Tag Archives: Ken Ogata

“Hokusai Manga”: Erotic surrenders to a giant squid

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Shindô Kaneto’s 1981 biopic “Hokusai manga” (1981) with Ken Ogata [Mishima, Man Walking on Snow] playing Hokusai was released in English as “Edo Porn,” stressing the woman mounted by octopus (The Dream of a Fisherman’s Wife) from late in the career of the woodblock master Hokusai Katsushika (ca. 1760-1849). I thought that the old-man makeup for Hokusai and for his longtime buddy/enabler Sashichi /Kyokutei Bakin [Nishida Toshiyyko] was silly (Oei [Tanaka Yûko] was aged more gracefully if not particularly believable, either). As I suspected while watching it, the movie was an adaptation of a stageplay (written by Yashiro Siichi), though that doesn’t explain why the last act is so protracted.

BTW, though there are frequent shots of women’s breasts, there is no full-frontal nudity. And though focused on the late erotic works in the 13=volume Hokusai Manga, work on the famous 36 Views of Mount Fujiyama is also included. And a lot of drunkenness.

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The artist’s daughter Ôei Tanaka Yûko {Eijanaika]) stood by the artist as he obsessed about Ônau (Higuchi Kanako [Rônin-gai]), whom he coaxed to model for his erotic drawings. The look is close to that of Shindo’s ghost movie, “Onibaba.”

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

Dysfunctional Japanese family in the snowy, unprosperous Far North

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Francophile Japanese writer-director Kobayashi Masahiro (Bashing) filmed “Aruku, hito” (Man Walking on Snow, 2001) in Mashike, a small city on the west coast of the northernmost of the major Japanese island, Hokkaido. One of the characters says that there is snow on the ground six months out of the year.

To this native Minnesotan, it does not look all that cold (there’s only one scene in which I see the characters’ breath, and there are many scenes outdoors), though there is often snow in the air, and insulating buildings.

The movie’s patriarch Honma Nobuo (Obata Ken,who played Mishima in Paul Shrader’s highly stylized movie about the writer, the serial killer in Imamura Shohei’s “Vengeance Is Mine,” and Shinnojo’s fencing instructor in “Love and Honor”) is 66 years old in the Japanese intertitle (which would be 65 by American reckoning), but 70 in the English-language subtitle. Every morning he bounds out of town to the graveyard where his wife has been the last two years (the movie begins two days before the anniversary of her death), generally stopping for ice cream on the way, and then visiting recently hatched salmon and being chided by Michiko about being “unauthorized personnel”… before giving him his daily canned café au lait.

Nobuo has retired from running the sake manufacturing plant that had been in his late wife’s family for four previous generations. It is now supervised by Nobuou’s younger son, Yasuo (Hayashi Yasufumi), who also prepares the old man’s supper every evening,

Yasuo’s girlfriend Keiko (Urabe Fusako) is weary of being subordinate to Nobuuo in getting Yasuo’s attention and threatens to marry one of the suitors her parents is pushing. She and his father and, later, his elder brother all tell Yasuo he is stupid, though I don’t see any evidence of this. Self-sacrificing, yes, which may be what his brother means.

Nobuo has taken a vow of chastity from the day of his wife’s death until the two-year anniversary of it, but is flirting heavily with Michiko (whose husband has fled to the other end of the island country: Okinawa).

The elder brother, Ryoichi (Kagawa Teruyuki) was a rebellious youth who fled as soon as he graduated from high school and is the mediocre lead singer of an unsuccessful rock band. He has gotten his sweet companion Nobuko (Otsuka Nene) pregnant and is thinking of going home to live with his father, though the two never got along—and get in a violent argument at the ritual meal after the ceremony for the anniversary of his mother.

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Ryoichi urges Yasuo to move to Tokyo and Yasuo also suggests the Ryoichi do so, but it becomes clear that none of the three stubborn Honma males is able to make a fresh start.

The pace of the first hour is slow, though I was still confused and conflated the two sons for a while. Eventually, I was able to sympathize with the three women trying to have relationships with these difficult men (none of whom seemed very mature to me) and with the self-sacrificing Yasuo, and to pity the selfish self-defeating Ryiochi and Nobuo. Ryuochi said that he and his father were too much alike to get along, which seems an accurate diagnosis and prognosis to me.

I don’t know that it was necessary to show Nobuo walking through/on the snow as often or as long as Kobayashi did, though the pacing of Japanese movies often seems slow to me.

Not bad, not great, eventually interesting.

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray

Imamura’s return to feature-film-making “Vengeance Is Mine”

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I’d put off seeing Imamura‘s return after an eleven-year hiatus to making a feature film, the 1979 “Fukushû suru wa ware ni ari” (Vengeance Is Mine), which has been available on a Criterion edition DVD for some years, because I was boycotting anything about serial killers. Two of the four 1963-64 murders that Enokizu Iwao (the character was based a real-life con man/murderous thief named Nishiguchi Akira, who was played by Ken Ogata, who played the title role in Paul Shrader’s “Mishima” and the son reluctant to carry his mother up to die of exposure in Imamura’s vertion of “The Ballad of Narayama”) are very gruesomely portrayed: both men put up significant fights and were stabbed multiple times (though there is less blood than in the murder of his wife and her paramour at the start of “Unagi”/”The Eel”). Two occur off-camera (only glimpses of the corpses are shown) and a strangling does not shed blood (though it is particularly distressing being someone who has been onscreen more than the other victims).

Most of “Vengeance” shows Enokizu on the run, with wanted posters plastered across Japan and even in a short before the feature film when he goes to a movie. Posing as a university professor from Kyoto, Enokizu hides out in the rural Asano Inn run by Haru (Ogawa Mayumi). Haru procures prostitutes for guests and her mother (Kiyokawa Nijiko) peeps at them (what is a female “peeping Tom” called? “Peeping Thomasina“. perhaps?).

Haru takes up with Iwao, knowing that he is a murderer. But Haru’s mother did time for murder, too… though the old woman is considerably less sympathetic to the fugitive they are harboring off and on through a 78-day national manhunt. (He goes off a couple of times, murdering a lawyer in Tokyo.)

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The local prostitutes are creeped out by the peeping old lady and when they start refusing to go to the inn to service the clientele, the viability of the business is endangered. I’d predict that after Enokizu is apprehended (revealing that he is is not a plot spoiler, since the movie begins with his being taken to a police station and refusing to answer questions), business would boom, as it already was at the inn run by Enokizu’s father (Mikuni Rentaro).

Enokizu’s wife Kazuko (Baisho Mitsuko) is in love with Enokizu’s father, and he is powerfully attracted to her, but the love is unconsummated due to his Catholicism. In flashbacks we learn that Enokizu was outraged when the Imperial Navy commandeered the man’s fishing boat. (He bought the inn with the money he was given for his boat.) Enokizu was an angry, unmanageable child, but I completely fail to see vengeance in the murders he commits as an adult. Indeed, when his father visits him before his execution, he remarks” “You can only kill those who never harmed you.” (so could not kill his father whom he believes has cuckolded him).

Enokizu’s motivation — beyond getting money — remains opaque. There is no evidence of guilt (or of the more Japanese response of shame). The killings do not seem to give him pleasure or any feeling of release (so I was perhaps mistaken in considering “Vengeance” a “serial killer movie”). He is even less introspective than Imamura’s “Insect Woman” (whose interior monologues the audience heard: she did not dwell on being raped or failing in suicide attempts).

Speaking of insects, Haru is something of a moth drawn to a flame. There is also no visible basis for Haru falling in love with Enokizu. She expresses herself ready to die with him. He has sex with her, but does not speak of love or exhibit any. (He makes a move to keep her from being raped by a rich businessman who has paid off the inn’s mortgage, but is stopped by the old woman, who does not want to have the goose laying golden eggs eliminated.

The Criterion blu-ray includes a ten-minute 1999 interview with Imamura in which he says nothing about the motivations of any of the characters. (He praises Ken Ogata, who he says showed him that he could again work with actors after a nine-year hiatus after being fed up with actors.)

Imamura studied social anthropology during an earlier, involuntary hiatus in his film career (after the commercial failure of the expensive “Pigs and Battleships“). As I have noted about other Imamura films, in very marked contrast to films directed by Ozu Yaujiro with whom Imamura began as an assistant director, the camera often looks down on the characters. (Also it moves, as Ozu’s camera did not, though it is immobile in the murder scenes, which might be considered a very perverse homage to Ozu.) Imamura looked at Japanese like an entomologist looks at insects, showing behavior — not just in “The Insect Woman” (which also begins and ends with beetles’ Sysiphean efforts) and in the rural village in which anyone reaching the age of 70 is taken up on a mountain to die, “The Ballad of Narayama” but in all his movies.

I detect some compassion in Imamura’s last movies (Dr. Akagi, The Eel, Warm Water Under a Red Bridge), or perhaps I supply it and project it onto his intentions. I’ve said that Imamura films are easier to admire than to like, but I find it difficult even to admire “Vengeance Is Mine,” despite Himeda’s color cinematography (less flashy than his black-and-white work for Imamura’s 1960s movies), Ogata’s craft, and Imamura’s uncompromising naturalist (not realist) documentary vision. (Only the epilog is surrealist.)

 

©2016, Stephen O. Murray