At this point Japan has filmed most of its national legends not just once but several times, and with each retelling comes the perspective of its director and the era of its making. Few tales are as widely known or retold as Chushingura, known in the West as the “Tale of the 47 Ronin,” and there have been no less than five different movie versions that I know of in Japan. One of the most popular was Hiroshi Inagaki’s 1962 version, which featured Toshiro Mifune in a key supporting role; another was Kon Ichikawa’s 1994 version, with samurai-movie regulars Renji Ishibashi and Ken Takakura. Each of them put their own distinctive feel on the material. Swords of Vengeance, from 1978, was directed by none other than Kinji Fukasaku, who has given us everything from Battle Royale to Satomi Hakkenden and everything in between.
Calling Fukasaku anything less than idiosyncratic would be … well, a dishonor. He’s put his signature style and approach on every movie he’s directed, and Vengeance is no different. It has his restless, striking camera style (which he developed in collaboration with his longtime DP, Hanjiro Nakazawa); it has brutal violence and swordplay galore; and it also uses the story as a way to work in many of Fukasaku’s conceits about social injustice and oppression. On the surface of it alone, the movie is of course enormously entertaining; the pace never flags once for the entire 2-hour-40-minute running time. Then you dig a little deeper, and see how Fukasaku may have understood this story’s real relevance and meaning far better than some of his more widely-lauded compatriots. Read more
This is a very funny scene. What makes it all the funnier — along with what makes Woman itself both very funny and very sad — is that the characters themselves, of course, do not see the inherent humor, or tragedy, in their situation. They react, but they don’t understand, especially when it comes to women. They seem women as conquests, or puzzles to be solved, or opportunities, but never once as people — no, not even when they proudly tell their friends so over Chinese food. They want to be seen as right, but they have no idea how to be right.Read more
A Tree of Palme creates one of the most breathtaking fantasy worlds I’ve ever seen in a movie — a genuinely alien and unearthly place — and uses it as the backdrop for a story that threatens to collapse under the weight of its own complexity. This has happened many times before, sadly: I was dazzled by Rock & Rule and Fire and Ice, for instance, but their stories played like shabby afterthoughts. Now comes Palme, which also looks astounding and has a great deal of ambition, but exactly the opposite story problem: It has about one hundred percent too much story for its own good.
I am normally quite kind to any movie that dares to show us something new and different. I forgave Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within its somewhat treacly story because they were breaking truly new ground with the film’s look. Palme is a more conventional mix of cel animation (and some CGI), a great deal of it is dazzling and skillfully done. But it’s frustrating to see all those great visual ideas get bogged down by plot complexities that lead the story into cul-de-sacs. It’s also not a “kid’s movie” — it’s far too dark and troubling for that, and has far too many ideas thrown at us without human context to be involving. There is a legend that when Rock Hudson was at the premiere of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, he stormed out after the first twenty minutes growling “Will someone please tell me what the hell this is all about?” I think I now know how he felt.Read more