A few weeks ago, I finally watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi, this beautifully composed documentary about Jiro Ono, who I can only describe as a sushi grand master, who’s spend many decades perfecting the art of crafting, creating sushi, these works of art that are so clean and simple, so elegant. He dreams sushi; it is his life’s work. The work ethic, the discipline he demands from his sons and apprentices is rigorous and uncompromising. The work is quantifiable. The expected outcomes are concrete. There is no such thing as good enough.
Taking a break from all the po-biz stuff for a sec, so that I can pay some deference to API über-masculinity in international film, and say HOLY SH*T! One of my most favorite films of all time, Harakiri (Masaki Kobayashi, 1962), starring Tatsuya Nakadai as the run down rōnin Hanshirô Tsugumo (left, below), has been remade in 3D, by Takashi Miike, and will be premiering at Cannes. Hopefully this new film also stars someone as charismatic as Tatsuya Nakadai.
3D could work here, given that most of the film takes place inside the small square courtyard of a feudal lord’s manor, as the lead character delivers most of his lines very calmly, while seated and still, surrounded on all sides by swordsmen (as below), before he unleashes a canowhupass on them all.
Speaking of the super prolific Takashi Miike, I have yet to watch 13 Assassins, which looks grand and bloody and glorious. At this point, I think the only other Takashi Miike film I have seen is Sukiyaki Western Django, which was conceptually interesting and strange, spoken entirely in English, and paid way too much deference to Quentin Tarantino. So that’s all I wanted to say today, and also to take this opportunity to recommend to folks who don’t think API men are portrayed in a masculine enough manner in film or popular culture, to get some samurai in your film repertoire (and to watch Pacquiao fights).
My confession for the day is that we went to see Sucker Punch last night. Now, my questions for the day are as follows: Does Hollywood ever get grrl power right? I mean, first of all, why the trope of the imperiled girl in the first place? Why must this persist? Why must girl in peril necessarily entail sexual predation? Can’t we have girls and young women on hero quests, where there isn’t some greasy pervert trying to get a piece of skirt or break a hymen? (And actually, didn’t this happen — hero quest sans predation — in Pan’s Labyrinth, even in Coraline.)
[Some edits below.] Some things I’ve been thinking, while having watched Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child — I don’t know of anyone else I consider such a pure artist, the way I think of Basquiat. Filmmaker Tamra Davis includes some great (perhaps) rare footage of him and also his coterie discussing his process, and in the act of artmaking.
This stuff is gold, to witness such an intense level of prolific, how he walked through the city breathing, dreaming, living his art. All stimuli, television, music, books, people’s conversations would find their way into his art. He was part sponge, part mirror, his brain a rapid and complex filter through which all stimuli, cultural, historical, artistic material passed and became transformed.
We just watched Akira Kurosawa’s Ran on the big screen for the first time last night; it was showing at the Embarcadero for its 25th anniversary. I’ve seen this film before, a few times on DVD; in fact, this might be the very first Kurosawa film I’d ever seen. I remember my awe at the actors ground level, digging in the dirt and no holds barred emoting, so grand and thespian; I remember the cloud formations, obvious and figurative as plot and tone indicators, but awesome nonetheless. Really, Kurosawa on the big screen is another level of viewing altogether. First, the cinematic sweeps, even just the opening credits of warriors on horseback composed along grassy hills, then the full on epic battle scenes thundering with horses in full gallop, samurais’ full armor clanking, violence of wind through their banners.
In honor of the great one, Akira Kurosawa’s 100th birthday, here’s “Akira Kurosawa: 10 essential films for the director’s centenary” (I’ve seen all but one). I am happy to see Stray Dog and Drunken Angel on this list of essentials. Am still tempted to buy my very own AK-100, if only so I can watch more of the earlier films not previously available in the USA — Sanshiro Sugata, They Who Step on the Tiger’s Tail. Not sure which film I will celebrate with this evening, so I’m open to suggestions.
[Some edits below.]
Oscar nominations are out. So, hell yeah on The Hurt Locker for Best Picture, and Kathryn Bigelow for Best Director. As I mentioned briefly in my previous post, what I really enjoyed about this film was its lack of schmaltz and righteousness. Our cultural representations of war tend to do that, smack of sentimentality and the right message. Perhaps I am kind of contradicting myself, because of my intense love/hate for Coppola’s ugly and unheroic Apocalypse Now and its blatant message of war making animals and psychos of all, the farther away from our “civilized” and familiar centers we go. What I appreciate most about The Hurt Locker is that Bigelow did the opposite of pander* to us, hold our hands, soothe or reassure us, dictate to us what we are supposed to think. (Here, I think of Faramir in LOTR: The Two Towers: “War will make corpses of us all.”)
So let’s speculate on an alternate reality in which these aliens parked their mother ship over Johannesburg in 1989, a few year before the end of the official system known as Apartheid.
Twenty years later, these aliens, who are more like refugees, live in a racially segregated slum called District 9 (reminiscent of District Six), which are much like townships populated by black South Africans during Apartheid.
We can speculate that in this alternate reality, Apartheid never really did come to an official end, there is no Nelson Mandela like world leader figure to speak out against racial segregation and repression, and that the alien refugees were merely absorbed into this official system of racially segregated slums.
I don’t believe that yesterday evening was the first time I’ve ever watched Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari no Totoro, 1988). Sunny has been recommending it for some time as one of his favorite Miyazaki films, though I think my initial resistance to it was due to my perception of it as a film for young children. Certainly after viewing Ponyo, and seeing its brand of non-pandering storytelling convinced me My Neighbor Totoro was worth watching.
I am finally getting around to my write-up on last week’s advanced screening of Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo (Gake no Ue no Ponyo, which is literally Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea) in Berkeley. You can read Sunny’s very articulate and thoughtful review here.
First, I must say this film was one of the most delightful films I have seen in quite a while. As with Miyazaki’s many other films, he does not shy away from placing his child protagonists in varying degrees of danger. In preparation for Ponyo, I revisited my collection of Miyazaki DVD’s: Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, and Howl’s Moving Castle. Really, the film here with the most endangered child hero is Spirited Away, in which the girl Chihiro finds herself in a bizarre spirit world, and must learn self-reliance, not only for herself but for her parents’ survival.