Kon Ichikawa’s bleak comedy Odd Obsession fades from black onto the head and shoulders of Tatsuya Nakadai, just beginning the most fruitful period of his wide-ranging career as a leading man for the likes of Masaki Kobayashi, Hiroshi Teshigahara, and Akira Kurosawa. His medical student character’s youthful poise immediately sours into smugness as he directly addresses the audience for the first and only time, outlining the ages at which various human bodily functions weaken and eventually fail. His eerily wide grin at indicting the audience’s physical entropy exposes his hypocritical inner self before any other character can even glimpse it. This provocative opening salvo explicates both the form and content of Ichikawa’s film: a detached, observational perspective on the eternally human quest to resist the degenerative process of aging.
Author Adam Kuntavanish
The actor/writer/director Jûzô Itami, whose culturally introspective and richly satirical features of the 1980s and 1990s became international hits, would have turned 80 this May. His tightly focused and stylistically consistent filmography of ten films in thirteen years was a remarkable achievement in contemporary world cinema, his universal appeal marking him as one of Japan’s modern on-screen crossover successes. Yet for reasons of controversy and lack of availability in the West, his films are relatively underseen and his legacy seemingly undervalued today. The aims of the video above and the essay below are to give an interested neophyte a basic sense of Itami’s visual and thematic interests, and to celebrate a singular filmmaker’s career.
I knew this one would never happen, but bear with me. Whit Stillman’s films are lightly melancholy musical comedies, with the musicality emanating from his richly stylized dialogue when not actually in the form of a tune like “Love Train” from the end of Last of Days of Disco. Damsels in Distress is both his lightest and least earthbound film to date, wrapping college-age protagonist Violet’s (Greta Gerwig) do-gooder attempts at suicide prevention in, among other things, the form of a forced dance craze called the Sambola, a kind of mash-up of the cha-cha, waltz, and tango. The accompanying song (credited to Jeff Young and the World Sambola Chorus) is an unassuming, bouncy little number perfect as background for the dance moves and would be a fittingly daffy nomination for one of America’s foremost writer/director/satirist/entertainers.
Since we’re in the last throes of Oscar fever following the nominations announcement, it’s time to vent our frustrations! Last year around this time I listed my snubs of the 84th Academy Awards, and this year will be no different, including the caveats that I’ll only choose reasonable nominees that had a snowball’s chance in hell of making the cut and furthermore who or what would need to be cast aside to still keep the same number of nominations. Let loose in the comments on your own unmentioned favorites as well, whether or not they ever had a realistic shot.
Quentin Tarantino’s bifurcated paean to the high-octane, often low-budget and existential road movies of the 1970s works better on its own than as the second-half of the Grindhouse double-bill, but it nonetheless feels like a direct response to its unrepentantly macho, caffeinated forebears and is capped with an excitedly end-all final chase between our female protagonists and the dementedly suave and homicidal “Stuntman Mike” (Kurt Russell). Like Planet Terror and its game of spot-the-John Carpenter-references, Death Proof takes that filmmaker’s foremost on-screen collaborator and thoroughly villain-izes him, only to take him down a peg at his own game with three confident, Hollywood-savvy women (Tracie Thoms, Rosario Dawson, real-life stuntwoman Zoë Bell). Tarantino, acting as his own cinematographer, and frequent editor Sally Menke craft maybe the most viscerally exciting sequence of their careers, aided immeasurably by Bell’s patently dangerous game of “Ship’s Mast” upon the hood of their vintage Vanishing Point Dodge Charger. The seemingly offhand conversations and slow-motion violence of the first part of the film has suitably led up to this overcharged, hypersexual duel of old-school movie testosterone and a new generation of knowing, ass-kicking feminists.
A generous reading of the action film genre would favorably compare it to the musical in form and structure: narrative punctuated by bracketed-off, sometimes excessively-stylized sequences that provide emotional and cinematic high points. Today they’re destined for YouTube, but before the Internet these scenes and moments served as the best explanation for overworked, overwatched VHS tapes. Even the earliest examples of action/adventure and slapstick comedy cinema abounded with stunts and set-pieces meant to wow and etch themselves into the viewer’s memory, and this spirit lives on mightily in every choreographed fight, car chase, explosion, and James Bond pre-credits sequence. So post below your favorite adrenalized
My first foray into adapting Top Ten lists into the video format came in a bit overlong, but I feel it was worth it to list some Honorable Mentions and to savor the moments and gestures that define the range of my choices. While the bulk of the films listed are told from the young protagonist’s point of view, they’re surprisingly still considered adult movies, whether because they’re silent or from a non-English-speaking country or “old,” but I see them all as perfectly suitable for viewers within the protagonist’s particular age range. The demographics broke down to six boys (seven if you count the duo as two) and four girls, with an even wider gender disparity if one counts the Honorable Mentions. Personalities run the gamut from moody introspection to energetic exuberance, but each kid exhibits a healthy range of these traits in response to his or her dramatic circumstances (which I tried to highlight with my choice of clips).
Coming-of-age is one of the great narratives in art, and young people have only become more flushed with disposable income to pump into cinemas and for DVDs, so it’s no surprise that youths are some of the most frequent subjects of movies. From Chaplin’s The Kid with title character Jackie Coogan and the Andy Hardy cycle starring Mickey Rooney, to a host of 2012 releases like Moonrise Kingdom, I Wish, and Beasts of the Southern Wild, films that explore a pre-adult’s emotions and perspective are plentiful but rarely rise above the for-kids-only heap of juvenile junk. So we’re here to celebrate the greats, the kid characters and performances that most fully explore that endlessly fascinating and excitingly crucial stage of life, childhood. Celebrate the start of 2013 by letting us know your thoughts on my first list topic of the year: kids in film.
A delightfully uninhibited Georgian coming-of-age comedy, 27 Missing Kisses is the picaresque tale of teenage tomboy Sibylla’s (Nutsa Kukhianidze) summer of romance, paired with a similarly-aged boy (Shalva Iashvili) but smitten with his widowed womanizer father (Evgeniy Sidikhin). Uptight villagers are seemingly loosened by Sibylla’s fairy tale presence as sexual shenanigans happen under their noses and Emmanuelle gets shown at the local theater. Co-writer/director Nana Djordjadze merges a free-spirited wit with a Kusturica-like vibe for the foibles of close-knit village life, and lead actress Kukhianidze (who has subsequently appeared in Eastern European films and Neil Jordan’s The Good Thief) has an appealing, rollicking fearlessness. Numerous minor, sometimes surreal subplots abound, with probable resonance for those more familiar with the former Soviet satellite, but the focus on Kukhianidze and the randiness she brings to the sleepy town is what counts, even down to the poignant finale at the end of the season.