The Pornographers is not so much about porn or sex as it is about frustration, and what better way to talk about frustration than through sex, or the lack thereof? It takes place in post-WWII Japan, where pornography is illegal, but "Subu" Ogata makes a decent living by selling black-market 8mm porno films to a steady stream of middle-aged and well-off clients. His clients are frustrated men, unable to get the sex they want except through porn, or through the young girls Ogata occasionally procures for them through friends of his. And Ogata himself is frustrated — Haru, the woman he's living with, doesn't want him sleeping with her because she's afraid that her dead husband's spirit won't rest easy if she's with another man.
This is the setup for The Pornographers, one of the best films made by Japanese director Shohei Imamura, who over the course of several decades has repeatedly found his subject in the oddball underbelly of Japan's everyday life. He focused on a quasi-quack WWII doctor in Dr. Akagi; he examined the lives of those forever tainted by the atomic bomb in Black Rain; and here, in his first film for Nikkatsu Studios, he turns his eye on a Japan strangled by decades of self-imposed sexual repression. Like many of the people in his movies, Subu is not seen as a hero or even a particularly sympathetic figure, but Imamura nevertheless makes him into the centerpiece of a fascinating story. Good movies do not have to be about good people, just interesting ones.Read more
There’s no question that awareness of truly great movies from Japan and the rest of Asia has exploded in the past few years, but there are more than a few directors and films who remain almost totally undiscovered in the West. For at least four years I’d heard raves about Toshio Matsumoto and his film Funeral Procession of Roses, but the movie has been essentially unavailable, relegated to the status of word of mouth and blurry bootlegs. Now it has been properly reissued on DVD, and I finally understand what all the screaming has been about.
The most amazing thing about Roses is that despite being 30 years old, it feels absolutely fresh and new today — not just because of the technique, but the subject matter, approach, and frankness of the treatment make it feel totally current. If it feels this contemporary now, one can only wonder how it felt in 1969. It is also, as many other people have pointed out, one of the hippest movies ever made; every scene exudes genuine style and attitude.Read more
Takeshi Kitano’s Zatōichi is not only one of the best movies Kitano has made so far, it’s a distillation of everything he’s ever put into his movies. In his time Kitano has moved through grim, nihilistic police-and-yakuza dramas (Violent Cop, Brother, Sonatine, Hana-bi), bittersweet childhood stories (Kids Return, Kikujiro), tender romance (A Scene at the Sea, Dolls), slapstick comedy (Getting Any?) and absurdist farce (Boiling Point). Every single one of his movies has always been identifiably his. Now, in his revisionist take on a character that has been the subject of dozens of previous movies, he does what other directors have typically done with Shakespeare or Chaucer: he takes the material and makes it unmistakably his own.
Zatōichi the Blind Masseur figured into dozens of films adapted from Kan Shimozawa’s novels, released over the span of several decades in Japan. Most of the movies starred Shintaro Katsu in the title role — a wandering masseur with a sword concealed in his cane, righting wrongs wherever he went by simply sticking to his principles (and his weapon). Zatōichi (the “zato” being a titular prefix; his real name being Ichi) is as identifiable a character to the Japanese — both in his look and his manner — as Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp is to most everyone. The interesting thing is that American audiences who aren’t as familiar with the character can start here and probably get just as good an understanding of what makes him tick as they would from any of the original movies (which are all good-to-excellent as well). Kitano was not only able to preserve the spirit of the original character, but channel it through many of his own concerns.Read more