up.  Not by much, but a few years in technological terms is quite meaningful nowadays.  And it started really exploding in the 80s.

In some respects we have Japan to thank.  And while we might think strictly of Atari when remembering the techno 80s there were other advances outside of home entertainment.

But yes.  I thought I was watching a movie from 1979.  I misread the box.

I missed the fine print (Made on Mars).

We have previously seen Sonny Chiba as an ass-kicking karate expert, but here the name of the game is swordplay.

Yet that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Really, this film makes my recent proclamation of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly as being a weird film almost completely meaningless.

THIS is a weird film!

It is weird even when it’s not weird, and when it’s actually weird?  This is some far-out David Icke kind of stuff.

But first a word about the atrocious title.

For all I know there may actually be a story of seven samurai in Japanese history, but the reference (and plot) to eight samurai is to Kurosawa what 14 Minute Abs would be to 15 Minute Abs.  Put differently, “If you liked The Seven Samurai, then you’ll LOVE The Eight Samurai.”  Or, “Purchase admission to Seven Samurai and receive an additional samurai at no extra cost.”

But wait…there’s more!

Director Kenji Fukasaku really had a dodgy band of art directors/set designers to work with.  It’s not that they don’t have the chops…it’s their taste which we question.  And the music supervisor should absolutely be made to sit in the corner and listen to John O’Banion for all eternity.

Plain and simple:  this film is as cheesy as a Velveeta milkshake.  Indeed.  Bottoms up.

And yet, for all of that maudlin naivete it still passes muster as not only a watchable film but (dare I say?) a good film.  Not great, good…

Why?  Mostly the acting.  Yes, amidst this candy store of sugary-sweet special effects and fantasy costumes there are moments of real, inspired acting with actual technical proficiency.

Hiroko Yakushimaru is really pretty good as the princess (always has to be a princess in these kinds of stories).

Hiroyuki Sanada plays what for perceptive Western audiences would be the Han Solo character (though Solo’s precedent is almost certainly in the older, classic samurai films).

Sadly, Sonny Chiba doesn’t really get a chance to shine here.  There are all sorts of ridiculous hand-weapon battles, but not much in the way of empty-fist war ballet.

As with the ubiquitous princess, we also have lots of crystals…glowing crystals.

If it seems I’m making fun of this film, that’s because I am.  But the truth is that I really liked it.

Would I watch it again?  Sober?  Probably not.

But am I disappointed to have sat through it?  Absolutely not.  It was entertaining and, in its own way, touchingly artful.

One last note.  Mari Natsuki is one bad bitch.  Ever wanted to see a smoking-hot undead person (reptilian?) bathe in a pool of blood before lasciviously kissing her grown son?  Me neither.  But I saw it.  And in some strange way my life is richer for having had that experience.  Happy viewing!

-PD

空手バカ一代 [1977)

Shin’ichi Chiba.  Another world.

The floating world.

Sonny Chiba.

We struggle with what can be expressed.  Our only means meanwhile our only limitation.

Language.  To the edge of verisimilitude.

Perhaps the greatest of all karate movies.  And yet no plot summary waiting to remind us.

This appears to be the final film directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi.

From the first iconic Toei breakers upon the rocks to the karate Karajan of the final plea for peace revenge.

Breathing into the ocean a righteous fire anger.

It is not the kung fu of China.  Not solely the karate of Japan.

It is the story of Mas Oyama.  Korean.

That said, it is Chinese martial arts…at the time of Japanese occupation…of South Korea.

Manchuria.

It is also the story (very tenuously) of Kanji Ishiwara. A Japanese general unpopular for his opposition to Japan’s invasion of neighboring countries (like Korea).

All it takes is one good egg.  Isn’t that what they tell us???

What is karate?  1963.

Strange in a stranger land.  A land more strange.

Chojun Miyagi.  Wax.

Wane on, wane off.

Okinawa.

You want an anti-imperialist film?  You want a political film?

Hear it is.

Her lips flaming with booze…ready to slice her wrists and end her pathetic life as a prostitute for U.S. airmen.

What would you do if you lived in Iraq?

Chiba Prefecture.

Doubt.  Retreat.

All we have needed is a little encouragement.

The geometric equation of detractors.

We admire the beards of the Marxists and the Muslims.

What if Thoreau had retreated to Walden in order to perfect his ass-kicking skills?

Ah, but all good things must come to an end.  T.B. sheets.  Van Morrison meets La bohème.

Perhaps they were trigger-happy with the inscrutable conventions of French title capitalization.

Maybe it is the e.e. cummings of opera composers.

We wait for Satie.  Erik.

Not to bore you, but judo and karate unite.

Enter The Dragon suffers.  The lady from Shanghai prefers Yamaguchi.

Raging bull fights ox luchador.

Bizarre.

Beautiful.

-PD

殺人拳2 [1974)

There is no plot.  Given.  No love.

A darkened corner of cinema.

Haiku in reverse.  Inversion of the form.

So we shall start in a roundabout way.  Roundhouse.  Pink Floyd.  Hair.  We owe Julian Cope immensely.  Japrock.  Like Krautrock.

It was a night when I wandered into a makeshift venue in Austin.  I had hoped to see one of my favorite bands of all time (The Homosexuals), but was denied entry.  Dejected, I drifted southwest.  Perhaps it was destiny.  Flower Travellin’ Band.  What a show they put on!  Really a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

I had read Cope’s book.  Made quite an impression on me.  Tracked down many gems:  Speed, Glue & Shinki.  No commas in tags.  Les Rallizes Denudes.  Feedback mayhem!  Far East Family Band, J.A. Caesar, Masahiko Sato (Satoh), Far Out, Takehisa Kosugi, People, Blues Creation, Karuna Khyal, Kuni Kawachi, Brast Burn, Stomu Yamashta, Taj Mahal Travellers, Toshi Ichiyanagi, Kawabata Makoto, Yonin Bayashi…

I’m sure I left quite a few out.  Lots of travelling…flower, Taj Mahal…

Why do I mention all of these Japanese hippie bands?  Well, first of all they made great music!  But it is pertinent because we get visual clues in this film which pull our minds to this little known Japanese subculture of the 1970s.

I am no expert on “Japrock”…  I will leave that to Sir Cope.  But I know to pay attention when a teardrop explodes.

When we first see Don Costello (Claude Gagnon), we are made to believe he is a mute hippie beggar…beaded and fringed (and most importantly, bearded like a Tenderloin tramp).  If you want to see a short English-language Wikipedia entry, check out Monsieur Gagnon’s.  It is so pithy that it begs for elaboration on this mysterious figure.

When I first saw Gagnon in this film, I immediately thought of that great Flower Travellin’ Band album cover for Anywhere (their debut album from 1970):  a bunch of naked Japanese guys on motorcycles.  What freedom that picture conveys!  Who doesn’t want to have a group of wild friends with whom to take to the highway?  Fuck everything!  We’re free, goddamnit!!!

I was very fortunate to see FTB before their singer Joe Yamanaka died in 2011.

Return of the Street Fighter has some of that revolutionary spirit in it…even beyond Gagnon’s beard.  Take for instance Yōko Ichiji.  Her big Laurel Canyon sunglasses and bizarre schoolgirl hair never take her far from an 8-track player.

In fact, so much of Shigehiro Ozawa’s direction here has a psychedelic tilt to it such that one really sees martial arts in a whole new way.  Ozawa’s Wikipedia entry in English is two sentences long.

So let’s talk about what we can:  Sonny Chiba.  To my eyes, he had improved his acting and fighting prowess considerably by 1974 (and he was already a bad-ass to start with).  Chiba again portrays a character which might be best considered as the reverse of the Bruce Lee coin.  Lee’s obverse presence is one of mischievous valor, while Chiba is just downright mean.  But Sonny has a heroic side in these films.  That’s the point.  He’s a bad motherfucker, but you definitely want him on your side.  You don’t want to have to face off against this guy!

In many ways, Ozawa makes this a more compelling film than the original installment.  Two particularly artful and effective segments are the battle near the ski-lift and the detailing of weapons in the school (nunchaku, Okinawan sai, etc.).

In all this excitement I failed to mention Magical Power Mako (perhaps my favorite).

Now I am empty-handed and ready for karate.

-PD

激突!殺人拳 [1974)

Cinema lets us enter a new world.  When we get off that ferry with Bruce Lee and his uncle in The Big Boss, we are entering the world of Hong Kong fighting.  There’s something about that green suitcase which Uncle Lu totes along the gangplank which makes the whole thing believable.  That cheap green suitcase.  It is sad somehow.  A day’s change of clothes, perhaps.  There is something so humble about the mise-en-scène to indicate that we are not in Kansas anymore.

Our eyebrows raise as the opening credits roll on this excellent Sonny Chiba flick.  Japan!  The wah-wah guitar beckons us into a world which no longer exists–a place in history.  But we are fortunate that Sonny Chiba lives!  He is 76 years old. What an impression he makes in The Street Fighter!

It is not completely clear early in this film what is going on.  In fact, there are several times when the storytelling becomes a bit convoluted.  Don’t misunderstand:  this isn’t a complex film.  But somehow, the storytelling is very…different.

We remember Christian Slater at the beginning of True Romance when he unsuccessfully tried to pick up a girl at a bar…

Girl:  You want to take me to a kung fu movie?!?

Slater:  Three…kung fu movies.

Yes.  I’ve taken a couple of jabs at Tarantino on my site.  Perhaps I’ve been too harsh.  I mean, maybe Quentin has it all figured out.  No doubt the masters like Godard were initially impelled and instructed by the likes of B-movies, gangster films, pulp…from Nicholas Ray to Samuel Fuller.  Silly me…I thought QT grew up in Knoxville, but that isn’t quite right.  That said, his upbringing sounds about as shitty as I imagined…just transposed to various urban sprawl appendages of Los Angeles.

And so, from “one inch punch” to “oxygen coma punch” we dovetail into Chiba’s oeuvre.

Nothing about the beginning of this film foreshadows the touching moment late in the film when Ratnose (Chiba’s sidekick) finally gets his friend’s attention.  This subplot between Terry Tsurugi and Ratnose is really remarkable…almost a Clouseau/Cato dynamic early on, which proceeds into a harrowing/endearing funnel of climax.

Yeah, Slater was right:  Chiba is a rough customer.  He’s hard to like.  You have to stick with it.  Slowly, his unique morality comes to the surface.  Tsurugi is a damaged character, but the hardships he has experienced make him one of the toughest people on the planet.

Interestingly, Tsurugi’s rampages are in the context of big oil.  Though it was 1974, we feel a palpable thrill as he deals with the dealers.  It is still relevant.  Consider this recent story, for instance:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/03/20/wall-street-journal-reporter-david-birds-body-found-in-a-n-j-river/

Likewise, Chiba plays the role of an anti-mafia loner.  In other words, this guy’s not afraid of anyone.  Pretty powerful stuff!

Although Tsurugi doesn’t really have a way with women, his “beast” mode wins over the beauty Sarai (Yutaka Nakajima).  Chiba is all action–very few words.

And if you think Bruce Lee makes strange sounds in his fights, Chiba takes the cake…perpetually clearing his sinuses while trying to self-induce a heart attack (or so it sounds).  It is mondo bizarre!

Shigehiro Ozawa manages to make this a particularly artful film at times…especially the fight between Chiba and Masafumi Suzuki.  The focus on fists bears a striking resemblance to the famous “gun” shot from Hitchcock’s Spellbound.

The Street Fighter diverges from Bruce Lee movies in that Chiba gets his ass kicked pretty severely throughout this movie.  I suppose there is a proto-Rocky element here:  Chiba is the guy who can roll with the punches.

Another couple of nods to Lee occur at the beginning and then much later in the film.  Milton Ishibashi is made fun of by the prison guards who say something like “he must think he’s Bruce Lee.”  More importantly, we later learn that Chiba’s character is half Japanese (hi Jad Fair). His father had tried to combine “Chinese boxing” and karate.  This reminds us of Way of the Dragon…where the restaurant employees mock Lee’s “Chinese boxing” in sneering tones (until they see what it can do).

I won’t give away the bizarre ending, but suffice it to say that Junjo (Ishibashi) will be singing “Kumbaya” like Ned Gerblansky from here on out (if at all).  Who’s ready for some pie?

-PD