Directors: 
Mira Nair, Hideo Nakata, Mikio Naruse, Jan Nĕmec, Jeff Nichols, Mike Nichols, Gaspar Noé, Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nossiter, Phillip Noyce, Victor Nuñez

 

 

Na Hong-jin                                                              B                     89

 

THE CHASER (Chugyeogjia)

South Korea  (125 mi)  2008  ‘Scope                 Official site

 

How did South Korea become the world epicenter for cruel and sadistic murder thrillers?  From the masochistic fish hooks of Kim Ki-duk’s THE ISLE (2000), to the serial killings in Bong Joon-ho’s MEMORIES OF MURDER (2003) through Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy (2002 – 2005), and now to this film, another psychopathic serial killer on the loose, there are scenes of such graphic brutality that one wonders why this small country has such a fascination for splatter films or scenes with blood curdling violence?  One would think that the westernization of Asian culture would include the violent clashes depicted in American gangster and western genres, from the ballet-like slow motion of Sam Peckinpah to the highly stylized art films of Sergio Leone, where perhaps it was a natural progression to evolve from horror to gore, where movies become synonymous with an assault to the senses.  Perhaps this rush of a physical sensation became quite a draw for an eager younger generation audience that was ready for a break from conformism and social convention, so that by now gruesome murder thrillers are synonymous with Korean films.  German art director Michael Haneke’s FUNNY GAMES (1997) became the template for psychological sadism, where a family is brutally toyed with and murdered for no reason other than the sheer pleasure of it.  Haneke focused on the audience’s reaction and their need for revenge, where after 80 minutes or so of unrelenting punishment, the victims turn the tables on the killers, but only for an instant, where the audience leaps for joy at the first sign they will finally get to avenge their killers, only to have the tables turned once again and the situation becomes even more hopeless than before.  But this got various directors thinking about the different stages audiences go through as they are witnessing these tortuous experiences, tormenting the audience with a few psychological games of their own, which at least in America has led to the torture porn of the SAW series.    

 

This fast-paced and suspenseful film introduces us to Joong-ho (Kim Yun-seok), a former cop turned pimp who is growing frustrated when his business takes a turn for the worse, as several of the girls he sent out on jobs have never returned, so he suspects they either ran away or were sold to someone else in illegal sex trafficking.  His life consists of driving in his car and talking on his cell phone, usually both at the same time while also getting into bits of trouble while he’s driving, just to make matters worse.  In the midst of one such rotten day, out of desperation he calls one of his girls who is home sick, Mi-jin (Seo Yeong-hie), and sends her out to work.  This classless act defines Joong-ho perfectly, as he’s clueless and so self-absorbed about losing money that he can’t see anything past his own nose.  This may as well be the theme of the film, as this is how the director sees people in a consumer society, in such a rush to get where they need to go in their daily lives that they forget to notice what happens to others along the way.  But Joong-ho is a highly instinctive creature, as he does things without really knowing why, and he’s effective even while being among the more annoyingly despicable creatures on the planet.  This film has to search through the ranks of worthless, incompetent cops and merciless serial killers to find people more despicable.  But when Mi-jin doesn’t call like she was instructed, and her cell is unreachable, he begins to worry about her safety because he sent her to a man he now suspects was selling his girls.  He tries to get a friend on the police force involved, but he’s too busy on an assignment protecting the mayor from a man who threw feces in his face, so Joong-ho is alone in his search for Mi-jin, knowing the general region, easily finding her parked car on the street, also knowing the man’s cell phone number (which is also unreachable), but not his address.      

 

What follows is a choreography of changing moods and misdirections, where the audience soon learns Mi-jin is in the hands of a psychopath who locks his victims inside so there is no escape, binding them with rope, terrorizing them with a bag full of torture devices before bludgeoning them to death with a spike through their skulls.  This brutal horror is contrasted against the 7-year old daughter (Kim Yu-jeong) who is home alone waiting for her mother to return home.  There are even moments of amusement, such as when Joong-ho first discovers Mi-jin has a daughter, which catches him completely befuddled, especially the kid’s ability to size up the situation instantly (“My mom isn’t working, is she?  Something happened to her.”), so she moves back and forth from being a nuisance to reflecting the film’s most poignant moments, as he eventually warms up to the kid and becomes a guardian angel-like father figure.  This hint that he has a heart is juxtaposed against endless scenes of running after and eventually capturing the killer, beating him to a pulp before getting him into police custody where he confesses with intimate detail how he has murdered a dozen girls, but then feigns memory loss, as he can’t recall where he lives or where their bodies are buried, so the police can’t distinguish a psychopath from someone who is making the entire story up, eventually releasing him for lack of evidence.  This back and forth struggle of now they have him and now they don’t is paralleled with Mi-jin’s own fate, as despite being subject to a horrible head trauma, she’s still alive, something Joong-ho suspects, eventually beating an address out of the killer, but she’s not there.  There are a dozen different fights in this film, each one significantly altering the mood, and each fought with a hand-to-hand combat style, but eventually in table turning fashion, the sheer trauma of evil overwhelms all in a slow motion explosion of blood, given near poetic grace, which only elevates the discomfort.  The horrific bestiality of the crimes is on full display, resembling the street realism of Fritz Lang's police procedural M (1931), balancing the gruesome against the mundane, providing meticulous details of daily routine of the killer, the chaser, and the various cops assigned to the case, all of which blend together to form a composite urban landscape picture of Seoul as a world spinning out of control.    

 

The Chaser  JR Jones from The Reader

Easily the best cop thriller since The Departed, this 2008 Korean import is the debut feature of Na Hong-jin, who demonstrates such mastery of suspense mechanics that he earns the right to flirt with irony and even—dare I say it—tragedy. The noirish hero (Kim Yun-seok) is a former police detective now making his living as a pimp; when one of his prostitutes (Seo Yeong-hie) is kidnapped by a serial killer (Ha Jung-woo), the pimp manages to deliver him to the authorities, though lack of evidence may force them to release the suspect before his intended victim can be rescued. Meanwhile, the news media are up in arms because an irate citizen threw a handful of shit in the mayor’s face during a public appearance, which turns out to be of greater importance to the department than a woman’s life. In Korean with subtitles. 125 min.

Time Out London (David Jenkins) review [2/5]

This compelling yet totally manipulative and eye-wateringly violent South Korean horror-thriller revolves around an ex-cop turned pimp (Kim Yun-Seok) who finds himself on the trail of a weedy serial killer (Ha Jung-Woo) who has taken to kidnapping, torturing, then offing the valuable members of his female brood. Playing off a crook against a murderer makes for an interesting central sparring match, especially when the police become involved and have no idea whom to trust. Also, true to its title, the best moments come with two bravura and ultra-realistic chase sequences through grotty, dimly lit back allies, and director Na Hong-Jin also does his best to toy with expectations whenever possible. This playfulness, however, backfires massively in the second half when coincidence and unforeseen consequence conspire uneasily with bloody, messy results.

Korean Grindhouse

The reveal and the capture of the serial killer come so soon in The Chaser that you might think, there's no likelihood of unrelenting tension in the hours ahead. Well, you're wrong! Director Na Hong-in and fellow screenwriters Hong Won-chan and Lee Shinho have made something more suspenseful than a standard whodunit; the mystery here isn't who did it, it's whether he'll get away with it despite his confession. What "it" is in this case is the attempted murder of a call girl (Seo Yeong-hie) whose morally compromised pimp (Kim Yun-seok) is undergoing a seismic shift inside as he searches for the lair of her last customer, a psychopath (Ha Jung-woo) held in detention by the cops. It's a wonderfully messy story with subplots involving police brutality, embezzlement, sex trafficking, auto insurance, church finances, and even a mayor who's been hit in the face with human feces. But aside from one glitch near the end in which a delightfully tough lady dick (Park Hyo-ju) inexplicably lets the murderer get away, the twists and turns of The Chaser keep you on your toes. Factor in that this is Na's first feature and an amazing performance by Kim Yoo-jeong as the prostitue's kid, and this movie is a super-impressive addition to Korean noir.

THE CHASER (Chugyeogja)  Facets Multi Media

The Chaser is one of the best psychological thrillers to ever come out of South Korea. The film revolves around Joong-ho (Kim Yun-seok), an ex-detective with a bad reputation who becomes a pimp. When two of his girls disappear without a trace, he accuses one of his own customers, Young-min (Ha Jung-woo), of stealing and selling his girls. What Joong-ho does not know is that his prime suspect is actually a sadistic serial killer who has murdered the two girls. After an intense and brutal pursuit, Young-min is taken to a police station, where he simply confesses to the slaying of numerous girls while also admitting that one more girl may still be alive. However, without any evidence, he can walk free after being held for twelve hours. It then becomes a race against time for Joong-ho to find the last missing girl, before it is too late. Winner of seven Blue Dragon Awards, including best picture, best actor for Kim Yun-seok, best screenplay, best director as well as being a box office hit in South Korea, this masterpiece is a suspenseful and spine-tingling debut feature for Hong-jin Na. The Chaser is a hyperventilating crime thriller that grabs the wary viewer by the throat and refuses to let go until the scary ride is over!

Movie Martyr (Jeremy Heilman) review [3/4]

The Chaser, the debut film from South Korean director Na Hong-jin, is a sensationalistic and slickly produced police drama that goes further than most in exposing its audience to urban degradation and a murky sense of goodness. Featuring an antihero, ex-cop pimp in the lead role, and an entire force of corrupt and abusive police behind him, the movie leaves little room for a voice of moral rectitude. Recalling Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder in its tonal shifts, its ultimately downbeat outlook, and its subject matter, The Chaser is doubly impressive for being a first feature.

In a change of pace from most serial killer films, there’s little tension about the identity of the murderer here. Well before the halfway point of The Chaser, the killer (played with unending sliminess by Ha Jung-woo) is in police custody. The rest of the movie becomes a question of whether or not the police will realize who they have on their hands and book him before they are forced to release him due to a twelve hour holding limit. This scenario is intensified by the fact that a final victim still waits, trapped in the murder’s dank home. The inversion of the plot usually found in the genre shifts the audience’s focus from the killer to the police themselves. Much of the genuine horror here comes from bearing witness to the corruption, indifference, and abuse that seem to be standard operating procedure for the Korean cops.

This shift toward social commentary is welcome, as the mere presence of the serial killer plot seems like it would have been unlikely to sustain interest. When the killer is first shown committing one of his brutal hammer murders in an extended torture sequence, the film effectively grabs audience attention, but that effectiveness is soon diluted somewhat once the conventional motivations of the murderer come clear. He’s too clearly insane to be as intimidating as he might be otherwise. Similarly, the near-misses and sheer contrivances of the plot begin to reduce meaning, as opposed to build tension, as they pile up during the course of the movie. It’s quite obvious that this is all meant to entertain and thrill audiences first, and only secondarily disturb and provoke us. Nonetheless, the ending of The Chaser hits hard, literally and figuratively. It announces Na Hong-jin as a filmmaker willing to go to places that even most so-called horror movies would shy away from.

The Chaser   Kyu Hyun Kim from the Korean Film Page

Jung-ho (Kim Yun-seok, who played Agwee, one of the contemporary Korean cinema's scariest villains, in Tazza: The High Rollers) is a former cop turned pimp for a "massage parlor." He is convinced that a young, dorky customer Young-min (Ha Jung-woo, The Unforgiven, Never Forever) has kidnapped and sold his "girls," including Mi-jin (Seo Young-hee, Shadows in the Palace). Unfortunately, what the cops discover is far worse: Young-min is a serial killer who uses a chisel and a hammer to slaughter his victims in lieu of sex. While the police investigation stumbles and takes a detour, Jung-ho increasingly suspects that Young-min's latest victim, Mi-jin, is still alive somewhere.

The Chaser was the first runaway hit of 2008, selling close to 5 million tickets. Was that success deserved?

Can Yuna Kim skate?

Suffice to say that the above synopsis by itself cannot possibly convey why The Chaser is the grittiest, snazziest and gutsiest Korean thriller in years and one of the best Korean films of 2008.

The Chaser is written and directed by Na Hong-jin (who had previously made the award-winning short A Perfect Snapper Dish), and it is truly difficult to believe that this is his feature film debut. The film exudes the aura of a piece de resistance concocted by a supremely confident genre veteran. Na's direction is peerless in orchestrating suspense by slowly and methodically disclosing to the viewers clues about what is really going on. Adding to the film's power is its intricate, sharply intelligent screenplay that always remains a half-step ahead of the viewer expectations, which generates completely unexpected moments of dark humor as well as teeth-rattling frisson. Technical credits excel as well: DP Lee Sung-je (No Comment), lighting director Lee Chol-o and production designer Lee Min-bok (Epitaph) contribute greatly to the hauntingly naturalistic re-creation of the Seoul landscape. A moody, acoustic-minimalist score by Kim Joon-seok and Choi Yong-rak is uncommonly effective.

I was also pleasantly surprised by how realistically and sympathetically The Chaser's struggling police force was depicted: it's definitely the best police procedural since Memories of Murder. I disagree with the criticism that it sides with Dirty Harry-like vigilantism over the legal protections accorded even to criminal suspects. The police in The Chaser, convincingly foul-mouthed and perpetually exhausted but struggling mightily to find an acceptable compromise between upholding civil rights and using old beat-'em-up-until-they-confess methods, are just a bunch of working stiffs, neither "the evil establishment" nor heroic public servants. Frankly, I would recommend The Chaser to any foreign viewer who has developed the view that the Korean police are baseball-bat wielding thugs, based on complete fantasies like Lee Myung-se's Nowhere to Hide. This is one of the few Korean films where situations like a white-haired, flinty-eyed psychiatrist baiting a murder suspect with taunts of sexual impotence and a female cop (Park Hyo-joo) fending off the latter's sneering advances can be appreciated without any suspension of disbelief.

But if anyone owns The Chaser, it is perhaps not director Na, despite his incredibly impressive command over the material, but Kim Yun-seok. Jung-ho, as played by Kim, has a bloated, sad-sack mien with an undercurrent of hostility and desperation. Kim never once mugs for the viewer's sympathy, and yet, as the film unfolds, he (with the terrific direction by Na) constantly demolishes our (genre-bound) expectations about how Jung-ho would behave in a given situation. His choices are amazing as much in their fidelity to the conception of his character (he begins as a truly irredeemable scumbag, and doesn't exactly become a white-winged angel by the end) as in their restraint and precision. I would venture to say that Kim's performance in The Chaser begins where Choi Min-shik's ends in Failan. Yes, it's that great.

The film's weak link, in my opinion, is Young-min, the serial killer character. It's really not Ha Jung-woo's fault at all, as he delivers a terrific performance as a genuine sociopath. It's that a serial killer, in the Korean context at that, can no longer generate enough fascination and interest. Some pretty out-there new wrinkles, as displayed in, say, Mr. Brooks, or another Korean thriller, Our Town, are needed to jolt such a character out of the annoying sex-murderer-with-the-face-of-a-saint cliches. Young-min's presence also ensures that the movie occasionally veers off into the territory of extreme gore (climaxing with a scene in which a character is bludgeoned to death in slow motion -- one both disturbingly beautiful and mind-bogglingly horrid), possibly losing a section of the audience who might have otherwise appreciated it.

Not for the faint of the heart, The Chaser goes a long way in restoring confidence not only in Korean cinema's capacity to churn out terrific crime thrillers, but also in the untapped reservoirs of filmmaking talent in Korea, still left to be discovered.

Cinema Strikes Back (Charlie Prince) review [3.5/4]  also seen here:  Passport Cinema [C.J. Prince]
 
Jigsaw Lounge [Neil Young]
 
Twitch review  X
 
Last Night With Riviera [Matt Riviera]  December 7, 2008
 
Beyond Hollywood review  James Mudge
 
Slant Magazine [Joseph Jon Lanthier]
 
PopMatters (Cynthia Fuchs) review
 
Film Monthly (Del Harvey) review
 
ReelTalk (Adam J. Hakari) review  also seen here:  Passport Cinema [A.J. Hakari]
 
Twitch (Todd Brown) review

 

Film School Rejects [Rob Hunter]
 
IFC.com [Alison Willmore]  at Cannes
 
New Korean Cinema [Martin Cleary]
 
Lunapark6
 
The Chaser  Michael Sicinski from The Academic Hack
 
Glenn Kenny  at Cannes from Some Came Running
 
Electric Sheep Magazine  Joey Leung
 
The Village Voice [Nick Schager]
 
The Chaser (Chugyeogja)  Dan Fainaru in Cannes from Screendaily
 
filmcritic.com (Chris Cabin) review [3.5/5]
 
Twitch (Jon Pais) dvd review
 
Strictly Film School review  Acquarello
 
Movie Cynics [The Vocabulariast]
 
Film4 (Anton Bitel)
 
Variety (Justin Chang) review
 
The Hollywood Reporter review  Maggie Lee at Cannes
 
TimeOut NY  Aaron Hillis
 
Chicago Tribune   Michael Phillips
 
Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [3.5/4]
 
New York Times  Mike Hale
 
Korean horror - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
 
Seoul's Long, Hot, Horrid Summer - an analysis of horror's allure within Korean society by Andrew Salmon (International Herald Tribune)  The New York Times, September 18, 2004
 
Discovering Korean Cinema: Horror - an analysis by Kevin Gilvear (DVD Times)  October 31, 2004
 
Questions film-makers must ask themselves after Virginia Tech ...  Gerald Kaufman from The Daily Telegraph, April 20, 2007
 
List of Asian horror movies  Asian Horror
 
Korean Horror Movies

 

Nacro, Fanta Régina

 

THE NIGHT OF TRUTH

Burkina Faso  (100 mi)  2005

 

BFI Filmstore Africa

 

Following its distribution by the BFI last September, BFI Video releases on DVD The Night of Truth (La Nuit de la Vrit), the audacious feature debut of the award-winning Burkinab female director Fanta Rgina Nacro. Set in an unnamed African country, after ten years of bloody war, The Night of Truth dramatises the process of truth and reconciliation, echoing the recent histories of South Africa, Sierra Leone and Rwanda, and highlights not only the female perspective but also the subtleties and complexities of learning to live together again in trust and respect.

Genocide, raw and recent, is not far from the minds of the Nayak and Bonand peoples who have been locked in a decade of bloody ethnic conflict. Now, the President (commander of the Nayak national army) and Colonel Theo (controller of the rebel Bonand army) are determined to end the conflict. A celebration is arranged, but cynicism remains on both sides and - as the evening wears on - tension mounts. Not only have drums been banned from the musical entertainment, because, in the past, they were used as a call to arms, but many of the women, notably the president's wife Edna, cannot simply forgive and forget. The evening comes to a climax when the village jester Tomota, a Nayak-hater, indignantly decides to beat the drums during the festivities. The sound becomes a trigger that releases the feelings of distrust and fear that have been suppressed by both sides.

The Night of Truth was conceived in memory of Fanta Nacro's uncle, accused of inciting a coup, and who was murdered in a horrifically brutal way. Compelling performances from a cast of mainly non-professional actors lend an eerie authenticity to film (all of the men are played by members of the Burkina army). The professional actress Naky Sy Savane is particularly outstanding in her role as Edna, who is grief-stricken over her son's death and harbours a bitter lust for revenge. Her brooding performance conjures an atmosphere of sinister foreboding, demonstrating the extent to which official peace deals are undermined by the lasting psychological wounds inflicted by war.

Fanta Nacro was the first woman from Burkina Faso to direct a fiction film (the short Un Certain matin) and The Night of Truth, which has won awards at film festivals around the world, is a stunning example of the rise of African women filmmakers, bringing a new voice and perspective to African cinema.

 The Night of Truth   Philip Kemp from Sight and Sound, September 2005                    

A powerful tale of the aftermath of a fictionalised civil war - inspired by the genocide in Rwanda - has Shakespearean resonances

The tenth anniversary of the horrendous 100 days of genocide in Rwanda has already brought us one fine feature film in Terry George's Hotel Rwanda. Also in the pipeline is Michael Caton-Jones' Shooting Dogs. Both films are based on true stories. Fanta Régina Nacro's feature debut takes a less head-on approach, one aimed at universalising the tragedy. The Night of Truth is set in a fictitious west African country rent by 10 years of civil war; and though Nacro clearly has Rwanda in her sights, her film could equally draw on the experience of Sierra Leone, Sudan, Zaire, Uganda or, indeed, Yugoslavia. As she herself says, "Yugoslavia reminded people that African countries don't have a monopoly of horror".

Barring a brief coda, the action takes place over a period of a few hours on the day when two warring sides, having agreed a fragile truce, come together for what's planned as a feast of reconciliation. The conflict, as in Rwanda, is tribal: the Bonande, led by the charismatic Colonel Theo, have rebelled against the oppressive rule of the Nayak, represented by President Miossoune. Nacro emphasises the split between the tribes by having them speak different languages: Dioula and Mooré, the two main tongues of the director's native Burkina Faso. When they want to communicate with each other they have to use French, the language of the former colonial power.

Language isn't the only separating force. As in so many tribal conflicts, each side facilitates the killing by dehumanising its opponents. A Bonande refers to the Nayak as "cockroaches" (recalling the hate-filled ranting of the Hutu radio station that unleashed the slaughter of Rwanda's Tutsi minority with the cry, "kill the cockroaches!"); and Tomota, the shambling fool whose impetuosity triggers the film's catastrophe, tells stories about the Nayak being half-human, half-snake. These racist folk tales are reflected in a scene in which each of the two leaders gingerly nibbles at the choicest delicacies of the other's tribe - braised snake, a Nayak speciality, and roast caterpillars, much prized by the Bonande. (In an interview with a Swiss journalist, the director spoke of her reaction when offered, on a visit to Italy, "a cheese full of green bits. It was as repellent for me as eating caterpillars would be for you".) At this juncture the treatment of the people/food trope is humorous. But it's horrifyingly reprised when Edna, the president's wife crazed with grief over the death of her son, capers gleefully round the tortured body of Colonel Theo as he's roasted to death over a slow fire, basting him with his own blood and calling him "king of the marinade".

Given that The Night of Truth is the first ever sub-Saharan African feature to be directed by a woman, the film's female roles take on added significance. Generally in west African cinema women are seen as a force for moderation: the men tend to be headstrong, short-fused and reckless, while the women try to restrain them - or look on sardonically with that characteristic teeth-sucking sound that suggests a mix of contempt and incredulity. In Nacro's film it's Theo's wife, Soumari, who fills this traditional role. "Men make peace, men make war. It's nothing to do with me and the children," she tells her husband. But, despite her words, she's constantly at work trying to make the truce hold: banning a ritual drum that might awaken bloody memories; pouring out a libation on the ground to appease the dead of both sides; co-opting the president to support her in urging all the soldiers to set down their arms and mingle as brothers. She resignedly accepts the fact that the man who tortured her father to death won't face execution, acknowledging that, at some point, the vengeful cycle of blood-letting must cease.

Over against her stands the figure of Edna, unable to forget how her only child, Michel, was obscenely mutilated and killed during a massacre of Nayaks by Bonandes in the town of Govinda. Begging her husband to let her stay away from the feast, Edna says: "I'm scared of fear... of hate." But as it turns out it's her own emotions, rather than those of the former enemy, that she's scared of. Her counterpart is Colonel Theo, haunted by his involvement in the same massacre. With fatal inevitability, these two are drawn together; and when he kneels and asks her forgiveness, she chillingly responds "forgiveness is God's business, not mine", and then sets her terrible scheme of vengeance in motion. (The film, incidentally, is dedicated to the memory of the director's uncle, who was tortured to death in the same atrocious fashion.

Nacro has said that in setting her film in a fictitious country she was aiming at the universality of a parable with Shakespearean overtones; and in the character of Colonel Theo, a leader who commands the love as well as the loyalty of his men, there's certainly a strong element of Shakespeare' 'flawed heroes' - commanding figures destroyed by one besetting fault. The Antony of Antony and Cleopatra comes particularly to mind; and maybe also, given the people/food nexus, Titus Andronicus. We're perhaps meant to view as his 'flaw' his lapse into blood-crazed cruelty during the Govinda massacre. ("I felt strong as a god - I felt powerful," he says.) But this is one example of the director's decision to cast non-professional actors, members of the Burkina Faso armed forces, in most of her male roles letting her down. As Theo, Moussa Cissé can't quite carry off this speech with conviction; and it's equally hard to credit that the leader of a ten-year uprising would be amazed and shocked at encountering "men who liked to kill". It's more credible, perhaps, to see Theo's fatal flaw as over-confidence: he brushes aside the warnings of his wife and brother with a complacent "I know what I'm doing".

The strength of Nacro's film lies not so much in its plot, which occasionally errs on the side of predictability, as in the all-too-convincing texture of its portrayal of a country traumatised by a decade of hatred and slaughter. Throughout the movie we can glimpse, almost casually in the background of the action, walls on which women are painting vigorous, graphic pictures - all of them depicting mutilation and killing. Even more chilling is a gathering of children aged ten or younger who casually tease each other about the various  injuries and amputations they've suffered.

These details, as much as the nightmarish flashbacks of landscapes strewn with severed body parts, reinforce the sense of a country where the cruellest, most extreme violence has become a commonplace, part of the very fabric of life. Small wonder if the banal tree-planting ceremony intended to mark the moment of reconciliation proves hopelessly inadequate. A blood sacrifice is needed to seal the pact, an act of horror commensurate with the horrors that have preceded it.

The film ends on a note of optimism, with Tomota reporting to his dead commander on a nation at peace, and schoolchildren learning a text that speaks of unity. But so powerful is the preceding portrayal of a poisoned legacy of hate and fear, that you can't help wondering how long this peace will hold.

DVD Times (Anthony Nield]

 

FilmExposed review  Jimmy Razor 

 

Guardian/Observer

 

'The dead are everywhere'   Lisa Allardice feature on the director from The Guardian, September 5, 2005

 

The New York Times (Jeannette Catsoulis) review

 

Nadda, Ruba

 

CAIRO TIME                                                             C                     76

Canada  Ireland  Egypt  (90 mi)  2009  ‘Scope

 

A post card homage to the city of Cairo, Egypt, which is explored throughout the film by an American tourist, Patricia Clarkson as Juliette, who is waiting for her perpetually absent husband to meet her in a first class hotel with a window and terrace overlooking the Nile River.  He works on a peacekeeping mission for the United Nations organizing refugee camps in Gaza, and is mostly an unseen presence in the film, always too busy to find time for his wife.  One of her husband’s former security officers, the ultra politeTareq (Alexander Siddig), picks her up at the airport and escorts her around town, as needed, where their understated relationship remains cordial but formal.  When she walks the streets alone, she is accosted by men of all ages who simply follow her or intentionally bump into her, drawing an unwanted crowd, where she has to slip into a store to escape their harrassment.  But she is bored to tears by the condescension directed toward Arabs by some of the other American wives, finding consolation with one friend, Kathryn, Elena Anaya, Vincent Cassel’s wife in MESRINE: KILLER INSTINCT (2008), who she meets at a diplomatic party and ends up visiting the surreal landscapes of the White Desert together outside Cairo (Images for White Desert, Egypt photos), a gorgeous locale rarely seen in the movies, chalk formations that resemble a cross between the Badlands and the Utah Salt Flats.  But even Kathryn describes Arab men as demanding and possessive, age-old stereotypes that show little insight into the region.  Juliette seeks out Tareq’s company at his coffee café, a place where he smokes the hookah and plays chess which turns out to be for men only, a custom she inadvertently violates, drawing still more stares, where Tareq discreetly informs her only once she’s outside, where he decides to take her on a boat tour of the Nile, a picturesque tour where the camera has a tendency to gaze at the city’s landcape, seen from a distance as the picture of tranquility.  Earlier, Juliette was overrun by congested street scenes, honking traffic, and aggressive drivers, where the noise alone was obscenely loud, including a loudspeaker’s continual calls for prayer, a steady stream of sounds which keep her up at night.  Juliette’s isolation is key, though her social class leaves her surrounded in opulence and a luxurious lifestyle that she is evidently accustomed to, so it’s hard to sympathize, as the most dramatic separation between herself and the teeming millions outside her door is the privilege associated with her wealth. 

 

At one point, the continued rejection from her husband is so complete, one wonders why she doesn’t simply hop on a plane and return home, as much of this sitting around and waiting could be avoided.  She has a job in New York as an editor for a women’s magazine, so she’s not at all dependent on any man, yet in desperation, she takes a bus to Gaza hoping to find her husband, only to be thwarted by a wall of security forces.  Over time, however, she begins to associate her feelings for Tareq with those of Cairo, as she’s meeting both for the very first time, and both have the feeling of something new and exotic.  But Tareq reveals himself to be quite old fashioned, refusing to marry the love of his life, Amina Annabi, because she’s a Christian and he’s a Muslim, while also waxing nostalgic about the “old Cairo.”  As a result, we see a somewhat idealized version of the city through his eyes, beautifully shot by Luc Montpellier, but one that contains no sign of terrorism or anti-American element, and instead accentuates the lush beauty of the Giza pyramids (Images for Giza Pyramid photos) illuminated by a miraculous sunrise.  Despite Clarkson’s lack of pretension, she’s out of her element here, as the hushed dialogue from this Canadian filmmaker from Montreal is sparse and emotionally limiting, giving the impression that she’s barely touching the surface.  As a result, much of this movie is told through stares, eye contact, body movements, and a lingering distance that exists between two characters who continue to remain in close proximity to one another.  The pace is slow, and the tone feels voyeuristic, where the images of the city trump any romantic development between the characters, which remains safe, with hardly any risk involved.  The Arabic and American music mix does not work, as the westernized piano music is too sentimental and melancholic, with syrupy strings suggesting feelings that do not register with either Juliette or Tareq, whose feelings blossom over time, but quietly and discreetly.  There is never a connection with any of the Arabic music either, which is a disappointment, as it instead sounds overly repetitive.  And finally, despite the attempts to make this an off-the-beaten-track romance, it couldn’t have been more predictable, as the audience knows exactly what will happen by the end, so much so that another audience member in the theater stated out loud the exact moment that Juliette’s husband would return and the idyll daydream would be over.  This is a fantasia to a city and its culture as seen through the eyes of an outsider, creating characters that continually feel out of place, including a bride who does a belly dance at her own wedding, more than likely a scandalous gesture in the Egypt of today.  But, will wonders never cease?     

 

Time Out New York review [3/5]  Lisa Rosman

Juliet (Clarkson) is an American fashion-magazine editor whose visit to her Cairo-based husband is thwarted when his U.N. work takes him to Gaza. He asks his former colleague, Tareq (Siddig), to guide her around the Egyptian capital, which she’s discovered is uncomfortable for a Western woman on her own. At first, the two are stiffly, politely resentful of each other. But as they slowly relax, even Tareq speaking her name becomes palpably sensual—and that loaded name becomes the only unsubtle aspect of their star-crossed attraction.

“Under its facade, Cairo is still a dangerous city,” Tareq tells her, yet the stakes here remain so doggedly small-scale that they require a patience not everyone will muster (though they should). Everything, from the city itself to the minuet of the couple’s courtship, moves glacially and in a honeyed haze, rarely penetrated by the harsher realities of the Middle East. Director Ruba Nadda focuses instead on Clarkson and Siddig’s powerfully feline chemistry, punctuated by long, wordless gazes that only actors of this caliber could pull off. For a movie defined by its restraint, this travelogue is remarkably physical; as a valentine to the rueful desire of grown-ups acquainted with both joy and disappointment, the film is a true rarity.

The Village Voice [Karina Longworth]

New York mag editor Juliette (Patricia Clarkson) travels alone to Cairo to meet her husband, who works for the United Nations in Gaza. When hubby gets stuck across the border indefinitely, Tareq (Alexander Siddig), his former bodyguard, steps in as Juliette's chaperone. Fluent in English and supposedly highly literate, Tareq actually says things like, "They say once you have drunk the water of the Nile, you always come back," to which Juliette purrs, "Here's to coming back"—a not-so-subtle reference to her own groove. A seductive (yet chaste) exotic-man-reinvigorates-middle-aged-wife's-libido fantasy, Cairo Time spends a lot of screen time putting Clarkson in contrived situations to hammer home the culture-shock theme. Would a real journalist be so naïve as to not understand that her body—identifiably Western and comparatively exposed—would draw unwelcome attention to itself on the streets of a Muslim country? Juliette's Stupid Tourist episodes lead to loneliness, frustration, and humiliation, which in turn prompt her to seek out Tareq, who is seemingly always up for long walks and longer conversations—think Before Sunset, weighed down by awkward articulation of the central couple's cultural differences. Happily, writer-director Ruba Nadda's emphasis on body language ultimately trumps the clumsiness of her script. Intimate lensing turns tiny gestures—a hand on the small of a back, a friendly kiss that misses its target—into major landmarks, and the chemistry between the two leads sustains the movie's jet-lagged, heat-dazed spell. When 50-year-old Clarkson nervously steps back to bask in Tareq's adoration, she blushes like a teenage girl with her first crush.

The Onion A.V. Club review [B-]  Keith Phipps

“Everybody hates a tourist,” Jarvis Cocker opined in the Pulp song “Common People.” There’s a lot of truth there, though not the whole truth. It’s the tourist’s job to come, gawk, and leave filled with memories and misperceptions. You take away snapshots and consume meals based on some universally accepted notion of the region’s cuisine, but have you seen the real thing? And pity the earnest tourists, like the one played by Patricia Clarkson in Cairo Time—the kind who show up armed with respect, knowledge, and good intentions. The more they try to grasp their destination, the further it slips away.

In a welcome (and too-rare) lead role, Clarkson plays the wife of a UN worker stationed in Gaza, a job that separates her from her husband for long stretches. With no kids left in the house and time off from her job at a glossy women’s magazine, Clarkson decides to meet her husband for vacation in Cairo. There, she finds he’s been indefinitely delayed, leaving her alone to explore a place of unfamiliar sights and customs, a bustling city where women stare openly at her pale skin and blonde hair, and young men follow and touch her. Thankfully, she has a guide in the form of her husband’s former colleague (Alexander Siddig, a familiar face to fans of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). Having left the UN, Siddig has recently returned to his native Cairo and entered the family business, running a café known for serving the best coffee in the city. (“In the world,” one customer insists.) With time on their hands, Siddig and Clarkson explore Cairo, Siddig acting as a gentlemanly host who almost, but never entirely, hides that he’s smitten with his charge.

What follows is part cultural exchange, part unacknowledged romance that’s beautifully played with tangible chemistry by Clarkson and Siddig against striking images of Cairo and surrounding areas. Writer-director Ruba Nadda portrays both characters as exiles, to varying degrees. Clarkson is out of place in Cairo, but has no use for the condescending attitudes of her fellow Westerners. Siddig yearns for the Cairo of his youth, the one he left to pursue a career that’s left him without a family of his own, and with cosmopolitan attitudes that make it hard to slip back into old ways. But in spite of Nadda’s assured direction and her leads’ fine work, the movie glides when it should find traction. Clarkson’s feelings toward her companion seem unsympathetically more like caprice than desire, and their conversations about the differences between their backgrounds touch the surface of those differences without getting beneath the skin. It’s a postcard-lovely movie that, in spite of its best intentions, ends up feeling a little touristy.

New York Observer (Rex Reed) review [3/4]

One by one, the films from last year's film-festival circuit are arriving at last. The wonderful and versatile character actress Patricia Clarkson is subtly enchanting in Cairo Time, a Canadian film set in Egypt about a slight but heartfelt romantic interlude between a modern New York career woman and a courtly, old-fashioned Muslim, at a time of political tension that writer-director Ruba Nadda conveniently overlooks. It's not a perfect movie, but its minor weaknesses are outweighed by its major strengths: understated feelings and values and a welcome subtlety all too rare on screens today.

Cool and pale as lemon juice on ice, Ms. Clarkson plays Juliette Grant, a New York magazine editor who arrives in the feral heat of Cairo to visit her husband, a U.N. diplomat, only to find that he has been detained in Gaza on an urgent peacekeeping mission. The man assigned to take her sightseeing and protect her from ennui is Tareq Khalifa (Alexander Siddig), her husband's former security officer, a handsome and sensitive English-speaking Muslim who has now retired from the diplomatic corps to run his family's profitable coffee business. Escorted through the sights and sounds of the bustling city, Juliette is first just grateful for Tareq's courteous attention to a bored and lonely foreigner, and welcomes the companionship. But as the hot days glide into starry nights, an intense attraction develops between the tourist and her guide. She beats him at chess, providing him with a new respect for the intelligence of women. She accompanies him to a wedding in Alexandria and meets an old girlfriend he broke up with because she was a Christian, gaining new insight into his traditions and regrets. It takes a long time, but emotional undercurrents finally intensify and sparks fly, fueled by unexpected feelings of mutual respect. Will the restrained, 40-something American wife and the refined Arabian bachelor with Old World manners and a formal attitude toward women challenge their separate customs, convictions and religious values, and take a fleeting affair one step further? The tension is palpable, but the film is too subtle to lead you in the direction of clichéd passions. It all leads to a logical and sensible conclusion. No lives are shattered, but at least two people who are sealed against the world have felt a stirring in their hearts.

Small caveats: Director Nadda eschews any real hints of anti-Americanism in Cairo today and all possible terrorist undertones in a country of largely unfriendly exotic dangers that render it an unsafe region for women alone, almost as though Cairo Time means to be nothing more than a travelogue promoting tourism. But let it be said that the tours Tareq conducts of the ancient city casbah, the brown Nile at sundown and the awesome Giza pyramids lit by the moon are worth the price of admission-not to mention the sweet abundance of Ms. Clarkson's talents and the alchemy between the two stars. The character development is almost as unfocused as their unrequited love story. Both characters are just too damned polite. As good as she is, Ms. Clarkson doesn't have much to do. For a workaholic, she never seems to do any work. In fact, nothing much really happens at all, but never mind. What emerges is time pleasantly spent with a slice of life that examines a romantic détente between two cultures. Like smoke from an Egyptian hookah, the melancholia lingers.

CBC.ca Arts review  Lee Ferguson 

 

Slant Magazine (Andrew Schenker) review

 

DVD Outsider [Timothy E. RAW]

 

Eye for Film (Ali Hazzah) review [3/5]

 

The Wall Street Journal (Joe Morgenstern) review

 

Urban Cinefile (Australia) - [Louise Keller + Andrew L. Urban]

 

filmsoundoff [alex roberts]

 

Filmcritic.com  Chris Barsanti

 

Nick's Flick Picks (Nick Davis) review [B]  lengthy

 

ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [3/4]

 

Film-Forward.com  Lisa Bernier

 

KPBS Cinema Junkie [Beth Accomando]  Cairo Time’ and the Women’s Picture, When Did the Women’s Picture Devolve into the Chick Flick?

 

Cinematical [Jeffrey M. Anderson]  or the shorter version:  Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review [3/4]

 

The House Next Door [Joseph Jon Lanthier]

 

Edward Copeland on Film (Jonathan Pacheco)

 

Georgia Straight (Ken Eisner) review

 

exclaim! [Robert Bell]

 

New York Magazine (David Edelstein) review  (Page 2)

 

One Guy's Opinion (Frank Swietek) review [B-]

 

Cinematic Concerns [Sebastian Ng]

 

Entertainment Weekly review [B]  Owen Gleiberman

 

The Hollywood Reporter review  Sura Wood

 

Variety (Alissa Simon) review

 

Boston Globe (Wesley Morris) review [2/4]

 

Washington Post (Ann Hornaday) review

 

St. Paul Pioneer Press (Chris Hewitt) review [2/4]

 

Austin Chronicle review [3/5]  Marjorie Baumgarten

 

San Francisco Chronicle (David Lewis) review [3/4]

 

The New York Times (A.O. Scott) review  August 5, 2010

 
Patricia Clarkson, Directors’ Stealth Weapon  Michelle Orange feature includes an interview with actress Patricia Clarkson from The New York Times, July 30, 2010, including a slide show:  Clarkson on Film

 

Nadjari, Raphaël

 

TEHILIM

France  Israel  USA  (96 mi)  2007

Village Voice review  J. Hoberman (Page 2)

Israel is truly the place where mirages take on world-historical force. Raphaël Nadjari's low-key philosophical thriller Tehilim, playing this week at MOMA, places its action "somewhere in Jerusalem today" and begins with a Talmudic disquisition on how to pray toward the Western Wall if one is blind or disoriented or lost in the desert.

"Lost" is the operative word; praying is but one option. Fifteen minutes into the movie, a man sets out to take his two young sons to school. He drives off the road, staging a desultory single-car accident, sends the older boy off for help, and vanishes. Tehilim concerns his abandoned family's response to this inexplicable and ultimately existential disappearance. It's a variation on Antonioni's L'Avventura, in which the mystery is a given and the emphasis is on those left mystified.

Made on New York's Lower East Side, Nadjari's 2001 Super-8 production I Am Josh Polonski's Brother was a kindred (if somewhat more sensational) metaphysical thriller with a similar vérité feel. Indifferently shot and only competently acted, Tehilim derives its emotional force from the inchoate spiritual torment that the older son suffers. While he engages in magical thinking, his more practical mother must cope with the bureaucratic implications of a missing husband. Studying these goings-on, the younger boy is doubly mystified.

Given its title—Hebrew for "The Book of Psalms"—and its religious milieu, one might reasonably expect Tehilim to be an allegory. But reason has nothing to do with the anti-miracle of the father's disappearance. Prayer is only one of the ways that the confounded characters deal with this enigma; faith, the final shot suggests, is something akin to waiting for the bus in the hopes that it will finally come.

Screen International [Dan Fainaru]  at Cannes

Raphael Nadjari is back, digging again at the "dialectical dimensions of Judaism" (as he calls it), a labour of love that he has persistently pursued in all his films to date. A quiet, subdued and remarkably controlled drama, fiercely introverted and secretive, it tells the story of an unexplained disappearance, but at no point does it try to solve the mystery. Instead Nadjari observes the family affected by this sudden absence and the way each person deals with it.

Planting his story firmly in an observant Jewish milieu, for which Jerusalem provides the ideal background, Nadjari's dispassionate look at this family is so smoothly accurate in every little detail and moves with such an assured, unhurried pace towards its goal that audiences will soon forget they are watching a film and believe it is life itself unfolding before their eyes.

Michael Moshonov, as the older son of a man who simply disintegrates into thin air after a car accident, and Yonathan Alster as his younger brother, carry with perfect poise the brunt of a story whose subtexts suggest dramatic undercurrents that never come out into the open. Still, being unobtrusive by nature and offering no clear-cut conclusive cathartic climax for multiplex crowds, Nadjari's best shot is with arthouse patrons and film festivals.

There is something particularly clean and simple about the plot. One day, Eli (Shmuel Vilojni), middle-aged, religious but no zealot, married and father of two boys, drives his kids to school. Normally affable and easygoing, he is unusually tense behind the wheel, losing control of the car and driving it off the road. The older son, Menachem (Moshonov) runs to call for help. When he comes back, his younger brother, David (Alster) is lying on the back seat in need of medical assistance, but Eli is nowhere to be found.

Once home, every member of the family tries to find his own way of dealing with Eli's unexpected departure. His wife, Alma (Limor Goldstein), a loving and devoted mother whose background is far more secular than her husband's, hurt and distraught, applies herself to the everyday routines needed to keep the household going. Menachem, a teenager in distress at the most fragile stage of his life, is confused, offended, abandoned and looking around for some kind of explanation and thread of hope that might lead to his parent. Little David gropes his way in the dark, sensing more than understanding what is going on. Around them, Eli's father, Shmuel (Ilan Dar) and brother Aharon (Yohav Hayit) mobilise the religion-studying group (which Eli used to belong to as well), to read Psalms (Tehilim in Hebrew) and pray together for his return. For them, the only way back to normalcy is through Faith and Family, as they represent it, and Alma's unwillingness to accept this is deeply hurtful. Strangely enough, coming as she does from a completely different background, Alma's mother (Naomi Tzvick) proposes exactly the same thing, asking her daughter to come back to the parental home with her boys.

Nadjari keeps in the background throughout, telling the story in its simplest terms, allowing each sequence to establish itself, grow on screen and play itself out naturally, refusing to intrude or disturb. The audience is invited to guess the emotional turmoil of each character, for they never seem capable of more than polite conversation, and the silence reigning in the last frame could easily irk those who expect explicit statements to wrap up the plot. Economy is evident in every sense here, not necessarily because of budget restrictions but as an ethical and aesthetic choice. Functional, precise choice of sets and locations, as well as an unobtrusive camera that carefully avoids any self-serving eye-catching exploits, naturally blend with the understated acting.

Moshonov, whose face is a map of untold anguish, and Alster, as his brother seeking solace but not at any price, are in evidence most of the time, but Goldstein, Dar and Hayit, jostling with each other as they are looking for common ground to share, are both moving and fascinating in their own way.

Plume Noire review  Sandrine Marques

 

Variety.com [Lisa Nesselson]

 

Time Out New York (Stephen Garrett) review [2/6]

 

The New York Times (Jeannette Catsoulis) review

 

Nair, Mira

 

allmovie ((( Mira Nair > Overview )))  Andrea LeVasseur

Born in India, filmmaker Mira Nair studied at the University of New Delhi before earning a degree in Sociology from Harvard in 1976. Based in New York City, she worked on her own independent short films, eventually winning the Best Documentary prize at the American Film Festival for India Cabaret, an investigation of Bombay's stripper subculture. In 1988, she made her feature-length narrative film debut with Salaam Bombay!, co-written by Sooni Taraporevala. An exploration of actual kids struggling to survive on the streets of Bombay, the film was nominated for Best Foreign Film by the Academy and won several festival awards, including the Camera d'Or at Cannes. In 1991, she teamed up with writing partner Taraporevala again for the romantic drama Mississippi Masala, about an Indian family moving from Uganda to the Southern U.S. to run a motel. Following the theme of immigration with her next film, The Perez Family featured a Cuban family moving to the States. In 1997, she took a brief turn toward historical epics with Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love, set in 16th century India. Following the Showtime special My Own Country and the documentary short The Laughing Club of India, she made the international hit Monsoon Wedding. Focusing on an arranged marriage in New Delhi, the comedy drama won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and established Nair as an accomplished filmmaker. In 2002, she made a surprising turn to a New Jersey setting for the gritty HBO drama Hysterical Blindness, starring Uma Thurman, Juliette Lewis, Gena Rowlands. The same year she directed a segment of the French-produced anthology film 11'09\"01, featuring short films from 11 international filmmakers in response to September 11. Along with teaching at Columbia University, Nair would next direct the film Vanity Fair, based on the novel by William Makepeace Thackeray and starring Reese Witherspoon.

Film Reference  Rob Edelman

At their core, the films of Mira Nair are humanist in nature. They spotlight the inequities of traditional, patriarchal Indian society, the manner in which individuals are trapped and victimized because of economic status and gender, and the problems Indians face as they assimilate into foreign cultures.

Prior to directing her first narrative feature, Salaam Bombay!, Nair made several documentaries whose subjects reflect her sociological concerns. Jama Masjid Street Journal explores a Muslim community in Old Delhi; So Far from India portrays an Indian immigrant in New York, and examines his emotions as he is separated from his wife and child back home; Children of a Desired Sex spotlights the problems of pregnant Indian women whose offspring will be girls. Her most acclaimed documentary, India Cabaret, records the lives of female Bombay nightclub performers. Here, Nair investigates the distinction between the traditional Indian woman, who is expected to remain in the home, and her more modern, free-thinking counterpart, who yearns for personal and economic emancipation.

Salaam Bombay!, a drama of the corruption of childhood, won Nair international acclaim. It is a story of lost young souls who, because of poverty and parental abuse, have no control of their lives, and their fates. At the same time, these children somehow manage to grasp onto their innocence. Nair's hero is Krishna (Shafiq Syed), a naive, illiterate ten-year-old country boy grappling for survival amid the mean streets of Bombay, which is a garish metropolis of filth, crime, and superficial glitter. Krishna starts off as a chaipau—a deliverer of tea and bread—and quickly finds himself involved with a prostitute, her sadistic pimp-lover (who doubles as a drug kingpin), a teenager sold by her father as a virgin hooker, and a pathetic, illfated drug dealer.

The scenario is structured as a novel, with all the characters colorfully and three-dimensionally etched. And Nair has crammed the film with memorable images and striking vignettes. Prominent among the latter is the characterization of Manju (Hansa Vithal), daughter of the pimp and whore. Manju is a sweet little girl who is regularly ignored, then smothered with insincere kisses by her mother, and finally cast out into the street. Clearly, she too will be destined for a life of prostitution.

Nair's documentary background impacted on the manner in which she enlisted her actors. Seventeen children are cast in Salaam Bombay! and all are non-professionals, recruited directly off the city's streets. "I knew from the beginning that I had to work with real homeless children," she explained after completing the film. "It was their spirit of survival, plus their inimitable qualities, that I think inspired me to make the film." Indeed, Nair dedicated Salaam Bombay! to "the children of the streets of Bombay."

In Mississippi Masala, her follow-up feature, Nair further explores the issues she examined in India Cabaret. Only here, even though the main female character no longer resides in India, she still must deal with societal and cultural pressures to conform. The film, set in the sleepy Bible-belt town of Greenwood, Mississippi, is a tale of forbidden romance; the lovers are a self-made African-American businessman (Denzel Washington) and a spirited young Indian-American woman (Sarita Choudhury). Mississippi Masala is a chronicle of clashing cultures that is not unlike Spike Lee's Jungle Fever. The point of each, simply put, is that people are people, and are united (or divided) in ways that transcend skin color.

Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love may be linked to India Cabaret and Mississippi Masala (as well as Deepa Mehta's Fire) as a film that explores a subject rarely seen on Western movie screens: sexuality and Indian women. Kama Sutra is the story of two women: Tara (Sarita Choudhury), a 16th-century princess; and the seductive, independent-minded Maya (Indira Varma), her servant. Tara is set to wed a king, but Maya slips into his chamber and seduces him just before the nuptials. So as Tara and her new husband consummate their marriage, he only can think of one woman: Maya. Granted that, plot-wise, Kama Sutra is analogous to a daytime soap opera. But what makes it so compelling is the manner in which Nair portrays a period in history when women were trained to be either courtesans or wives, and her depiction of how, within the framework of that time, one woman manages to take power over her destiny.

Neither Mississippi Masala nor Kama Sutra—or, for that matter, any of her subsequent films—earned Nair the acclaim accorded Salaam Bombay! Yet she remains consistently committed to humanist-oriented scenarios featuring characters who struggle against ignorance and oppression. For example, My Own Country, a made-for-TV movie, is the based-on-fact account of an East Indian doctor who settles in Tennessee and becomes fabled for his compassionate treatment of AIDS patients.

Mira Nair Page

 

Mirabai Films  biography and filmography

 

SAWNET biography

 

Bio of Mira Nair and John Lithgow  Harvard Arts 

 

Seattle Arts & Lectures - Mira Nair  bio

 

Mira Nair @ Filmbug  bio and filmography

 

culturebase.net | The international artist database | Mira Nair  bio and feature article

 

Mira Nair - Indian Filmmaker Mira Nair - Mira Nair Biography ...  bio from Indobase Indians Abroad

 

Mira Nair  profile page from NNDB

 

"Homeless and Hungry Youths of India"   Barbara Croissette from The New York Times, December 23, 1990

 

Delhi deluge of colour and movement in Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding  Rose Capp from Senses of Cinema, December 2001

 

BBC NEWS | South Asia | Mira Nair - it's just not Bollywood  Soutik Biswas from BBC News, June 15, 2005

 

"Personal Sound Effects: A Night Out with Mira Nair"  Winter Miller from The New York Times, March 18, 2007

 

Bollywood to honour Mira Nair with 'Pride of India' award  Hindustan Times, April 23, 2007

 

Mira Nair’s latest film project takes the message to Indian cinema halls  India HIV/AIDS Prevention Goes Bollywood, by Lea Terhune from America.gov, July 3, 2007

 

Nair, Mira  They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They

 

BOMB Magazine: Mira Nair by Ameena Meer  Interview by Ameena Meer from Bomb magazine, summer 1991

 

Mira Nair interview with International Herald Tribune  Interview by Joan Dupont, September 21, 2001

 

Guardian Unlimited Interview (2002)  Interview by Bonnie Greer from The Guardian, June 12, 2002

 

QUESTIONS FOR MIRA NAIR: All's Fair  Interview by Deborah Solomon from The New York Times, August 29, 2004

 

Mira Nair Interview | TheCinemaSource.com  3-page interview by Michael Dance (2005)

 

'Namesake a tribute to Ritwik Ghatak', says Mira Nair - Mira Nair interview    Shinibali Mitra Saigal interview from Kolkata News, May 22, 2005

 

Film Monthly Interview (2007)  Mira Nair Returns to Her Roots, interview by Paul Fischer from Film Monthly, March 8, 2007

 

Namesake Interview  Santosh Desai interviews the director from Rediff, March 21, 2007

 

Unbridled with Life: Interview with Mira Nair < Film | PopMatters  Cynthia Fuchs interview from Pop Matters, March 22, 2007 

 

Mother Jones Interview (2007)  Interview by Amayra Rivera from Mother Jones magazine, March/April 2007

 

Interview: Film director Mira Nair - CNN.com  July 10, 2007

 

Mira Nair is India Abroad Person of the Year 2007  Rediff, March 29, 2008

 

Mira Nair, Abraham Verghese in conversation  Interview by Arthur J. Paris from Rediff, February 12, 2009

 

DNA: Entertainment: Hilary Swank on fame, films and Mira Nair  brief interview from DNA, February 20, 2009 

 

Charlie Rose - Mira Nair  Video interviews by Charlie Rose May 15, 1995 (16 minutes), May 1, 2002 (19 minutes), October 1, 2004 (16 minutes), and March 19, 2007 (19 minutes)

 

A Conversation with Mira Nair  Video interviews of various lengths as a Harvard Arts Medalist from the “Learning from Performers” series

 

Mira Nair Pictures, Mira Nair Photo Gallery and Biography ...  photo gallery

 

501 Movie Directors: A Comprehensive Guide to the Greatest Filmmakers

 

Mira Nair - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

SALAAM BOMBAY!

India  Great Britain  France  (113 mi)  1988

 

The Village Voice [Leslie Camhi]

"Come back a film star!" a ticket agent in Salaam Bombay! says to an urchin about to board a train for India's cinematic capital. Krishna (Shafiq Syed) arrives penniless and alone in Bombay, where the movie billboards promise action and glamour, but life for him is no Bollywood musical. Swept up into the city's teeming underworld, he becomes a chaipau, delivering tea to ragpickers and coolies, on street corners and in brothels. Krishna finds a makeshift, combustible new family in a pimp, a prostitute, and the horde of stray kids who share the alley where he sleeps at night. Soon a young virgin arrives from the provinces to their red-light district, and threatens their fragile equilibrium.

Mira Nair's compelling, neorealist first feature emerged on U.S. shores in 1988, bringing the realities of the post-colonial metropolis to our doorstep. Shot entirely on location, it shows characters caught in impossible compromises with fate, as they hold fast to their remaining illusions. The perfect cast includes both established Indian stars and nonprofessional actors, like the gum-chewing Madame, who didn't mind lending her bordello for daytime shoots, since she used it mostly at night.

The director's experience making documentaries served her well as she worked for weeks with the kids who inhabit Bombay's backstreets. Whether they're singing and dancing along in a movie theater or following a junkie's funeral cortege, her camera captures their flamboyant toughness and vitality. But the real star of this film is the crowded, neon-lit byways of the city itself

Washington Post [Rita Kempley]

"Salaam Bombay!" plays a bit like "Oliver!" in Hindi, a lively, strangely celebratory look at the resilience of India's street children. It's a savvy, unsentimentalized first feature by director Mira Nair, a documentarian who finds innocence and a harsh playfulness in this asphalt nursery.

Nair's film has been compared to Hector Babenco's chilling "Pixote," a Brazilian look at a 10-year-old street criminal, but hers is a more compassionate, though equally troubling, portrait. There's a wistfulness about it, a camaraderie, that gives it the feel of a coming-of-age movie. Though on the dark side, it is exactly that -- a distorted passage for its boy hero, who experiences first love, disillusionment and death.

Shafiq Syed, a ragpicker in real life, plays the leading role of Krishna, an abandoned 10-year-old country boy who hopes to earn 500 rupees so he can go back home. At first the little bumpkin is an easy mark for Bombay's hustlers, who take the few rupees he has saved. Later he is accepted and educated by an extended street family of prostitutes and tattered peers. The kids are beggars and burglars, not angels with dirty faces. But Krishna is a Father Flanagan kind of kid, with a core of goodness underneath the grime.

When he arrives in Bombay, Krishna finds a lowly job as a chaipau (one who delivers tea) in a red-light district with its splashy bordellos. Here, life becomes complicated when he tries to rescue Sweet Sixteen (Chanda Sharma), a stunning Nepalese virgin who has been sold into prostitution. Baba (Nana Patekar), mercurial king of pimps, attempts to tame her with his oily charms -- a development that upsets his relationship with his prostitute lover (Aneeta Kanwar) and their neglected little daughter (Hansa Vithal). Krishna goes for tea, cleans bird cages, plucks chickens for a pittance. But instead of saving his money for a ticket home, he spends some on drugs for his ganja-addicted mentor, Chillum, with Raghubir Yadav wonderfully frantic in the role. The boy soon becomes a parent to the 25-year-old man. But through it all he remains at heart a motherless child, crying himself to sleep on his pallet of rags, sniffling, "I want to go home."

There will be no rich relative to rescue this Oliver, no Spielbergian magic a` la "E.T." But the ending does seem to come out of nowhere, overwrought and melodramatic. Nair and screenwriter Sooni Taraporevala aren't really great storytellers, but they are streetwise. Shot on a low budget, down and dirty and on location, "Salaam Bombay!" is like being there, if there is where you want to be.

Salaam Bombay!  Mis(representing) Child Labor, by Jyotika Virdi from Jump Cut, July 1992

 

Epinions [metalluk]

 

Planet Bollywood - Film Review  Shahid Khan

 

The Gline DVD review  Serdar Yegulalp

 

Linda Lopez McAlister (c/o inforM Women's Studies)

 

DVD Verdict  Barrie Maxwell

 

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

 

The New York Times (Vincent Canby)

 

MISSISSIPPI MASALA

Great Britain  USA  (118 mi)  1991

 

Film Intuition  Jen Johans

Denzel Washington stars in Mira Nair’s follow-up to her critical smash Salaam Bombay! as Demetrius, a young black man with his own successful carpet-cleaning company who meets Mina a beautiful, young Indian woman after she crashes into his van. The two exchange a few coyly interested looks along with their insurance information and after a second chance encounter, they begin dating, much to the chagrin of their families who disapprove of their interracial romance in the Deep South and both wish they would instead “stick to their own kind.” Mina’s situation is further complicated by the history of her family who, along with many Asian Indians, were expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin in 1972 and to add more fuel to the plot, her father has been privately trying to sue his former homeland to get his property back. Nair has much to say and the viewer recognizes at once that it is a personal film for her since she herself is married to a Ugandan husband. Unfortunately, possibly still influenced by the neorealist elements of her first work and her love of sociology, Nair tries to work in too many elements and the story that the viewer most connects with (that of the two young lovers) gets a bit lost in the process. Possibly, she would’ve made the movie differently today (those who have seen Monsoon Wedding might agree) but as it stands, it’s still a worthwhile and wonderfully directed film with another cool, charismatic and sexy performance from Denzel Washington easily upstaging the nervous newcomer, Sarita Choudhury. Nair fans will delight in the film which, like its name implies is best when it’s colorful, brilliantly hot and spicy in its portrayal of prejudices, hypocrisy and family duty and far less when it tries to wrap up details from its too brief beginning at the end of the film, as the viewer is simply anxious for the romantic resolution.

Austin Chronicle (Kathleen Maher)

The lure of the exotic attracts the characters played by Washington and Choudhury and that's this movie's primary appeal as well, but it is the tender love story and sweet human comedy that makes the audience commit for the long haul. When the two young lovers see each other across a crowded dance floor, they're unaware they're looking across a chasm of old history. And when they come together, inevitably drawn by chemistry, they little realize they've set into motion old forces that will make love more difficult than lust. Like the proud African-Americans in Mississippi who have never seen Africa, Choudhury plays Mina, an Indian woman who has never seen India. Her family lived in Uganda for generations and considered themselves Ugandans until Idi Amin's anti-Asian campaigns drove them from their country. In exile in Mississippi they've joined other Indian families who run a string of motels along the highway. Mina's father nurtures resentment towards blacks and specifically an old childhood friend in Uganda that he doesn't even recognize until his daughter's affair with Demetrius -- Washington as a handsome carpet cleaner -- brings it to the surface. For the rest of the clannish Indian community, who consider Mina too dark to be a suitable wife, her affair with a black man highlights their own racial prejudices. Nevertheless, the Indian community identifies with the black community in the face of southern racism. There is much that is funny in human inconsistency and in the petty squabbling that families indulge in and Nair exploits this while she makes more serious points about resentment and loss. Nair begins Mississippi Masala with Mina's family's exile from Uganda, focusing on their luxurious lifestyle and the wrenching pain and fear of their panicked departure. Frequent flashbacks of the achingly beautiful Ugandan countryside emphasize the overwhelming sense of loss felt by Mina's father. In America, the Indian community hangs on to their traditions even though they are forced by circumstances to live in tiny motel room cubicles stuffed with glittering Indian ornamentation. A wedding scene is a sumptuous swirl of color featuring women in gorgeous saris. The soundtrack shifts from Indian pop to delta blues and a later scene provides just as much pleasure with the downhome simplicity of a backyard barbecue at Demetrius's house. It takes love to bring all these elements together into harmony, and Nair makes it look easy even when it's most difficult for her characters.

Washington Post [Rita Kempley]

Indian director Mira Nair's "Mississippi Masala" is a savory multiracial stew that boils over the melting pot and onto the range -- as in home on -- when Denzel Washington and Sarita Choudhury turn up the flames. An utterly infectious romance between an African American and an Indian African emigre, this seductively funny film measures the pull of roots against the tug of heartstrings. It is also a lesson in the pitfalls of color-consciousness.

Though set mostly in provincial Greenwood, Miss., the movie opens with Idi Amin's expulsion of all Asian Africans from Uganda in 1972. A native of that lush African country (Roshan Seth), his wife (Sharmila Tagore) and their little girl, Mina (Sahira Nair, who grows up to be Choudhury), tearfully leave their home and friends behind for a much poorer life in an Indian-run motel in Mississippi. Here Mina grows into a voluptuous Americanized beauty the color of ripened tobacco. A vivacious 24-year-old with a smile like a crescendo, she dazzles the camera as well as the affable Demetrius (Washington), who initially uses her to make an old flame jealous.

Demetrius, a sweet hunk, is almost living the American Dream as the indebted proprietor of a one-van carpet-cleaning business. His clientele by and large are the Indians whose extended families run the motels in the vicinity, a business relationship that is jeopardized when Demetrius is drawn to Mina like a cat to a sunny ledge. An amazingly sensual couple, they fall truly, madly, deeply in love. But this is a "West Side Story" for the '90s, and both communities decry the relationship -- all for a few shades of brown, as Demetrius points out.

Nair underscores this thought with her warm, richly visual portraits of the quirky motel Indians and Demetrius's close-knit family. A Harvard-educated Indian, she proves every bit as savvy an anthropologist in Greenwood as in her streetwise Indian film, "Salaam Bombay!" She uses the skill here to emphasize the parallels between the diverse groups while never losing sight of the new generation's Americanization. "Traditions are handed down like recipes, you have to know what to eat and what to leave on the plate," Demetrius advises Mina, who's just getting the hang of coping with hidebound relatives.

Sooni Taraporevala, who wrote "Salaam Bombay!," took Nair's idea of making a movie about the hierarchy of color and turned it into this masala, which in India is a collection of hot, colorful spices. Certainly Nair and Taraporevala's story is both spicy and multihued. Not only black and brown, but yellow and white folks are all sent up for their prejudices. One good ol' European American suggests "the Indians be sent back to the reservation." Brahman in moccasins? In this ever-shrinking world of ours, anything seems plausible.

The story loses its focus when it leaves Greenwood to return with Mina's father to Uganda, but with Seth in the role, it is a poignant detour. Seth, who played Papa in "My Beautiful Laundrette," brings a note of pathos to the more often playful story, as does Ugandan actor Konga Mbandu as his estranged childhood friend Okelo. Charles Dutton, TV's "Roc," also stands out as Demetrius's carpet-cleaning partner, which is no small feat opposite a couple as radiant as Washington and Choudhury. When it comes down to it, there is nothing quite like people in love.

DVD Verdict  Michael Rankins

 

Washington Post [Desson Howe]

 

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

 

The New York Times (Vincent Canby)

 

KAMA SUTRA:  A TALE OF LOVE

India  (117 mi)  1996
 
Tucson Weekly [Stacey Richter]

Mira Nair, the director of Mississippi Masala and Salaam Bombay! delivers a sexy, good-natured, and slightly self-indulgent meditation on love and sex in 16th-century India. Indira Varma plays Maya, a saucy servant girl talented in the art of love. Her beauty and cunning take her from the palace to the street and back again in this sexy Cinderella story featuring bare-chested hunks wrestling and dark-eyed beauties making out with each other. Nair's visual sense is stunning and lush, cinnamon and rose-colored; you can practically smell the spices on the breeze. The sex scenes are torrid too--Nair has apparently confounded the censors in India, who allow depictions of violent sexuality like rape but prohibit the portrayal of direct physical contact. It's easy to commend Nair for wanting to introduce positive images of sexuality to Indian cinema; it's a little more difficult to sit through the second half of Kama Sutra, after the plot starts to wind down and all the principals have already done the deed with each other.

New York Times (registration req'd)  Janet Maslin

Mira Nair's voluptuously pretty "Kama Sutra" follows Maya (Indira Varma), a 16th-century Indian Cosmo girl, as she learns the ways of love. Not all these ways are what you might expect, given that the film takes its title from the fourth-century Indian text famed for its enterprising sexual diagrams. For every interesting use of a phrase like "twisting of the creeper," the film carries plenty of other baggage. Much of it follows Maya's troubles in finding Mr. Right.

In a visually lovely film that summons an alluring impression of her native India, Ms. Nair concentrates so deeply on sensual detail that the audience can almost smell the incense wafting from the screen. Shining silks, brilliant colors, Sufi music, intricately adorned bodies and languid movements all conspire to create a seductive mood. The film's atmosphere becomes so palpably inviting, in fact, that its story seems only an afterthought. It's not only when they engage in carefully choreographed soft-core sex that the film's characters seem merely to be going through the motions.

Maya, first seen in girlhood, has a lifelong rival in Tara (Sarita Choudhury, a star of Ms. Nair's "Mississippi Masala"), who is a princess. Maya is Tara's servant, though it is immediately clear that Kama Sutra training is a great leveler in this culture. The young girl who shows a flair for the Dance of Enticement, as Maya does when both girls are trained by a top-seeded courtesan named Rasa Devi (Rekha, a popular Indian film star), can expect definite advantages in life.

Sure enough, on the eve of Tara's wedding to the handsome king, Raj Singh (Naveen Andrews, who plays Kip in "The English Patient"), Maya glides into his bedchamber and shows exactly how the Dance of Enticement gets results. While the virginal bride is being taught by her elders that she should allow the groom to put a beetlenut in her mouth, Maya takes a more direct approach. As a consequence of this candlelit tryst, Raj Singh becomes obsessed with her, and Tara becomes her permanent rival.

"Kama Sutra," which is subtitled "A Tale of Love," then moves on in sari-ripping style to involve Maya with a second virile, long-haired hunk. Jai Kumar (Ramon Tikaram) is a sculptor who becomes fascinated with Maya's form and enlists her as a model. Maya falls in love with him, though the increasingly dissipated king also continues to pursue her. Poor Tara, who embodies the powerlessness of women without Kama Sutra skills in this culture, must take comfort in her queenly stature while Raj Singh smokes opium and chases courtesans.

What will be better remembered than this story, or than Rasa Devi's occasional instructions in how to bestow scratch marks, are this film's exotic look and its enjoyable languor. It is best not to wonder too closely why Maya's two lovers strip down to loincloths and engage in a wrestling match, or how Maya puts on or removes her chain mail made of pearls.

Ms. Varma, a swanlike actress making her film debut, has the physical grace her role demands and makes a lovely ornament at the center of this story (written by Ms. Nair and Helena Kriel). She and the film's other players are captivatingly photographed by Declan Quinn, who shot "Leaving Las Vegas" and whose work is equally luminous and colorful here.

Planet Bollywood - Film Review  Amy Laly

 

Linda Lopez McAlister (c/o inforM Women's Studies)

 

Salon.com [Laura Miller]

 

Scott Renshaw

 

James Berardinelli's ReelViews

 

Washington Post [Desson Howe]

 

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

 

MONSOON WEDDING

India  USA  (114 mi)  2001

 

Reel.com [Rod Armstrong]

 

Rarely do films come along that are as intelligent, exuberant, and moving as Monsoon Wedding. Director Mira Nair's kaleidoscopic portrait of an Indian family preparing for their daughter's marriage takes a cue from Robert Altman and succeeds in creating a vivid panoply of characters and telling a variety of stories. In under two hours, Nair manages to reflect on Indian culture, class differences, and matters of the heart, all the while entertaining her audience immensely.

The bride of Monsoon Wedding is Aditi Verma (Vashundhara Das). Her parents, Lalit (Naseeruddin Shah) and Pimmi (Lillete Dubey), have arranged her betrothal to an engineer named Hemant (Parvin Dabas), who lives in Houston but has arrived in Delhi looking for a spouse. Aditi, being more modern than her traditional Punjabi folks, bristles at the enforced nature of the marriage and still holds a candle for her older (and married) ex-boyfriend, Vikram (Sameer Arya). But when Hemant suggests they meet and talk quietly and separately from the hubbub surrounding the event, she is surprised to find how much she genuinely likes him.

The complexity inherent in marrying someone one barely knows is only one of the many subjects swirling through Nair's film. There's a lovely romantic subplot, which limns class differences in India without hammering the point home, between the marigold-munching wedding planner P.K. Dube (Vijay Raaz) and the Vermas' comely housekeeper, Alice (Tilotama Shome). Equally delightful is the depiction of Aditi's young brother, Varun (Ishaan Nair), whose love for dancing and cooking shows amuses his mother but perplexes his father. Not everything is sweetness and light, though — a more serious situation involving Aditi's cousin, Ria (Shefali Shetty), and her revelation of childhood abuse arises and threatens to throw the whole ceremony into turmoil.

It's a pretty big challenge to keep up with all of the characters in Monsoon Wedding, and some of them get short shrift. Kamini Khanna — as a zaftig, earthy cousin named Shashi — steals all of the scenes she's in, which are too few. And the members of Hemant's family are given equally scant screen time — even the wonderful Roshan Seth as his father, Mohan. But the stories Nair chooses to tell in-depth are so worthwhile that the ones not narrated aren't missed so much.

Besides Sabrina Dhawan's terrific script, Monsoon Wedding also offers gorgeous decors and entrancing music. The colored strips of cloth used to garland the wedding area recall the long bolts of silk hung throughout Zhang Yimou's Ju Dou. The costumes and jewelry, especially in the climactic wedding scene, will send aspiring designers into paroxysms of sketching. And the songs — from Shashi's a capella performance to the harmonizing at a henna-painting gathering to the beat-infused numbers played during the festivities — will have many rushing out to buy the soundtrack.

What makes this film more than just a cultural celebration is the particularity with which the story is told. Terrific scenes like the ones where Lalit breaks down in front of his wife or when Ria expresses her relief at being freed of her secret wouldn't work if Monsoon Wedding's characters weren't developed as well as they are. After the disastrous Kama Sutra, Nair has returned to make good on the promise she showed in Salaam Bombay and Mississippi Masala. Like the torrential rainstorms that permeate India and threaten the wedding of Aditi and Hermant, her Monsoon Wedding will sweep viewers away.

Washington Post [Ann Hornaday]

Exploding on the screen in a riot of movement, music and color, "Monsoon Wedding" gives the lie to Diana Vreeland's observation that pink is the navy blue of India. For sheer ubiquity, in this film at least, that honor rightly belongs to orange. Not since Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Red," "White" and "Blue" series has a color been paid such lavish cinematic homage.

A spirited, sprawling tale of the days leading up to an arranged marriage, "Monsoon Wedding" combines the voluptuous production values of the most lurid Bollywood musicals, the class dynamics of "Upstairs, Downstairs" and the family melodrama of "Dallas" to create an exuberantly vivid portrait of contemporary India. If the movie ultimately becomes a bit too besotted with its own beauty, it nonetheless provides a visually dazzling and deeply affectionate glimpse of the tensions and traditions that animate much of modern Indian life.

Directed by Mira Nair ("Salaam Bombay!," "Mississippi Masala") and written by Sabrina Dhawan, the film takes place in Delhi at the dripping peak of monsoon season, when purple clouds hang low over the city's verdant suburbs and everyone's skin takes on a lustrous, sweaty sheen. The action opens on Lalit Verma (Naseeruddin Shah) nervously overseeing the impending marriage of his daughter, Aditi (Vasundhara Das), riding herd over Dubey (Vijay Raaz), a manic wedding planner, and keeping track of the dozens of cousins, nieces, nephews,imminent in-laws and other members of the Delhi diaspora who seem to arrive every minute.

Aditi's intended, Hemant (Parvin Dabas), seems like a nice enough bloke, but she still has issues with her former lover – the married host of an edgy TV talk show. Her hands may be beautifully hennaed, but her feet are decidedly cold. Meanwhile, the bride's cousin, Ria (Shefali Shetty), knows more than she's saying about a visiting uncle, the bride's little brother (Ishaan Nair) is rehearsing a dance number for the reception with too much enthusiasm for his father's comfort, and Dubey finds that he is the target of many a doe-eyed glance from the Vermas' lovely maid, Alice (Tilotama Shome).

Few of these narrative strands will lead anywhere surprising, but the appeal of "Monsoon Wedding" doesn't lie in its story so much as in its captivating visual style and loose, off-the-cuff verve. Cinematographer Declan Quinn, who gave Las Vegas its super-saturated look in "Leaving Las Vegas," does the same for Delhi here, capturing the city, its posh suburbs and its outlying countryside.

Nair and her crew shot "Monsoon Wedding" on a skinny budget in some 30 days, and Quinn's photography reflects that pared-down energy. Whether he's moving through teeming Delhi streets in the middle of a rainstorm, observing masses of orange marigolds pressed (and cut and garlanded and woven) into service for the wedding, or intimately observing the mendhi ceremony during which the bride's attendants decorate her hands with henna, he brilliantly captures the texture, palette and indefatigable energy of a culture in which dot-coms and cell phones exist side by side with the most ancient and cherished of rituals.

In the production notes accompanying "Monsoon Wedding," Nair says that she sought to capture "the intoxicating zest for life" of the Punjab culture whence she came. For the first hour or so of the film she succeeds, to the point where the audience can almost smell the food, flowers and perfumes that engulf the film's startlingly beautiful cast of characters. But for all the visual appeal and momentum that Nair builds up, once the wedding day is upon the Verma family, more begins to feel like less. The director lingers particularly lovingly, and tediously, over two scenes – one during which Aditi's sexy cousin Ayesha (Neha Dubey) entertains the wedding party with a steamy dance number, and another in which Alice is touchingly wooed by the wedding planner – until the movie threatens to collapse under the sheer weight of its own imagery.

By the time the groom arrives, crowned with the ubiquitous marigolds and riding a richly festooned white horse, "Monsoon Wedding's" narrative limitations are clear. But they are easily forgiven in the face of Nair's infectious love for the fervid energy of her homeland, and the many sensuous felicities with which she conveys it.

AboutFilm [Carlo Cavagna]

Part of the sorcery of movies is their ability to transport you to a place you've never been. Even more magical is if, when you're done marvelling at the unfamiliar land and culture, you discover that the people inhabiting this strange world are not that different from you. Love, anger, hate, pain, guilt, longing, and loss--these basic human emotions have no cultural limitations. The humanity pulsing beneath the trappings and traditions of any society is common to us all.

With Monsoon Wedding, director Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay, Mississippi Masala) returns once again to her homeland. If you're as unfamiliar with modern India as I am, then the education in Punjabi culture alone should be a treat. Modern India is a bewildering mix of the age-old and the contemporary. Cell phones appear in the middle of traditional courtship rites and preparations. Third world power outages plague modern homes. Characters don jeans in one scene and ancient garb the next. Panelists debate the corrupting influence of Western entertainment on a modern talk show. Families send their children off to college in Australia and America and then complain that they aren't "Indian" enough when they return. Virtually everyone uses English interchangeably with Hindi or Punjabi. None of this is bewildering to the Indians themselves, who don't seem even to notice the apparent contradictions. The contradictions, however, find ways of making themselves noticed, creating tensions over the course of the film that require difficult choices by some of the characters.

Set during the rainy season in Delhi, Monsoon Wedding is a romantic comedy/drama that unfolds during the three days that elapse between a traditionally arranged engagement and planned wedding of two young people who have never met, Aditi Verma (Vasandhara Das, an Indian recording artist) and Hemant Rai (Parvin Dabas). Concentrating two vast families in a confined space, the celebration causes an explosion of subplots, some comedic and romantic and some decidedly not.

To get to the point at which the movie begins, Aditi and Hemant have agreed to allow their parents to choose their lifelong mates. The anomaly is that there's seemingly nothing traditional about either one of these young people. Aditi is getting over an affair with her married and somewhat smarmy ex-boss, a TV talk show host. Hemant is an engineer who lives in Houston, Texas. The Western mind wonders, why would these two agree to an arranged marriage? Heck, why would anyone agree to an arranged marriage nowadays?

Nair and writer Sabrina Dhawan never spell out an explanation, but the bitter taste of the affair may have something to do with Aditi's motives. As for Hemant, he doesn't think there's any substantive difference between meeting in a bar and being introduced by one's parents. He means that any marriage is an act of faith. The foundation of a successful marriage lies in the kind of trust, communication, and intimacy that takes years to build. Any marriage is a risk, and even if it is born out of romantic passion, the partners can never be certain that their foundations are solid enough to build a lifelong union.

Is he right? Aditi's parents, Lalit (the great Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah) and Pimmi (Lillete Dubey), are an illustrative example. A product of an arranged wedding themselves, they seem to be a typical married couple--but is that a good thing or a bad thing? They seem distant, and they argue about their young son Varun (Ishaan Nair), whom Lalit sees as too soft and wants to send to boarding school. We don't get a sense of their marriage's health until the end of the film.

The bride herself is having second thoughts. Sensing Aditi's apprehension, her unconventional cousin Ria (Shefali Shetty) begins to stir up trouble. Meanwhile, alongside the arranged wedding proceedings more modern romantic liaisons develop. Another cousin, sultry young Ayesha (Neha Dubey), sets her eyes on Rahul (Randeep Hooda), a college student home from Sydney. The abrasive, talkative tent/catering/decorations contractor, P.K. Dube (Vijay Raaz) is suddenly smitten with the Verma family maid, quiet Alice (Tolatama Shome).

Even when exploring difficult areas, Nair keeps the tone light and lively. With her premise, she has given herself a great deal of room to explore her own culture and the full palette of human relationships. One can argue that the presentation of some of the conflicts and unions is a little facile, particularly given the short three-day time frame.

With overwhelming beauty and charm (not to mention great music), Monsoon Wedding gets you not to care about any of that. Even the most improbable storyline, P.K. and Alice's courtship, is delightfully rendered, with a picture-perfect ending that will resonate for lovers of romance for a long time. Explaining that she wanted to make a movie about a complex, thriving society free of "colonial complexes," Nair has characterized Monsoon Wedding as an attempt to invoke Bollywood (Indian film) conventions in order to capture the masti (the intoxicating zest for life) of modern India. Without knowing India first-hand it's hard to say for certain, but it sure seems like she has succeeded.

Senses of Cinema (Rose Capp)

 

PopMatters  Jocelyn Sczepaniak-Gillece

 

Planet Bollywood - Film Review  Akshay Shah

 

Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]

 

World Socialist Web Site  Joanne Laurrier

 

Jigsaw Lounge (Neil Young) : "exactly and approximately" (7/10)

 

Henna And Cellphones   Geoffrey Macnab for Sight and Sound

 

Slate [David Edelstein]

 

ToxicUniverse.com (John Nesbit)

 

Jigsaw Lounge (Neil Young)

 

Salon.com [Charles Taylor]

 

Nitrate Online (Emma French)

 

Images (David Ng)

 

Jerry Saravia

 

Film Journal International (David Noh)

 

The Tech (MIT) [Jonathan Choi] 

 

BeyondHollywood.com  Nix

 

Apollo Movie Guide [Brian Webster]

 

The Village Voice [Michael Atkinson]

 

Guardian/Observer

 

James Berardinelli's ReelViews

 

Washington Post [Desson Howe]

 

Chicago Tribune [Michael Wilmington]

 

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

 

New York Times (registration req'd)  Elvis Mitchell

 

DVDBeaver.com - [Albert Michael]

 

HYSTERICAL BLINDNESS

USA  (96 mi)  2002  HBO movie made for TV

 

San Francisco Chronicle [Carla Meyer]

"Hysterical Blindness" is proof that miscasting doesn't have to wreck a picture. In the HBO film showing Sunday, Uma Thurman plays a high-strung 1980s New Jersey woman with a nowhere job and few romantic prospects. Thurman sticks out like a tall, exotic thumb in this modest setting, her accent too broad and her emotional outbursts, well, too hysterical.

Yet Thurman so commits herself to the role, eyes blazing and body akimbo, that you start to believe that such a creature could exist -- an exquisite- looking woman so spastic and needy that she repulses regular Joes. Thurman has bent the role to her will.

As the film's executive producer, she also surrounded herself with some very talented women. Juliette Lewis and Gena Rowlands, both pros at playing quiet desperation, ground the film as Thurman's best friend and Thurman's mother. Director Mira Nair invests the movie's working-class New Jersey milieu with the same emotional immediacy she brought to "Monsoon Wedding."

Female movie characters usually get to be difficult and neurotic only if they're also upscale and adorable, like Meg Ryan. Working-class women generally appear on screen because they're heroic or criminal. Nair and writer Laura Cahill dare to build a movie around some flawed but rather unexceptional women, emerging with a fine character study that's short on plot but rich in the tiny revelations of real life.

Thurman's character is tough to like. She's so stressed that she temporarily loses her sight ("hysterical blindness") while toiling at her data- processing job. It's not enough to be uncomfortable in her own skin; she has to make everybody else miserable, too, like the handsome construction worker (Justin Chambers, intriguingly aloof) whose mild show of interest fuels her wild romantic fantasies.

Women will always look for love in the wrong places, and men will continue to not call them back. The picture didn't need to be set in 1987 or in New Jersey, but it helps in evoking a mood of casual sex, Lycra and drunken swaying to soft-rock hits. Having these women bop to Phil Collins is somehow less pathetic than seeing their latter-day counterparts struggle with Moby.

Lewis seems at home in this acid-washed world, as a single mom who's more stable than her friend but just as stuck. Lewis' face catches about five emotions per second, showing this woman's guilt at leaving her kid home while she carouses, mixed with a fear that she might miss something if she goes home.

In her ability to play poignantly real women, Lewis resembles Debra Winger.

And Gena Rowlands. Rowlands' aging waitress here is bone-weary and wincing, a woman who's been delivered a steady stream of disappointments. She's still got enough fire, however, to respond to the attention of a customer played by Ben Gazzara. These two Cassavetes vets bring a cozy, well-worn affection to the romance.

Thurman's character is threatened by her mom's boyfriend, and the difficult relationship between the women is the film's foundation. The mother, like everybody else, must walk on eggshells around her flinty daughter. There's a lovely scene where Thurman crawls in bed beside her mom, and Rowlands seems fully capable of soothing the misplaced anger right out of her.

Handheld camera work gives "Hysterical Blindness" an easy intimacy, but the gritty nature of the film precludes director Nair's other signature: Bollywood- style exultation. Except in one scene, when the ladies -- Rowlands and Lewis' kid included -- dance to Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" as the camera swoops around them. The moment is forced, too cute by half -- and positively wonderful.

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Joel Cunningham)

 

What Hysterical Blindness lacks in compelling plotting, it makes up for with great direction, sharp dialogue, and a stellar cast. It's an interesting slice-of-life character piece, but not much happens, and what does isn't deep, or complex, or worthy of much analysis. Instead, we spy on three women as they go about their lives in a small town in the mid-1980s; we share their sadness and their desperation, and we leave them, not understanding exactly the significance of their stories, but caring about them deeply as characters.

Debby (Uma Thurman) and Beth (Juliette Lewis) are instantly recognizable, the kind of girls who finished high school but never bothered to leave home or move on. They're stuck in dead end jobs, their only means of amusement the local bar (which they visit every night, high hair sprayed into submission, clad in garish spandex). Debby is particularly unbalanced—she is so sad and stressed by work and romance, she suffers bouts of anxiety-induced blindness. She gloms on to guys at the bar, mistaking their casual politeness for something more, unaware of the waves of neediness she exudes. Beth, meanwhile, distractedly cares for her daughter, not quite mature enough to handle her responsibility, and Debby's mother Virginia (Gena Rowlands) shyly starts a relationship with a retired man (Ben Gazzara) who always sits in her section at the diner where she waits tables.

The script, written by Laura Cahill and based on her play, delights in the small details—the nightly routine at the bar where the two friends drink, the social hierarchy in the break room where Debby works—but loses the larger details. We watch Debby and Virginia moving through their respective romances, see them experience pain and small pleasures, and after an hour and a half, I feel like I've gotten to know them intimately, but I'm not sure why—there's little to analyze, other than the obvious symbolic nature of Debby's fits of sightlessness. This is certainly apparent at the end, when Cahill forces an emotional climax and resolution, rushing her characters towards a happy ending without allowing then to wallow properly in their depression. It's very disconcerting, and a little false.

Mira Nair is the perfect director for the project. Her work has a compassion and warmth that allows for immediate identity and empathy (see
Salaam Bombay! or Monsoon Wedding). Her loose, handheld style here is entirely effective—it feels like we're watching these people from the corner of the room, darting here and there to get a better look.

Nair is also obviously a whiz with actors, as the three leads all deliver outstanding, wrenching performances. Juliette Lewis is a little broad, but that's ok; her character is the comic relief, after all, and her chemistry with Thurman is genuine. Uma Thurman is, literally, so good, it's painful. She strips away all of her usual tics, her measured, aloof mannerisms, and delivers an emotionally naked performance that's never less than devastating—she cuts her heart open and lets Debby's misery and anguish bleed all over the screen. Rowland is softer, more controlled, but no less heartfelt—she has a scene in which she has to react to some very bad news over the phone, and just by watching her face, you understand what she's hearing as clearly as if you could hear the other end of the call.

Hysterical Blindness might work better as a play. On film, even with Nair's assured eye, it feels stage-y and stifled. But watch it for the performances, passionate and alive.

 

DVD Talk (Jason Janis)

 

DVD Verdict: Hysterical Blindness  Elizabeth Skipper

 

VANITY FAIR

Great Britain  USA  (141 mi)  2004

 

The Village Voice [Leslie Camhi]

Our culture of celebrity is such that, during the opening scenes of Vanity Fair, Mira Nair's exuberant screen adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray's darkly satirical novel, I found myself thinking of Vanity Fair the magazine—specifically, the September issue's cover story on the movie's star, Reese Witherspoon. There we learn that, though she brings home a $15 million paycheck, she still looks great and makes time for the children.

What woman wouldn't want to have it all? Thackeray's heroine, Becky Sharp (played by Witherspoon), certainly does. She rises from obscure and shady origins through early-19th-century polite society to conquer the hearts and wallets of more than one bourgeois or aristocratic gentleman. Toying with the limits of propriety, she reveals the social order's hollowness while reveling in its splendors.

One might have imagined an updated Vanity Fair (à la Clueless) unfolding between Park Avenue salons and the carefully manicured lawns of East Hampton. Instead, with a nod to scholar Edward Said, the Indian-born Nair keeps the novel's time frame but highlights the role Thackeray has reserved for Britain's colonies, where his characters keep flitting to amass vast quantities of wealth or escape romantic disappointment. The colonial presence is felt everywhere in Nair's movie—from the cashmeres thrown over the ladies' shoulders in Hyde Park to the servants in their drawing rooms. Amid the film's gorgeous, sensual riot of movement and color, this subtly underscores a deeper point—that the vast edifice of British Empire hierarchy rested upon a lie and an illusion.

As the movie opens, orphaned Becky leaves the loathed Miss Pinkerton's Academy in the company of her only friend, gentle, highborn Amelia Sedley (Romola Garai), to take her new position as governess in the country estate of the eccentric Sir Pitt Crawley (Bob Hoskins). From that humble post she launches her assault, enchanting by turns the baronet; his wealthy, city-dwelling, spinster sister (Eileen Atkins); and his feckless second son, a military man played by the magnetic James Purefoy.

And that's only the beginning. Thackeray's tome runs to some 700-plus pages, with an unwieldy cast (for the most part, ably embodied here) and epic scope that moves from a young girl's love letters to the Battle of Waterloo. (The corpse-strewn battlefield is one of the most striking set pieces.) For the film, a team of screenwriters had condensed it into a hectic 140 minutes. But the pacing feels choppy, and the characters' emotions are sometimes too sudden to be believable. (One exception is Rhys Ifans, affecting as Amelia's long-suffering and neglected suitor.)

Witherspoon's Sharp seems tailored to fit contemporary feminism's Third Wave—a can-do heroine of unstoppable ambition. It's a role that's worked for her before (the Tracy Flick of Election), though here her ability to play herself seems a jarring limitation. She's best with Becky mid-career. When the story turns darker, she's all New World—she can't do decadent. Thackeray doesn't let us resolve our feelings about Becky too easily; we read about her exploits with a kind of abject fascination. But Witherspoon can't risk her likability. At the end of Nair's film, we cheer her; Thackeray's novel leaves behind a taste of ashes, and a deeper memory.

Film Threat [Pete Vonder Haar]

 

Every year, it seems, movie audiences are subjected to another period film that reminds them once again of the glory of the British Empire and allows a few American actors to practice their British accents. This year’s offering is “Vanity Fair,” based on the William Makepeace Thackeray novel (which I’m sure you’ve all read), scripted by Gosford Park’s Julian Fellowes, and directed by Mira Nair of Monsoon Wedding fame. It’s a lavish production, make no mistake, with opulent locales and extravagant costuming, and for the most part it’s a good film. Unfortunately, Nair reigns in some of her protagonist’s more unsavory traits, defanging what might have been a fine adaptation.

Vanity Fair, the novel, was an exposé of the greed and corruption in English society during the Napoleonic wars, while Nair’s film is…less so. Thackeray’s characters were written almost wholly without sympathy, which led critics to accuse him of being too cynical. Contemporary scholars tend to find him overly sentimental, which doesn’t prove much, except that academics can never make up their minds. Nair, on the other hand, presents her protagonists in a more sympathetic light.

The character of Becky Sharp (Reese Witherspoon), the orphaned daughter of an English artist and a French chorus girl, is the template by which all gold diggers in subsequent literary and cinematic efforts should be judged. In Thackeray’s novel, she is conniving, unsympathetic, and dedicated to her own social advancement over anything else, including being a wife and mother. When we are first introduced to her, it is apparent that she will stop at nothing to achieve what she perceives to be her deserved place in high society.

She starts by leaving Pinkerton’s, her orphanage/finishing school, with her best (and only) friend Amelia Sedley (Romola Garai). Becky has a job waiting for her as a governess, but she takes some time to flirt with Amelia’s socially awkward brother Jos (Tony Maudsley), whom Amelia thinks would be a good match for her. The idea is nixed by George Osborne (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), Amelia’s effete prick of a fiancé, who convinces Jos that Becky is beneath him.

Undaunted, Becky assumes her job looking after the children of Sir Pitt Crawley (Bob Hoskins), where she wins over his household and, more importantly, his rich aunt Matilde (Eileen Atkins), who finds something of a kindred spirit in Becky. Soon, Matilde has invited the governess to come with her to Mayfair. Becky agrees, knowing that a move to London is the best way to insinuate herself into even higher ranks of the aristocracy. She starts off with a bang, eloping with Rawdon Crawley (James Purefoy), Matilde’s nephew and heir to the Crawley fortune. For a wedding present, Matilde disowns him (seems she wasn’t as fond of young Becky as she let on), leaving the newly pregnant couple with barely a farthing to their names.

But there’s no time for that now; Napoleon is on the march, and Rawdon and George, both soldiers, are soon sent off to Europe to fight him. George, before disembarking, marries Amelia, which causes his father (Jim Broadbent) to disown him (disinheriting someone was apparently the 19th century English equivalent of taking away the car keys). As if that wasn’t bad enough, George dies at Waterloo, leaving Amelia penniless. Good thing she doesn’t know her late husband tried to get Becky to run off with him, I guess.

Back in London, things quickly reach a boiling point. Mired in debt, Rawdon and Becky’s marriage becomes strained, a fact not helped by the entrance of the Marquess of Steyne (Gabriel Byrne), a benefactor - of sorts - with more than charity on his mind.

There are some good performances in “Vanity Fair.” Witherspoon continues to show her range after stalling a bit with Legally Blonde 2 and Sweet Home Alabama (it’s hard to believe “Freeway’s” Vanessa Lutz is all grown up). Her Becky is canny enough, but lacks some of the venom of her literary forebear. Besides, the best lines are reserved for Atkins, who has the bulk of the film’s laugh out loud moments, and Byrne, whose verbal assault on his wife and daughter-in-law at their dining room table is the stuff of movie legend.

(And if the Academy gave an Oscar for Best Cleavage, “Vanity Fair” would be the odds-on favorite. Guys, if period pieces aren’t your bag and the missus is forcing you to see this, at least you’ll have plenty to look at.)

Pacing is a problem, however. Nair must have reached a point about three-quarters of the way through principal photography when she realized she’d barely shot half the script. From about the 90-minute mark on, "Vanity Fair" seems rushed and disjointed, as major plot points come fast and furious with little narrative exposition, and none of this is helped by the sheer tonnage of melodrama playing out on screen. The hurried fashion in which the movie wraps up and the tacked on “happy ending,” where hope is found anew and all dangling plot threads are wrapped up in a scant ten minutes, transforms “Vanity Fair” from an examination of a woman who will do anything to get what she wants into a below par love story, albeit one with great costumes.

Nair’s use of her homeland as a significant element adds color to the proceedings, but a tacked on scene where Steyne puts Becky in the Indian version of “A Chorus Line” stops the film dead. And one can't help wondering if enjoying the film’s denouement in India isn't somehow insincere, seeing as how we’re inadvertently cheering for the colonial interlopers.

“Vanity Fair” offers a generally clever and well-acted respite from the usual seizure-inducing summer movie fare. It’s by no means a classic, but the dialogue and high caliber of performances mean you’ll get your money’s worth, especially if you’re really into empire waistlines and that infamous English haughtiness.

Slant Magazine [Nick Schager]

 

Slate [David Edelstein]

 

PopMatters  Cynthia Fuchs

 

Film Journal International (Erica Abeel)

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Keith Phipps]

 

DVD Times  Anthony Nield

 

Guardian/Observer

 

James Berardinelli's ReelViews

 

The New Yorker (Anthony Lane)

 

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

 

New York Times (registration req'd)  Stephen Holden

 

THE NAMESAKE                                        B+                   90

India  USA  (122 mi)  2006

 

We all come out of Gogol’s Overcoat.

 

Something of a feel good movie, based on Jhumpa Lahiri's popular novel, the film takes us through a global immersion of mixed cultural messages, most of it saturated in the distinctively Indian musical score by DJ Nitin Sawhney, along with a colorful palette accentuated by the distinguished camerawork of Frederick Elmes, David Lynch’s cameraman on ERASERHEAD, BLUE VELVET, and WILD AT HEART, a man who finds amazing street venues in both Calcutta, India, and New York City, both cities teeming with the rhythms and vitality of life.  The appeal of both locations is necessary in this film, as it’s the story of a family that is rooted to their home (India), as well as their home away from home (America).   What follows is little more than a typical family evolution, newly arrived immigrants feeling dislocated and out of place in a strange new land, their offspring carrying something of an Americanized chip on their shoulders about the “old country,” feeling every bit the selfish entitlement of any new generation, as the focus of the story shifts away from the parents to the younger son after college, but it’s given a sensuous texture awash in acute female observation that makes all the difference in the world, as the director has a keen eye for small details that raises the level of interest simply by the way it’s presented.

 

Opening on a fateful train ride in India where a man is reading Gogol’s short story, The Overcoat, the story follows that young man, Irrfan Khan, into a curiously liberated family arranged marriage to the lovely Bollywood actress Tabu, both emigrating to America where he has a job waiting as a college professor.   The imagery tells all, as the scenes from India are bustling with vibrant street activity contrasted against the young couple’s claustrophobic apartment walls in America, showing them spending their first winter together stuck indoors.  Using beautiful back and forth time sequences as well as a sustained interest in continual visits back home, eventually they have two kids, the older, Gogol, is Kal Penn, while the younger is Nair’s own daughter, Sahira.  While the kids become totally immersed in American culture, represented by their indulgent and carefree lifestyles and slang, the mother retains close ties to the local Bengali community and to her family abroad.  Despite a strong and quietly tender performance by Khan, the film is largely her story, as she’s the least vocal, the one with the fewest choices, yet her strength and resolve are the mainstay of her family.  Linking themes of Motherhood and Mother India, the film lovingly captures her influence, which is to remain behind the scenes, yet have the most profound impact on each one.  Nair tends to fall back upon mainstream narrative devices, as does much of Bollywood, but she intersperses the light commercial touches with attempts at social realism, which can be startlingly effective, such as the use of a few off center revelations, an open display of pot smoking, a mixed racial romance, which really did more than just explore the subject, as the time the son spent with the other family really did have an adverse effect on his mother, who was largely kept out of the picture, and it was one of the most anguishing moments in the film. 

 

Some of the best scenes are communal images, the crowded wedding sequences, a family retreat to Oyster Bay, various family gatherings with friends that feature plenty of food and spirited conversations, and a stunning funeral sequence on the Ganges river.  There’s even a family pilgrimage to the Taj Mahal which is without pretense, that revitalizes Gogol’s interest in architecture, and that is in keeping with the story, while some of the more forced cultural exchanges reveal Gogol’s initial infatuation with an overly pampered WASP princess, Jacinda Barrett, becoming closer to her family than his own, which actually brought a few gasps from the audience when they realized the effect this was having on his own mother.  But these diversionary cultural explorations are treated as exactly that, a temporary phase before coming to their Indian senses, where they’re all one big happy family by the end.  After a few serious emotional setbacks, Gogol finds a nice Bengali girl (Zuleikha Robinson) that his mother would approve of, smart and just a bit sultry, but like him, she’s been immersed in European culture, living previously in Paris and London, which from this film’s perspective seems to suggest “damaged” in some kind of way, leaving them smarter but more alienated, less at peace with themselves or their extended families, leaving them less able to fully grasp what's special about the Indian culture, which is so fully enveloped in people, population, socialization, art, and even transcendence.  Their marriage is consummated in Bollywood song and dance, baring a hint of nakedness that will probably not be shown in India, and despite their best laid plans, apparently you can’t take Paris out of the girl once she’s been there. The film ends, but doesn’t really provide a satisfactory conclusion, as so much has been left unaddressed and unresolved.  But despite the missing pieces, this is an expertly crafted film, filled with loving touches and tender observances, most of which is a joy to behold, as this feels like a sumptuous treat throughout the enjoyable journey.  

 

Rediff [T.P. Sreenivasan]

The pangs of migration, which run through much of Indian-American writing was the theme of the film. And the audience comprised those who could resonate with it by virtue of their own variety of the experience.

A Salman Rushdie-Padma Lakshmi-Mira Nair billing guaranteed the success of the premiere of The Namesake as the opening event of Aroon Shivdasani's sixth Indo-American Arts Council film festival in Manhattan on November 1.

The event was Indian American to the core, with its celebrities thronging the hall and delaying the performance by chatting away much beyond the social hour.

What sets The Namesake apart from the other Indian nostalgia-cum-rebellion movies is the sensitivity with which the writer Jhumpa Lahiri and the director Mira Nair have treated the story.

Tabu, apparently Mira's third choice for the lead role, lifted Ashima, the Bengali bride, who had more than her share of stress and trauma, to the level of a heroine of legendary proportions. The serenity and calm on her face even at the height of emotional drama, speak volumes of her innate strength, which initially prompts her to accept the challenge of a life abroad.

When she is told at the traditional 'bride viewing' about the loneliness of housewives abroad, her response is that, after all, 'he' will be with her and she hardly knew him! She faces adversity stoically and has a life as a singer beyond the dissolution of her family and her husband's death. Her grief is dignified and her acting restrained.

Irrfan Khan as Ashoke Ganguly is the perfect Bengali intellectual, to whom books gave the joy of travel without moving an inch. Nikolai Gogol, the mystic writer from the Ukraine inspired him more than the Bengali masters to the extent that he gives his son the name Gogol, which has a Bengali ring about it.

It is a copy of Gogol's Overcoat that changes his life in more ways than one, but he does not even try to persuade his son not to change his name into Nikhil, an uncanny adaptation of Nikolai. He is an extraordinary liberal father when it comes to his children and there is hardly any clash between father and son on account of their cultural identities.

He clings to his values and culture, but does not resent the customs of others, even a peck on the cheek by his son's girlfriend. He accepts the transition with dignity and even trains his wife for a life without him by moving to another city for a while.

Even the way he faces death, without protesting against his having to wait in line for medical attention makes him an embodiment of pathos. He may be a bit unreal in the context of desi culture in the US, but not exaggerated or artificial. His Bengali pride and sense of history stand out in the film.

Kal Penn is an unusual Indian name, but as Gogol, he is the epitome of the second-generation desi in America. He is tethered to the rock of an Indian upbringing, but he pulls it as far as he can to be part of the culture that he has to live in. He is extremely loyal to his parents, but sees no contradiction in having a family of his own by virtue of a relationship with a white girl. He quickly accepts his mother's suggestion to marry an Indian, but ironically finds that his Indian wife is disloyal.

Gogol's relationship with his mother and father is portrayed in a subtle manner and he becomes the true hero of the movie when he handles his varied roles with equal devotion.

Others in the film, except Jacinda Barrett, Gogol's American girlfriend, are just part of the wide canvas that Mira Nair uses to tell her story. None of them commands individual attention. But all of them merge into the scenery and accentuate different aspects of desi life in America. The slice of desi life that the film presents is authentic.

Jhumpa Lahiri was not at the premiere, but it is her genius that permeates the film. Mira Nair did justice to the novel by her casting, her sympathy for the theme, which, she said, was her own story in a way, and her superb sense of timing. The opening scene in an Indian train and the accident that follows bring in the change in the Ganguly family with a bang.

The film is likely to lose a couple of its explicit sex scenes when it opens in India. But the scenes are integral to the movie and the first scene of Ashoke and Ashima in bed with all their clothes on contrasts with the prompt shedding of clothes by Gogol's Indian girlfriend. Migration, it is clear, changes even the way people make love.

Indian Americans love to delve deep into their own lives and they lap up all the desi literature and movies about themselves. But they are very discriminating in their taste. The Bombay Dreams musical, which did well in London, flopped in New York because of the exacting standards of the Indians in New York.

Many tearjerker tales of desi nostalgia have disappeared without a trace. But The Namesake is sure to be received well when it is commercially released early next year. The celebrity audience on November 1 has already passed the verdict: "Excellent!"

T P Sreenivasan, who recently retired from the Indian Foreign Service, was India's ambassador to the United Nations, Vienna, and governor for India, International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna.

PopMatters   Cynthia Fuchs

The Namesake begins at Calcutta’s Howrah train station. Crowded, raucous, and large, the place is full of travelers going in different directions, mothers and fathers, sons and sisters, imagining themselves into unknowable futures. Inside a train car, a mother fans her child, a thin arm dangles from a bunk, and the camera picks up a young man, Ashoke Ganguli (Irrfan Khan), his head buried in a book, Gogol’s The Overcoat. An older man encourages him to “see” the world: “You’ll never regret it.” Ashoke smiles, “My grandfather said that’s what books are for, to travel without moving an inch.” Quiet and respectful, their exchange lasts only a minute or two. And then the train crashes.

In this moment, amid wreckage and noise and moaning survivors, The Namesake begins again. Ashoke next appears in bed, his face bruised nearly beyond recognition, his leg in a cast. Though the movie doesn’t specify the process of his coming decisions, this briefly held image intimates his thinking. He will see the world, he will move. In fact, he moves to New York City, with a PhD in fiber optics, and becomes a university professor. Still, he reveres his family and traditions, and in the film’s third sequence, he selects an Indian wife to accompany him back to America.

Or, you could say, she selects him. Ashima (Tabu) makes her first appearance as she scurries to meet Ashoke at her parents’ home. The year is 1977, the marriage is arranged, and their first encounter is perfect. Just before she walks into the room where they wait, she peeks inside, then looks down at the shoes left outside the door. She pauses, removes her own embroidered slippers, and slides her bare feet into Ashoke’s stylish American shoes, trying out the fit.  The meeting that follows is charming in a gentle, pleasant way—she recites Wordsworth ("I wandered lonely as a cloud"), Ashoke shyly smiles—but throughout, the lovely moment of the shoes lingers in your mind’s eye, an indication of their now unknowable future.

Adapted from Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel by Sooni Taraporevala, Mira Nair’s movie is laced through with such details—of color, gesture, and understanding—moments at once metaphorical and explicit, revealing complex subjective states. Attentive to surfaces as well as nuances, The Namesake is about legacies and responsibilities, ambitions and dislocations. It is also about searches for homes and origins, as these lead not back to where you’ve come from, but instead to unexpected places.

Ashoke and Ashima’s travels take them to one another and beyond. In the movie, their roles and discoveries are extended from those in the novel, such that they lead not only to their son Gogol, the novel’s protagonist, but also to one another. Thus the film offers three protagonists, their experiences intertwined, embarking on journeys back and forth in time and between New York and Calcutta. During the first weeks of their marriage, as Ashima adjusts to life in Ashoke’s one-bedroom apartment in Yonkers, they recognize in one another desires to see the world, to taste, feel, and share it with one another.

Their initial realization is provoked when Ashima, in an effort to be a good wife, takes Ashoke’s clothes to the laundromat, shrinking his favorite sweater to child’s size. His upset soon becomes empathy, as she locks herself in the bathroom, the full weight of their separate choices to move to America with a stranger suddenly clear. As she cracks the door, they see one another anew.

Their mutual commitment expands with the birth of Gogol, whose name is a function of the slippage between old and new that informs the Gangulis’ lives. Waiting to receive a “good name” (a public name) from Ashima’s grandmother back in India, they give the infant a private, familial name, after Ashoke’s favorite writer. The boy’s own relationship to the name adjusts over time, as does his relationship to his background. Raised in the States, he and his younger sister Sonia (Sahira Nair) imagine themselves Americans, eager to slough off the backwards old world. He embraces the name’s oddity as a four-year-old (played by Soham Chatterjee), as Ashima notes, “In this country, the children decide.” But a rock-music-loving teenager (played by Kal Penn), Gogol wonders at his parents’ selection. Listing the facts he’s recently discovered—Gogol was a hypochondriac and starved himself to death—he asks, “Did you guys know all this stuff about him when you decided to name me after him?” Ashima’s response is oblique but to the point of their evolving generational and cultural divide: “Don’t call us ‘guys’! Sometimes when I close my eyes, I feel like I’ve given birth to strangers!”

It’s a funny and surprising little explosion, especially as Ashima quite embodies patience throughout the film. But it speaks to the incongruities all the Gangulis come to feel at some point or another, in relation to each other and their various settings. A trip to India occasions still other changes. While Ashoke and Ashima look back, briefly (he wonders why she agreed to marry him back in 1974), Gogol seeks his own ground. Rejecting a ride in a rickshaw ("It’s feudal, it’s exploitative"), he discovers a calling when they see the Taj Mahal. “I want to major in architecture,” he announces, “It’s got everything.”

As the family travels from New York to Calcutta and back again, they pass by Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio’s “Travelogues” installation at JFK Airport’s international terminal. Holographic images transform depending on passersby’s positions, such that dark-skinned figures become light and vice versa. Identities are fluid and location affects perspective slides easily into the film’s interests in individuals’ mutating self-understandings over time and places. Their arrival home again, now the burbs, brings to bear the other side of living in the U.S., when they find graffiti on their mailbox. Gogol fumes that he’ll exact revenge on the “racist punk” responsible, but he soon finds other ways to define himself anew.

The fact that his major decisions along this route are embodied by girls he loves—the exceedingly pale and rich Maxine (Jacinda Barrett), a fellow student at Yale, and the “exotic” world traveler and fellow Bengali Moushumi (Zuleikha Robinson)—is vaguely tiresome. They’re less characters than elaborations on Gogol’s fleeting desires. Still, the film’s more consistent focus, on Gogol’s relationships with his parents, is increasingly rewarding, as their pasts and presents come together in a kind of collage—much like the colorful cutout cards Ashima pastes together at Christmas, their experiences don’t so much blend as they intersect.

Though Gogol imagines himself to be sophisticated, enlightened, and “American,” he’s also drawn back repeatedly to his family, and more specifically, to the traditions they revere. Rendered in visual impressions rather than plotty assertions, these complex relationships are affecting and unforgettable: during a phone call to Ashima, Ashoke presses his hand against the phone booth’s glass, his flesh paled by the pressure; visiting his father’s temporary apartment (during a semester when he’s teaching at another college), Gogol slips his feet into Ashoke’s shoes, much as his mother did so many years before, a gesture of intimacy and longing. Such moving details make The Namesake both exquisite and expansive.

Film Journal International (David Noh)

 

Mira Nair's compelling family unit of The Namesake makes this her best film to date. Adapting Jhumpa Lahiri's novel, she tells the story of Indian immigrants Ashima (Tabu) and Ashoke (Irrfan Khan) who emigrate from India to New York and bring up their children, Sonia (Sahira Nair) and Gogol (Kal Penn). The latter has been named after the famously depressed and depressing Russian writer, which proves a source of contention, as well as inspiration, throughout his entire life.

Few film directors have captured the real immigrant experience with the uncanny empathy which Nair has here. It's refreshing to see such a tale, less wrapped up with economic survival than it is with the emotional. There are no cutes-y immigrant jokes about assimilation or funny accents: This family is, like so many, just as well-heeled--if not more--and sophisticated as any upscale American clan. Scenes of Gogol's encounters in a posh white world, whether at his architecture firm or with his blonde, culturally challenged girlfriend, Maxine, and her family and friends, have a fresh authenticity that will click in audience minds.

The film feverishly cuts back and forth between New York and India, aptly depicting the heady schizophrenia of immigrants torn between two homes. Aided by Frederick Elmes' lusciously sensitive cinematography, Nair's movie is alive to things seen and experienced for the first time by the newly arrived, be it the frozen twig Ashima notices from her first shabby Queens apartment window to the Taj Mahal itself, which her children gaze at in wonder. And just as perceptive is Nair's way with her actors, who deliver a gallery of unforgettably affecting performances.

One hopes, by the time Oscar nominations are announced next year, that Tabu's magnificent portrayal will not be forgotten. Her range is spellbinding here, going from the exquisite, painted young bride who, in her New World innocence, tearfully shrinks her husband's entire wardrobe at the laundromat, to a traditionally possessive mother ensconced in her elegant Westchester pile, and finally, the heartbreakingly dignified widow who realizes the need to let go of what she loves most. Khan has the less showy role, but he impresses mightily nevertheless, with his nobility of spirit and quiet intelligence. Penn goes way beyond the facile comedy roles he's seemed trapped in and is utterly convincing, whether playing the callous young yuppie, too busy with Maxine (an amusing, affecting Jacinda Barrett) to be with family, or the maturing soul who finally realizes the depth of blood connections. As Moushumi, the Bengali girl considered the perfect wife for him, Zuleikha Robinson conveys potent sensuality and smarts, as Elmes' camera worships the beauty of the line of her throat on a first date.

The Namesake is also graced with one of the best music scores heard in years, by Nitin Sawhney. It's a pungent masala of modern raga, urban hiphop and a lovely, surprising--and obligatory--Bollywood musical moment on Gogol's wedding night.

 

Salon.com [Stephanie Zacharek]

You wouldn't envy any filmmaker entrusted with the task of adapting a novel as delicate as "The Namesake." In Jhumpa Lahiri's book, which opens in the late '60s, a young Bengali couple, Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli, move to Cambridge, Mass., to start a new life and a family. When their son is born, they don't have a name for him -- the name is to be chosen by Ashima's elderly grandmother in India, and the letter has somehow gone astray -- and so, spontaneously, they decide to call him Gogol, a name that has special significance for Ashoke, enamored as he is of the great Russian writers. Gogol will be his pet name, the one used at home by his family; Ashoke and Ashima will know his "good" name -- the name by which he'll be known in the outside world -- when that letter finally arrives.

But it never does, and so Gogol keeps his makeshift name, one that begins to bother him as he reaches adolescence: It represents all his conflicted feelings about who he is and where he's come from.

All of memory, and all of life, is made up of mundane details, and the novelist's job -- as well as the filmmaker's -- is to sift through and find just the right ones. In her adaptation of "The Namesake," Mira Nair hits it right at least half the time. In places, the movie feels aimless and misshapen; it doesn't have the gentle but focused energy of Lahiri's book. And sometimes Nair goes overboard in heightening the cultural contrasts -- the inevitable incongruities between East and West -- that Lahiri navigates so subtly.

Even so, Nair (whose previous movie was the 2004 "Vanity Fair") manages to infuse the movie with not-too-cloying sweetness, perhaps partly because she knows when to back off and allow her two older actors -- Irrfan Khan, as Ashoke, and the Bollywood star Tabu, who plays Ashima -- to carry the movie. Their scenes together (and luckily they have many of them) are so lovely, and so deeply believable, that the movie's other flaws momentarily melt away.

The movie version of "The Namesake" -- the script is by Sooni Taraporevala -- opens in India, first with a flashback, and then with the arrangement of Ashima and Ashoke's marriage: Ashoke and his family have been invited to Ashima's house, where the prospective bride and groom will meet for the first time. Before Ashima, a nicely mannered young girl with an interest in singing, even meets Ashoke, she sees his shoes in the hallway -- they're two-tone wingtips unlike anything she's seen before. The label inside these exotic oxfords reads (a bit too clearly, given that the shoes are so worn) "Made in U.S.A." She impulsively slips her feet into them, as if trying a new life on for size, a detail drawn straight from Lahiri's book.

Nair has moved the story's early setting from 1960s Cambridge to 1980s New York, specifically Queens, and we see Ashoke -- a bespectacled professor who must have looked middle-aged even as a teenager -- explaining the intricacies of a subway map to his timid and bewildered wife, or offering to make her a cup of tea. Ashoke and Ashima eventually have two children, Gogol and Sonia (from adolescence to adulthood, they're played by Kal Penn and Sahira Nair), who grow up to be so-called typical American kids, even as their parents unthinkingly cling to many of the old ways: We see Gogol and Sonia plopping down to eat at the family's kitchen table, with knife and fork, while Ashoke still scoops up rice with his fingers.

Gogol doesn't exactly reject his family, but he gradually distances himself, becoming engrossed in the new life he's found with his sophisticated, upper-class American girlfriend, Maxine (Jacinda Barrett). Gogol's confusion and frustration are the cornerstone of Lahiri's book -- and the focus of Nair's movie, too: The problem is that Penn isn't, at least not yet, a graceful enough actor to carry so much dramatic weight. Penn is wonderful in the picture he's best known for, the 2004 "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" (a pleasurable stoner comedy that speaks volumes about race in America, specifically for what it doesn't say). Penn is an extremely likable actor, but he clamps down on the character of Gogol a bit too hard; Gogol's internal conflicts come out a little too aggressively in Penn's line readings and not enough in his gestures, his expression. This is a performance that's almost there, but not quite.

It also suffers in comparison with those of Khan and, especially, Tabu. Nair's approach is sometimes too heavy-handed in "The Namesake": For example, she has Maxine show up at an Indian memorial service in a dressy black tank top, while everyone else is covered up with sleeves and saris. Clueless as Americans can be, a character like Maxine would certainly know that you don't wear a tank top, even a nice one, to a funeral, but Nair seems to have added this detail to enhance the distinction between Maxine's world and Gogol's, and the extra hammering isn't necessary.

But Nair clearly feels at ease with Tabu and Khan. Their scenes are the ones that breathe most naturally; their grace feels unforced and unrehearsed. Nair shows us the newlywed couple in bed together, modestly clothed, and suggests, without overstatement, that the tentativeness with which they respond to each other's touch has more to do with passion than with restraint. In a later scene, Ashima teases Ashoke when he offers a thinly veiled expression of his love for her. She asks him, flirtatiously, if he wants her to say in response "I love you," as American couples do.

Khan plays Ashoke not as a bumbler but as a shy, thoughtful person who takes satisfaction and pleasure in having built a good life for himself and his family; Khan gets subtleties like that across with just a glance, or a small half-smile. And Tabu -- a great beauty with deeply expressive eyes and a smile capable of betraying a little sadness in the corners -- plays Ashima as a woman who's frustrated and slightly heartbroken by her wayward son's indifference. Yet her children aren't everything to her. The movie version of "The Namesake" -- like the book it's based on -- isn't just about the bond between parents and children, but about that between husbands and wives. Ashima and Ashoke barely touch in "The Namesake." But their romance -- one that, like real-life romance, includes all kinds of suffering, joy and petty annoyances -- ends up being both the backbone and the heart of the movie.

Reel.com [Tim Knight]

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Keith Phipps]

 

The Village Voice [Ella Taylor]

 

Slate (Dana Stevens)

 

James Berardinelli's ReelViews

 

Chicago Tribune [Michael Wilmington]

 

New York Times (registration req'd)  Stephen Holden

 

Nair, Murali

 

A DOG’S DAY                                              B                     86

India  (74 mi)  2001                                                      
 

Terrific, tongue-in-cheek humor, a kind of mock documentary about the perils of democracy, told in a kind of “King Lear”  style set in this tiny riverside village, where the village Lord decides to honor his noble servant by bestowing upon him a medal and giving him a dog, from which the villager’s lives are forever haunted, as the dog kills a duck, bites a young boy, and is rumored to be carrying rabies just to wreak havoc on the villagers by the Lord, who has freed them from his imperial servitude.  The deadpan humor of the hair salon and the Lord’s elders could be out of a Monty Python skit, and it is only after a meeting on the plains where the villagers return the dog to the Lord that any peace prevails.  The film features non-professional actors, local folk music, and brightly colored costumes, the camera captures wonderful portrait images, there’s very little dialogue, and the film meanders at a languorous pace, clocking in at 74 minutes, produced by flying elephant films.

 

Nakache, Olivier and Eric Toledano

 

LET’S BE FRIENDS                                   C                     72

France  (100 mi)  2005
 

A film that treads no new ground, it’s a light breezy comedy that mixes silly, ridiculous humor with the serious difficulty people have relating to others, especially when they’re single and lonely.  Using Vegas-like jazzed up music that could just as easily be Tom Jones or Robert Goulet, where it’s actually the style of music played at weddings, Gérard Depardieu latches onto the shyest guy at a wedding, sour-faced and insecure Jean-Paul Rouve, and turns this into a buddy movie that resembles the zany antics of a road movie, or Felix and Oscar in THE ODD COUPLE, as the two of them move from one misadventure to another, clinging to each other for support, even joining a singles club that works on improving their self-esteem while charging them exorbitant fees on their credit cards.  Depardieu is an expert at crashing wedding parties, thinking that’s the easiest way to meet girls, but the two of them are soon taking their chances at speed dating, speaking to seven different girls in seven minutes.  Rouve is obviously the more sensitive and tender of the two, used to being responsible, taking care of his humorously forgetful mother, Annie Girardot, even providing better fatherly care and concern for Depardieu’s children, while Depardieu disguises all his problems with an air of confidence, but is still hurting from a marriage that doesn’t work leaving him separated for two years.  They go back and forth arguing with one another, getting into more and more mischief, and eventually make no more progress than where they were at the start of the film, except now, they have a better understanding of one another.  But this is a film about getting rejected with the line “Let’s be friends,” and trying to rebound the next day and try it all over again.  While it has some laughs, it was largely due to how ridiculous the situations are, particularly musically, as this kind of music has been out of date in films now since the 50’s.  

Nakamura, Eric and Michael Idemoto

SUNSETS                                                    B+                   92

USA  (98 mi)  1997

A disturbing, Jim Jarmusch-style social documentary about alienated youth in Watsonville, California, filmed in grainy Black and White, featuring an overwhelmingly real performance by a character Gary, Josh Brand, a Neal Cassidy-style temperamental redneck hothead who goes in and out of prison and just lights up the screen.  Dave, a low key Latino, works in a comic book store, while Mark, an Asian-American teen (film director Michael), is quietly planning to attend college in the fall.  Together they drink beer, cruise, vandalize and steal, for lack of anything better to do, all the while discussing issues of life and mortality, revealing how race and class differences have already determined where each of these men will end up.  This is a summer of Beat heaven which is marred somewhat by a rather amateurish intro and ending in a diary-style narration, but images of this film, particularly Gary, are indelible.

Nakashima, Tetsuya
 
MEMORIES OF MATSUKO

Japan  (130 mi)  2006

 

Memories Of Matsuko (9.5)   Luna6 from Lunapark6

Sho, a young teenager that lives by himself in Tokyo, receives a surprise visit from his father. His father is carrying a white box, the he explains to his son, contains the ashes of his Aunt Matsuko. She was recently found murdered by a river in Akawara. His father explains that Aunt Matsuko lived alone and because he has to go back to his hometown, asks Sho to go to his aunts’ former apartment and clean up any mess that may be left behind.

Once Sho, arrives at his Aunt’s apartment, he discovers that she lived in a filthy old apartment, full of trash bags filled with junk that she has had collected over the years. Sho does not remember ever meeting Matsuko, nor does he know of anything about her past. As he goes through her belongings and speaks with some of her neighbors, he gradually pieces together her life which was filled with tragedy and heartbreak.

From the very beginning of the film, Memories of Matsuko had me floored with a mix of admiration, melancholy, and laughter. I have seen the director Tetsuya Nakashima’s prior film Kamikaze Girls, so I was prepared for some stylish & visually arresting camera work. What I wasn’t prepared for was an epic story, told through flashbacks, in which the audience experiences a technicolor like 1950’s musical (think Bob Fosse) interspersed with a truly heart breaking story that would make Billie Holiday’s life seem like a walk in the park. Although Kamikaze Girls had its moments, Memories of Matsuko is just leaps and bounds superior to that film and for that matter, just about every other film that I have seen.

One of the strongest aspects about the film would be the story of Matsuko’s life told through those amazing flashbacks. Once Sho arrives at Matsuko’s former apartment, we quickly learn about Matsuko’s past and what a tragic past she had! The first flashback scene shows her as a popular high school music teacher. She is summoned to a meeting because of a reported theft that occurred at a local inn. The principle believes that the theft was perpetrated by one of Matsuko’s students. She is told to confront her student, named Ryu, and find out whether he really stole the money. This is where the tragedy starts to begin. The student refuses to admit to the theft and Matsuko attempts the solve the problem herself. She takes money from Ryu’s room and goes to the inn keeper to pay him back. When the inn keeper asks to see Ryu for a personal apology, Matsuko makes the unfortunate decision to take the blame for the theft. Soon, her career as a teacher is ruined and eventually she gets disowned by her family. Through another flashback, we learn that Matsuko had a chronically ill younger sister who always seemed to have been favored by her father. Since those early days, Matsuko has always sought after men that would give her the unconditional love that her father failed to give to her e.g., the desire to please for affection (trying to solve the theft dilemma with her student). Tragically, just about every man she got involved with turned out to be extremely cruel and abusive towards her.

Beyond the stellar script and the creative camerawork in Memories of Matsuko, you also have an ensemble cast of actors that ranged from very good to amazing. Most noteworthy would be Miki Nakatani, playing the main character of Matsuko. The range of emotions she had to display during the movie pretty much encompassed every single human emotion possible. Interestingly enough, Kou Shibasaki (Battle Royale/Crying Out Love In The Center Of The World) plays a small role in this film as Sho’s girlfriend. The resemblance between Miki Nakatani and Kou Shibasaki are so strong, that at a certain points in the film, I thought we would discover that Matsuko had a daughter and that daughter would turn out to be Sho’s girlfriend! Another standout actor in the movie would have been Eita, who played Sho. Although his character did not require the level of difficulty as Matsuko’s character, his role as the storyteller and calming influence after some of the more difficult to watch flashback sequences were appreciated. Another thing I can say about Eita, is that he gets to play in some seriously great films (Summer Time Machine Blues, Sukida, Hanging Garden, Waterboys, Azumi and now Memories Of Matsuko)!

Memories of Matsuko is like a very dark fairy tale wrapped around technicolor art and a soundtrack to drool over. From the beginning to end you will likely be inundated with these different emotions that comes at you in waves. I did find that during the ending - I had to take a break from the film. The emotions were just getting a little too heavy if you catch my drift (*sniff* *sniff*). Check this one out - what an amazing film!

Nakata, Hideo

 

Hideo Nakata: Director of dread - CNN.com     March 11, 2008

(CNN) -- Japanese writer and director Hideo Nakata has been hailed as the modern master of macabre.

His 1998 film "Ringu" -- adapted from a novel by Suzuki Koji, the Japanese Steven King -- redefined the horror genre, propelled Nakata into the international spotlight and soon had Hollywood calling.

Born in Okayama, Japan, in 1961, Nakata enrolled at the University of Tokyo to study journalism.

On graduating he went on to work in Japan's Nikkatsu Studios, the same place where renowned director Akira Kurosawa started out. He didn't' start out aiming to make horror films, but it was Nikkatsu Studios that Nakata met Hiroshi Takahashi, the screenplay writer for "Ringu."

An international hit, "Ringu" centers on a cursed videotape that kills whoever watches it.

It appeared in cinemas at the same time mainstream western horror films were churning out gruesome violence as the means to get audiences hiding behind their popcorn.

Nakata's artfully directed and terrifying film was a nether-world away from these schlock horror and slasher flicks, instead utilizing suspense and a pervading sense of dread.

Western audiences expecting to watch good-looking teenagers getting chopped up in a blizzard of gore were treated to something much creepier.

For Hollywood producers, Nakata has been a gold-mine of remake material. If dread is the word that has become synonymous with Nakata's work, there was a great sense of it among many of Nakata's fans when it was announced that there would be a Hollywood remake of "Ringu," starring Naomi Watts.

Despite fans claiming that the terror of the original was lost in translation, Nakata himself was given the opportunity to direct the Hollywood sequel, "The Ring 2," in 2005.

The series' success has spawned a third installment, due to be released in 2009 that Nakata will also be directing.

Shunning computer generated monsters or gallons of fake-blood and guts, "Ringu" and other Nakata films including "Dark Water," which was also remade by Hollywood in 2005, use glimpses of mysterious abstract images -- a reflection in a TV screen, an unsettling, spreading damp patch of water -- to ratchet up the terror.

Fans and critics have compared the chilling atmosphere of his films with that of Roman Polanski's work, in "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Tenant."

Nakata then has been credited with turning on a whole new audience to Asian horror films with an altogether more subtle approach to scaring the wits out of people.

Hideo Nakata   Norman England at Fangoria from Horror Directors

While majoring in applied physics at Japan's top ranked Tokyo University, Nakata attended a seminar on cinema given by a professor who was also a renowned film critic. Influenced by this, Nakata switched his major to liberal arts and began watching movies feverishly. Upon graduating he landed a job at Nikkatsu Studios as an assistant director, and spent the next 7 years working on dozens of productions for a variety of filmmakers, including Kumashiro Tatsumi and Kudo Elichi.

Eventually Nakata began directing a documentary. However money was tight and he didn't have enough to complete the project. Badly in need of money he wrote several synopses for horror films and submitted them to Takenori Sento (who would later produce RING). One of them was GHOST ACTRESS, and it became his first feature. Unfortunately the film was an utter failure, but after it came out on video, it started to get good word of mouth.

One of those who watched the movie was RING author Koji Suzuki. A best selling book, RING had already been adapted as a TV movie, and its publisher was looking to turn it into a motion picture. Nakata and scriptwriter Hiroshi Takahashi were asked to take the job and between them decided to strip the story down to its basics and present it with constant forward motion. Through meticulous attention to its structure, Nakata sought to create a film that unsettled viewers, rather than one utilizing traditional shock tactics and startle effects. Perhaps the best example of of Nakata's method can be seen in his creation of the "revenge' video of the story's ghostly antagonist, Sadako. The mainstay of the narrative, this tape leaves its viewers dead of fright a week after viewing. Nakata knew this element was key to the film's success and had to be truly disturbing.

"The video was a major part of the RING production" Nakata explains. "In the book, it runs about 20 minutes and has a concrete story. I decided that it should not describe anything in solid terms, as it would play several times in the film. I felt that if it were too explanatory, it would become boring after repeated viewings. Only eight shots long, it took two days to shoot. I then spent 24 hours editing and processing it using computer effects. The sound was important, and I underlaid several unsettling noises that added to the visuals. The video in itself is not scary, but it's unnerving and leaves the audience feeling anxious"

Nakata confesses that he considers himself not a horror director, but a celluloid craftsman who believes that the careful assembly of scenes can make viewers experience a wide variety of emotions. "As a professional filmmaker, I look at it as a challenge to describe on film whatever feeling the story demands. To me, describing love, laughs or screams are not much different. By playing with expectations, I found I can create a multitude of base feelings - in the case of RING, total fear."

When queried on the state of modern horror, Nakata is quick to reply. "Horror as a form has changed greatly over the past 20 years. I don't believe that blood, ugly creatures or scary monsters work any longer. The reason is that young people have become accustomed to not only overstimulated movies, but to true terror as well. In Japan we have a rising tide of children killing parents, parents killing children, as well as killer cults. As a result, if I create a monster for a film, even if it is effective, young people will see it in relation to this true terror and respond with laughter. Horror in the future should address not specifics, but concern itself more with the construction of the terror of the environment and a horrific atmosphere.

Hideo Nakata > Overview - AllMovie     bio from Jason Buchanan

 

Hideo Nakata Filmography    Fandango 

 

Hideo Nakata - TIME   Richard Corliss from Time magazine, April 26, 2004

 

Hideo Nakata heads into 'Chatroom' - Entertainment News, Film News ...    Patrick Frater from Variety, November 4, 2008

 

Hideo Nakata - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 

 

The "Ring" Master: Interview With Hideo Nakata   Interview by Donato Totaro from Offscreen, July 21, 2000

 

The Ring Two Interview with director Hideo Nakata    on YouTube from Spike, January 20, 2005 (4:52)

 

Quint interviews original RINGU and current RING TWO director ...    Ain’t It Cool News, January 25, 2005

 

Hideo Nakata Interview    Martyn Palmer interviews Hideo Nakata – Ring 2, from Made in Atlantis (2005) 

 

Q&A with Hideo Nakata - News - Film - Time Out London   Interview by Chris Tilly, April 1, 2005

 

Hideo Nakata - Japanese Horror Films    Interview by Kateigaho International Edition, Winter 2005

 

'Ring' director's spooky tales | The Japan Times Online   Jasion Gray interview, August 3, 2007

 

Twitch - Hideo Nakata Talks FOREIGN FILMMAKERS' GUIDE TO HOLLYWOOD ...    Jason Gray interview, April 1, 2009 

 

GHOST ACTRESS (Joyû-rei)

aka:  Don’t Look Up

Japan  (75 mi)  1996

User comments  from imdb Author: cecil2

This film is great at putting ideas into the viewer's subconscious. The whole simple idea of the story is great, by having the characters shoot a film such that the viewer almost feels like they are separated from the characters and in tune with the supernatural. Since you are watching people making a movie investigating another movie, it brings you into the action, as if the same things could happen to you. The blandness of some scenes on the surface is really fun when contrasted against the supernatural events that happen later. An example is a line where the director tells the actress not to "look down" when saying her lines, when she really shouldn't be "looking up" later when she encounters the ghost. One of the most interesting things about this movie is that you wouldn't even think this was a ghost story in some scenes until you realize the context it is in. Definitely this is one of the best ghost detective stories, it has an almost meditative nature and makes the movie more scary. The over the shoulder scenes of the ghost are very scary, partly because the movie often shows people filming from the opposite angle, so you are actually watching them film, scenes in which you could become the ghost. By concentrating on the existence of the ghost, the whole movie becomes more scary.

 Flipside Movie Emporium (Jim Harper) review [C]

Two years before the release of Ringu, Hideo Nakata directed Ghost Actress (Joyû-rei), his first full-length film. Although it wasn't a commercial success, Ghost Actress attracted the attention of writer Koji Suzuki, who asked Nakata to direct a theatrical version of best-selling novel Ringu. Since then, the film has sold well in Japan and has been picked up by U.S. company Dark Horizons for an English-language remake.

First-time director Murai (Yûrei Yanagi) is trying to complete his debut film, but the shoot keeps being interrupted or impeded by a series of strange events. Scenes from an unreleased (and presumed destroyed) drama from 1971 keep getting mixed up with his negatives; his actresses see a shadowy figure looking down upon them. Predictably it's not long before people start to die. Clearly some supernatural agency is at work, but Murai has only three days left to find out what is going on and finish the shoot.

As with Nakata's later films, Ghost Actress concentrates heavily on atmosphere. If you've seen Ringu and Dark Water (Honogurai mizo no soko kara, 2002), you'll be familiar with the main technique used to establish this mood: glimpses of a ghostly figure, out-of-focus and often partially hidden behind characters in the foreground. Unfortunately, Nakata allows the ghost's early appearances to last far too long, instead of using brief flashes that make the viewer wonder what exactly they've just seen. Nakata himself has stated that his main mistake was to reveal the ghost too early and too completely, and it's hard to disagree.

The film's second major flaw is the absence of a satisfactory climax. While both Ringu and Dark Water built up inexorably to a high-tension finale, Ghost Actress has a brief, almost cursory climax. There is no momentum, no build to a final, devastating scene. Given that the film is barely 75 minutes in length, Nakata could have extended it by another half-an-hour without stretching the patience of the audience. In keeping with Dark Water, however, Ghost Actress does boast an enigmatic epilogue that seems less than completely necessary.

Leaving the flaws aside, Ghost Actress is well-made film that shows definite signs of Nakata's latent ability. The use of the film-within-a-film motif works well, with the disturbing nature of the secondary story -- a woman murders one of her friends and then takes her place, bringing up her victim's young child -- reinforcing the main story's unsettling atmosphere. Certain scenes are shown during rehearsal and again in the finished form, with lines from the script assuming new significance in the light of events in the studio. The cast is competent and professional, including several well-known actors. Yûrei Yanaga appeared in Ringu and Ringu 2 (1999), as well as the original V-cinema (direct-to-video) Ju-on (2000). Veteran Ren Osugi is well-known figure on the Japanese exploitation scene, having worked with Takashi Miike, Takeshi Kitano, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and Toshiharu Ikeda, to name just a few.

For the most part, Ghost Actress is exactly what you'd expect it to be -- a less well-developed but still promising precursor to Ringu. To criticize the director for not being as good in 1996 as he would be later is childish however; Ghost Actress is still an enjoyable experience for anyone who appreciates a ghost story with a couple of cheap shocks thrown in.

Black Hole DVD Reviews

 

Killer Movie Reviews (Andrea Chase) review [3/5]

 

EvilDread.com

 

RINGU

aka:  The Ring

Japan  (96 mi)  1998

 

Cinema Autopsy (Thomas Caldwell) review [4.5/5]

While there have been many slasher and monster films that shock us with excessive gore, few recent horror films actually create that overwhelming sense of terror that stays with us long after the film has finished. Japanese director Hideo Nakata’s Ring is a rare exception, making it one of the most frightening films since The Shining.

While investigating the sudden death of a group of students, reporter Nanako Matsushima (Reiko Asakawa) discovers a cursed videocassette. Watching the video, she then receives a phone call telling her she will die in exactly a week. After having discovered that this is also how the students had died, Nanako reluctantly enlists the help of her ex-husband to track down the source of the tape.

Rather than resorting to sudden surprises or gruesome effects, Ring slowly builds in tension and dread by not only exploiting our fear of the unknown, but by exploiting the terror of everyday things taking on unfamiliar meanings. The steady camera work, restrained performances, long silences and macabre sound design all combine to generate the nightmarish sensation of an uneasiness that cannot be explained, only experienced.

Refreshingly free of social metaphor or self-parody Ring is proudly content to simply be an incredibly scary film.

Midnight Eye - japan_cult_cinema review  Jasper Sharp

As a rule of thumb, Japanese horrors have traditionally either been grounded in folklore and legend in ghost stories such as Masaki Kobayashi's portmanteau of Lafcadio Hearn short stories, Kwaidan (Kaidan, 1964) or Satsuo Yamamoto's The Bride From Hell (Kaidan Botandoro, 1968), or merely oriental riffs on transplanted Western gothic staples, such as Lake of Dracula (Chi O Suu Me, 1971 - Michio Yamamoto) or The Ghost of the Hunchback (Kaidan Semushi Otoko, 1965 - Hajime Sato).

Ring takes a leaf from the sanitised teen-pitched US genre revival spearheaded by Wes Craven's Scream cycle in locating its story in a contemporary setting, but adopts a considerably more sombre and narrative-driven approach to the material, marrying the urban mythological basis of The Blair Witch Project (1999) with the vengeful ghost scenario so rooted in the Japanese chiller.

Adapted from the popular novel written by Koji Suzuki, Nakata's high-concept popcorn movie was a box-office smash when released on a double bill with Joji Iida's Spiral (Rasen, 1998, another Suzuki adaptation) in February of 1998, rapidly becoming the top grossing horror of all time at the domestic box office and setting in motion a torrent of terrors that included Shikoku and Tomie.

The story centres around a video, which once seen causes the viewer to die mysteriously within the space of a week. An investigation into the deaths of two teenage girls by TV journalist Reiko (Matsushima) and her ex-husband Ryuji (Sanada, the former 70s action hero and a frequent collaborator with Sonny Chiba) unearths the malefactor, the vindictive ghost of Sadako Yamamura, a child psychic pitched down a well thirty years prior now manifesting herself through means of the aforementioned videotape. To say any more would reveal far too much of a script that leads Reiko through a succession of different locales to the heart of the mystery.

With nothing in the way of gore or nudity and an unobtrusively even editing style, Ring evokes the innate uncanniness of its central premise over the short, sharp shocks one usually associates with modern horrors, and sports some incredibly effective moments, all laid down to an electronic soundtrack of onomatopoeic groans and whirs. You can feel the goosebumps during Sadako's manifestation through the cathode ray tube. Given the sheer artificiality of the film's central concept, not to mention the odd hole in the convoluted and occasionally lackadaisical plotting, it's all down to Nakata's subtle handling of such impressive set pieces that the film works as well as it does.

A sweeping success across Asia and later critically well received upon its European release, Nakata was back to direct the inevitable Ring 2 , released the following year. Neatly picking up from where the first film finished off and adopting pretty much the same formula and approach, the sequel does a pretty good job of continuing the story in an inventive enough fashion. Though neither markedly better or worse than the original, it added little new to the proceedings, and Nakata sensibly stepped aside from the franchise to helm the love story Sleeping Bride (Garasu No Nô). After a spin-off TV series (Ring: Saishusho), Norio Tsuruta took the helm of Ring Ø: Birthday (2000), but by this time the formula was getting decidedly stale.

Ring's remake rights were rapidly snapped up by Dream Works in the US, though at the time of writing, this adaptation has yet to be seen by the general public, going on release on October 18th 2002. Judging by the pre-release trailer, the approach used by director Gore (The Mexican) Verbinski is a marked contrast to the austere restraint of Nakata's original, though advance reports have been positive. No doubt comparisons between the two will prove a futile exercise. Unlike viewers in Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, France, Denmark, Germany, the UK and a host of other territories, Dream Works optioning of the remake rights means that the original was never released in the US, meaning audiences there will be unable to decide which approach is the more effective.

The Ring's producer Roy Lee has apparently already acquired the remake rights for a whole host of "unknown" hits from a number of Asian countries, including a couple of Korean films and several more of Nakata's films, the disorienting kidnap thriller, Chaos (2000), with Benicio Del Toro slated to star, and the recent Dark Waters (2002). Either unable or unwilling to compete against Hollywood bombastic market practices, the producers of the Japanese original of the Ring have literally given up the ghost - on Sunday 11th August 2002, during the Japanese public holiday of O-Bon, the Festival of the Dead, a symbolic funeral for Sadako, the leering apparition at the heart of the series was held in Tokyo's Harajuku district.

Sight and Sound review  Mark Kermode, September 2000

Oggs' Movie Thoughts

Jigsaw Lounge (Neil Young) review [8/10]

Nitrate Online (Gregory Avery) review

Encyclopedia Of Fantastic Film & TV

Flipside Movie Emporium (Gauti Fridriksson) review [A]

Goatdog's Movies [Michael W. Phillips Jr.]

The Horror Review [Egregious Gurnow]

Bloody-Disgusting review [5/5]  Ebben

CultureCartel.com (John Nesbit) review [4/5]

DVD Times  Colin Polonowski

Movie-Vault.com (Mel Valentin) review

The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]

RING  Keith from Teleport City

The Ring/Ringu  Kent Conrad from Exploded Goat

JackassCritics.com (Tom Blain) dvd review [6/10] 

SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review review [3/5]  Richard Scheib

David Dalgleish review

eFilmCritic.com (Greg Muskewitz) review [5/5]

eFilmCritic.com (Brian McKay) review [4/5]

DVD Talk (John Wallis) dvd review [2/5]

DVD Town (Hock Guan Teh) dvd review

DVDActive (Malcolm Campbell) dvd review [6/10]

Movie Martyr (Jeremy Heilman) review [3.5/4]

Mondo Digital

KFC Cinema  Peter Zsurka

The World's Greatest Critic! [J.C. Maçek III]

Foster on Film - Ghost Stories

Classic Horror review  Chrissy Derbyshire

Cinescape dvd review  Brian Thomas

eFilmCritic.com (Rob Gonsalves) review [4/5]

Cinema Crazed (Felix Vasquez Jr.) review

eFilmCritic.com (M.P. Bartley) review [4/5]

Bill's Movie Page Review

Eye for Film (Angus Wolfe Murray) review [4/5]

Kinocite  The Wolf

 

Plume Noire review  Fred Thom

 

The Digital Bits dvd review  Dan Kelly

 

Mike Bracken review [3/5]

 

Edinburgh U Film Society (Sarah Stark) review

 

The Village Voice [Edward Crouse]  Focus on New Japanese Cinema

 

RINGU  Bill Chambers from Film Freak Central, while Walter Chaw reviews the American version of THE RING

 

DVD Times [Kevin Gilvear]  The 4-disc RING Trilogy

 

VideoVista review  Peter Schilling reviews the 4-disc RING Trilogy

 

Digital Lard - Trilogy DVD Review

 

TV Guide Entertainment Network, Movie Guide review [4/5]

 

Variety review

 

Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]  Blood Feast

 

CHAOS (Kaosu)

Japan  (104 mi)  1999

 

Time Out London review

 

This efficient but routine thriller from the director of ‘The Ring’ has been sitting on the shelves since 1999. Hitchcockian to the core, it concerns the kidnapping of banker Komiyama’s (Ken Mitsuishi) wife Saori (Miki Nakatani) by a young handyman (Masato Hagiwara), and from that simple premise soon slips into a whirlwind of blackmail, deceit and double-cross, with an undercurrent of psychosexual role-playing. Nakata handles the material dexterously, using unannounced flashbacks to keep the audience on their toes, but never leaving them so far behind the twists that they can’t appreciate an excellent turn by Nakatini as the unhinged, manipulative Saori. Indeed, it all unfolds with such precision that the greatest shock comes when it becomes clear that Nakata doesn’t quite know how to end things. A slack final ten minutes aside, this is a fine, if ultimately unfulfilling, exercise in thrills by rote.

 

The Village Voice [Michael Atkinson]

A well-tumbled jade of thriller triple-crosses and noirish iconography, Hideo Nakata's Chaos lacks the subterranean frisson of his Ring cycle but maintains their concision and fearsome ellipticality. Blithely cha-cha-ing its way back and forth in narrative time without so much as a clue for the viewer, Chaos begins with a simple kidnapping—an executive's lithe, ravishing wife (Miki Nakatani) disappears from a restaurant's front curb after lunch, and almost immediately she's hog-tied somewhere, the threatening kidnapper (Masato Hagiwara) making a confident ransom call to the all-business hubby (Ken Mitsuishi). Soon enough, however, our concept of the crime gets capsized: Doubling back, we see that the wife had enlisted Hagiwara's baffled handyman to fake the abduction, a process that goes smoothly enough to summon s&m impulses in both faux victim and thug.

Naturally, the worm turns again and again in this demi-Hitchcockian death trap, and Nakata knows how to shoot scenes of breath-holding paranoia: from a distance, simply, in real time. (We'll see how the inevitable remake, directed by Jonathan Glazer, measures up.) Nakata continues to get the most out of the accusatory glare of gorgeous women, and Nakatani constitutes an irresistibly luscious femme in the James M. Cain mold. Perhaps it's the clammy residue of the Ring films, but Chaos also seems to collect a mood of rainy, outland menace even as it stalks around daylit urbania. The night visits to a shallow grave and a neglected aquarium full of dead fish resonate as memorable genre tropes, although in the end that may be all they are. However surefooted and wicked, Nakata's film may seem a trifle routine; contemporary thrillers have become so much more baroque than any real-life felony that they tend to resemble one another. The convolution becomes the end, not the means. Still, devotees of corpse-swapping betrayal orgies will find expert filmmaking awake to the realities of apprehension and unease.

Chaos  Mike D’Angelo from Time Out New York

As a general rule, foreign filmmakers whose work inspires multiple Hollywood remakes tend to be hacks. A cynical observation, perhaps, but it certainly applies to Japan's Hideo Nakata, whose Ring (1998), a largely tension-free horror flick about a killer videocassette, became last fall's (much superior) sleeper hit The Ring, starring Naomi Watts. Likewise, Nakata's Chaos, made a year later, is currently in development as a project for Robert De Niro and Benicio Del Toro, and one can only hope that director Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast) and screenwriter Andrew Bovell (Lantana) will find a way to turn this clumsy, derivative thriller into something fresh and arresting.

One aspect they should retain is the film's deliberately confusing structure, in which the narrative jumps back and forth in time without warning or signposts, demanding that the viewer keep track of subtle details (a bandaged hand, a tank of tropical fish) in order to stay oriented. We first see the bandaged hand in the opening scene, which finds a man (Mitsuishi) and a woman (Nakatani) eating lunch together at a posh restaurant. That the man's injury goes unexplained immediately piques our curiosity, since genre films rarely offer irrelevant details. Soon afterward, the man receives a phone call at his office, informing him that the woman—now revealed as his wife—has been kidnapped. At this point, the film abruptly shifts its point of view from the husband to the kidnapper, who has his terrified victim trussed up in an apartment dominated by a tropical fish tank. But the very next scene shows the woman arriving at the kidnapper's home with a naughty smile on her face. What's going on here?

As it turns out, this chronological jumble is doubly effective. Not only does it expertly evoke the condition promised by the title, but the more baffled you are, the longer it'll take you to realize that the plot, which involves a kidnapping that goes awry, closely mirrors that of a very famous Hollywood picture made by a very rotund British director—except that in this case the plangent yearning has been systematically expunged. Once you become conscious of this similarity, the inexpressive mien of Hagiwara (who played the hypnotic killer in Cure with a similar lack of affect) becomes almost intolerable, as you're now mentally juxtaposing his performance with that of [Really Famous Dead Actor]. But even if you have yet to see [Enduring Masterpiece of the Cinema], Chaos's painfully dorky ending is sure to break whatever spell the film has cast. With luck, De Niro will demand another draft

Hideo Nakata's Latest Maze of Death, 'Chaos' - indieWIRE   Steve Erickson

An exceedingly grim Hitchcockian riff, Hideo Nakata's "Chaos" is a thriller as obsessed with narrative intricacy as film gets. Compared in Kino's press release to "Pulp Fiction," although it's far harder to follow, this film's spiraling plot is more than just a trick. If Tarantino used his convoluted structure to resurrect a sympathetic character, Nakata uses his to emphasize everyone's essential dirtiness. A despicable person soon winds up as a victim, and vice versa. To lift a phrase from Philip K. Dick, it's a maze of death.

Nakata is best known -- to say the least -- for his 1998 horror film "Ring," which spawned two sequels and a prequel in Japan, as well as Korean and American remakes. ("Chaos" is currently being remade by Jonathan Glazer with Robert de Niro and Benicio del Toro.) The popularity of "Ring" led to a whole wave of Japanese horror films. However, it suffered from a flaccid middle third and an ending blatantly designed as a sequel setup. By contrast, "Chaos" is so tightly plotted that it leaves the awkward structure of "Ring" in the dust. Even so, Nakata has reached higher levels of dread elsewhere, particularly in his more recent "Dark Water."

As "Chaos" begins, businessman Takayuki Komiyama (Ken Mitsuihi) is enjoying lunch with his wife (Miki Nakatani.) He soon returns to his office. Immediately, he receives a phone call informing him that she has been kidnapped. With his apartment full of cops, he gets another call asking him to meet the kidnapper. However, the kidnapper eventually extorts money from his victim's sister. Then the screen fades to black, and we see these events from Mrs. Komiyama's point of view. It turns out that she knows the kidnapper, Goro Kuroda (Masato Hagiwara), and that they have arranged a fake abduction in order to test Takayuki's faithfulness. She seems to enjoy the situation, especially when Goro ties her up.

If it sounds like I'm giving away too much of the plot, trust me: I'm not. The screen cuts to black for the first time at the 20-minute mark, continuing to do so periodically. These cuts indicate a shift in protagonist and time. Takayuki is the initial protagonist, then his wife, then Goro. As each character progresses further and further, they begin to resemble icons in a video game, every "level" (represented by a cut to black) bringing the audience closer to the heart of the story. Mrs. Komiyama even describes her relationship with Goro as a game of tag. "Chaos" never overtly references computers, but it describes a version of virtual reality: an imaginary situation becoming real and doppelgangers coming to life.

Even so, there's something rather arid about Nakata's convoluted story. For all its bite, it never quite connects to the real world. The characters feel like secondhand anti-heroes, femme and homme fatales. Kenji Kawai's score pulses with tom-toms and bass drums as if trying to kickstart their hearts. Many of its exteriors are almost paradoxically sunny and pretty, counteracting the rest of the film's neo-noir feel.

Fear of technology, whether TV and video ("Ring") or the Internet (Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Pulse" and the anime series "Serial Experiment Lain"), has been a recurring thread in recent Japanese films. "Ring" clicks with genuine worries about video technology's potentially harmful aesthetic and moral impact. "Chaos," which depicts a world where physical and financial desire trump any sense of responsibility or family ties, won't be mistaken for an ode to the Japanese bourgeoisie. On the other hand, it never feels like a real portrait of Japanese society, just three extremely screwed-up people and a director and screenwriter who use them as though they're participating in a cockfight.

Eventually, the cuts to black become meaningless. Time shifts back and forth, with a major revelation about each character coming every other minute. Each detail is important. For instance, the entire plot turns around the reason why Takayuki wears a bandage around his right hand. Paradoxically, the film may be best seen if one knows nothing about it, but that state may also make it incomprehensible. Considering the utterly cynical 90 minutes that preceded the ending's dark romanticism, it doesn't ring true, but Nakata's gloomy vision of mutually assured destruction loses none of its power. Love will tear his characters apart.

click here  Neil Young from Jigsaw Lounge, originally written for Impact magazine

 

BeyondHollywood.com  James Mudge 

 

DVD Times [Kevin Gilvear]

 

User comments  from imdb Author: Brandt Sponseller from New York City

 

VideoVista review  Steven Hampton

 

eFilmCritic.com (Greg Muskewitz) review [5/5]

 

DVD Times [Dave Foster]

 

Combustible Celluloid [Jeffrey M. Anderson]

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Keith Phipps]

 

LoveAsianFilm.com  Martin Cleary

 

Passport Cinema [A.J. Hakari]

 

eFilmCritic.com (Brian McKay) review [5/5]

 

Hong Kong Digital (DVD Review)  John Charles

 

DVD Monsters and Critics [Andy McKeague]

 

New York Times (registration req'd)  Dave Kehr 

 
Ringu 2

Japan  (95 mi)  1999

 

Arrow in the Head ("The Arrow") review [2.5/4]

The heroes from the original "Ringu", Reiko (Matsushima) and Okazaki (Yanagi) have vanished off the face of the globe. It’s up to Mai (Natakami) and the law to find them. At the same time, the little brat from the first film (Otaka) is now acting all ESP-spooky while mumbo-jumbo driven scientists try to decipher the power behind that undead dame that haunts videotapes. Talk about a busy evening!

Here’s a little Ringu history lesson before we begin: "Ringu" (1998) the film was inspired by Kôji Suzuki’s book of the same name. The film "Rasen" (also released in 1998) was based on Suzuki’s book sequel for Ringu. "Rasen" flopped miserably at the box-office, but when "Ringu" became a big hit, they decided to pretend that "Rasen" was never made and in 1999, put out a new Ringu sequel. This second sequel had nothing to do with Suzuki’s book and they appropriately called it "Ringu 2". Got that? Yes? No? Fuck you, Arrow? Either way, let's move on!

Although I boogied to "Ringu" way more than to this sequel, I do have to prop this follow-up for playing it smart. It brought back most of the likeable cast members from the original film while changing the focus as to who the leads were. That gave us a Ringu tale from a fresh perspective even with the same players in the house. And instead of doing the usual “sequel” no-no of rehashing the same old jive again, "Ringu 2" took all of the layered goodies that the first film put out and ran with them as far as it could. I have to respect any “Part 2” that stays true to its source material and that manages to give us something fresh (loved the possession angle) at the same time. Lastly, the flick sported some mucho effective moody directing and a double whammy of crawl-under-skin scare scenes which split my skull open like nobody’s bushwhacks. Ouch! I felt those! CREEPY!

Where Ringu 2’s tape got mangled was that its main game was to deconstruct and attempt to tag an explanation to everything that Ringu subtlety communicated. From Sadako’s history to how the videotape really works, all was deeply and painfully anally probed. Personally, that didn’t go down too well for three reasons. #1) What made "Ringu" scary was the mystery behind it, so yes, this nosier-than-nosy sequel was therefore much less frightening. #2) The film was heavily axed on long-winded dialogue sessions and thorough dissections of the events at hand. Hey man! I give a fudge about how the tape works! Stop talking about it and show me already! #3) Let's just say that the “out there” explanations they came up with were pretty damn hokey. We get lots of scenes with peeps being plugged to machines and have to endure lots of drivel about energy and water acting as conduits or some BS like that. The abysmal "Exorcist 2" actually popped to mind a couple of times while watching those scenes (not good).

Although I was somewhat underwhelmed by it, I will admit that "Ringu 2" still had me trapped in its web the whole way and that counts for something. The fine acting, the chilling atmosphere, the fascinating narrative and the handful of potent horror bits (all about The Well…brrrr) made sure to keep me looping with this ring to some degree. Now play this tape and die!

The Horror Review [Egregious Gurnow]

In the course of his follow-up to the most successful film in Japanese history, Hideo Nakata attempts to continue his narrative while expanding upon the genesis and phenomena found within Ringu.  During the process, unable to maintain the many irons in which he has placed within his less-than-humble fire, Nakata loses his viewer by presenting a convoluted plot which, though seemingly sound, fails to intrigue his audience enough to merit and retain their cognitive interests to arrive at his less-than-rewarding point.    

Upon the death of her boyfriend, Ryuji Takayama (Hiroyuki Sanada), Mai Takano (Miki Nakatani) attempts to learn of the mystery surrounding the rumor that a video cassette that, if watched, will kill the viewer of fright exactly seven days later.  In her quest for answers, she discovers that Takayama’s son, Yoichi (Rikiya Otaka), is still alive but finds him comatose yet developing odd powers similar to those said to be possessed by one of the figures in the video, Sadako Yamamura (Rie Inou).    

In many respects, Ringu 2 is a mere reimaging of its predecessor in that it presents Mai--much like her counterpart in the original, Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima)--attempting to piece together the mystery of a cursed tape as he nonetheless tries to save the life of the same character, Reiko’s son, Yoichi.  However, in polar opposition to the simplistic genius of its forerunner, Ringu 2 tries too hard to create an unnecessarily complex mythology which the narrative fails to sustain.  

 It is obvious that Nakata uses the film, first and foremost, to tie together narrative loose ends in that we are quickly issued a summation of what came before as Okazaki (Yûrei Yanagi), journalistic friend to the late Takayama, restates that to beat the curse, all one has to do is have someone else view the video within seven days.  Shortly after this, Nakata delves into exceeding depth upon the phenomenon of Nensha, which Sadako, and now Masami Kurahashi (Hitomi Sato)--the sole witness to the death of Yoichi’s cousin, Tomoko--possesses.  After this, the director disbands from the history of Ringu as he perpetually obfuscates the narrative, forcing it in unnatural directions which overburdens the bridge upon which the viewer’s disbelief is suspended, such as when it is revealed that, like her boyfriend and nonetheless conveniently, Mai houses extrasensory perception, which Nakata only posits in order to expand his already overly convoluted storyline.     

The director also abandons the metaphysics put forth in his previous tale to facilitate his new storyline and presents the theory that the tape’s prowess is not due to any explicit curse but rather the transference of energy in the form of fear.  However, in order for us to arrive at this synopsis, a dense narrative quagmire must be wadded through, all to little effect as the director becomes too consumed in attempting to keep his new vision intact, so much so that he forgets that the primary intent is to evoke fear and apprehension in his audience (doubly so considering his aforementioned narrative agenda).  What’s more, the dense narrative fog shrouding the tale never lifts, even at the film’s climax, as the theme of the supernatural superceding science is lost amid the chaos.  

Obviously, Hideo Nakata’s sequel to his highly successful Ringu becomes an unintentional Möbius Strip not only for the viewer, but for the director as well.  Perhaps fearful that if he utilized the same creative structure he implemented to produce Ringu that his follow-up would stagnate, Nakata becomes consumed in his presentation of another simplistic idea via a narratively verbose storyline.  Instead, the feeling one gets is that Ringu 2 is the malnourished, bastard hybrid of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Santa Sangre, and Luis Buñuel’s Un chien andalou.  Whatever the reason for the director’s cinematic faux pas, Ringu 2 is one of the most disappointing sequels in that it posed so much promise given the weight of its predecessor and failed to deliver considering its rewards are few while its audience expectations are inversely demanding. 

RING 2   Keith from Teleport City

 

eFilmCritic.com (Mel Valentin) review [2/5]

 

The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review  Richard Scheib

 

User comments  from imdb Author: Brandt Sponseller from New York City

 

Moda Magazine (Kage Alan) dvd review

 

BeyondHollywood.com  Nix

 

Foster on Film - Ghost Stories

 

Horror View  Black Gloves

 

Dread Central  Michelle Lee

 

FeoAmante's Horror Thriller (E.C. McMullen, Jr.) review

 

Horror Fan Zine

 

Black Hole DVD Reviews

 

KFC Cinema  Peter Zsurka

 

Plume Noire review  Fred Thom

 

EyeForFilm.co.uk  Keith Hennessey Brown

 

eFilmCritic.com (Greg Muskewitz) review [2/5]

 

filmcritic.com (Christopher Null) review [2/5]

DVD Times [Kevin Gilvear]  The 4-disc RING Trilogy

VideoVista review  Peter Schilling reviews the 4-disc RING Trilogy

 

Digital Lard - Trilogy DVD Review

 

TV Guide review

 

BBCi - Films  Michael Thomson

 

Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]

 

DARK WATER (Honogurai mizu no soko kara)

Japan  (101 mi)  2002

 

Time Out review

From the director of the original Japanese Ring comes, if anything, an even richer tale of everyday terror, based on the novel by Koji Suzuki. In the midst of a messy divorce which threatens a custody battle, Yoshimi (Kuroki) moves her small daughter Ikuku (Kanno) into a dump of an apartment block which is all she can afford. Trying to start a new life on her own is stressful enough, but she could hardly have anticipated the wet patch on the ceiling spreading alarmingly, very strange bumps and noises from upstairs, and much, much worse. Unfolding events defy rational explanation, but if Yoshimi comes across as too flaky, she risks losing her child to the ongoing legal proceedings. Hideo Nakata works wonders from this admittedly slim outline. While Hollywood tools efficient, teen-oriented scare machines, here is character and atmosphere shaped in harmony. The mildewed palette, stomach-spooking sound design and slowly escalating supernatural implications aren't just deployed to exploit the heroine's frailties - they're an expression of damaged emotional bonds in a tough, uncaring world and the follow through they precipitate in realms beyond. Dark Water stands as a masterclass in direction, not just for the precise control of tension, release and implacably tightening unease, but for the insistence with which it plumbs our deepest feelings, drawing on a child's fear of abandonment and a parent's dread of loss yet never cheapening them for the sake of a shock moment. All of which pays dividends in an extraordinary finale that's a marvel of both nerve-shredding suspense and heartbreaking compassion. It'll leave you wrung out, terrified, tearful, but, most of all, elated to have seen a great horror film worthy of the description.

Midnight Eye - japan_cult_cinema review   Nicholas Rucka

My apartment building is a 100-year-old 6-storey walk-up in Manhattan. The building leaks, creaks, bangs, has questionable electrical wiring, and is not fire safe.

The first night I was in my apartment, I awakened in the middle of the night to a loud BANG. I chose to roll over and go back to sleep rather than stare down whatever or whoever had made the sound. The next morning, I discovered that a book I had left on my living room bookshelf had somehow been thrown to the floor - on the other side of the room. The book was Wang Shuo's "Don't Call Me Human"; I knew then that I had a ghost.

A year later I learned that the old lady who had lived in my apartment before the previous tenant had been found in an advanced state of decay on the kitchen floor. The sole survivors of the apartment were the deceased's cats, who were discovered circling their owner's body - perhaps gingerly feeding off it for the previous three weeks.

My apartment is alive and I know it has a lot of stories. But this makes sense seeing as it is an unrefurbished tenement. Hideo Nakata understands the concept of the old building that is alive and chose to set his film Dark Water in this type of location: an old, moldy, concrete apartment building. Nakata realizes that often times in horror, the location is an additional character in the cast - often co-starring.

Hideo Nakata first scared the loose socks off of a generation joshikosei's with 1998's Ring and followed this with a number of other horror films including the 1999 sequel Ring 2, and the same year's Chaos. As a result Nakata has been typecast as one of Japan's foremost horror directors. In the program for Dark Water he states, "If you were to ask me whether I love horror from the bottom of my heart, I would have to say no." But there's no denying that he excels at making creepy films, Dark Water included. However, whatever atmosphere he generates during the course of the film is squandered by a lazy, safe ending that reeks of producers meddling with an otherwise solid - if not hackneyed - story (based on the novel by Ring author Koji Suzuki).

Yoshimi Matsubara (Hitomi Kuroki) is in the middle of a terrible custody battle over 5-year-old Ikuko (Rio Kanno), with her abusive ex-husband. To compound the situation, Yoshimi has a history of mental instability sparked by residual abandonment anxiety connected to her mother's neglect when she was a child. Fearing that she will mentally damage Ikuko the way she had been and needing to show her independence to the family court, Yoshimi is dead-set on successfully living as a single mother raising her daughter.

Yoshimi and Ikuko move into an old apartment building on the outskirts of town. The building is a run-down concrete block, mysteriously short on (sane) tenants, but filled with little creepy touches like dripping ceilings, slow elevators, and banging sounds. Ikuko is the first to see the shadowy figure of a little girl wearing a yellow raincoat, but soon Yoshimi, who is already well on her way to a permanent mental vacation, starts seeing her in quick flits out of the corner of her vision.

Yoshimi starts to lose it when a pesky red bag that she repeatedly tries to get rid of keeps reappearing. All the while, her custody battle becomes more heated and for the family court Yoshimi's mental fitness is brought into question. When it seems that the situation could not get any worse, Ikuko falls into a coma after coming into contact with the mysterious girl in the yellow coat. Yoshimi is tortured and mentally fractured; everything seems to have taken a turn for the worse. Reflecting both Yoshimi's mental and the stories' thematic decline, the film becomes more and more saturated with water until it seems to reach a point of bursting...

Dark Water is a victim of its good points. The location and settings are so strong that they overpower the rest of the story. This coupled with weak story resolve and mediocre characterization discounts this film from being a worthy follow up to Ring to being a simply passable horror viewing experience; spiked with the occasional dynamic moment. The weakest point in the film is the end of the film when Yoshimi's actions just seem to be inconsistent with her character motivation that had been established earlier. This seems to be so inconsistent in tone to the rest of the film that I can only attribute it to bad writing that was reasoned via some pseudo-Freudian psychoanalysis; primarily, Yoshimi's fear of abandonment and not being a good mother. Not to spoil the ending, but I did not believe Yoshimi's major decision at the end of the film and therefore did not find the last 15 minutes convincing.

Further proving my point, as if illustrating the inconsistency and confusion of the film's conclusion, the story enters into Ikuko's (alternate) present/future. This, ostensibly, is to show how Ikuko (now 16) is coming to terms with her life and ultimately the positive effect of Yoshimi's sacrifices for Ikuko. This sequence, outside of being saccharine and overwrought, is problematic because it doesn't exist within any sort of logical narrative space and time. I found myself so preoccupied for the last 15 minutes, trying to figure out when it was suppose to be taking place that I no longer was in the film world. When was the story supposed to have been set? The only conclusion I could make was meta-textual: the producers took the original story and changed it so that it would have some sort of safe / happy resolve that the audience could walk away from and not feel totally depressed. Narrative consistencies of time and space didn't matter.

Notwithstanding this, Dark Water is worth watching for a good chill. To fully enjoy it, my recommendation is, like all horror films it is best viewed in a dark room with all the lights off. This will help reveal two very solid aspects of this film: 1) great atmosphere, and 2) one really great scare. While watching it, if you hear the sound of something in the next room - and there shouldn't be any sound coming from there - ignore it until it is daylight outside...

DVD Outsider  Slarek
 
Kamera.co.uk review  Bob Carroll

 

SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review review [3.5/5]  Richard Scheib

 

Jigsaw Lounge (Neil Young) review [6/10]

 

Reel.com dvd review [3/4]  James Emanuel Shapiro

 

Movie-Vault.com (Mel Valentin) review

 

Movie Gazette (Anton Bitel) review [9/10]

 

Kamera.co.uk review  Edward Lamberti  

 

Talking Pictures (UK) review  Peter Anderson

 

AboutFilm.com (Jeff Vorndam) review [B-]

 

DVD Talk (Bill Gibron) dvd review [4/5] [Region 3]

 

Film Freak Central review  Walter Chaw

 

Beyond Hollywood review  Nix

 

Amateur Movie Reviews review  Peter Stockton 

 

Classic Horror review  Dellamorte

 

Foster on Film - Ghost Stories

 

Dark Water (2002) - DVD Movie Reviews  The Vocabulariast

 

A Regrettable Moment of Sincerity  Adam Lippe

 

FilmsAsia [Soh Yun-Huei]

 

Reel Film Reviews (David Nusair) review

 

Mutant Reviewers from Hell review

 

Arrow in the Head ("The Arrow") review [3.5/4]

 

Eye for Film (Angus Wolfe Murray) review [4/5]

 

Dread Central

 

Exploded Goat review [Kent Conrad]

 

KFC Cinema  Peter Zsurka 

 

Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager]

 

Plume Noire review  Fred Thom

 

filmcritic.com (Christopher Null) review [2/5]

 

The UK Critic (Ian Waldron-Mantgani) review [1/4]

 

Variety (Derek Elley) review

 

Guardian/Observer review

 

BBC Films review  Jamie Russell

 

The Japan Times [Mark Schilling]

 

Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]

 

THE RING 2

USA  (110 mi)  2005      unrated version (128 mi)

 

Slate [David Edelstein]

I don't want to overpraise The Ring Two (DreamWorks), but it's refreshing to see an eerie little coastal ghost movie without a twist ending. Directed by Hideo Nakata (who made the original Japanese Ringu), it hits deeper emotionally than its scarier but junkier predecessor. The emphasis here is not on that videotape from hell; it's on the vengeful child-ghost Samara, who's trying to take possession of the son (David Dorfman) of the heroine, Rachel (Naomi Watts). As the boy's body temperature drops, the physical world, bathed in ectoplasmic bad vibes, becomes a Gothic dreamscape, with swirls of long black hair, twisted trees that spontaneously combust, and moose of death. (That is not a misprint.)

The Ring Two is basically an, uh, allegory of motherly love: Accused of child abuse and brought to the brink of child murder, this mother will go to the pit of hell—depicted alternately as a dank well and the inside of a TV—to save her lost child (in this case, from another child come back from the grave to find a mother). Naomi Watts is really some kind of actress. When she casts herself into Samara's demon sea, she's like Brunnehilde in Valhalla, only much thinner…

Time Out London review

‘Fear comes full circle,’ announces the poster tagline. Appropriately so, since Hideo Nakata’s fine film is closer in tone to his own Japanese original than to Gore Verbinski’s 2002 re-make. A grown-up sequel, it mostly eschews the cheap scares, redundant sub-plots and join-the-dots plotting of its American predecessor, pushing the cursed video tape into the background and focusing instead on the gradual ‘possession’ of Rachel’s son, Aidan (David Dorfman), by Samara’s unquiet spirit. There are echoes, too, of the water imagery and mother-child bond seen in Nakata’s ‘Dark Water’, as Rachel (Naomi Watts) and the maternally abused Samara struggle for control of Aidan’s soul.

Having pursued Aidan and the now neurotically over-protective Rachel to a small Oregon coastal town, Samara makes her ghostly presence felt, appearing in Aidan’s dreams, in mirrors, and in digital photos. But when Samara gradually invades Aidan’s body, things become more complex and more affecting. With cruel irony, Rachel’s obsessive mother-love drives a wedge between her and the Samara-influenced Aidan, and creates suspicions of child abuse in work colleague Max (Simon Baker) and hospital shrink Dr Emma Temple (Elizabeth Perkins).

Once again, Nakata fuses arresting water imagery and emotional involvement, culminating in a stunning bathroom scene in which Rachel – sucked into a watery vortex of confusion – realises that she may have to drown her son in order to save him. There is also a quiet, devastating meeting between Rachel and Samara’s real mother, played with painful, convincing lucidity by Sissy Spacek. The final confrontation between Samara and Rachel is anti-climactic, but up till then, Nakata’s emotional undercurrents create a dark whirlpool of terror.

Twitch  Dave Canfield

Wow! I'm in the minority on this one. I liked it. Hideo Nikata does recycle elements from Dark Water and other Ring films but he remains truer to the essence of the Ring mythology than many fans have given him credit for. And he has the guts to tell a more interesting ghost story than most directors who are content with a simple series of loud BOO!'s.

The ad campaign is incredibly dark promising a scarier more amped version of the American remake. People keep asking me what I thought of this film. “Was it good?” “Was it scary?” “Was it as good as the first one?” Almost none of these people have seen any of the Japanese source material for this film Ringu, Ring O, Ringu 2 or the Korean Ring Virus and probably won’t. And while director of the original Ringu, Hideo Nakata picks up where Gore Verbinski left us off, with a terrifying act of betrayal this is a film that dares to be different than what my American friends are probably expecting. And while I plan to put it on the shelf with all the films that have explored the compelling mythology of evil. I won’t be surprised to hear complaints from many who would have been satisfied with a darker or even less complex blend of humanity and horror

Rachel and Aiden have fled to small town to start their lives over again. But Samara has found a way to follow them and soon the familiar blank black cassettes create a crime scene that Rachel, in her role as reporter for the town’s small newspaper, recognizes immediately. Ready to run again Rachel realizes it is too late. Samara has taken over her son ready to be adopted and replace him. As Rachel fights to get her son back she realizes she may have to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Nakata is to be praised for taking his narrative in such a bold direction. The scenes in which Samara communicates through Aiden demand a lot of the viewer but not nearly as much as they could. It is after all a compelling idea. Samara, a little girl, formerly our personification of unstoppable evil, is merely doing what any child with her powers would do. Children make terrifying entities in horror films precisely because they lack inner moral structure. They will do almost anything to gain what they want.

For those who suggest that Samara should never be anything other than a symbol of evil I would answer that the above is probably a pretty good general definition of same. And I would also add that Sadako in Ring O is also made much more terrifying by virtue of her human origins. Her otherness is what makes this female entity so frightening, not just in the physical sense but in the metaphysical. She destroys our sense of security in our own goodness and it's ability to keep us safe. We are rendered abject, twisted into something that is and yet is no longer us.

Watts is an actress capable of holding her own with situations where the audience might not otherwise suspend disbelief. Cynical critics won’t surrender theirs without a fight but it could be noted that Nikata picked the wrong battle. Viewers of course will have to decide for themselves but I remain intrigued enough by Samara’s search for a mother to give the film a few more viewings- even though I would agree Nakata’s film wraps up the threat too neatly in the end. It could be argued that this film would be stronger if it had the ending of Nakata’s original Dark Water since the film does borrow it's central motiff from that work.

It could also be argued that Nakata westernizes his film too much. There are moments here that wink so hard at the audience that they lift the viewer firmly out of what makes much J Horror so superior to it’s American counterparts. A scene in particular where Rachel shouts in apparent victory at Samara is tailored directly to the sorts of expectations people bring to the lowest of American horror films.

There are scares a plenty including beginning and ending sequences that bookend the film with moments as nerve wracking and haunting as anything in any of the other Ring films. Some will be expected and are merely fun but the ending involving an absolutely harrowing and even unpleasant chase up the side of Samara’s watery resting place. In a time of year when horror fans are sifting through dreck like Boogeyman and Hide and Seek Ring Two is an intelligent and human horror film that despite it’s occasional genteelness will likely survive the weekend box office and win fans into the fold over time.

Nitrate Online (Gregory Avery) review

 

Beyond Hollywood review  James Mudge

 

American Cinematographer essay ["Back to the Well"]  4 page essay by Jon Silberg, April 2005

 

Teleport City Cinematics review

 

Slant Magazine review  Nick Schager

 

The New Yorker (Anthony Lane) review

eFilmCritic.com (Rob Gonsalves) review [2/5]

ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [1.5/4]

Film Freak Central review  Walter Chaw

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Rich Rosell) dvd review

SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review review [1/5]  Richard Scheib

Flipside Movie Emporium (Rob Vaux) review [C]

The Onion A.V. Club review  Keith Phipps

David Dalgleish review

culturevulture.net, Choices for the Cognoscenti review  Pamela Troy

The Horror Review [Egregious Gurnow]

Kamera.co.uk review  Colin Odell and Michelle Le Blanc

PopMatters (Cynthia Fuchs) review

Movie-Vault.com (Mel Valentin) review

Foster on Film - Ghost Stories

Bloody-Disgusting review [2/5]  Brian Juergens

eFilmCritic.com (Peter Sobczynski) review [2/5]

Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick) review [3/5]

Pajiba (Jeremy C. Fox) review

Salon (Stephanie Zacharek) review

stylusmagazine.com (Kevin Worrall) review 

Goatdog's Movies (Michael W. Phillips, Jr.) review [1/5]

filmcritic.com (David Levine) review [4/5]

DVD Talk (Ian Jane) dvd review [1/5]

hybridmagazine.com review  Nathan Baran

ReelTalk (Geoff Roberts) review

Reel.com review [2.5/4]  Tim Knight

SPLICEDwire (Rob Blackwelder) review [1.5/4]

Eye for Film (Angus Wolfe Murray) review [3/5]

The World's Greatest Critic! [J.C. Maçek III]

Cinema Crazed (Felix Vasquez Jr.) review

CHUD.com (Devin Faraci) review

eFilmCritic.com (Scott Weinberg) review [1/5]

About.com Hollywood Movies (Rebecca Murray) review [D+]

The Cavalcade Of Schlock [Brian J. Wright]

Monsters and Critics  Frank H. Woodward

The Flick Filosopher (MaryAnn Johanson) review

Tiscali UK review  Paul Hurley

Film Monthly (Gary Schultz) review

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review

Entertainment Weekly review [C]  Lisa Schwarzbaum

BBC Films review  Michael Thomson

Variety (Todd McCarthy) review

Guardian/Observer

The Boston Phoenix review  Brett Michel

Washington Post (Desson Thomson) review

Washington Post (Stephen Hunter) review

Austin Chronicle (Marc Savlov) review [1/5]

Seattle Post-Intelligencer review  William Arnold 

San Francisco Chronicle [Mick LaSalle]

Los Angeles Times (Carina Chocano) review

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [2.5/4]

The New York Times (Manohla Dargis) review

KAIDAN

Japan  (115 mi)  2007

 

DVD Holocaust  Matt

Japanese director Hideo Nakata has forever burnt his name into movie history courtesy of his genre-defining adaptation of the Koji Suzuki novel Ring. In the process, he launched Asian horror onto the international scene and - unfortunately - also inadvertently paved the way for numerous Hollywood remakes. Whilst he would later sabotage his own introduction to Hollywood by helming the awful sequel to the remake of Ring (are you keeping up at home?), other works such as his Death Note prequel, L: Change The World and another Koji Suzuki adaptation, Dark Water, would ensure his stocks remained high in his homeland.

"The actions of [Shinkichi] are so frequently selfish and poorly thought out that any audience sympathy for him is lost fairly early on."

In between these, Nakata directed something of a period horror flick in Kaidan, a story steeped in traditional folk tales. It tells of the young son of a samurai, Shinkichi (Kikunosuke Onoe V), who falls in love with a wealthy singing teacher, Toyoshiga (Hitomi Kuroki), not realising that in doing so they are both compounding a curse between the families.

One thing leads to another, as they tend to do, and Shinkichi soon finds himself locked into a doomed spiral of relationships that always seem to end up with him being haunted by a pissed-off ghost.

Kaidan is structured almost as a fable, revealing a progression of events dictated both by fate and by the actions of Shinkichi. And therein lies one of the key problems of the movie.

Kikunosuke Onoe V is an actor steeped in the tradition of Kabuki, and his almost feminine grace ends an otherworldy feel to Shinkichi. But the actions of the character are so frequently selfish and poorly thought out that any audience sympathy for him is lost fairly early on. This lends a detached feel to proceedings and robs the film of any kind of intensity.

"One of the lesser entries in the Hideo Nakata pantheon and certainly not in the league of older traditional Japanese horror movies like Onibaba."

Nakata throws a few of his trademark modern jump-scares into the more lyrical structure, but this adds only mild spice to a film that remains emotionally uninvolving despite excellent technical work across the board. Even the mass-slaughter finale does not excite - although is well-shot and well-acted - due to the actions of the lead character in getting there. Despite the various traumas he falls into it is hard not to think that, well, he pretty much deserved everything he got. But perhaps this is the point; having the piece as a morality play. Such knowledge, however, does not succeed in making the movie any more engaging.

The result is one of the lesser entries in the Hideo Nakata pantheon and certainly not in the league of older traditional Japanese horror movies like Onibaba. But, hey, at least it's better than The Ring 2...

Wider Screenings [Robert Cettl] 

Kaidan is director Hideo Nakata’s first Japanese film after being lured to Hollywood after his hit The Ring launched the wave of Japanese horror now known as “J-horror” and was subjected to a Hollywood remake starring Australia’s Naomi Watts.  Nakata spent years in Hollywood working on The Ring 2, but when that film under-performed at the box office returned to Japan for Kaidan, based on the C19th writings of Encho Sanyutei, previously adapted in the 1950s by one of the masters of Japanese horror, Nobuo Nakagawa.  The Hollywood experience seems to have convinced Nakata into abandoning, for the moment one hopes, his contemporary updating of ghostly mythology in The Ring and Hard Water in order to turn to the literary roots of such mythology.  As a result, the immediacy of his contemporary work and their truly frightening sense of supernatural menace are here transformed into a contemplative, self-conscious look at Japanese storytelling traditions, sexual passion and shock horror.

Kaidan resembles traditional Japanese art-house period drama infused with an engaging sense of folkloric ghost mythology.  It is slow, observant; beginning with an old man telling a story of a cursed Samurai whose life is destroyed after he kills a debt collector, visualized in black and white Kabuki pieces, and then seguing into a story of the samurai’s son, an itinerant tobacco salesman who falls in love with the daughter of the slain debt collector, herself much older than he.  Their relationship triggers a succession of increasingly frightening incidents, their shock value all the more effective for the time and care director Nakata takes in establishing the period basis for what is a new version of the vengeful female ghost story so beloved in Japanese horror literature.  

Fans of director Nakata’s contemporary work – The Ring and Dark Water – may find this slow, observant film unengaging: those who appreciate Nakata’s status in Japanese horror on the end of a spectrum at the other end of which sits Takashi Miike but do not respond to the horror genre itself may, however, be more rewarded by this film than The Ring, as in Kaidan the horror is more anchored in self-conscious evocations of myth and story-telling tradition.  It’s also more intimate in its inter-personal drama and spends a long time establishing the characters and their relationship before exploring their ramifications as horror myth: Nakata considers the human drama here essential to the eventual segue into horror.  As always in his films, Nakata seeks to humanize.

Kaidan is a period J-horror film for mature, patient viewers.  The humanist element to Nakata is in polar opposition to the underground, manga-oriented nihilism of Takashi Miike and the “horror” in Kaidan is twofold: beyond the requisite shocks of the horror genre (skilfully deployed in the second half) is the terror of a young man cursed by events beyond his control.  That mystique of supernatural forces affecting / shaping individual destiny is a theme in horror as a genre that transcends cultural barriers and is interesting, if admittedly slow-going, to see this classic theme re-worked in what is J-horror’s most self-conscious film to date – in Kaidan, the sensibility of new J-horror meets the tradition of J-arthouse.

The Eastern Eye / Madman / Lionsgate DVD of Kaidan comes in a sterling anamorphic transfer with subtle Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, capturing every shock horror as fine as every tender intimacyIn the way of special features are a still gallery, trailers and a Making Of documentary which explores the cast’s impressions of Nakata, his indebtedness to traditional kabuki theatre, the characters and the productions logistics of location and studio shooting in the contemporary Japanese film industry.

User comments  from imdb Author: Kil_Killion from Japan

 

Black Hole DVD Reviews  Mark A. Hodgson

 

Digital Retribution  Mr. Intolerance

 

DVD Resurrections

 

Home Theater Info DVD Review

 

Slasherpool.com  AnthroFred

 

The Japan Times [Mark Schilling]

 

CHATROOM

Japan  Great Britain  (97 mi)  2010

Chatroom  Jonathan Romney at Cannes from Screendaily

Japanese horror specialist Hideo Nakata (the Ring films) makes an intriguing change of direction and locale in Chatroom, a stylised dissection of the temptations and pitfalls of life online. Adapted from his play by Enda Walsh - Disco Pigs, Steve McQueen’s Hunger - Chatroom follows a group of troubled London teenagers both in the real world and in a virtual jungle of online chatrooms, where no-one is quite what they seem.

A bold take on ostensibly over-familiar cyber-themes, Chatroom finds an inventive visual correlative for its psychological and sociological investigations, only to go off the rails in a rushed and bathetic climax.

Nevertheless, this stylish piece could yield respectable sales and move outside the art-house bracket given modish youth appeal, Nakata’s international genre reputation and the rising cachet of charismatic lead Aaron Johnson, from Kick-Ass.

Johnson plays William, a damaged teenager - although he looks markedly mature for the part - who has a troubled relationship with his family and is morbidly invested in his secret life online. William opens a chatroom, into which four other youngsters wander in search, ostensibly, of friendship. Jim (Beard) is a shy loner traumatised by his father’s abandonment; Mo (Kaluuya) is a 17-year-old boy with a secret, in love with his best friend’s pre-pubescent sister; posh Emily (Murray) is a gauche high achiever who can’t wait for an opportunity to sample rebellion, and Eva (Poots) is an aspiring model whose looks and modishness can’t hide her insecurities.

In the chatroom, William can both assume a dominant new identity and prey on his trusting friends, playing on their weaknesses: he persuades Emily to dabble in anti-social activities, Mo to confess all and Jim to stop his medication, with drastic results.

Online stories are notoriously difficult to carry off on-screen, but Chatroom tries something different. Here, chatrooms are depicted as actual spaces off an eerie corridor crowded by assorted freaks. William’s room starts off sparse, chairs arranged as for a therapy session, before it’s tarted up by Emily and Eva - while the latter has her own chatroom, resembling an exclusive young hipsters’ club. Other rooms are more disturbing, like one devoted to merciless online bullying. Nakata, DoP Benoît Delhomme and designer Jon Henson artfully persuade us of the reality of this seductively lurid dreamworld, while highlighting its theatrical artifice.

The evocation of a seemingly more-real-than-real virtual realm echoes David Cronenberg’s more overtly surreal eXistenZ, but it’s a smart move of Nakata to keep his chatroom a more mundane, and indeed somewhat theatrical, space. Walsh’s script - with dialogue given the deliberately flat feel of lines on a screen - intelligently delves into teenage anxiety and online issues such as bullying, identity problems and cyber-addiction, although at times the film veers perilously close to an alarmist ‘save our kids’ statement.

The ensemble acting is good, Beard especially registering as the fragile Jim, although at times Johnson’s chatroom persona is a little too broadly satanic. But the film goes seriously off the rails in the last ten minutes, when an absurd race-against-time pursuit through London’s Camden Town effectively blows the dramatic credit of what comes before.

Cannes '10: Day Three  Mike D’Angelo at Cannes from The Onion A.V. Club, April 15, 2010

 

CANNES: ‘Chatroom,’ ‘Aurora’  Guy Lodge at Cannes from In Contention, May 14, 2010

 

Cannes 2010. Hideo Nakata's "Chatroom" David Hudson at Cannes from The Auteurs, May 15, 2010

 

Naranjo, Gerardo

 

DRAMA/MEX

Mexico  (105 mi)  2006  ‘Scope

 

The Village Voice [Jim Ridley]

Amores Perros is a yappy whelp compared to this striking degrees-of-separation drama by Mexican writer-director Gerardo Naranjo, who uses a fleet mobile camera and flexible 'Scope framing to capture the seedy volatility of off-the-guidebook Acapulco. Naranjo opens with a bravura sequence that follows cruelly suave Chano (Emilio Valdés) and his furious ex Fernanda (Diana Garcia) from a bitter restaurant reunion to a white-hot hate-fuck in her dad's mansion. From there, Naranjo intertwines their meeting with the fates of a suicidal businessman (Fernando Becerril), Fernanda's enraged boyfriend (Juan Pablo Castaneda), and most memorably, Tigrillo (Miriana Moro), a teenage would-be hustler who hasn't quite hardened into a casual user and discarder of suckers. With Tobias Datum's camerawork giving the images a subtle matte finish of grit and grain, the movie creates a jittery, eroticized tension, and Naranjo doesn't over-hype the connections between his stories of misspent youth and squandered life. Like Chano, the movie hums with sexed-up voltage, and it's just as hard, handsome, and shifty.

Slant Magazine [Paul Schrodt]

Drama/Mex is the best film Alejandro González Iñárritu never made. It has the pounding energy of Iñárritu's Amores Perros but none of the director's shrill bombast. Last year's Babel was Iñárritu's breaking point, the moment his interwoven Biblical themes became Oscar-baiting pathology. After that bloated fuss, Drama/Mex comes to Mexican cinema like a reviving tonic—a lean, 93-minute picture of life's delicate dramas uncoiling before Acapulco's burnished vistas. Writer-director Gerardo Naranjo builds paralleling character portraits involving national identity, love, and dishonesty. But he does away with the superfluous distractions of Babel's cosmic narrative. With a quick eye and the soft pluck of a few guitar strings, he finds what is essential about these people's lives. The poetry of Drama/Mex lies in its terse, simple honesty.

Naranjo's images have a wonderfully clarifying quality; he sorts through the mess of his characters' lives and, in a single shot, gives away all their dirty secrets. We quickly guess that Jaime (Fernando Becerril), a disenchanted office worker, carries on an affair with his young daughter, and that Fernanda (Diana Garcia) compensates for a nonexistent relationship with her father through a string of short-lived, passionate trysts. Lost in their own shame, Fernanda and Jaime grasp at any semblance of life's thrills. Drama/Mex climaxes with a drunken escapade through Acapulco's touristy beachside, the camera wobbling as it tracks its characters' woozy night on the town: Between hot, sweaty fucks with her ex Chano (Emilio Valdés), Fernanda repeatedly collides with her incensed boyfriend, while inside a dank nightclub, Jaime claims a young prostitute named Tigrillo (Miriana Moro) as if she was the daughter he disgraced.

Drama/Mex speaks to moral questions, but you might not guess it by the way Naranjo delicately makes religion a part of his gorgeous, sun-burnt tapestry. "Let's finish this," Fernanda says to a beaten, dejected Gonzalo, spending one last night with him in the sand. Fernanda looks into the camera as she lies down, recreating a thrilling shot from her encounter with Chano. But notice how her position has been reversed: Before, Fernanda lie below Chano, submitting herself to his passion, while now she's the one on top, cradling Gonzalo's broken ego. One minute Fernanda's a whore, the next she's a mother. At its heart, Drama/Mex is a story of people struggling to fulfill their roles—in their families, in their relationships and in their country—and the camera's forceful gaze is their confessional box.

Throughout, the characters cross paths and eye each other in a hotel café, but these coincidences are never given more consequence than they deserve. Everything that happens to Jaime, Fernanda and the others, Naranjo suggests, is a result of life's funny happenstance—the paths that they propel themselves into and the strange destinations where their actions lead them. If it's by chance that Gonzalo discovers Fernanda's infidelity and that Jaime meets Tigrillo, then it is every bit their prerogative to do with their situations what they choose. Jaime and Fernanda come to terms with life through their Acapulco landscape, a tourist town at crossroads with itself, where locals seem to live in a perpetual state of arrested development (one character calls it "Crapapulco"). Jaime, on the brink of suicide, steps into the sand with his slacks and work shoes, letting the tide wrap itself around his legs, pushing him into an existential moment. On the beach, characters reach out to spirits that live just outside their own world; this is their prayer.

And it's on the beach that Mexico connects to the rest of the world. Drama/Mex is executive-produced by Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna, with an eye toward bridging Mexico with other commercial film audiences—the way, you might say, Babel did. But Naranjo calls into question these global market forces as much as he serves them. When Chano tells a frigid Fernanda to "stop being so international," it may as well be Naranjo's discreet fuck-you to Iñárritu and the rest of a Mexican New Wave cinema increasingly co-opted by Hollywood. Drama/Mex—through and through, from its title to its omnipresent Acapulco backdrop—is a Mexican film. That identity, Naranjo suggests, says something fundamental about who his characters are and the choices they make. As much as Drama/Mex illuminates universal themes like sex and religion, it also holds a forcible mirror up to national backgrounds. Babel's condescension came from its whitewashed worldliness—a bird's-eye view into different countries, tying everyone's messy conflict together into one tidy package. Drama/Mex, capturing the essence of religion's individual human spirit, acknowledges that our lives are so much messier than that.

Drama/Mex   Lee Marshall in Cannes from Screendaily 

A loose, choral drama that plays out over one hot night in Acapulco, Drama/Mex traces its line of influence back through Amores Perros and Gus Van Sant to early Truffaut.

Shot in just three weeks, featuring mostly non-professional actors, this Cannes Critics' Week entry is fresh, likeable and bursting with a spontaneous energy that makes up for its often-slight storyline. This could see some theatrical action beyond its obvious festival and Spanish-language markets.

Three main characters uphold the three story currents that gradually converge on Acapulco beach in the course of the film. Fernanda (Diana Garcia), known to her friends as Fer, is a pretty, self-contained young thing in her late teens whose relationship with regular guy Gonzalo (Juan Pablo Castaneda) is upset by the return of her handsome but unreliable former boyfriend Chano (Emilio Valdes). Chano stole money from Fer's rich hotelier father some time previously and has been working as a gigolo on a cruise ship ever since.

Tigrillo (Miriana Moro), a plump but feisty teenage girl, has chosen this evening to join her girlfriends who offer "massage and relaxation" to sad old male gringos on the beach. Into this teen hormonal blender steps Jaime (Fernando Becceril), a tired and desperate businessman who has stolen money from his company and driven down from Mexico City determined to kill himself.

Structurally, and visually, the film feels like one long dance, as the handheld camera, almost always in movement, follows these characters at arm's length as they move around restlessly from room to room or beach to bar. Occasionally (as in Elephant or Last Days) the other characters impinge on the current storyline, sometimes in time-slip, so that we see incidents we've already watched from a different angle, with new information. The recurring soundtrack theme is a guitar version of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, which could have been schmaltzy but, in this emotionally generous film, actually works.

At first it's the complex beats of the Fer-Chano rapport that grab our attention, especially when he breaks into her empty luxury villa (parents are mostly absent in this film) and apparently rapes her; it's difficult to work out whether Fer's passionate acquiescence after the tooth and nail resistance is born of resignation or is part of some sexual game we know nothing about. Similarly, Jaime’s desire to commit suicide is never explained: we just take it on board as part of the carpe diem immediacy of the exercise.

The strongest plot strand, though, kicks in when Jaime agrees, after initial reluctance, to treat a persistent Tigrillo to dinner. Neither has any investment in the other: she just sees him as a rich guy to milk, while he is intrigued by her raw life-force, and sees her as a useful distraction while he gets drunk enough to pull the trigger. The script's unshowy development of the unspoken bond between this odd couple, each one a loner in their way, is a more satisfying trip than the sweet but hardly innovative teen love story nestling in the Fer-Chano-Gonzalez triangle.

Shooting a film this convincing in twenty days, and coaxing such authentic performances out of first-time actors, is no mean task. Naranjo is clearly a director to watch.

Fipresci  Ernesto Garratt, 2006

 

PopMatters [Jonathan J. Levin]

 

The Onion A.V. Club

 

New York Sun [Steve Dollar]

 

The Cinematheque [Kevyn Knox]

 

ReelTalk [Adam Hakari]

 

Film-Forward.com  Jack Gattanella

 

Reviews: AFI Fest Report: Drama/Mex Review  Peter Martin from Twitch

 

Salon.com [Andrew O'Hehir]

 

Screen Comment [Ali Naderzad]

 

Drama/Mex : DVD Talk Review of the DVD Video  Svet Atanasov from DVD Talk

 

DVD Verdict [Daryl Loomis]

 

Drama/mex — Inside Movies Since 1920  John P. McCarthy from Box Office magazine

 

Variety.com [Jay Weissberg]

 

Los Angeles Times [Sam Adams]

 

New York Times (registration req'd)  Manohla Dargis

 

I’M GONNA EXPLODE (Voy a explotar)

Mexico  (106 mi)  2008  ‘Scope

 

Time Out New York [Keith Uhlich]

It’s all but impossible to find a piece on I’m Gonna Explode that doesn’t mention its indebtedness to Jean-Luc Godard’s lovers-on-the-lam masterpiece, Pierrot le fou. The comparison is superficially apt. Just substitute two charismatic 15-year-old delinquents, Roman (De Santiago) and Maru (Deschamps), for Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina, move the location from France to Mexico, tie it in (quite facilely, in this case) to the current political situation and voilà…Pierrot el loco.

Yet the anything-goes instability of the film’s characters—who meet dourly cute after Roman performs a mock suicide at their prep school—is more in the schizoid black-comic vein of Polish director Andrzej Zulawski. Writer-director Gerardo Naranjo makes this latter homage explicit by repeating the Georges Delerue “Love Theme” from Zulawski’s The Most Important Thing Is to Love (1975) ad nauseam as the adolescent lovebirds race heedlessly to a tragic end.

It’s an appropriation that casts an unfortunately harsh light. Naranjo isn’t reworking Delerue’s, Zulawski’s and Godard’s efforts so much as piggybacking on them, hoping the feelings and sensations provided by their work will emerge simply via acknowledgment. The title of the film promises something revolutionary, but all we get, aesthetically and thematically, are second-gen hand-me-downs.

I'm Gonna Explode  Dave Calhoun from Time Out London

Imagine if Bonnie and Clyde were Mexican, ten years younger and didn’t go anywhere or even hurt anyone but just camped out on the roof of a large house owned by his father, a distracted politican, and fumbled with each other in a series of stalled steps towards the loss of their virginity and the realisation of their repressed fantasies of teen rebellion. This third feature from director Gerardo Naranjo was produced, among others, by Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna and shows the same fascination with youthful upheaval and the European filmmaking tradition with which those actors have been associated when taking Mexican film to the global stage.

Teens Roman (Juan Pablo de Santiago) and Maru (Maria Deschamps) – he privileged, she not – meet in detention at school, fake her kidnapping and retreat to the top of his home while their unsympathetic parents work with the police to find out where they’ve gone. The search is incidental, though, compared to Naranjo’s impressive infiltration of the pair’s dubious world of make-believe, inner narratives and flawed ambitions. The film amusingly makes a mockery of the adult world, while its teen protagonists remain pleasingly ambiguous: they’re at once spoilt kids who believe they’re more mature and wild than they are and romantic spirits who are sticking two fingers up at a stuffy, hypocritical world. The nods towards the Nouvelle Vague are a little too emphatic (we hear Georges Delerue too often) and its momentum and themes of play-acting dry up before the end, but this is mostly an unusual and imaginative, if overlong, love story.

Slant Magazine DVD [Glenn Heath Jr.]

The Godardian influence on Gerardo Naranjo's I'm Gonna Explode goes beyond the film's girl-and-a-gun scenario, even past the absurdly tragic and self-involved decisions of its male protagonist, a 15-year-old rich kid rebel named Roman (Juan Pablo de Santiago). Naranjo best transcribes the Nouvelle Vague (specifically late-1960s Godard) with his brazen, constantly shifting mise-en-scène, where splashes of primary color, deep texture, and chaotic movement dictate a nervous youthful energy stemming from the anxiety and passion of his teenage protagonists. It's when these stylistic flourishes compliment the budding romance between Roman and his equally disaffected peer, Maru (brilliantly played by Maria Deschamps), that I'm Gonna Explode takes on a fascinating immediacy, as if the visuals and sound are being constructed moment to moment by the fractious youths themselves.

After a brutal fantasy sequence where Roman envisions himself murdering two Catholic priests execution style, I'm Gonna Explode goes the Rushmore route and banishes it's prep school troublemaker to public school for thinking out loud. Roman's right-wing politician father Eugenio (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) is only casually outraged at his son's very-real threats of violence, and when Roman fakes his own hanging at the new school's talent show, his family is more annoyed than surprised. But the act gets Maru's attention, the first time a glimmer of any kind has livened up her zombie eyes. The two begin an exciting, almost instinctual relationship, culminating in a staged kidnapping meant to mask the couple's escape to Mexico City.

Naranjo fragments Roman and Maru's whirlwind escalation early in the film, using disjointed editing techniques to fracture their involvement with the socially corrupt outside world. In a brilliant victory against his overbearing father, Roman hides out with Maru on the extensive roof terrace of his family's villa as the police and their families sit floors below panicked and distressed at their children's sudden disappearance. The pair playfully watches as their families experience discomfort, calling in fake tips to send them on wild goose chases into the countryside. These scenes are complex, evocative, and strangely dark, indicative of dangerous child's play that challenges the very notion of family dynamics.

Roman and Maru's charade begins to grow more hallucinatory as their Badlands-style romance evolves from ideological to physical. In one particularly poetic longing reminiscent of Sissy Spacek's waif in Terrence Malick's debut film, Maru looks at Roman and says, "I gazed at him, and felt more alive…he was my perfect accomplice." We can feel her free spirit falling deeper and deeper into a state of fuzzy love lust, and in her eyes Roman's increasingly absurd actions become more romantic. But there's a lack of stylistic lyricism to complement this brisk attraction, replaced by a breakneck pace that favors quick decision-making and steam-of-consciousness morality. Naranjo keeps interrupting intimate moments with narrative complications, as if the adult world based on cause and effect won't allow the teenage fantasy to fully transcend its roots. Like all couples on the run, eventually Roman and Maru are forced out onto the open road.

I'm Gonna Explode expands its narrative outward, positioning Roman and Maru within an us vs. the world structure, and this is where their relationship begins to break down. The excitement of the first half begins to wane, as color schemes grow increasingly drab, the editing becomes less kinetic, and the realizations of adulthood hover over every decision the couple makes. In a particularly disturbing shift, Roman often leaves Maru behind when being chased by authorities, screaming incoherently into the wind for his companion to avoid capture. Despite this growing physical separation, it never dawns on Roman that all Maru wants is for them to escape together. In this sense, Roman's dense focus on himself consistently floods his emotional connection with Maru.

As Naranjo finalizes the couple's descent back to reality with a flood of film-history references (a picture of Buster Keaton frames Roman in a serious moment of reflection), the reflexivity is more nuanced than overt. The absurdities of both action and surroundings cloud any chance at romance for these two, and the inevitable tragic finale feels too forced when compared to the film's fascinating pastiche-riddled opening. I'm Gonna Explode eventually does just that, blowing its characters' minds on a physical and psychological level. But the high can never last, and the film's decline in adrenaline also relegates these characters back into the realm of familiarity. Roman's final dash of defiance is no longer fresh, but indicative of his most contrived weaknesses, and it's hard not to feel Maru deserved better. But maybe that's Naranjo's point.

Filmbrain [Andrew Grant]

 

notcoming.com | I'm Gonna Explode  Cullen Gallagher

 

Electric Sheep Magazine [Sarah Cronin]

 

Disaffected Youth in I'm Gonna Explode, The Headless Woman May ...  J. Hoberman from The Village Voice

 

Filmcritic.com  Chris Cabin

 

The House Next Door [Vadim Rizov]

 

Slant Magazine [Ed Gonzalez]

 

EyeForFilm.co.uk [Amber Wilkinson]

 

Film-Forward.com [Kent Turner]

 

Cinemattraction.com [Landon Palmer]

 

CineScene [Howard Schumann]

 

Screenjabber.com [Neil Davey]

 

Quiet Earth [Don Neumann]

 

eFilmCritic Reviews  Charles Tatum

 

exclaim! [Katarina Gligorijevic]

 

Reel Film Reviews [David Nusair]

 

Phil on Film [Philip Concannon]

 

Movie Talk [Peter Fuller]

 

Moviemuser.co.uk [Chris Hallam]

 

Q&A: Mexican filmmaker Gerardo Naranjo I'm Gonna E...  James van Maanen interview from Trust Movies, August 13, 2009

 

Variety.com [Eddie Cockrell]

 

Independent.co.uk [John Walsh]

 

Philadelphia Weekly [Matt Prigge]

 

New York Times (registration req'd)  Stephen Holden

 

DVDBeaver [Brian Alan Montgomery]

 

MISS BALA                                                              A-                    94

Mexico  (113 mi)  2011  ‘Scope

While this is a case of the truth is stranger than fiction, the director along with fellow writer Mauricio Katz have fashioned a fictionalized account of real events that leap out of the headlines, Miss Sinaloa and the Seven Narcos, ran the headline in The Mexican-Daily El Universal, where beauty queen Laura Zuñiga, Miss Sinaloa 2008, was arrested along with seven suspected narco drug traffickers in a truck filled with guns and ammunition, including $53,000 in cash, two AR-15 rifles, three handguns, 633 cartridges of different calibers, and 16 cellphones, on December 23, 2008 in Zapopan, Mexico.  According to the film, 50,000 people have lost their lives in the Mexican Drug Wars just in the last 6 years where the profiteers are protecting a $30 billion dollar industry within Mexico alone, which of course, also exports to the consumer hungry United States.  What makes this even more interesting is the connection to American (DEA) Drug Enforcement Agents, where recently the U.S. Attorney General has come under fire for his lack of knowledge about guns from the DEA gone missing in Mexico in an operation gone bad, where it turns out the U.S. is basically arming the narco traffickers.  But this film foregoes the politics and turns this into an atmospheric mood piece on abject fear and hopelessness, creating a harrowing and visceral experience, a seat-of-your-pants thriller reminiscent of the opening episode from AMORES PERROS (2000), easily the best thing Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu has ever done, with both uniquely expressing a raw, in-your-face, hyperkinetic energy that literally jumps off the screen.  This film creates a similar pulse rate, but only in certain stages, as otherwise the gangsters lay low for awhile and rest easy for a little R & R with the co-opted beauty queen until they decide to move again.  Much of this has the feel of a para-military operation, complete with reconnaissance teams that always report the whereabouts of the cops, information from men who have infiltrated inside the records of the army and police, using one-time only cell phones to communicate orders to the commanders in the field, which are then cleaned to prevent tracing, while armies of trucks and black SUV’s with tinted windows swerve in and out of traffic in precise increments based on their knowledge of the various positions of the police.  Make no mistake, these are military maneuvers. 

While this may sound surprising to most Americans who still haven’t a clue what’s happening in the gang wars taking place in ghettos across America, this activity in Mexico is not confined to specific neighborhoods, but can play out on the city streets anywhere, where the presence of these gigantic SUV’s is an everyday reality for most citizens, where all they can hope is that they’re not targeting civilians.  Like any other war, this one goes after the Who’s Who in both the police and drug trafficker operations, each searching for the other, and when they meet a fierce firefight develops instantaneously, where chaos reigns and bullets fly in all directions.  The collateral damage extends to innocent civilians who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  This film doesn’t suppose what happens when the innocent civilian is a Mexican beauty queen, but uses her actual experience of what really happened when she got sucked into narco operations purely by chance, where she proved useful to them as she was scared shitless, afraid for the lives of her family, so would do as instructed over a brief period of time which included several operations.  In real life, she was released following her arrest after the subsequent investigation proved she had no involvement with the narco drug industry, but was only a pawn in their game, suggesting it could just as easily be anybody, and often is.  This one just happened to be especially pretty, Stephanie Sigman as Laura Guerrero, a beauty queen contestant that attracted the eye of the drug kingpin, Lino (Noe Hernandez), a shadowy head of the Estrella drug cartel who sees her huddling in the corner during the middle of a raid on a nightclub targeting DEA agents, allowing her to live in order to make use of her in the future.  The film wastes no time getting right into the thick of the action.  

This plays out like a Mexican version of a Michael Mann action thriller, shot in ‘Scope using long takes from the constantly probing camera by Hungarian cinematographer Mátyás Erdély, often altering the focus in the same shot, making excellent use of locations and off-screen sound, featuring riveting performances from characters forced to act on impulse when events continually spiral out of control, where the gangsters thrive on this kind of heart racing action, driving trophy Porsches through the streets of Tijuana, but not a teenage girl who is being used for target practice for the first time in her life, where she spends most of the movie close to peeing in her pants from the intense fear, where Lino is continually toying with her, always getting what he wants and then throwing her away until she’s summoned again from out of the blue, a repeating cycle that seemingly can’t be broken.  The overriding theme here is fear and how it plays havoc with ordinary people who are caught up in this phenomenon of gunfights taking place on the city streets in broad daylight, where one of the best edited transitions seen all year finds Laura pinned down in one of the fiercest gunfights you could imagine, using a slow tracking shot where bodies are dropping and bullets are flying, where the sound is deafening, like what it must have been for the Marines trapped in Mogadishu, where she is then whisked away from that reality into a continuing pan through the back wings of a beauty pageant where she is quickly dressed for a runway appearance, and with tears streaming down her face she’s continually reminded to smile.  This kind of mood shift is insane, as you have no time to process the fear, as her life has turned into a human pin cushion of getting stuck repeatedly with having to perform some of the most dangerous drug operations, where she is the center of the storm not knowing which way to turn for safety, as the bullets are flying from every direction, where Laura has to rely on the whims of a cold blooded killer for protection.  While the film is seen exclusively through the terrified eyes of one woman, the larger issues of Mexico’s inability to protect ordinary citizens from being caught in the crossfire of the Drug Wars remain. 

Miss Bala  David Jenkins from Time Out London

What would you get if Michael Mann retooled Lucrecia Martel’s ‘The Headless Woman’ for the guns ‘n’ ammo set? Gerardo ‘I’m Gonna Explode’ Naranjo’s gobsmacking ‘Miss Bala’ is that movie, a terse, anything-can-happen dirge through Mexico’s dismal criminal underbelly as seen through the gorgeous peepers of the beauty queen of the title (Stephanie Sigman). While visiting a grotty underground discotheque frequented by corrupt cops, our heroine is kidnapped by a band of faceless, nameless terrorists and coerced in to carrying out their illegal bidding (and more). The technical flourishes pile up as the action is delivered from the perspective of the simpering but tough Sigman. It’s not a political film, nor is it one that peddles a liberal news agenda about Mexico’s ongoing drug wars. It does, however, allow us to take an objective look at various legal power structures and it helps us to understand that whoever wins this battle, we lose.

Laura Zuniga: Mexican Beauty Queen Arrested In Gun-Filled Truck  The Huffington Post, December 23, 2008

GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- A reigning Mexican beauty queen from the drug-plagued state of Sinaloa was arrested with suspected gang members in a truck filled guns and ammunition, police said Tuesday.

Miss Sinaloa 2008 Laura Zuniga stared at the ground, with her flowing dark hair concealing her face, as she stood squeezed between seven alleged gunmen lined up before journalists. Soldiers wearing ski masks guarded the 23-year-old model and the suspects.

Zuniga was arrested shortly before midnight Monday at a military checkpoint in Zapopan, just outside the colonial city of Guadalajara, said Jalisco state police director, Francisco Alejandro Solorio.

Zuniga was riding in one of two trucks, where soldiers found a large stash of weapons, including two AR-15 assault rifles, 38 specials, 9mm handguns, nine magazines, 633 cartridges and $53,300 in U.S. currency, Solorio said.

Zuniga told police that she was planning on traveling to Bolivia and Colombia with the men to go shopping, Solorio said.

When the former preschool teacher won Miss Sinaloa in July she gave an impassioned speech about how society should value women more, especially mothers. In October, she won the Hispanoamerican Queen beauty contest in October against competitors from across Latin America.

She placed third in the Nuestra Belleza Mexico pageant in Monterrey in September. That pageant sends its winner to the Miss Universe contest. For placing third, she was expected to represent Mexico in the 2009 Miss International contest.

Cannes '11, day three: Dizzying highs and staggering lows from the Festival's sidebars   Mike D’Angelo at Cannes from The Onion A.V. Club, May 14, 2011

One of the pleasures of the festival circuit is watching a new filmmaker develop into a major talent right before your eyes. After seeing Gerardo Naranjo’s small but assured Drama/Mex at Toronto in 2006, I filed him away as someone to watch, and that sense of promise was only strengthened when the New York Film Festival showcased his Godard-influenced I’m Gonna Explode a couple of years later, even if that film seemed rockier than its predecessor. With Miss Bala, screening here in Un Certain Regard, Naranjo has officially arrived—so much so that I suspect people will look back at the lineup in years to come and marvel that this powerhouse wasn’t in Competition. He wasn’t kidding: He was gonna explode.

Shot almost entirely in virtuoso single takes, Miss Bala follows Laura (Stephanie Sigman), a beauty-pageant contestant (the film’s title is a play on the Miss Baja, California title she covets; bala is Spanish for bullet) who drops by the wrong nightclub at the wrong time and finds herself in the middle of a massacre. From that instant, and without letup, her life becomes a surreal waking nightmare, as the ruthless head (Noe Hernandez) of the Tijuana drug cartel responsible for the hit decides to take a personal interest in her professional aspirations, including the Miss Baja pageant. What follows is a high-octane action flick with deliciously ironic twists and flat-out gaspworthy set pieces—I’m tempted to utter the ultra-hype phrase “not since Heat”—as well as, I believe, a corrosive metaphor for the brutal demands society makes of women in exchange for success. That the film concludes with a banal scrawl detailing the human cost of Mexico’s drug war potentially undermines that reading, admittedly, and it may take a second viewing for me to work out whether Miss Bala is as powerfully subversive as I’d like it to be or just an unbelievably exciting just-say-no tract. But since I can’t wait to see it again, that’s hardly a problem. Either way, I feel confident in saying that Gerardo Naranjo is a name you’ll be getting to know. Tentative grade: B+ (But I am, as folks have noted in the comments,an insanely tough grader; there’s almost no chance this film won’t make my top ten list when—not if—it gets a U.S. release. Think of it as an A-.)

exclaim! [Bjorn Olson]

Miss Bala is a study in contrasts, combining the world of the traditional beauty pageant with the blood-soaked Mexican drug trade. While the film focuses on the personal story of one woman ― a wide-eyed pageant contestant named Laura Gurerro (Stephanie Sigman), who gets caught in the crossfire ― it also acts as an impassioned, anguished shout at the violence and insanity that has erupted within the last decade over Mexico's inability to deal with what essentially amounts to a small-scale civil war.

As a survivor of a shoot-out at a border town bar, Laura finders herself running with a highly organized drug crew, who seem to use her not only as a witness, but as an inconspicuous shield for offensive manoeuvres, evading the police and cross-border trafficking. Laura can do little but go along with her captors' whims, essentially in fear for her life every waking moment. Yet, in an absurd twist, her mysterious masked keepers also realize her worth and fix the beauty pageant, parachuting the mysterious contestant into an obviously bogus victory.

Director Gerardo Naranjo's work is steeped in detail. The drug trade is run with ruthless efficiency, like a small army, rendering local police largely ineffective, and Sigman is our conduit, caught in the middle, relating every insane experience and violent close shave, making Laura's anxiety palpable with her expressive eyes. Much like the audience, Laura is thrust into a world she can't control and can only observe in order to stay alive.

Miss Bala ("Miss Bullet") is a riveting and violent slice of the desperate days in modern Mexico. As the body count escalates the country struggles to survive under the thumb of the insatiable appetite of its Northern neighbour. Never moralistic or preachy, Miss Bala is nevertheless an inherently political film. Naranjo has done an excellent job revealing the depth of corruption in Mexico, from the highest levels downwards.

Much like the way Laura is bounced around like a hopeless pinball, Miss Bala shows a country locked in a brutal turf war that will seemingly only end in complete destruction.

The House Next Door [Glenn Heath Jr.]  at Cannes

Much like the Bolsheviks and Czarists battling in Miklos Jansco's harrowing The Red and the White, Gerardo Naranjo makes the often-faceless Tijuana police and brutal criminal syndicate sound ideologically identical in his harrowing formalist assault Miss Bala. The long take plays a crucial role in establishing the infinite possibilities of violence and death in any one given moment, and Naranjo sees the overlapping patterns of off-screen sound as audible meat grinders crushing any potential hope for innocent characters in distress. This rigorously cyclical aesthetic is experienced through the eyes of 23-year-old Laura Guerrero (Stephanie Sigman), a young woman who gets plunged into an ongoing hell after witnessing a brutal massacre of D.E.A. agents at a south-of-the-border nightclub. After her initial exposure to this underworld of professional killers, Laura spends the rest of the film trying to regain her sense of freedom. Even when she momentarily escapes the stranglehold of either the overbearing cops or ruthless killers, she's instantly recaptured, as if both groups wield a menacing omniscient quality no one can ever escape.

Style almost always references theme in Miss Bala, and the stifling power of bureaucracy and corruption sprouts up in every dynamic set piece through meticulous camera movement and long takes. Often, Naranjo focuses on smaller moments of silence and shock amid the chaotic gunfire or explosions, like when Laura is caught in a mangled truck dazed and confused as a flurry of automatic weapons fire rages beyond the frame. As her cartel captors pull her from the wreckage, Naranjo tracks along a parallel axis, capturing the depth of the frame in stunning detail. Later, as if to show he could inverse this wide-angle sequence, Naranjo pulls in tight on Laura's near-naked body sprawled out in the corner of a hotel room shredded by bullets, the flakes of paint and wood falling slowly on her smooth skin.

While Laura tries to process the various nightmares she experiences (driving a car full of bodies, acting as a mule for ammunitions, or seducing a powerful general to set up his assassination), she can never fully recover from any one scenario due to the ghostly quality of her male captors. While extreme violence becomes a great indicator of Mexico's rapidly disintegrating social system, Naranjo also indicts the glossy beauty pageant Laura enters as another debilitating and untrustworthy institution created by the warring parties of male aggressors. Miss Bala ultimately becomes a master class in off-screen space due to it's constantly overlapping sound design, brilliantly examining the powerful façades crippling modern-day Mexico from within, along with the stunning similarities both sides share when it comes to violent practice and style. Laura's dynamic quest through the underworld of the modern Mexican experience feels overtly pragmatic, as if the filmmakers want the characters to survive one moment at a time before being jettisoned into another sudden onslaught of carnage. As a political and social document, Miss Bala is shock, awe, and pure cinema at its finest.

Busted! Taking Down Miss Hispanic America - TIME  Jose Mendez from Time magazine, December 27, 2008

 

Drew McWeeney  at Cannes from Hit Fix, May 14, 2011

 

Cannes Film Festival 2011: Day Three – Miss Bala, Habemus Papam, and Arirang  Glenn Heath Jr. at Cannes from The House Next Door, May 13, 2011

 

Kevin Jagernauth  at Cannes from the indieWIRE Playlist, May 14, 2011

 

The Film Stage [Raffi Asdourian]

 

Cannes Review: Gerardo Naranjo's Miss Bala | Film School Rejects  Simon Gallagher

 

Eye for Film : Miss Bala Movie Review (2011)  Amber Wilkinson

 

Daily Film Dose [Blair Stewart]

 

Miss Bala   Allan Hunter at Cannes from Screendaily  

 

Cannes: An explosive Mexican thriller  Andrew O’Hehir at Cannes from Salon, May 13, 2011

 

Cannes 2011. Snapshots: Gerardo Naranjo's "Miss Bala" ("Miss Bullet")  Marie-Pierre Duhamel at Cannes from Mubi, May 13, 2011

 

Cannes 2011. Rushes: "Restless", "Miss Bala"  Daniel Kasman at Cannes from Mubi, May 15, 2011

 

Cannes 2011: Good Movies, Where Are You?  J. Hoberman at Cannes from The Village Voice, May 13, 2011

 

FirstShowing.net Cannes 2011 [Alex Billington]

 

Of popes and poissons and Kim Ki-duk  Barbara Scharres at Cannes on the Ebert blog, May 13, 2011

 

Cannes 2011. Gerardo Naranjo's "Miss Bala"  David Hudson at Cannes from Mubi, May 14, 2011, also Updated October 2, 2011, here:  NYFF 2011. Gerardo Naranjo's "Miss Bala" 

 

Cannes Q. and A.: Gerardo Naranjo and Mexico’s State of Fear  Dennis Lim interviews the director from The New York Times, May 21, 2011

 

Miss Bala: Cannes Review  Deborah Young at Cannes from The Hollywood Reporter, May 14, 2011

 

Peter Debruge  at Cannes from Variety

 

Miss Sinaloa busted with narcos | Guadalajara Reporter  January 20, 2009

 

Police Release Mexican Beauty Queen - NYTimes.com

 

Laura Zúñiga - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Images for Laura Elena Zúñiga

 

Images for Miss Sinaloa 2009

 

Naruse, Mikio

GreenCine Daily  from the intro to Naruse from Not Coming to a Theater Near You (excerpt)

Naruse is one of the greatest of all directors, absolutely the equal of Ozu and Mizoguchi, and consequently one of the three towering figures of Japanese cinema.

But it still seems necessary to place Naruse in relation to Ozu and Mizoguchi and in particular to address the issue of his film style. It's absolutely true that Naruse's films do not display style in the way that the other two directors do. Stylistically, Mizoguchi's films are characterised by a refined and exquisite pictorial beauty, long takes, and lengthy and elegant camera movements. With Ozu, we have the consistent tropes of the excessively low-angle "tatami" shot, the increasing exclusion of camera movement, the crossing-the-line eye-line mismatching that forms the basis of an editing system, and the formalist abstraction of the "pillow" shots of clothes lines, chimneys, and so forth.

Naruse's style is, in comparison, a more "invisible" one that is in the first place put in the service of the story, of the characters and the emotions in any given scene. It's a quieter form of filmmaking, which repays an equally quiet attention on the part of the viewer to the way Naruse builds up a scene with a steady progression of shots; and the way each scene segues into the next in a graceful flow.

NARUSE: THE UNKNOWN JAPANESE MASTER previously at Film Forum in ...   Cinematheque Ontario 

Perhaps, at last, Mikio Naruse’s time has come. A multiple award-winner and frequent box office champ in Japan, a titan among French cinéastes, and the first Japanese director to be reviewed in The New York Times (14 years before Rashomon), Naruse (1905-1969) still remains virtually unknown in this country, despite championing by important critics like Susan Sontag, Phillip Lopate, Audie Bock and Donald Richie. But then Naruse has never been easily categorized. Though superficially compared stylistically to Ozu, and specializing in the problems of women like Mizoguchi, Naruse’s characters — curiously — most resemble those of Akira Kurosawa, his ardent advocate and former assistant, despite their total divergence in world view. Though eschewing the jidai-geki (period picture) for the shomin-geki (movies about the poor and lower-middle classes) — people constrained by the bonds of family, class and money — Naruse, like Kurosawa, created characters who refused to see themselves as victims, relentlessly pursuing happiness despite its seeming impossibility and, lashing out against all boundaries, go down with all guns blazing. (Naruse’s Mifune was the legendary actress Hideko Takamine, who in fifty years of stardom moved from being Japan’s Shirley Temple to its Katharine Hepburn.) Long stymied by rights issues and a lack of subtitled prints, a Naruse retrospective (the last in New York was twenty-one years ago) is at last possible in his centennial year, thanks to the extraordinary efforts of James Quandt of Cinematheque Ontario, organizer of this multi-city tour, and The Japan Foundation, which has struck twenty-two new 35mm prints for this thirty-one film retrospective, an overview of Naruse’s four-decade career, from silents to the era of color and Scope.

Feature: Better Late Than Never: The Films of Mikio Naruse  Keith Uhlrich from Slant magazine

 

Of all the acknowledged masters of cinema, the Japanese director Mikio Naruse is perhaps the one least known in the West, as well as the one whose work is most difficult to see. Minimally represented on VHS and DVD (at this writing, none of his features are available in Region 1 format), the primary way to experience the director's oeuvre is on film, though this in itself—barring the current 31-film traveling retrospective and its mid-'80s predecessor—is often easier said than done. For the most part, rights issues and the lack of subtitled prints have relegated Naruse to the realm of mystery. The upside of remaining out of sight for so long is that a substantial reputation can be built among the movie faithful, yet how can any filmmaker hope to live up to the cinephilic fervor that Naruse's films, by their very absence, have cultivated? Rare that the newcomer to an artist's work is immediately captured and unreservedly convinced of said artist's supreme aesthetic mastery, yet that was exactly my experience upon viewing Naruse's seminal 1960 melodrama When a Woman Ascends the Stairs. Several films into the current retrospective (now playing at New York City's Film Forum) and the shock of that first impression, the sense that I had been completely absorbed into and was experiencing an utterly unique cinematic worldview, shows no signs of dissipating. With the relative dearth of English writing on Naruse, this Slant Magazine feature aims to collect, under one banner, as complete a summary and consideration of the director's body of work as possible. Following the general theme of my initial encounter with When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, each review is a first impression, written from the inquisitive perspective of a neophyte coming to these films for the first time. Taken together I hope these pieces will act as inspiration and guide for our readers to seek out the work of an artist too long in neglect. A final note: Though created and published in conjunction with the current retrospective (which in toto represents little more than a third of Naruse's 89-film output) this will eventually become a stand-alone database with extant titles added as they are seen.

 

All-Movie Guide  bio from Jonathan Crow

 

Mikio Naruse: Facts, Discussion Forum, and Encyclopedia Article  biography and filmography

 

Mikio Naruse    Rediscovering an Asian Master, profile and filmography by Toh Hai Leong from FilmsAsia

 

Mikio Naruse: Japanese Master  brief bio, also film descriptions

 

TCMDB  profile from Turner Classic Movies

 

Mikio Naruse  Alexander Jacoby from Senses of Cinema, April 2003  

 

Nightly Dreams   Mike Naruse’s Silent Masterpiece, by Michael M. Drew, October 1997 

 

Unsentimental Journey: A Glimpse into the Cinema of Mikio Naruse   Acquarello from Senses of Cinema, January 2001

 

Sound of the Mountain: The Beauty of Pessimism by Dag Sødtholt from Senses of Cinema, October 2001

 

The Materialist Ethic of Mikio Naruse  Freda Freiberg from Senses of Cinema, April 2002

 

Mikio Naruse (1905-1969)   Mikio Naruse (1905-1969), by William M. Drew, August 2002

 

• View topic - Mikio Naruse  Criterion Forum discussion group, June 2005

 

Mikio Naruse: The Other Women and the View from Outside  Chris Fujiwara from Film Comment, September/October 2005

 

More on Naruse  A Living Architecture, ‘The Films of Mikio Naruse’ (on 2005 retrospective in Boston) by Chris Fujiwara from the Boston Phoenix, September 30 – October 6, 2005

 

Mikio Naruse: A Centennial Tribute - Harvard Film Archive   September 30 – October 10, 2005

 

'Naruse: The Unknown Japanese Master' - New York Times    Manohla Dargis from The New York Times, October 28, 2005

 

Feature: Better Late Than Never: The Films of Mikio Naruse   Keith Uhlich reviews 33 films from Slant magazine, 2005

 

The films of Mikio Naruse   Dan Sallit film comments, October/November 2005

 

Northwest Asian Weekly: The great Japanese director you've never ...    N.P. Thompson from The Northwest Asian Weekly, January 21, 2006

 

The Evening Class: Phillip Lopate—Mikio Naruse and "Wife! Be Like ...   Michael Guillen, April 18, 2006

 

The Brooklyn Paper: EVERYDAY PEOPLE   Kevin Filipski from The Brooklyn Paper, April 22, 2006

 

Bright Lights Film Journal | Notes on Naruse    Dan Callahan from Bright Lights Film Journal, May 2006

 

d+kaz . Screening Log Aggregate: Mikio Naruse   Daniel Kasman film comments, December 10, 2006

 

Midnight Eye Article (2007)  Eija Niskanen from Midnight Eye, February 11, 2007

 

Asian Film Archive   The Silent Women Ozu, Naruse, and Mizoguchi, from the Asian Film Archive, March 21, 2007

 

Director Mikio Naruse: An overlooked master - Features, Films ...    Geoffrey Macnab from The Independent, June 29, 2007

 

Japan Foundation Supported Project Mikio Naruse Season at the BFI ...    An introduction to a Naruse retrospective by Stephen Wilson, July 2007 (pdf format)

 

Mikio Naruse   DVD Press release from BFI Screen Online, November 26, 2007 (pdf format)

 

Flowing: The Films of Mikio Naruse  Leo Goldsmith and Ian Johnston from Not Coming to a Theater Near You, November 30, 2007, acompanied by 10 film reviews

 

A few words on Mikio Naruse « Cinema Talk  4 film reviews from Cinema Talk, January 13, 2008

 

A Mirror for Mama-san by Chris Fujiwara - Moving Image Source    Chris Fujiwara from Moving Image Source, June 4, 2008

 

Water Ink » Mikio Naruse   Pin Lu, August 8, 2009

 

Strictly Film School  Acquarello film reviews

Naruse, Mikio  They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They

Mikio Nalse's grave

Fumio Hayasaka - Films as composer:  Kyoko Hirano from Film Reference

 

Kyoko Kagawa - Films as actress:   Kyoko Hirano from Film Reference

 

Image results for Mikio Naruse 

Wikipedia

FLUNKY WORK HARD

Japan  (38 mi)  1931

 

The films of Mikio Naruse   Dan Sallit film comments, October/November 2005

Rather a nice little film, an O. Henry-like vignette that feels complete at 38 minutes.  Naruse seems to be working out of Ozu's universe here: the film lacks his usual storytelling sprawl, though we get some of his visual gravity and his bleak vision of family and poverty.  The physical humor is often deft (there's a very funny gag where the mother's compulsive sweeping threatens an infant lying on the floor), but the film peaks with the harsh scene of the father's unjust punishment of his son, ending in a beautiful long shot of the crying boy's retreat through a sunny field.  Naruse is already punching up the story with camera moves and effects, but not as continuously as he would in a few years: the camera style remains calm until the plot takes an emotional turn.

Flunky, Work Hard!  Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

Flunky, Work Hard! is the first surviving work of director Mikio Naruse, his eighth film chronologically and available only as a 38-minute digest version created for the Japanese home market. Even at its truncated length the film is a near-masterpiece, succumbing only in its final moments to a dishonest sentimentality that we might attribute to misplaced youthful idealism. The film contrasts a day-in-the-life of a working class insurance salesman (Isamu Yamaguchi) with that of his temperamental young son Susumu. While the salesman tries desperately to sell a policy to the rich woman up the street, Susumu defends himself (in a quite hilarious succession of physical brawls) against the taunts of some peers. The salesman insists his son be more peaceful and acquiescent, though he fails to take his own advice when plying his trade, engaging in childish displays of one-upsmanship with an egregious rival agent. All to a purpose: The salesman is trying to land the deal so that he can pay off his creditors and buy Susumu a model airplane, yet the too explicit differences between father and son compel the boy to run away. During his getaway Susumu is hit by a train and hospitalized. Upon hearing what has happened the salesman runs to Susumu's bedside and contemplates his own responsibility for the situation.

Flunky, Work Hard! contains an intriguing mix of elements from both early and later Naruse. In addition to the director's omnipresent theme of the frustrations of money, the film is composed primarily of static shots, though these are frequently intruded on by hectic superimpositions that create a powerfully implied impression of movement. These layered stylistic juxtapositions anticipate the frenetic camera tracks of many of Naruse's 30s movies (where he quite literally seems to be digging for his characters' souls), though it should be noted that Flunky, Work Hard! is a much more penetrating and psychologically acute work as compared to films like Not Blood Relations and Apart from You, both of which devolve into dissonant melodramatic bathos. Flunky, Work Hard! is a film at a crossroads, its most resonant image that of a fly trapped under a dripping faucet and flailing around the waterlogged sink. It's almost as if Naruse caught a glimpse, in this one visual, of the artist he would become, possessed of a necessity to depict life in all its harsh and horrifying reality (as he does in this image's complementary bookend: the devastating Hideko Takamine close-up that closes out his cumulative masterpiece Yearning.) Yet Flunky, Work Hard! is finally a young man's film and so the story's necessary final punch is pulled to make way for an inorganic and fraudulent sense of hope—in this we can see where many of the flaws of Naruse's subsequent films are birthed, though the misstep seems somewhat less officious in the retrospect of a career that ultimately does end up on the side of vicious and undeniable Truth. 

Eclipse Series 26: Silent Naruse  Criterion essay by Michael Koresky, March 21, 2011

 

Press Notes: Silent Naruse  April 04, 2011

 

Eclipse Series 26: Silent Naruse  The Criterion Collection

 

A Journey Through the Eclipse Series: Mikio Naruse’s Flunky, Work Hard  David Blakeslee from The Criterion Cast, March 28, 2011

 

NOT BLOOD RELATIONS

Japan  (85 mi)  1932

 

Not Blood Relations   Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

With the exception of Flunky, Work Hard! (reportedly only available in a 38-minute digest version), Mikio Naruse's earliest surviving feature is Not Blood Relations, a silent mother-love melodrama whose stylistic crudities explicitly illustrate what, in the director's later work, is relegated to subtlety and subtext. In telling the story of two mothers—one biological, one surrogate—fighting over the same daughter, Naruse makes excessive use of an over-the-top technical flourish (a swift camera track in from medium-shot to close-up) that emphasizes a character's inner turmoil while rather cheaply and mechanically heightening a given scene's sense of suspense and dread. Naruse employs the visual so often that its cumulative effect, over the course of a very long 85 minutes, is deadening, yet it remains, despite its manipulative superficiality, of multifaceted thematic interest. Seen in light of the director's more psychologically penetrating future efforts, it becomes clear that Naruse—via Not Blood Relations' oft-repeated visual motif—is as much digging for a personal style as he is for his characters' souls. The film is perhaps best viewed in this way and through this prism: as a work of youthful insouciance, the gesture of an innately talented apprentice whom we know (thanks to the dubious benefit of hindsight) will soon become a master.

User comments  fromimdb Author: F Gwynplaine MacIntyre (Borroloola@earthlink.net) from Minffordd, North Wales

I saw this movie in October 2005 at the Cinema Muto festival in Sacile, Italy. The festival screened a print from the National Film Centre, Tokyo. I was faintly surprised that the Japanese film industry was still producing silent movies as late as 1932. The print screened at Sacile had its original Japanese intertitles, with English subtitles added.

SPOILERS THROUGHOUT. Tamae Kiyuka is a woman with a past. Seven years ago, she gave birth to a daughter (Shigeko) out of wedlock, but wasn't able to raise the child properly. She gave the girl to Masako, a peasant woman who has no wealth but who does have a stable marriage and family life. Masako raises Shigeko as her own daughter.

Seven years later (which reminds me: do the Japanese give the number 7 the same mystical significance that westerners do?), Tamae decides to reclaim her daughter. She offers Shigeko all sorts of material comforts which Masako and her humble husband Atsumi cannot match. For these reasons, and because of the call of blood, Shigeko at first agrees to come with Tamae and to accept her biological mother as her true parent. However, eventually Shigeko realises that she truly loves her adoptive mother Masako as her parent, and cannot learn to love the gaudy Tamae. In an ending right out of 'Stella Dallas', Tamae is a good enough mother to recognise that she is a bad mother: her maternal love for Shigeko compels her to put Shigeko's happiness above her own. Reluctantly, she returns Shigeko to Masako's household, and departs.

On one level, this very Japanese movie reminded me of a lot of Hollywood epics about mother love: not only 'Stella Dallas', but also 'Mildred Pierce', 'Madame X' and even 'East Lynn'. It's in this movie's favour that it touches emotional chords which are common to both eastern and western cultures.

Unfortunately, I never much fancied any of those Hollywood mother-love epics ... so, the fact that I felt similarly towards this movie is NOT a point in its favour. This is a chick flick of the most bathetic sort. The fact that it's a Japanese chick flick from the 1930s -- giving me a glimpse of another culture, another time -- is a point in its favour, but only a small point. This movie bored me in the same way that 'Madame X' and 'Stella Dallas' bored me. My rating: only 3 out of 10.

Eclipse Series 26: Silent Naruse  Criterion essay by Michael Koresky, March 21, 2011

 

Press Notes: Silent Naruse  April 04, 2011

 

Eclipse Series 26: Silent Naruse  The Criterion Collection

 
APART FROM YOU

Japan  (61 mi)  1933

 

User comments  from imdb Author: Michael Kerpan (kerpan) from New England

An early masterpiece by Naruse, this tells the story of an aging geisha (Mitsuko Yoshikawa) who struggles to support her senior high school-aged son (?). He, however, is so embarrassed by his mother that he has begun cutting school -- and associating with a bad crowd. A young (late teen-aged?) colleague of his mother (Sumiko Mizukubo -- a lovely girl with huge eyes, who co-starred in Ozu's "Dragnet Girl") also worries about the son, and urges him to not disappoint his mother. In order to show him how lucky he is, she takes him to visit her dysfunctional family. The father is a ne'er-do-well -- and the family is planning to sell their second daughter into prostitution too -- in order to make ends meet. The contrast between the lovely seaside locale and the sordidness of the family is striking. Although the two young people are falling in love, she feels she must go off to a more profitable location in order to make enough money to save her little sister from her blighted fate. Very fine acting -- and some rather striking and extravagant cinematography (Suketaro Inokai -- who also filmed some of Shimizu's best movies). Highly recommended.

Apart from You   Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

In Apart from You, writer-director Mikio Naruse repeats several of the superficial stylistic flourishes of his previous film Not Blood Relations, accentuating the narrative's overly melodramatic turns of plot with flashy camera movements that effectively reiterate and replay the film's themes on an ad nauseum loop-de-loop. Yet it is nonetheless a much more focused and sustained work, bearing some evidence—via several beautifully visualized superimpositions—of the director's developing interest in character psychology. Little surprise, as attested by the films to follow, that it is Apart from You's female characters who are most vividly realized, yet this unfortunately creates something of an imbalance as the film primarily focuses on caricatured male lead Yoshio (Akio Isono), a delinquent teenager who comes to love and eventually lose Terukiku (Sumiko Mizukubo), the young woman in the employ of his geisha mother Kikue (Mitsuko Yoshikawa). At certain moments Yoshio comes off as a romanticized Narusian auto-critique, an adolescent precursor to the lacerating male alter ego in the director's great Anzukko. More often he's just two-dimensional deadweight diverting attention from his more intriguingly shaded female counterparts whose soulful sufferings for their gentleman cipher's protracted and hollow redemption take precedence over their occasional, welcome detours into insightful and nuanced personal backstory. Apart from You is finally all frustrated anticipation, nowhere more evident than in the climactic train station farewell, a sequence that plays out along all the expected, semi-effectual dramatic lines, yet suffers immeasurably when considered in light of Naruse's twilight masterpiece Yearning wherein a similar, emotionally heightened departure is subversively and devastatingly reworked.

Eclipse Series 26: Silent Naruse  Criterion essay by Michael Koresky, March 21, 2011

 

Press Notes: Silent Naruse  April 04, 2011

 

Eclipse Series 26: Silent Naruse  The Criterion Collection

 
NIGHTLY DREAMS

aka:  Every Night Dreams

Japan  (64 mi)  1933

 

Strictly Film School   Acquarello 

Mikio Naruse's elegantly distilled early silent film Every Night's Dreams provides an archetype for the filmmaker's recurring themes: pragmatic, determined women who tenaciously hold onto their failing relationships, weak men who lead a life of increasing dependence on the women they mistreat, life stations that grow baser as characters paradoxically strive to improve their situation. Structured in the framework of a melodrama, the story chronicles the life of a popular bar hostess and single mother named Omitsu (Sumiko Kurishima) as she struggles to rebuild her fractured family after her chronically unemployed husband (Tatsuo Saito) unexpectedly returns. Stylistically, Naruse incorporates a series of innovative camerawork: temporal cross-cutting, elliptical montage, and recurring shots of disembodied framing (most notably, in a night time sequence of running legs) the serve, not only to provide a compact precision - and therefore, emotional tension - to the film's pervasive atmosphere of entrapment and existential stasis, but also to reflect the characters' sense of disorientation and economic instability.

Every Night Dreams  Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

In the early years of his filmmaking career, Mikio Naruse's peers bestowed on him a rather cruel nickname ("Dr. Disconsolate") that finds its physicalized expression, via the eternally slouching character of Mizuhara (Tatsuo Saito), in the director's 1933 silent Every Night Dreams. Tall and thin, possessed of a sickly pale constitution, and cursed by perpetual bad luck, Mizuhara treads lightly through life, a melancholy, anonymous shell of a man inured to an unbounded, fatalistic defeatism. When he pays a visit to his ex-wife Mitsu (Sumiko Kurishima), hoping to reassert himself into the life of their young son Fumio (Teruko Kojima), he meets with an expected harsh rejection. "Because of you I've become too tough to be sentimental," says Mitsu, who works as a Ginza bar hostess to make ends meet and continually fends off the wanton attentions of numerous male admirers. She eventually softens, in particular because of Mizuhara's atypically confident pronouncements that he will find work and support the family, though this turns out to be—par for the Narusian course—a tragedy-laden false hope.

Like many Naruse films of the '30s, Every Night Dreams is somewhat stylistically unhinged, yet the constant rapid push-ins and frenetic cutting (particularly during a striking montage of running legs) feel more to the psychological point than in comparatively showier works like Not Blood Relations and Street without End. Naruse brilliantly navigates the space of Mitsu and Mizuhara's marriage—their apartment, which even infinitely reflective mirrors seem to shrink and constrict, is a simmering emotional hothouse that the characters traverse like opposing chess pieces, forever avoiding each other's pained gazes and masking their feelings in a culturally-sanctioned aura of politeness. When Fumio is hit by a car (one of the director's career-constant motifs), it becomes clear that even home isn't safe from Mizuhara's afflictive bad luck and so he sinks to thieving before finally drowning himself in shame. What follows is perhaps Naruse's most indelible sequence: confronted with Mizuhara's suicide note, Mitsu rips it violently with her teeth and screams, "Weakling!" Cursing her husband, she falls to her knees before a convalescing Fumio and pleads with him to be a strong man, though the final composition and fade-out (at once empathetic and clinical) suggests that, much like Mizuhara, Naruse recognizes the futility of prayers in the face of a harsh, perhaps genetically predisposed reality.

User comments  from imdb Author: Michael Kerpan (kerpan) from New England

1933 was the artistic high point of Naruse's career in silent films. He garnered both third and fourth place in Kinema Junpo's best of the year citations (the most prestigious film "award") this year -- for "Apart from You" and this film, respectively (Ozu took first place for "Passing Fancy" and Mizoguchi second for "Water Magician"). Despite this, he got no respect from his boss at Shochiku, and soon would move on to PCL (the predecessor of Toho), where he would stay (mostly) for over 30 years.

In this film, Sumiko Kurishima plays a woman whose husband had deserted her, following the birth of her child. For lack of any better option, she has been forced to support her son and herself as working as a hostess at a waterfront bar. When her ne'er-do-well husband (Tatsuo Saito) returns, her first impulse is to reject him, but her neighbors prevail on her to give him a second chance. Saito proves to be a thoughtful father and a loving husband, but in depression-stricken Tokyo is unable to find work (and is deeply embarrassed that his wife must support the family in the tawdry way she does). When his child is injured in an accident, he tries to get money to pay for medical care by committing a robbery. His wife refuses the money, urging him to turn himself in. Unable to bear the shame, he drowns himself. At the end, less than a week after Saito's return, mother and son are left alone again.

Kurishima's performance here is simply one of the best I've ever seen. She was the first woman star of the Japanese cinema -- and by this point -- had been at the top of her field for over a decade (not counting early work as a child). Her ability to express herself (despite maintaining great reserve), with both face and body, is extraordinary. Tatsuo Saito's performance in a rare dramatic part (albeit with a few comic moments) is likewise exceptional, capturing the dreamy sweetness of his immensely kind (but unable to fit into the everyday world) -- one has no trouble understanding why Kurishima (whose everyday life is so filled with sordidness) has been attracted to him (and is willing to give him another chance). Supporting roles are (as usual with Shochiku's top tier efforts) superbly filled -- with regulars like Takeshi Sakamoto (as an overbearing ship's captain lusting after Kurishima) and Choko Iida (as the crusty, but ultimately not unfeeling, proprietress of the waterfront bar).

The cinematography (and editing) of this film is as perfect as the performances. This is Naruse's most visually audacious film ever, with an unsettling pattern of repeatedly tracking towards (and sometimes away from) characters, use of extremely deep visual fields -- and some extraordinary cutting. Indeed, Naruse's techniques were so audacious here that (despite critical praise), he was forbidden from using them again at Shochiku (thus, prompting his discontent -- and leading Ozu to recommend that he seize his opportunity to shift to a newer studio which would give him greater support).

Eclipse Series 26: Silent Naruse  Criterion essay by Michael Koresky, March 21, 2011

 

Press Notes: Silent Naruse  April 04, 2011

 

Eclipse Series 26: Silent Naruse  The Criterion Collection

 
STREET WITHOUT END

Japan  (87 mi)  1943 

 

The films of Mikio Naruse   Dan Sallit film comments, October/November 2005

A relatively conventional story, filmed with assurance by Naruse, and helped by an appealingly restrained lead performance from Setsuko Shinobu.  The vigorous, eclectic camera style works through, not around, the drama, giving the impression that Naruse is completely engaged with the material.  Even so, the film never develops the narrative complexity that is his specialty.  Though Naruse doesn't do enough with Shinobu's participation in the death of her hapless husband, he scores big with the final scene, which returns to the opening visual theme of city chaos to amplify Shinobu's lingering sense of loss from an earlier relationship.

Street Without End  Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine 

The classes collide in director Mikio Naruse's silent melodrama Street Without End when the car driven by bourgeois mama's boy Hiroshi Yamanouchi (Hikaru Yamanouchi) hits proletarian tea salon waitress Sugiko Shima (Setsuko Shinobu). It's Sugiko's ticket to the better life she's always dreamed of—one seemingly attained by her movie actress roommate Kesako Nakane (Chiyoko Katori)—and after a romance-infused courtship capped by a proposal in the ominous shadow of Mount Fuji, Sugiko marries and moves in with Hiroshi, much to the distress of the latter's mother (Ayako Katsuragi) and sister (Nobuko Wakaba). Hiroshi is weak in the face of his family and so Sugiko is left to fend for herself against their constant condescending taunts. What goes around comes around: Sugiko gains the upper hand when a distraught Hiroshi, having driven his car off a cliff, is hospitalized in critical condition. In one of Naruse's greatest sequences, Sugiko confronts the mother and sister at her husband's bedside, tearing into them with righteous stoical fury before turning her back on a heartbroken Hiroshi. The mélo becomes mythic thanks to Naruse's expert sense of montage, the alternating images of the actors' faces and bodies attaining an intense and overpowering rhythm that culminate in a devastating juxtaposition: Hiroshi's hand falling limp as Sugiko steps into an impassive close-up. There's a profound sense of finality to the sequence, befitting the fact that this was to be Naruse's last silent as well as the film that, due to some broken promises and behind-the-scenes tempests, drove him to leave Shochiku studio for apparently greener pastures at PCL.

Eclipse Series 26: Silent Naruse  Criterion essay by Michael Koresky, March 21, 2011

 

Press Notes: Silent Naruse  April 04, 2011

 

Eclipse Series 26: Silent Naruse  The Criterion Collection

 
THREE SISTERS WITH MAIDEN HEARTS

Japan  (64 mi)  1935

 

User comments  from imdb Author: Daryl Chin (lqualls-dchin) from Brooklyn, New York

Naruse's THREE SISTERS WITH MAIDEN HEARTS remains one of the most inventive and original early sound films made anywhere; its usage of voice-over, sound effects, and music to amplify the basic narrative is extraordinarily sophisticated. It's also one of Naruse's most poignant films, with its story of three sisters and their travails as traveling musicians. It's very little known, but deserved to be more widely seen. This film is also notable as one of the rare instances when Yasunari Kawabata wrote the original screen story; in 1954, Naruse would adapt Kawabata's novel THE SOUND FROM THE MOUNTAINS, but this early collaboration remains an instance where a distinctive literary sensibility was truly represented on the screen.

Three Sisters with Maiden Hearts  Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

Three Sisters with Maiden Hearts, writer-director Mikio Naruse's first sound film, tells the story of three very different siblings forced to work as samisen street musicians to make ends meet. O-Ren (Chikako Hosokawa), the eldest, is on a downward spiral into Tokyo's Asakusa district underworld, exasperated middle sister O-some (Masako Tsutsumi) attempts to protect her sisters by appeasing their demanding mother Hahaoya (Chitose Hayashi), and Chieko (Ryuko Umezono), the youngest, pursues love and romance with kindly restaurateur Aoyama (Heihachiro Okawa). Three Sisters is one of Naruse's most formally experimental works, making use of an intricate, yet playful flashback structure and a fluid, constantly moving camera to delineate the sisters' varying paths through life. Chieko's Folies Bergere-like dance numbers are a particular highlight, demonstrating Naruse's affinity with and understanding of the psychology of performance. And even at a relatively brief 64 minutes, it feels as if Three Sisters explores a lifetime of heartache and tragedy, culminating in a wrenching train station climax where O-some makes the ultimate sacrifice to preserve a complicated sense of familial status quo.

Chicago Independent Media Center  Jimmy Johnson

“Don’t get smart. You’re not a princess.”

Was Mikio Naruse seventy years ahead of his time or is Rob Marshall seventy years behind? Comparing Three Sisters with Maiden Hearts with Memoirs of a Geisha is startling for Naruse’s portrayal of strong female characters struggling in a system that does its best to keep them subservient. A strong feminist message would be nice to see in more films today. Instead we’ve got crap like Monster-in-Law where the formerly formidable Fonda, Jane that is, ends up “trafficking in regressive, reactionary, blatantly sexist gender codes”. MOAG is more along the lines of the latter and pales likes a geisha’s makeup in comparison to Naruse’s wonderful film.

Opening with a series of great shots of life in Tokyo’s Asakusa ghetto, the film centers a group of “sisters” living in a geisha house run by “mother” Hahaoya (Chitose Hayashi). Oshima (Masako Sanjo) and Osome (Masako Tsutsumi) hit bars singing and playing shamisen music for tips. Cheiko (Ryuko Omezono) has taken a different path dancing in an American-style cabaret joint. Mother doesn’t approve of Cheiko’s job and thinks even less of her burgeoning romance with Aoyama (Heihacharo Okawa). The break from pattern threatens the house’s earnings and when the poor stray from the path, no matter how innocuously, the results can be dire, a warning not heeded by Cheiko. Mother’s dictatorial control already led to Oren (Chikako Hosokawa) bolting at the first possible opportunity and Cheiko appears to be next. Oren’s history with organized crime comes into play as she and her infirm husband try to exchange urban for rural poverty. Osome does what she can to help each of her sisters while trying to appease Mother. Giving some of her earnings to Oshima is tough but her sacrifices increase plenty as they all struggle just to try to retain an unenviable status quo.

TSWMH was Naruse’s first sound film and his most visually experimental. For long periods he keeps the camera in motion along with the sisters as they navigate their way through Asakusa’s seedier parts. When the camera does stop Naruse goes to great lengths to frame each scene memorably. A simple, brief, beautiful shot of a paddle pushing a rowboat across the screen is made all the more effective for the static camera after the long periods of action. The sophisticated use of voice-over and sound effects put the technical proficiency of the film far above most 1935 fare.

Mikio Naruse is somewhat a nonentity in the United States. Despite support from several prominent critics like Susan Sontag & Audie Bock his films are generally unavailable. As of this publishing there is not a single Naruse film available on DVD in the United States and Amazon.com only lists two (of eighty-nine) on VHS. His sober shomin-geki films should have made him a giant along the lines of Ozu and Kurosawa long ago. The current tour of Naruse films will be at the Gene Siskel Film Center through the end of February and should not be missed by anyone with an interest in cinema. Three Sisters with Maiden Hearts is a great, great film. Naruse did make better films later on with narratives that were more tightly woven. That said, this film is one of his most visually stunning and his later, greater films aren’t that much bette as there’s only so much room for improvement.

WIFE! BE LIKE A ROSE!

aka:  Kimiko

Japan  (74 mi)  1935

 

User comments  from imdb Author: Eddie Kasica from New York City

A very dear film by the young Naruse Mikio, and the theme is what it so often is in the great Japanese cinema of the 1930s, 40s and 50s: the heart wants what it wants. The lovely daughter is played by Chiba Sachiko, and she would later marry Naruse. The wonderful Japanese actor Maruyama Sadao plays the father. Maruyama would later be exterminated in the U.S. terror bombing of Hiroshima.

User comments  from imdb Author: Alan (ahoffer) from Portland, OR. USA

This is a tender love story taking place about the time when the Japanese war machine was raping Nanking (Nanjing), enslaving Korean women, attacking the Philippines, and preparing to bomb Australia and America. These contrasts are startling as is the contrast that is in the lesson of the film. Naruse-san teaches us once again that the truth about a person resides not in the words and inferences spoken, rather in direct observation and understanding. Here we have a young women approaching the age of independence being raised by her mother who continually painted the absent father as an unfaithful woman chaser living with a woman of ill repute. The daughter wants to actually meet her father and she wonders why he left her and her mother. She trains to the remote village where the father lives with the infamous lady.

The actual meeting, first when the father and daughter view each other from a distance is the perfect technique Naruse-san used in other films, to the actual polite, respectful way the Japanese greet each other, is quite emotional and the viewer senses the love each has for the other, bridging the years of separation.

The daughter is quite surprised to learn that the so-called infamous woman is simply a very plain and loving farm lady with no special beauty nor male allure. She quite simply loves the man she lives with; she is a marvelous rose, something the man's wife was not.

As far as I know, the film is not available on DVD. I wish it were.

Wife! Be Like a Rose!   Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

Writer-director Mikio Naruse's Wife! Be Like a Rose! has the distinction of being the first Japanese talkie to receive a commercial U.S. release, though it would be an understatement to describe its reception as lukewarm. In his entry on Naruse for Senses of Cinema's ongoing Great Directors series, Tokyo-based writer Alexander Jacoby calls particular attention to Variety's April 14, 1937 review of the film, which carps about Wife's "lack of pace" and "agonisingly underplayed" performances, goes on to praise its "quiet drollery" and "honest human values," and then concludes—in what must be one of the more retrospectively jaw-dropping punchlines ever concocted—that "Jap femmes are okay for looks."

Though cinema has the power to open the world and offer all cultures new ways of seeing, the Variety review makes clear that progressiveness often happens in a series of fits and starts and that we frequently stumble like babes afflicted and hindered by a peculiarly adult myopia. This facet of human experience quite evidently applies to Kimiko Yamamoto (Sachiko Chiba, Naruse's then fiancée), the bubbly protagonist of Wife! who, under the pretext of requiring a go-between to officialize her engagement, rather naïvely attempts to reunite her despondent poetess mother Etsuko (Tomoko Ito) with her estranged father Shunsaku (Sadao Maruyama). Kimiko's hopes for a fairy-tale resolution start to disintegrate the moment she visits her father's mountain home and discovers he is raising a family with Oyuki (Yuriko Hanabusa), a retired geisha. (At the screening I attended, Mary Richie, former wife of film scholar Donald Richie, pointed out that Oyuki speaks to Kimiko in the most formal Japanese dialect, a culturally-specific acknowledgement of both class placement and blood relations that is unfortunately lost in the subtitle translation.) Kimiko convinces Shunsaku to return to the city and meet with Etsuko, but the poetess treats her husband with drunken disdain. Kimiko still holds out a kind of hope as she takes her awe-struck father around a city he hasn't seen in years (in a particularly hilarious moment of cross-cultural referencing, the duo reenact the hitchhiking scene from Frank Capra's It Happened One Night), yet there remains a burgeoning sense that her dreams of reconciliation are futile.

In the film's final, powerful sequence Shunsaku takes his leave while an intoxicated Etsuko rails against her family and misfortunes. Naruse then intercuts isolated images of Kimiko and Etsuko staring intensely at each other while slowly tracking out from them, an agonizing dissolution of a tenuous mother/daughter bond illustrated as a tragic/ecstatic loss of the soul. It's one of the first instances where the young Naruse's stylistic and psychological obsessions achieve perfect unity, and it rather boldly suggests that progress of any kind (in family and in life) can lead us as much into darkness as it does into light.

Kimiko in New York  Kiyoaki Okubo from Rouge

not coming to a theater near you (Ian Johnston) review

Lost Island of VHS...  Matt Langdon from BunueL, August 22, 2010

The New York Times (Frank S. Nugent) review

TSURUHACHI AND TSURUJIRO

Japan  (88 mi)  1938

 

The films of Mikio Naruse   Dan Sallit film comments, October/November 2005

A competent comedy-drama that gives Naruse no opportunity to do anything interesting.  The stylized pattern of quarrel and reconciliation between the two leads seems particularly inappropriate for a director whose vision of conflict is far more pervasive and entropic.  Though he can do little with the characters, Naruse shoots the musical numbers beautifully, favoring low angles and spacious backgrounds, and giving the film a sense of drama by cutting to the stage at odd times and sustaining the tension of the performances with long takes.

Tsuruhachi and Tsurujiro   Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

Tsuruhachi and Tsurujiro is primarily a vehicle for its very attractive stars Isuzu Yamada and Kazuo Hasegawa. As the titular, exceedingly popular performing duo (respectively a samisen player and a Shinnai singer) they enact a tragicomic tale of unrequited love that—save for a deeply affecting, pathos-ridden final scene—is far removed from director Mikio Naruse's usual cinema obsessions. Adapted by Naruse from a Matsutarô Kawaguchi novel, Tsuruhachi and Tsurujiro is a film of beguiling and seductive surfaces. Its beauty, much like its constantly bickering protagonists, is only skin deep. The film's many musical sequences, well-composed though they are, lack the thematic depth of Naruse's best work with the form—rather than illuminating and/or counterpointing each character's unique inner state (as in that masterpiece to come, The Song Lantern), they instead encourage our considerably blind adulation of Tsuruhachi and Tsurujiro. (Toward this point, it is especially difficult to delineate the line that separates the adoring on-screen audience from its doting off-screen counterpart.) With stars like this, though, it is almost silly and most certainly futile to complain: Yamada and Hasegawa have the sort of sacrosanct chemistry that creates its own kind of insight and profundity. And though Naruse would use both actors to more layered effect in two future productions (Yamada as the dancing geisha-in-training O-Sode in The Song Lantern, Hasegawa as the enigmatic samurai Karatsu Kanbei in A Tale of Archery at the Sanjusangendo) there is a grand thrill in watching them perform together here, like bearing witness to dual forces of nature in a constant state of flux, forever moving between the emotional extremes of embattlement and reconciliation, of selfishness and sacrifice.

THE WHOLE FAMILY WORKS

Japan  (65 mi)  1939

 

User comments  from imdb Author: simon-1303 from United Kingdom

The fun stuff here are children/ teens in conflict and affection with each other and their parents. It's also interesting to see the rare picture of parents exploiting their children. There are large dollops of humour and characteristics of family life that anyone would recognise and appreciate. Like all Naruse, the film work and editing are admirable. The script, too, is credible and of interest. However, it's a little difficult to care for some reason. I think there are too many children - 9 - and the film print is probably even greyer than it was to begin with. Both characterisation and the drama are limited and sibling rivalry and generational conflict are timeworn themes. Still, not all bad by any means and worth watching.

The films of Mikio Naruse   Dan Sallit film comments, October/November 2005

Not too ambitious, but rather a nice film, full of dark character observations that are well integrated into a light comic tone.  (I especially like the conflict between the casually venal mother and the diligent fourth son, who spends his savings rather than let his parents "borrow" them again.)  An irresolvable conflict emerges - the children can escape lives of grinding poverty only by leaving the rest of the family in the direst of straits - and is played out to its grim conclusion.  Unfortunately, the final section is defaced by the intervention of the children's gasbag teacher, whose function seems to be to give the story a phony tone of resolution and optimism.  Is this the hand of censorship?  At any rate, Naruse managed to sneak in a final, desolating shot of the parents, presumably looking starvation in the face now that their children have been liberated.

The Whole Family Works   Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

The Whole Family Works, Mikio Naruse's adaptation of a Sunao Tokunga novel, feels more of a piece with the writer/director's quietly observant and psychologically charged later work. For the Naruse-familiar, it is an anomaly only in its placement within his filmography—indeed, this could be a film made by the elder, stasis-minded Naruse momentarily inhabiting, through a metaphysical twist of fate, his stylistically exuberant younger self. Set in depression-era Japan around the time of the Sino-Japanese War (which the director evokes, during a brief dream sequence, by dissolving between children's war games and actual adult warfare), The Whole Family Works gently observes a family coming apart at the seams. Ishimura (Musei Tokugawa) is the jobless father of nine children. Unable to find work he tasks his sons and daughters with the monetary support of the clan, an order no one questions openly until eldest son Kiichi (Akira Ubukata) comes home with a discontented headful of ideas imparted by his platitudinous teacher Mr. Washio. (Similar filial discontentedness behind the scenes: Naruse scholar Audie Bock suggests that the film's focus on "the working poor" quite deliberately skirted the requirements of the national policy propaganda films then encouraged by the patriarchal Japanese government.) The tension between father and son builds over the course of the film until they fight it out during a torrential downpour, a sequence featuring one of Naruse's most striking juxtapositions: a dissolve between Ishimura and Kiichi's heated debate and the increasingly violent rainstorm pattering rhythmically against the outer walls of their home. Though The Whole Family Works finally feels like something of a warm-up for the director's stylistic and thematic obsessions post-Ginza Cosmetics, it is moments such as this (along with an equally striking last image, breeding revolution, of the younger sons heedlessly somersaulting on the floor above their parents) that show Naruse's raw, burgeoning talent shaping itself into something expressive and masterful.

TRAVELING ACTORS

Japan  (70 mi)  1940

 

The films of Mikio Naruse   Dan Sallit film comments, October/November 2005

An uncanny film that seems much better in retrospect than it did when it was in progress.  Early on, we realize not only that the story is predicated on a single joke - the excessive identification of the protagonists with their equine acting persona - but also that this conceit is an abstraction that inhibits any deep study of character. Despite the narrowness of the psychology, Naruse pulls humor from small, realistic interactions, and the country atmosphere is a strong presence. (There's a beautiful, leisurely sequence in which the rejected actors wander through a series of pastoral long shots on their disgruntled way to the river - John Ford couldn't have struck a better balance between the timeless appeal of landscape and the melancholy of the human drama enclosed in the vastness of space.)  The ending is transformative: the narrowness of the characterizations is acknowledged and amplified into absurdism, as the funny horse suit triumphantly leaves the confines of the theater and claims the expansive landscape for its own.  Paradoxically, the crazy ending makes the film feel like a deeper study of people: one imagines that Renoir or Boris Barnet would have liked to have made this film.

User comments  from imdb Author: Michael Kerpan (kerpan) from New England

This film like Ozu's "story of Floating Weeds" depicts a troupe of wandering kabuki players traveling through rural Japan. It seems to have been inspired by a tiny element of Ozu's film -- the funny "kabuki horse", animated by two performers -- the master for the front half (played by Kamatari FUJIWARA, of later Kurosawa fame) and the apprentice for the rear (Kan YANAGIYA). At first all goes well, and they makes friends with some accommodating local lady folk (Tamae KIYOKAWA and Sugiko ISE).

Unfortunately, however, their local patron (a somewhat over-important barber, played by Ko MIHASHI) gets drunk and accidentally crushes the horse's head. After the two object to the pathetically repaired head he proffers, the barber decides that their fake horse was no good anyway (despite the audience approval they always received) -- and replaces them with a real horse. The displaced pair take their revenge, after moping awhile, by going on a rampage through the town (initially in their guise of a wild horse) and let the real horse loose. As the film ends, both the real horse and the two actors (now carrying their bits of horse costume) flee the town.

Overall, a charming film. Lighter in tone than Ozu's film, it is more reminiscent of the contemporary work of Hiroshi SHIMIZU (albeit with a more conventional sense of pacing and structure). Some lovely rural cinematography by Seiichi KIZUKA. Also entertaining performances by the two halves of the horse. Especially noteworthy is a scene where Fujiwara demonstrates his mastery of horse noises for the lady-folk -- and Yanagiya unwittingly demonstrates why he is still only an apprentice horse's back end.

Traveling Actors   Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

The print of Traveling Actors that I viewed translated the title as the cumbersome yet infinitely more appropriate Actors Who Play the Horse. An awkwardly literal description of the film's one-joke-to-the-extreme premise, it nonetheless more powerfully evokes the allegorical qualities inherent to director Mikio Naruse's comic Zen parable. Despite a few expositional lulls (dis)courtesy of the supporting cast (flaws that we might attribute, per film historian Audie Bock's indispensable book Japanese Film Directors to the fact that the movie was heavily cut by its producers), Traveling Actors remains Naruse's out-and-out funniest work, a comedy of numerous surface pleasures that unexpectedly deepens in retrospect. In the characters of Hyoroku Ichikawa (Kamatari Fujiwara) and Senpei Nakamura (Kan Yanagiya)—low-level, yet intensely serious traveling theater actors who play, respectively, the front and rear legs of a pantomime horse—Naruse creates a hilariously existential tragicomic duo, a Vladimir and Estragon who have found a Godot that, as narrative circumstances soon dictate, they must defend at any and all costs.

Explaining and demonstrating their craft to a pair of awestruck geishas, Hyoroku and Senpei come across as the most ingratiating of divas; a lesser director would mock them, no doubt portraying their method acting neighs and whinnies (cloaked in the guise of satire) as the ultimate in grand delusions. But Naruse has an affection and love for these characters that is far removed from cruel condescension. Indeed, the director continuously illustrates how genuinely satisfied Hyoroku and Senpei are in their chosen profession while simultaneously demonstrating how the duo's onstage performance shapes their offstage behavior. In a sequence where Kikugoro (Minoru Takase), the theater troupe manager, informs Hyoroku and Senpei that a real horse is going to replace them (a decision clinched, interestingly, by the theater audience's explosive reaction to the animal's impromptu mid-performance urination), Naruse shoots the pair's exit from leg height, quietly observing as they fall into a touchingly dejected equine lock step. It's an oft-repeated visual motif, one that builds in its comic insight and intensity to Traveling Actors' climactic man-versus-beast showdown where all the world becomes a stage and a four-legged pretender to the theatrical throne is uproariously run out of town.

HIDEKO THE BUS CONDUCTRESS

Japan  (54 mi)  1941

 

Hideko the Bus Conductress   Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

Hideko the Bus Conductress, Mikio Naruse's deceptively lighthearted comic confection, is the writer-director's first collaboration (of a total 17) with the great Japanese actress Hideko Takamine. As the teenage bus conductress O-Koma, Takamine might best be described as beatification personified, and it is her continuously cheerful demeanor that effectively masks the film's underlying current of satirical bitterness. In an effort to bolster the profits of the struggling Kohoku bus company, O-Koma and her co-worker Sonoda (Keita Fujiwara) propose offering tour guide commentary to the many sights along their rural route. After receiving approval from their hilariously disaffected boss (played by Yotaro Katsumi as a subtly frightening embodiment of the bottom line-minded bean-counter run amok), the duo enlists Gonji Igawa (Daijirô Natsukawa), a Tokyo novelist, to write the script for their venture. What follows plays as a comically cloaked metaphor for an artist's creative process, as well as a harsh appraisal of the military/big business synergism that was no doubt ubiquitous in wartime Japan, though I question how many viewers will see beyond the film's jovial surface to the rather ruthless critique at its core. It's quite possible that the central points of Hideko the Bus Conductress are lost in a morass of allusion and implication as necessitated by the censorious authorities of the time, but it is equally probable that Naruse has rather brilliantly misdirected his audience's expectations and hidden a scathing indictment of the powers-that-be within the confines of a crowd-pleasing star vehicle that aims, via our collective smiles and laughter, to expose a virulent and destructive societal canker.

THE SONG LANTERN

Japan  (93 mi)  1943

 

User comments  from imdb Author: simon-1303 from United Kingdom

This is a modern fairy story. It's a little hard to talk about without revealing the plot, but major themes are the evil consequences of arrogance, the redeeming power of guilt, the importance of a woman's virtue, the need for expiation of one's sins, the role of family and the power of forgiveness.

There's a fair bit of Noh in it, which is an acquired taste for some, but even if you don't understand any allusions, the film is still worth watching.

As ever in Naruse, some beautiful scenes, excellent camera-work and convincing interaction. It is a little stilted and contrived compared with his other films, and the acting is less powerful, with much less emphasis on womens' characters, but this is doubtless a response to the Noh context.

The Song Lantern   Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

The Song Lantern is an intoxicating work from director Mikio Naruse that follows the exploits of cocky young Noh performer Onchi Kitahachi (Shôtarô Hanayagi), expelled from his family theater troupe after driving Sozan, a blind masseur and boastful amateur Noh singer, to suicide. Kitahachi vows never to perform Noh again and for several guilt-stricken years he wanders the roads of Meiji-era Japan as a lantern singer, living off the tips and backhanded compliments of others. Then Kitahachi hears from his friend Jirozou (Eijirô Yanagi) that Sozan's daughter O-Sode (Isuzu Yamada) is still alive, forced to make her way as a geisha, though she lacks the necessary samisen-playing skills. He takes it upon himself to train her in one of the finest, most difficult Noh dances and soon after O-Sode becomes the redemptive instrument by which Kitahachi is reunited with his family and his art. The Song Lantern is, scene for scene, a visual marvel, comparable—most explicitly during a training montage set in an ethereal woodland—to the regal sweep of a Mizoguchi film. Naruse's atypically swooping camera moves have a profound majesty, but his customary sense of stasis and observance is here as well via the film's languorous Noh sequences, which envisage a primarily theatrical art as sublime, rhythmic cinema. The Song Lantern is probably something of a challenge for Western audiences as one is dropped into this culturally specific milieu with little explanation of its nuances and meanings. It is best approached by the viewer bearing some familiarity with Naruse and his obsessions, and/or with the tenets of Noh stylization.

This is not to say that the film is entirely inaccessible to the neophyte; much like two of Naruse's other 40s works (Traveling Actors and A Tale of Archery at the Sanjusangendo), The Song Lantern can and should be viewed through the universal prisms of myth and parable. There's much reliance on coincidence in the narrative, which might play as contrivance were Naruse not so attuned to his characters' surroundings. Nature is, in many ways, the film's background protagonist, a spiritual connector that makes certain each character is where they need to be at any given moment. This unspoken sense of fatalism (intertwining the tragic and the ecstatic) permeates The Song Lantern's every scene and it certainly fits with Naruse's generally pessimistic outlook on life, especially in a fog-shrouded sequence where Kitahachi, despondent and drunk, is literally haunted by Sozan's ghost. Yet the film's spiritual substance (illustrated when Kitahachi reunites with his father and O-Sode against a radiant full moon backdrop) also speaks to a powerful sense of certainty in divine recompense, a kind of egotistical entitlement befitting the confident, nationalist mood Japan's wartime powers-that-be wished to portray and cultivate. Though it's clear that Naruse has little interest in the film's propagandistic elements, one wonders if they were among the reasons the director, in his later years, reportedly said that he made no movies of worth between 1935's Wife! Be Like a Rose! and 1951's Repast, all evidence (The Song Lantern in particular) to the contrary.

A TALE OF ARCHERY AT THE SANJUSANGENDO

Japan  (77 mi)  1945

 

The films of Mikio Naruse   Dan Sallit film comments, October/November 2005

Another period piece, with legendary characters and vaguely martial overtones.  The script has some wit, and the screenwriter makes a small effort to give the characters dimension, but there's really not much that Naruse can do with this material, other that create beautiful deep-space compositions for the exterior shots.  Occasionally a small mysterious moment is created by duration and editing rhythm, but the characters are too thin to absorb the mystery.

A Tale of Archery at the Sanjusangendo   Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

A Tale of Archery at the Sanjusangendo is a highly entertaining period piece from director Mikio Naruse, filmed in Kyoto during the devastating final months of World War II. Much like Traveling Actors and The Song Lantern (with which the film forms something of a myth-obsessed triptych), A Tale of Archery feels very much at odds with the popularly accepted view of Naruse as a stasis-minded chronicler of the modern-day Japanese working class. Indeed, the director's most frequent thematic obsession—the problems of money—is rarely, if ever mentioned in this trio of wartime works, which tend to focus more exclusively on a naïve or arrogant protagonist, typically an artist, who must prove himself worthy of his craft. In A Tale of Archery, young, timid bowmaster Kazuma (Akitake Kôno) seeks to beat the archery record set by Hoshino Kanzaemon, a mysterious figure who, it is rumored, drove the previous champion (Kazuma's father) to suicide. Possessed of much raw talent, Kazuma is also very much a coward, holing himself up in an inn run by the kindly Okinu (Kinuyo Tanaka) and generally avoiding confrontation of any sort. Despite his clandestine manner, enough of the locals know of Kazuma's purpose and an attempt is made on his life. He is saved by Karatsu Kanbei (Kazuo Hasegawa), a samurai who offers to help Kazuma hone his archery skills, though it soon becomes clear that this apparently selfless stranger has several potentially shady ulterior motives. Naruse films the archery scenes superbly, cutting them to a syncopated beat of drums (signifying hits) and cymbals (signaling misses), the aesthetic rhythm expertly building suspense while simultaneously relating and molding the characters' psychological states. In part, A Tale of Archery can be read as a wartime antidote for the masses, though it's ironic (yet somehow appropriate to Naruse's typically pessimistic worldview) that the film was reportedly never released to the public. It's possible, I suppose, to consider this relatively straightforward and lighthearted tale one of the director's more mechanical works, though we should never deny the profound sense of pleasure an expertly crafted genre piece can provide. And to those who still wish for more, look no further than Kinuyo Tanaka who makes something soulful out of her seemingly inconsequential supporting role. In many ways the character of Okinu anticipates Naruse's intent focus, post-Ginza Cosmetics, on his films' female characters. In A Tale of Archery there's a thrilling moment (and implied movement) where Naruse cuts between Kazuma shooting off an arrow and Okinu appearing in a mirror—the juxtaposition carries a sexual charge, but it also subtly shifts and balances out the film's single-minded masculinity. It all comes full circle in A Tale of Archery's final sequence where Tanaka is granted the film's last close-up and dialogue, a moment that plays as something of an awestruck precursor to Marlene Dietrich's multilayered Touch of Evil précis.

GINZA COSMETICS

Japan  (87 mi)  1951

 

The films of Mikio Naruse   Dan Sallit film comments, October/November 2005

Not as original in concept as the best Naruse films, but full of interesting texture.  Tanaka is excellent as the barmaid suspended between good-natured perseverence and bitter practicality, and Naruse lets both of these aspects coexist in her character without pushing either too hard.  The bar scenes in the first half are full of good detail and are often funny (there's an especially wonderful moment where Tanaka busies herself lighting and smoking a cigarette to keep herself from cracking up at an awful singer), and the dialogue is consistently smart. When the plot kicks in, though, it doesn't give Naruse much room to play storytelling games: the possibility of love rears its head and then departs without revealing anything interesting about Tanaka's character.  Despite its considerable appeal, the film ends up feeling a bit unsatisfying.

User comments  from imdb Author: simon-1303 from United Kingdom

This is a gentle, affectionate take on a middle aged bar hostess, struggling to bring up a child alone and facing financial, sexual and end of career issues, as well as the implied disapproval of society. There is plenty of humour, though, and acute observation of people and relationships in their everyday lives.

Apparently slow initially, one gets gradually drawn in to care for these essentially good characters, even the weak and slightly unreliable ones (generally men).

The set pieces of bar life are particularly well observed. And the mutual respect and simple good manners of Japanese society as depicted is always fascinating to Western eyes.

As ever with Naruse, the camera-work is so effective one is hardly conscious of it as one engages with this picture of a determined but dignified struggle by a virtuous woman.

 A Nutshell Review  Stefan S.  

The opening shots of this movie firmly puts it in the Ginza district of Tokyo back in 1951, with its distinct landmark of the Clock Tower, and serves kind of like a documentary snapshot of the district with following the kid Haruo in and around the area, before finally we get to meet his mom Yukiko (Kinuyo Tanaka), a bar hostess struggling to make ends meet.

Directed by Mikio Naruse, this movie doesn’t have any big moments, and feels like a capture of the relatively mundane life of Yukiko, in her luckless meeting with various men who seem always to disappoint, and her taking care of her only son. These are acute observations that represent that slice of life, and doesn’t over-dramatize or wallow in melodrama and the theatrics, which is quite commendable, given the usual tendency for movies of the genre to lapse into. Things happen as a matter of fact, right up until the tense and anxious moments of looking for a runaway kid.

Kinuyo Tanaka brings forth a quiet, stoic demeanour in her Yukiko, being unable to change her fate of being a single mother, and she could make you wring your heart as we experience together with Yukiko a potential moment of probably romance with a young man flit away, despite initial reluctance to get acquainted and help out in his stay in Tokyo. I thought it was quite magnanimous of her to do what she did, and felt that it was really sad for one to resign to her fate without any inclination to challenge it with the hope that things might be for the better.

If you prefer your movies quiet, with the dignified presence of a star actress at her element, then perhaps Ginza Cosmetics would be a launchpad for anyone interested in following the filmography of director Mikio Naruse, and of his many film collaborations with Kinuyo Tanaka.

Ginza Cosmetics   Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

According to film scholar Audie Bock, Ginza Cosmetics is based less on its credited source material—a novel by Tomoichiro Igami—and more on screenwriter Matsuo Kishi and director Mikio Naruse's personal knowledge of Tokyo's Ginza district. Primarily a showcase for the great Japanese actress Kinuyo Tanaka, the film also marks an important turning point in its director's career. I part company with those who regard Ginza Cosmetics and Repast as works heralding Naruse's emergence from a supposed creative slump. Neither film holds a candle to the director's lush, experimental, and mythic '40s triptych (Traveling Actors, The Song Lantern, and A Tale of Archery at the Sanjusangendo), nor do they surpass the often flawed stylistic and emotional flamboyance of his early-'30s melodramas (Not Blood Relations, Apart From You, and Street Without End.) Ginza Cosmetics, in particular, seems a reiteration (at worst a rehash) of the latter group of films, though what sets it apart is a very clear sense of purpose amid the mesh of varying artistic intentions.

In other words, Ginza Cosmetics is rough-draft Naruse: he is here working through the stylings and observations he will more confidently articulate in such later masterpieces as Late Chrysanthemums, Flowing, and Yearning. Naruse's camera glides sensually through the club Bel Ami, workplace of Ginza's protagonist Yukiko (Tanaka). Reminiscent of the expressive, often over-the-top visualizations that litter his youthful output, the imagery here possesses a steely and mature grace to the point that it feels like a knowing apotheosis. Indeed, from this point on I can't recall another tracking shot in the Naruse films I've seen, which is not to say he didn't use any—they might merely have become invisible, absorbed into the observational stasis that typifies the director's subsequent mise-en-scène.

Ginza Cosmetics is both fascinatingly and frustratingly dogged by its creator's self-awareness. The quietly tragic arc of Yukiko's life (working as a Ginza hostess to support her young son while simultaneously entertaining the deceptive promises of numerous gentlemen callers) is so subdued that it barely registers and the surfeit of soaring camerawork seems in part designed to disguise the film's general dearth of consequence. Ginza's occasional digressions into comedy (particularly an alcohol-fueled musical number tinged with embarrassment and discomfort) show more evidence of Naruse's penetrating psychological insight, as does a wonderful nighttime sequence where Yukiko and a potential suitor observe and discuss the constellations.

REPAST

Japan  (97 mi)  1951

 

Isthmus (Kent Williams) review

In his highly idiosyncratic (and highly recommended) reference book, A Biographical Dictionary of Film, David Thomson says about Mikio Naruse's films, "I will see them one day," then confesses that he hopes to delay that day as long as possible so that there will always be a body of great work out there somewhere, waiting to be discovered. Only a true cinephile would think that one up. But Japan's Naruse, who's never had the name recognition of an Ozu, a Mizoguchi, a Kurosawa, happens to be one of my lacunae as well; I've never seen any of his 80-plus films.

That's about to change with the launching of "A Wanderer's Notebook: The Films of Mikio Naruse," a nearly semester-long series brought to you by the UW Cinematheque. Known for female characters who embrace the hopelessness of their lives, Naruse refused to put a smiley face on Japan's male-dominated domestic life. But I'm told the films aren't without a certain sly sense of humor. You can see for yourself this weekend (Saturday, Sept. 3, 4070 UW Vilas Hall, 7:30 p.m.), when Naruse's 1951 film Repast, about a stockbroker's wife who decides to accept the meager return on her marital investment, kicks things off.

The films of Mikio Naruse   Dan Sallit film comments, October/November 2005

An affecting, contemplative film, unusually specific to its locations (Osaka vs. Tokyo).  Its theme is clearly stated and never modified: from the opening voiceover, we are focused on the drudgery of the married woman's life, and the work of the film is simply to make us aware that, for Hara, this drudgery is not a secondary consideration, that it outweighs all other factors in her happiness.  Naruse uses sleight-of-hand in the early scenes to make us think that Uehara's destructively flirtatious niece is having a bad effect on the marriage, but before long Hara's essential aversion to her role takes center stage again.  (The scenes with the niece don't work well for me: her cocktease is so blatant that I'd think she would have either been thrown out or regarded as a laughing stock.  Naruse doesn't really give us a glimpse at the inner person, who I would presume is sociopathically angry.)  The film really kicks in during the drifting Tokyo interlude, where the rhythm and mood convey Hara's sense of deliverance, even as her well-meaning family and friends tighten the noose of marriage around her neck.  Hara's final voiceover almost seems to be playing games with us, suggesting that "perhaps" the routine of marriage is the way for women to be happy: surely the last scene with the couple shows her returning to the same life that has already made her miserable.

User comments  from imdb Author: crossbow0106 from United States

I've said this before in reviews here and I'll say it again: Stesuko Hara is a fantastic actress. She plays a housewife who after five years with her husband Hatsu (Ken Uehara) finds married life to be wanting. A visit from Hatsu's cousin, the very pretty, youthful Satako (Yukiko Shimazahi) brings further tension when she looks to spend time with Hatsu. Michiyo (Ms. Hara) doesn't know what to think, and, coupled with other instances like her husband coming home very drunk, suspects things. At times you see Michiyo clean in a way that suggests obsession, which could very well be just a way to mask the pain. Ms. Hara plays those scenes looking fairly dowdy, but when she dresses up to meet her old girlfriends, she is the radiant beauty that so often graces other great films she has acted in. One of the best things about this film is that during it you know what she should do, but, in a strange way, you don't want her to leave her husband. There are other smaller characters here, and they enhance the film. A fun scene for me was the tour of Osaka which Hatsu and Satako go on. I recently took a tour to Mount Fuji and the guide was exactly the same (except she spoke perfect English). It was just fun to see. Director Naruse, a master, wields a compelling story here and the casting of Setsuko Hara is an excellent choice. She is just wonderful. You can purchase this film with English subtitles in a box set released in the UK of Naruse which also includes "Sound From The Mountain" and "Flowing", as well as a book about the three films. I've not yet watched the other two films, but I will very soon. As for "Repast", I very highly recommend it. The combination of Mr. Naruse and Ms. Hara is inspired, dramatic and eminently watchable.

Pigs and Battleships [Ryan Wu] 

If all you've seen from Ozu are Tokyo Story, Late Spring, and An Autumn Afternoon, from Mizoguchi only Ugetsu, Sansho the Bailiff, and Story of the Last Chrysanthemum, and from Kurosawa only High and Low, Yojimbo and Seven Samurai, you'd have this impression that each is an unassailable master of the art. A more complete survey will confirm each master's greatness while at the same time reveal certain weaknesses that become more prominent in each director's less successful efforts such as Early Spring, Life of Oharu, and Red Beard respectively. I'm hesitant based on the three well-regarded Naruses I've seen to call him the equal of those lionized Japanese masters. But if Naruse can't be placed in the Pantheon just yet, he's surely quite close to heaven. Repast is, like the other two Naruses I've seen, a spectacularly unspectacular film. The style is classical, unobtrusive. The story, about a married couple facing 5-year relationship crisis, rather ordinary. Just the same, the movie's as compelling as anything by the great masters. As in Late Chryanthemums and Floating Clouds, Naruse here creates an ardently materialist world where the social pressure for money acts like a vise to the head, threatening to break up Setsuko Hara from her weak husband. Hara, never more lovely, gives one her greatest performances here; as in Early Summer, she hides a forceful yen for freedom behind her polite, practiced smile. But here she has a greater range of emotions than I've ever seen from her: strong-willed yet self-doubting, forceful yet a bit opaque, cheerful yet spiteful (has Setsuko ever shown as much disdain as she does here, especially towards the flirty niece?). Hara plays a woman with a more active inner life than any character I've seen from that period (and a direct contrast with another virtuoso performance from a Naruse picture, the force-of-nature heroine played by Hideko Takamine in Floating Clouds) -- it's an eye-opening performance. As for the film, minor epiphanies are reached, but Naruse, the most unsentimental of the masters, closes the proceedings on an ironic note. For Naruse, the central theme is clear: for women, marriage is a prison from which there is no escape.

Repast   Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

The Japanese title for director Mikio Naruse's Repast is Meshi, commonly defined as "meal" or "to eat or feast," though my Japanese-to-English dictionary also offers two alternate translations: "a summons" or "to call." It's a multi-layered double entendre, all-too-easily lost in translation, that evokes matters both of spirit and of flesh, and it similarly illustrates one of Naruse's thematic constants, namely the oft-devastating push-and-pull between things mortal and metaphysical. The day-to-day actions of a Naruse character are typically mundane and, in the case of Repast's husband and wife protagonists Hatsunosuke (Ken Uehara) and Michiyo Okamoto (Setsuko Hara), repetitious to the point of none-too-subtly cloaked disdain. Their relationship is a vicious cycle of discontent, though one possessing enough deceptive familiarities to allow them to navigate their individual distress with relative ease. Yet when the Osaka-dwelling couple's freewheeling niece Satoko (Yukiko Shimazaki) comes to live with them it throws the scales off balance and Michiyo, in particular, finds herself more and more dissatisfied with her situation. She answers her inner calling and runs off to Tokyo to explore the possibilities of a life away from her husband, meeting with a mix of support and skepticism from family members played by a bevy of familiar Naruse faces (Yôko Sugi, Haruko Sugimura, and Keiju Kobayashi among them). In a quietly tragic train-journey finale, Michiyo rejoins Hatsunosuke and finally acquiesces to the complacent life she has always known, her hopeful interior monologue contrasted with her more-than-vaguely defeatist body language. Naruse's first adaptation of a novel by Floating Clouds author Fumiko Hayashi is credited with reviving the shomin-geki (working class) genre in '50s-era Japanese cinema and is considered by many commentators to be the director's comeback film after an extended creative slump, a myth (reportedly perpetuated by Naruse) that this feature has hopefully gone-aways toward debunking. I must confess that I personally find Repast to be one of Naruse's decidedly minor works, though I nonetheless admit that I may be underrating it here due to the fact that I viewed the film immediately after Naruse's subsequent Sound of the Mountain, a work to which Repast feels like something of a warm-up and one in which the same lead actors enact an even more virulent and devastating dysfunctional marriage roundelay.

Midnight Eye - japan_cult_cinema review  Jasper Sharp

not coming to a theater near you (Leo Goldsmith) review

DVD Times  Noel Megahey

 

User comments  from imdb Author: GyatsoLa from Ireland

 

 A Film Canon [Billy Stevenson]

 

Filmjourney  Doug Cummings reviews REPAST and WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS

 

DVD Times  Noel Megahey, Naruse Volume 1: REPAST, SOUND OF THE MOUNTAIN, and FLOWING

CineScene.com (Howard Schumann) review  reviewing REPAST, WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS, LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS, also seen here:  Talking Pictures (UK) review

DVDBeaver.com [Gary W. Tooze]  Naruse Volume I: REPAST, SOUND OF THE MOUNTAIN, and FLOWING

 

OKAASAN (Mother)

Japan  (98 mi)  1952

User comments  from imdb Author: Daryl Chin (lqualls-dchin) from Brooklyn, New York

OKASAN is one of the rare instances when Naruse was able to create a film with a little more humor than usual; for this reason, this study of an adolescent girl and her mother has moments of great charm, even though the general sadness which pervades so many of Naruse's films cannot help but add dimension to the story. The ending of the film is more upbeat than is usual for Naruse, and so the effect is bittersweet and rueful, rather than despairing and sad. It's a film full of delicate touches of great tenderness; it's a film that really does celebrate motherhood, though in a very unsentimental way. Though Naruse does emphasize the problems of the family, he allows the affection that the family feels for each other to texture the film with a feeling of genuine warmth. This remains a very special film for Naruse for this reason.

The films of Mikio Naruse   Dan Sallit film comments, October/November 2005

Even 60 minutes into the movie (around the time of that startling false "The End" title), I was having trouble finding anything distinguished in it: the levelled-out tone of sentimentality wasn't really overdone, but neither did it seem very original, or at all typical of Naruse.  (The use of music and voiceover to create a level, retrospective mood feels almost Fordian.)  But near the end the pattern of characters dropping away accelerated to the point of abstraction, and Naruse's empty angled interior shots started looking ghostly.  I thought of those war movies where the platoon dwindles to a man or two by the end. Or, given that every major character is eventually marked for an exit, including the mysteriously afflicted Tanaka, maybe a better comparison is to vacated-center films like Point Blank or These Are the Damned.  The theme of duty is hit hard in Mother, but Naruse characteristically (even subversively) lets a bleak psychological vision creep around the edges of the surface celebration.  I never cared for this film before, but now I think I kind of like it.

Mother   Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

Simultaneously sentimental and meta, director Mikio Naruse's Mother depicts a period in the life of Masako Fukuhara (Kinuyo Tanaka) as narrated by her teenage daughter Toshiko (Kyôko Kagawa). Forced to take over the family dry-cleaning business after the death of her husband, Masako attempts to cope with her daughter's rebellious behavior while also supporting her sickly son Susumu (Akihiko Katayama), now confined to a sanitarium. Toshiko, meanwhile, harbors suspicions that her mother is falling for her Uncle Kimura (Daisuke Katô)—fondly nicknamed "Uncle Prisoner" after his time as a POW in Manchuria—even as she herself starts to feel the first stirrings of love and passion. The mood throughout is, rather surprisingly for Naruse, almost sickly sweet, but there's clearly a self-awareness to Mother, nowhere more evident than in the director's brilliant use, during a movie-within-the-movie sequence, of a "The End" intertitle that rather harshly defuses the sentiment on display. Indeed, the characters seem acutely aware of the influence that populist art has on their lives; one of them even states, when speaking of a local movie-house offering, to "Bring your handkerchiefs." Self-reflexivity can only take a film and its makers so far, so it's no surprise that Naruse finds a perfect object of attention in Tanaka, her every gesture permeated with a truthfulness that counteracts even the most melodramatic of situations. Though Mother is not one of Naruse's best it does contain one of his finest closing images in which an exhausted Masako brushes back an errant strand of hair while Toshiko immortalizes her in poetic voiceover.

Strictly Film School  Acquarello

Okasan opens to the voice of a reflective young woman named Toshiko (Kyôko Kagawa) who amusedly comments on her assiduous and determined mother Masako's (Kinuyo Tanaka) idiosyncratic preference for short brooms as she observes her mother meticulously sweeping the floors of their modest family home. In a poor, working class Tokyo suburb in 1950, the proud and uncomplaining Fukuharas persevere in the hopes of making a better life for their children (and extended family) and their future. Every morning, after finishing the housework, Masako wheels an awkward, portable cart down the street to sell candy at a sidewalk makeshift concession stand. Her husband, the gentle and hardworking Ryosuke (Masao Mishima), has found temporary employment as a security guard at a factory, patiently waiting for the government reappropriation laws to be enacted so that the family may reclaim their property seized during the war and reopen their laundry and clothes dyeing shop. Overworked and plagued with ill health, Ryosuke has enlisted the aid of an affable and trustworthy family friend returning from a Soviet internment camp named Kimura (Daisuke Katô), whom the children affectionately call Mr. POW, to help him run the business. The Fukuharas' grown son, Susumu (Akihiko Katayama), has been sent to a sanitarium after developing a recurrent ailment from working at an upholstery shop. Their youngest child, Chako (Keiko Enonami), is reluctantly adjusting to life with the shared attention of her parents after the Fukuharas take in her cousin, Tetsuo, whose widowed mother, Masako's sister Noriko (Chieko Nakakita), has been repatriated from Manchuria and is preoccupied with examinations for her vocational training, and is unable to provide for her young son. However, despite the family's diligence and tenacity in rebuilding their lives in the wake of a devastating national turmoil, the Fukuwaras inevitably encounter greater disappointment, hopelessness, and personal tragedy.

Mikio Naruse presents a compassionate, resigned, and poignant examination of human struggle, perseverance, and sacrifice in Okasan. Juxtaposing the innocence and optimism of youth with the austerity of life in postwar Japan, Naruse reflects the gradual erosion of hope in the face of change and uncertainty: the town festivals that coincide with episodes of illness and death in the family; the Fukuharas' fond reminiscence of their hectic life as young parents with a newly opened business, as Ryosuke looks forward to the laundry shop reopening despite his debilitating illness; Chako's picnic at an amusement park that exacerbates Masako's motion sickness. From the opening shot of Toshiko's affectionate voice-over against the image of the resourceful Masako, arched forward, cleaning the house, Naruse conveys the understated and bittersweet image of his archetypal, resilient heroine - an unsentimental, yet graceful and reverent portrait of a tenacious, aging woman struggling - and literally yielding - against the interminable burden of poverty, heartache, disillusionment, and unrealized dreams.

not coming to a theater near you (Ian Johnston) review
 
Film Notes -Okasan     Kevin Hagopian from The New York State Writer’s Institute

 

MOTHER (Mikio Naruse, 1952) « Dennis Grunes 

 

LIGHTNING

Japan  (87 mi)  1952

 

User comments  from imdb Author: simon-1303 from United Kingdom

This is about a fairly dysfunctional family: multiple fathers who seem to have left the scene and bickering adult siblings with problems. I scored this a bit low because I wasn't sure what was going on. One could see the big picture of sis trying to get out from under but otherwise, it seemed a mishmash of interactions which were fairly predictable and didn't take the plot anywhere.

It's well-shot and edited; Naruse always is; but without any evident direction, it's hard to stay engaged. I'm afraid I nodded off a bit, so perhaps I missed something, but it wasn't easy to stay focused when nothing much was happening. What there was was crashing great points without much subtlety; unusual for Naruse.  

User comments  from imdb Author: Andres Salama from Buenos Aires, Argentina

Inazuma stars the wonderful Hideko Takamine, which was one of the regulars of the films of Michio Naruse (at least during the 1950s). The movie, set in postwar Japan in a lower middle class milieu, is a bit hard to understand at first, with all the messy family relations for the audience to sort out, but is basically about the Takamine character's decision to leave her extended family and start a life of her own (her mother has four different children from different fathers: "you breed like a cat", Takamine would later reproach her mother, in one of the movie's funnier lines). The movie ends up in a relatively upbeat note. And why in so many Japanese movies from the 1950s the only job apparently available to young women consist on being tourist guides?

The films of Mikio Naruse   Dan Sallit film comments, October/November 2005

The most perfect and moving of Naruse's family dramas.  Takamine's rebellious daughter, a bus tour conductor whose perky descriptions of tourist sites are humorously presented as non-diegetic, is immersed in one of Naruse's most interestingly destructive families, shot through with masochistic self-abnegation as well as the usual reflexive predation. Relatively level-headed and with just enough anger to keep her emotionally distant from the family quagmire, Takamine reaches out, first tentatively and then decisively, toward anything that evokes the culture and tranquility that she has never known.  Naruse's most exciting climactic "kicker" is in fact a double kicker: after an outburst at her trapped mother that reveals only the depths of Takamine's despair, a quiet barrage of lightning heralds a new, inner narrative of optimism that Takamine gradually succeeds in imposing on the film at large.  The last line, an unexpected gift to our intrepid heroine, sends the audience out with a feeling of hope quite rare in Naruse's work.

Lightning   Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

Mikio Naruse's second adaptation of a novel by Fumiko Hayashi stars Hideko Takamine, the director's frequent muse, as bus conductress Kiyoko Komori, the youngest daughter in a family of squabbling half-siblings. All the children are products of different fathers, though they share the same mother: a tragically weak-willed woman named Osei (Kumeko Urabe). The familial tension only increases when the husband of one daughter dies and leaves behind a substantial insurance policy, so Kiyoko abandons them to their quarrels and makes a go of it on her own, though she finds she can't leave her mother behind so easily. Takamine is especially terrific, her perpetually wide-eyed, comically exasperated performance at once suggesting Kiyoko's trappings of the body and the wanderings of her mind. It's a highly conceptualized piece of work that anticipates the actress's divisive, tic-heavy take on Hayashi herself in Naruse's fatally flawed biopic A Wanderer's Notebook, though I'd certainly place Takamine's stylings here alongside her masterful turns in When a Woman Ascends the Stairs and Yearning. Lightning never quite reaches the heights of those films (much like Older Brother, Younger Sister, it is superbly modulated, second-tier Naruse), though the climactic mother/daughter confrontation—scored to classical music and punctuated by expertly timed lightning flashes—is close to perfection and once again illustrates Naruse's talent for concluding his films on an ideal, though rarely contented final note.

User comments  from imdb Author: (daleac) from USA

When a retrospective of films directed by Mikio Naruse played in my area a short while ago, I saw quite a few of them in a short span of time, including many of the ones considered classics -- "Repast," "Floating Clouds," "When a Woman Ascends the Stairs," and so on. While I enjoyed them all, some of the plots and characters of the films became muddled in my mind because of the compressed time frame in which I saw them.

Yet parts of this family drama, "Inazuma" ("Lightning"), keep coming back to me months afterward. I think it's because the story resonates so closely with my experience -- that of a young adult trying to make his or her way in the world while struggling with the simultaneous tug and repulsion of one's blood relations. The movie realistically portrays the frustration and misery that can occur within a family under adverse circumstances. But it contains a tinge of hopefulness as well.

Most of us, at one time or another, have become disgusted with members of our family and have felt like running away from them rather than dealing with them and their attendant obligations. "Familiarity breeds contempt," the saying goes. At such times we might even feel more comfortable associating with strangers than with our own kin. That pretty well describes the feelings of Hideko Takamine's character, Kiyoko, during this film. She is the youngest of four adult siblings, each fathered by a different man by their now graying, hapless mother. As the story progresses, Kiyoko becomes increasingly frustrated at her flawed siblings and their constant bickering, begging, and self-pity until she decides she just can't stand them anymore and moves across town in search of a more tranquil domestic life. And for a while she seems to find it.

This probably doesn't sound like a pleasant film to watch, and indeed much of the movie is one agonizing episode after another. But the sublime conclusion is what makes this film so memorable. Without being too specific, I will say that the ending sequence, in which Kiyoko and her mother have it out with each other, is a masterfully filmed composition of acting, dialogue, and music. It's stirring on many levels. One part of that scene, in which Takamine gazes out her window to the house next door, keeps returning to my mind week after week.

Though difficult to stomach at times, "Lightning" is emotionally true and ultimately quite satisfying. Much of the credit should go to Takamine's expressive acting, Naruse's skillful intercutting, and Fumiko Hayashi's deftly written story. This is the second of Naruse's films based on stories by Hayashi ("Meshi," a.k.a. "Repast," was the first), and fortunately there would be four more: "Tsuma" ("Wife"), "Bangiku" ("Late Chrysanthemums"), "Ukigumo" ("Floating Clouds"), and "Hourou-ki" ("A Wanderer's Notebook"). I haven't seen "Wife," but the others are all worth seeing, in my opinion. For now, though, "Lightning" is the one I regard with the most affection.

HUSBAND AND WIFE

Japan  (87 mi)  1953

 

User comments  from imdb Author: simon-1303 from United Kingdom

The context here is tightly drawn in scope around a couple and their colleagues and friends, and the intended theme of marital discord is consistent and pervasive. The plot weaves around within these constraints, bringing out the various aspects of the eternal battle of the sexes. What do you do if your spouse is boring? How do you respond if your spouse is much admired? If your marriage is a cause of distress, whose fault is it? And how do you put it right? Good acting, if a little melodramatic and obvious compared with some of his other films. Effective use of limited interiors but little exterior work, so a more limited palette in sets and prominent cast than is sometimes the case. Really, it has a definite feel of a play turned into a film, with limited use of cinematic inspired techniques. As ever, interesting insights for foreigners like me into Japanese customs. An amusing script helps, as does an extremely watchable leading actress.

So, not one of Naruse's best, but all Naruse's are worth watching and this succeeds in being thoroughly entertaining, particularly if you are or have been married.

Husband and Wife   Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

Husband and Wife is one of director Mikio Naruse's stranger films. Primarily a personality-clash comedy in which married couple Isaku and Kikuko Nakahara (Ken Uehara and Yôko Sugi) move in with eccentric male widower Ryota Takemura (Rentaro Mikuni), the film plays, much of the time, as a sort of meta-movie "what if?" (in this case: what if Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton were locked together in a room and forced to fight over Mary Pickford?) The Chaplin parallel becomes explicit halfway through when the trio goes to a Christmas pageant and view a stage show reenactment of one of the Tramp's comedy routines. It's telling that Takemura (whose broad physical mannerisms and naïve City Lights stare are more than vaguely Chaplinesque) laughs uncontrollably throughout the performance; he's Narcissus captured by his own reflection, his character exemplifying the profound connection and the uplifting sense of identification that exists between performer and viewer. Comparatively, Isaku is the Great Stoneface of the scene; he's Buster Keaton internalized and inactive, sitting silently in stoked jealousy, looking slightly perplexed and/or annoyed as his wife laughs along with Takemura. Naruse uses Chaplin and Keaton's diametrically opposed iconography as a way to psychologically delineate where Takemura and Isaku stand in relation to the woman they both love. In the end he comes down more on Isaku's side (hence Keaton's), though I think this is less a facetious desire to preserve the traditional husband/wife relationship than it is Naruse's insightful recognition of which point of view is more open to growth, change, and adaptation.

Chaplin's art is primarily external and bathetic; he revels in naked emotion that, at its worst, manipulates each viewer's reactions to Pavlovian extremes. The upfront superficiality of his comedy was probably ideal for a post-war Japan beat down into semi-powerless insecurity, yet note, in Husband and Wife, how Naruse reveals the limitations of both the comic's method and the country's mood. In a seemingly incongruous transitional scene, Takemura tangles a young boy's kite in an electrical power line. While Takemura rubs his head in an exaggerated expression of befuddlement (an action not far removed from the animated way in which Chaplin crinkles his mustache) the child, upon seeing what's happened, turns around like a robot and breaks into a tearful, hit-your-mark wail. It's all action/reaction and at the screening I attended it was the moment that got the biggest laugh—the quintessential bell that set off the appropriately slobbering hilarity. Yet the scene turns a simultaneously critical eye to its viewers, reflecting our reactions back at us, while further revealing Takemura as something of a two-dimensional construct/constant. Inevitable, then, that the film and characters finally abandon him. He's all surface and—despite the attractions of his ingratiatingly bewildered façade—there's nowhere left to go with him.

In contrast, Keaton's sensibility is one of internalized pathos; out of the comedian's impassive countenance springs—as in Steamboat Bill, Jr.—a literal tornado of external actions. It's a very intellectual style: the subconscious gives rise to a comic consciousness and the complicit viewer projects his or her own sentiments upon the resultant situations. The limitations of this viewpoint come about when it is placed within a harsh, demystified reality; hence the character of Isaku in Husband and Wife often seems a superficially pathetic fish out of water because he is rarely connected to, and hence never in control of, his surroundings—his subconscious is imprisoned and mostly unable to express itself. Isaku is thus happiest when an external stressor allows him to make a withering wisecrack k as when he tosses off cruelly insulting bon mots about Takemura's pajamas and deceased spouse ("Wives are so easy to replace," Isaku states in the cruel tenor of an absolute). For the most part, though, Isaku keeps his body and heart rigid and unreadable. Ostensibly, he's defending and protecting himself against changing situations and times, but in actuality the character only succumbs to those things over which he believes he has no control (much as Keaton finally, tragically acquiesced to the evolutions of an art form to which he seemingly could not adapt).

As is so often the case in Naruse's films, the journey in Husband and Wife is toward a reconciliation of those contradictions inherent to being human. What thus begins as a romantic comedy of errors takes a surprising third act turn to melodrama when Kikuko announces to Isaku that she is pregnant with his child. This woman, whom the film has previously portrayed (via the two men's comically differing perspectives) as a Pickford-like innocent, suddenly takes on the emotional depths and vitality of The Wind-era Lillian Gish. The parallel is again made explicit in the film's heavily stylized final sequence where the couple visits a literally windswept abortion clinic and a life-altering decision must be made and mutually agreed upon. It is here, in the film's epiphanic final moments (which should not be revealed, but experienced by each and all), that the film's dichotomous discourse between the comic and the tragic, between the reel and the real, and—most importantly—between a husband and a wife resolves itself and coalesces into a singular expression of the most beautifully genuine emotion.

WIFE

Japan  (89 mi)  1953

 

User comments  from imdb Author: simon-1303 from United Kingdom

This starts as broad if uncomfortable comedy, based on the battle of the sexes and the strains of marriage in an imperfect world full of imperfect people. Slowly, tragic themes emerge as the desperation of the characters for love and security becomes clear and their aspirations become at the expense of each other. The comedy is rather obvious, with some character clichés and crude approaches.

The tragedy is more subtle, with Ken Uehara expressing a world of feeling in a single glance. By the end of the film, the characters accept mundane reality in place of dreams though with disillusioned resignation rather than the contentment a sentimental Western film might display.

The film's style changes, too, from unsatisfying short sequences in the first half to more typical Naruse long takes by the end.

Wife   Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

The competing husband and wife voiceovers that open the 1953 Mikio Naruse melodrama Wife set up a character dialectic that never comes to fruition and though the title suggests the resulting imbalance may be intentional, the film still plays out as a deeply flawed examination of marital discord. The typical Narusian roles are reversed with wife Mihoko Nakagawa (Mieko Takamine) holding sway over husband Toichi (Ken Uehara) until the cold, repetitious rhythms of their decade-old relationship drive him into the arms of his kind-hearted secretary. While Wife is primarily Takamine's show, it is to the director's credit that he clearly does not favor any one of his characters over another. Naruse is a keen observer of the whole spectrum of human behavior, a portraitist who depicts his subjects in all their raw, yet submissive complexity. In Wife's best scene Toichi meets his lover in Tokyo, only to discover she's brought along her rarely mentioned young son. The child hangs off his mother like an appendage and it's clear the perceived perfection of the couple's extramarital liaison is suddenly subject to a severe reality check. Toichi gazes deep into his lover's eyes before lowering his sight, rather contemptuously, to the child. Naruse then smash-cuts to a different setting: a restaurant, where the boy greedily slurps his soda while his adult companions look on in polite consternation. Unlike many of his cinema contemporaries (both in and out of Japan) Naruse views children skeptically—they seem potentially vicious adults-in-training who go about their business in a distressingly carefree manner that, in its unwitting ignorance, often does as much—if not more—harm than even the most bald-faced grown-up machinations. The young son in Wife joins both the budding boy capitalist of Daughters, Wives and a Mother and the Takamine-taunting tricycle duo from When a Woman Ascends the Stairs as one in a long line of venomous Naruse depictions of not-so-innocent adolescents.

Chicago Independent Media Center  Jimmy Johnson

 

“A woman has many faces.”

Mikio Naruse specialized in making shomin-geki, films depicting lower class people in Japan. He’s perhaps most notable for the strong female characters that inhabit so many of his movies. In 1953’s Wife, Naruse again guided a story of an economically struggling woman in an unenviable position. This time the films also features her husband as similarly, if not equally, trapped in an undesired position.

Wife begins and ends with competing voice overs from Mihoko Nakagawa (Mieko Takamine) and her husband Toichi (Ken Uehara). They don’t talk, they don’t make physical contact and they don’t really appear to like each other. Toichi wonders, “After ten years is this normal for a couple?” Immediately after this the only major problem with the film begins. Naruse introduces different characters at a rapid clip and does not take time to develop all of them properly. It makes the film feel much busier than the dull relationship the two protagonists suffer in. Mihoko comes across as somewhat an aggressive whiney type and rather than try to work out their mutual alienation, Toichi finds comfort with coworker Fusako (Yatsuko Tanami). They begin to find fulfillment in their time spent together while Mihoko is just about abandoned. She makes a few efforts to interrupt the affair and temporarily moves out in protest. During all this Mihoko discusses her failing marriage with her sister, two different friends, her parents, and a couple of the lodgers in the guest rooms the Nakagawas keep. One of the lodgers, Tadashi (Rentaro Mikuni) is interesting but the larger subplot of the separation of another pair seems only superficially relevant in that it involves a troubled couple. The exceptionally strong performances by Uehara and Tanami do a lot to make the story a bit more cohesive but it fails to congeal totally.

Despite the somewhat messy plot this is still a Naruse film and remains interesting despite its flaws. Meditations on the living conditions of hundreds of thousands of war widows in the early fifties are poignant showing how despite a strong numerical majority, Japanese women remained an underclass of sorts. While Naruse’s views on W.W.II are unknown to this reviewer, in 1953 he certainly had some misgivings about it. One of the supporting cast is a veteran who came back to his wife physically intact but “like a balloon without air”. Through all this Wife remains a thoughtful film about a relationship that has long run its natural course, yet continues. It’s not a question of whether they have the strength to stay together. It’s whether they will be brave enough to part ways.

Mikio Naruse is somewhat a nonentity in the United States. Despite support from several prominent critics like Susan Sontag & Audie Bock his films are generally unavailable. As of this publishing there is not a single Naruse film available on DVD in the United States and Amazon.com only lists two (of eighty-nine) on VHS. His sober shomin-geki films should have made him a giant along the lines of Ozu and Kurosawa long ago. The current tour of Naruse films will be at the Gene Siskel Film Center through the end of February and should not be missed by anyone with an interest in cinema.

OLDER BROTHER, YOUNGER SISTER

Japan  (86 mi)  1953

 

The films of Mikio Naruse   Dan Sallit film comments, October/November 2005

A very good film - I consider it top-drawer Naruse, and typical of his virtues, despite the unusual rural setting.  The film may be Naruse's most visually striking, with lots of languorous long-shot deep-space interiors, charged with the threat of conflict and the unnerving erotic presence of Kyo, supine and disruptive in the summer heat.  Two action scenes interrupt the leisurely drama and spring the mechanism of Naruse's "hidden" story: Mori's fight with Kyo's suitor, revealing his passion for the sister he abuses; then the climactic, beautifully edited family brawl, in which Kyo's triumph is to express her despair for the only time, and Mori's defeat is that his love is hidden by violence and masculine pride.  Just outside the older brother/younger sister epicenter, all the other family members have their own crisis of degeneration to deal with: the film is quite full of emotional material.  There is perhaps a small lull at the midpoint, when Kyo's impregnator pays an extended visit.

Older Brother, Younger Sister   Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

In Older Brother, Younger Sister, director Mikio Naruse's adaptation of an oft-filmed popular novel by Saisei Murô, the eldest daughter (Machiko Kyô) of a rural family comes home pregnant, testing some already tenuous family bonds. Naruse shows his considerable skill at portraying household dynamics, filming Kyô in relaxed and/or reclining positions (indicative of her character's exhaustively maintained independence) that are then intruded upon by her ill-tempered older brother (Masayuki Mori), whose initially comic, brute-force presence grows increasingly menacing and treacherous as the film progresses. Among the stand-out sequences: an illuminative interlude by a river where several hundred townspeople let loose a flurry of small model boats carrying candles and a bittersweet scene where Kyô and her bookish younger sister return home, after some world-wearying big city experiences, along literally divergent country roads that eventually intersect.

not coming to a theater near you (Ian Johnston) review

 
SOUND OF THE MOUNTAIN

Japan  (96 mi)  1954

 

User comments  from imdb Author: Michael Kerpan (kerpan) from New England

"Yama no oto" is, in essence, the story of the love between a daughter-in-law (Setsuko Hara) and the father (So Yamamura) of her neglectful and selfish husband (Ken Uehara). As Yamamura becomes more and more aware of the unhappiness of Hara, he takes ever more unconventional steps to try to rescue his son's marriage (for instance, approaching his son's mistress). Though the issues of infidelity, abortion and divorce swirl through this film, the tone is remarkably low-key and unmelodramatic. The cinematography here is similar to that found in Ozu's films of this period, though not so rigorous. The performances of Hara and Yamamura are superb. A very well-done and moving film by Japan's greatest neglected master.

The films of Mikio Naruse   Dan Sallit film comments, October/November 2005

Unusual material for Naruse, partly because of the hints of sexual perversity, but also because the story is essentially told from the point of view of an observer (Yamamura), which has the effect of hiding the details of the bad marriage and the husband's affairs, giving us instead a pile of second-hand information.  Naruse's response to this complex material is more overtly poetic than usual: he sometimes cuts directly to closeups where establishing shots are expected, and often ends scenes with close shots that emphasize mystery instead of giving information.  One of the consequences of pinning the story to Yamamura's perspective is that the film becomes a wide-ranging inquiry into the lives of women at a moment in Japanese culture: not only daughter-in-law Hara and daughter Nakakita (in whose hard luck Yamamura is implicated), but also the dark underworld of Uehara's abused lovers, with Yoko Sugi playing Heurtebise to Yamamura's Orpheus.  The film has a mirror-image narrative that is foreshadowed from the early scenes: that good-girl, childlike Hara, far from waiting patiently for her husband to return to her, is silently dedicated to a hatred that will unilaterally abort a pregnancy and terminate the marriage.  Though I liked the film much more than ever before, the climax still feels unsatisfying to me, perhaps because Hara's decisive actions occur off-camera and away from home.  Naruse seems to be trying to compensate for this absence by punching up Yamamura's encounter with Uehara's pregnant lover, concealing her face until the last moment and giving her an emotional turn that seems out of proportion to her dramatic importance.  But the evocative geometry of the last scene does a lot to make up for any structural problems.

User comments  from imdb Author: crossbow0106 from United States

This film tackles a subject that even today is controversial: Choice. Kikuko (the utterly amazing Setsuko Hara) is locked into a loveless marriage with her husband. They live with his parents, and it is particularly her father in law Shingo (Su Yamamura, who also is excellent) that she is closest to. Kikuko is a veritable maid, but mostly doesn't complain, while her husband is having an affair. You want Kikuko to confront him, but she doesn't. Then (this is where it gets controversial) Kikuko finds out she is pregnant, doesn't tell anyone and gets an abortion! Her reason is that its not the time to have a child, since her relationship is in flux. In the movie "Juno", Ellen Page brings the baby to term. The brilliance of this film is its unflinching subject and how its handled, with dignity, sadness and relief. If this film were released today, especially in the United States, you'd have so many interest groups up in arms about it. That its handled like this, with you deciding what to feel rather than having your feelings be dictated to you, makes this a masterpiece. In every review I've written in which she has been an actress I've praised Setsuko Hara. She is beautiful (especially when she smiles), but its really about the seemingly effortless way she portrays all types of women, strong, weak, resilient, unable to cope etc. She is one of the greatest actresses to have ever graced the screen and her portrayal is phenomenal as the under appreciated wife who makes a choice based on her circumstances. Director Mikio Naruse has always considered this one of his best films, and it is. Even if you're passionate about the "life" issue, see this film. I can't say enough about the acting of Ms. Hara in this film. The film is essential viewing.

Sound of the Mountain   Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

Adapted from a novel by Nobel Prize winning author Yasunari Kawabata, Sound of the Mountain is reportedly director Mikio Naruse's favorite among his pictures and, to a point, it is easy to see why. A work of immersive textures and perspectives with sets and locations designed to look like Kawabata's own home and neighborhood, Sound of the Mountain revisits and more confidently expresses the themes of Naruse's "comeback" film Repast, with which it also shares several of the same lead actors. It is the only Naruse film that has brought me to tears, not surprisingly during its final sequence—set on an infinitely extending park walkway—where Kikuko Ogata (Setsuko Hara) confesses having had an abortion to her father-in-law Shingo (Sô Yamamura). It's the revelatory moment in a relationship that, over the course of the film, revolves around a kind of unspoken solace, a necessary byproduct of Kikuko and Shingo's dealings with the cruelly philandering Shuichi (Ken Uehara), husband to the former, son to the latter.

Naruse details Kikuko and Shingo's interactions as a codependent dance. There are inklings throughout of misplaced affections never consummated—everything stays roiling and bubbling under the surface as befits societal norms. It is a platonic love story of extreme psychological precision and Kikuko's climactic outburst achieves its tremendously affective power in no small part because of the film's rigorous narrative structure that, as evidenced by the late-film appearance of Shuichi's mistress, is an expertly envisioned series of withholdings and revelations. Yet why, despite all my resultant emotional blubbering, does Sound of the Mountain finally seem a decidedly lesser Naruse?

There's a tendency, I think, to view our rawest emotional states as the most honest expression of our humanity, yet we rarely admit that the tears we shed are quite often blinding. Though Sound of the Mountain certainly earns its conclusion (indeed, the masochist in me hopes that Naruse's endings will one day be gathered into a compilation film, though I wonder who among us would dare to brave such perpetual and ubiquitous emotional devastation) there's something of a desiccated, lifeless feel to the film, as if Naruse is so close to the source material that he is effectively embalming it rather than allowing it to breathe within its own space. It is a confident, perfectly executed piece of work that for the most part lays there like a prettified corpse and though Kikuko's confession scene suggests this is part of the tonal point it nonetheless comes off jarringly in retrospect as too-little too-late. Naruse's opinion that Sound of the Mountain is, among his output, "one of my all-time favorites" unfortunately calls to mind Jeanne Moreau's somnolent admonition (caveat artiste) in Fassbinder's Querelle: "Each man kills the thing he loves."

Senses of Cinema (Dag Sodtholt) review   Sound of the Mountain: The Beauty of Pessimism, by Dag Sødtholt, October 2001

 

Nishikata Film Review  Nishikataeiga

not coming to a theater near you (Leo Goldsmith) review

Ferdy on Films [Marilyn Ferdinand]

 

2 Things @ Once  reviewing SOUND OF THE MOUNTAIN and SCATTERED CLOUDS

 

DVD Times  Noel Megahey, Naruse Volume 1: REPAST, SOUND OF THE MOUNTAIN, and FLOWING

DVDBeaver dvd review  Gary W. Tooze, Naruse Volume I: REPAST, SOUND OF THE MOUNTAIN, and FLOWING

LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS

Japan  (102 mi)  1954

 

Chicago Reader (Dave Kehr) capsule review

Mikio Naruse's 1954 film is a masterpiece of narrative construction: three short stories by Fumiko Hayashi are woven together to produce a panoramic portrait of the lives of three aging geisha; in the film's last half hour, Naruse abandons narrative concerns completely and simply cuts back and forth between two extended scenes, developing tonal rhythms and contrasts as one geisha confronts a former lover and her two friends try to console each other for the loss of their children. Naruse's characteristic mood—a sense of constant movement without advancement—here reaches its formal apotheosis. With Haruko Sugimura, Yuko Mochizuki, and Chikako Hosokawa.

User comments  from imdb Author: crossbow0106 from United States

This film is about aging Geisha in post war Tokyo. Okin, played by the incredible Haruko Sugimara, lends money to two other ex Geisha, Tamae (Chikako Hosokawa) and Otomi (Yuko Mochizuki) and they resent the way she is somewhat smug about it. Tamae has a son, Otomi a daughter, who during the film announce they're leaving them while Okin, never a mother, gets visits from two men in her past who, it turns out, just want money from her. Its a compelling tale of what choices you make, what you do to get through life and who you're responsible and beholden to. Haruko Sugimara has always been in my eyes one of the greatest character actresses ever from any country and she plays the mostly unyielding, less than compassionate Okin with an air of superiority that makes you not like her, but at the same time almost envy her. At a time when great films were made by Ozu, Mizoguchi, Kinoshita and Kurosawa, amongst others, Mr. Naruse is right up there with him. If you have a region free DVD player, you should attempt to find the two Naruse box sets released in England. I think this film was a great character study of women who are in danger of being irrelevant. That they are really not makes this film a veritable masterpiece.

Late Chrysanthemums   Keith Uhlrich from Slant magazine

Late Chrysanthemums is director Mikio Naruse's most perfect film, a seamless combination of several short stories (Bangiku, Suisen, and Shirasagi) by authoress Fumiko Hayashi that detail the lives of three aging geishas, O-Kin (Haruko Sugimura), Tamae (Chikako Hosokawa), and O-Tomi (Yûko Mochizuki). Perfection, I suppose, implies some sort of apotheosis, a personal best never again achieved, yet Late Chrysanthemums is more the film that inaugurates Naruse's masterful run up to and including 1964's Yearning, a significantly rougher effort that is nonetheless the director's fullest and most expressive achievement. This is not to take anything away from Late Chrysanthemums, which in spirit plays as a sort of "after the fall" sequel to Naruse's Flowing, though it interestingly precedes that film by two years, a further illustration that Naruse's body of work is rarely prisoner to any normal concepts of time. Time is what each of these geishas are marking in their twilight years: O-Kin, in the company of her partner Itaya (Daisuke Katô), meets each day with a moneylender's harsh, cold stare, while Tamae and O-Tomi drunkenly commiserate (in and out of each other's company) about their often unwarranted disappointment in their children. O-Kin's story makes the deepest impression, her miserly layers slowly peeled away when she reconnects with two former lovers: the disinterested Tabe (Ken Uehara) and the suicidal Seki (Bontarô Miyake). Tamae and O-Tomi, meanwhile, are tragicomic counterpoints lost in varying states of brilliantly enacted inebriation, always subtly mocked by omnipresent radio broadcasts that showcase the latest musical sensations. Late Chrysanthemums is a film of unbridled riches, so it's only appropriate that it contains two of Naruse's typically superb climaxes: O-Kin burning Tabe's photograph when she comes to recognize his duplicity and Tamae and O-Tomi momentarily turning the scales on the younger generation—or, perhaps, giving into it—by imitating Marilyn Monroe's signature gait

User comments  from imdb Author: J_J_Gittes from Germany

For me, "Late Chrysanthemums" was interesting not only because it was my first film of Naruse I completely enjoyed, but because it was technically as modern and innovative as his 30s work I've seen. This doesn't mean innovative editing in the way Godard would introduce it with "Breathless" in 1959, but quite the opposite.

The editing was as fluent as in the best of Hollywood films from the 30s/40s, but at the same time incredibly fitting regarding the way he was telling his story. Unlike them, it never purposefully accentuated anything or tried to make itself "invisible" but, together with the cinematography, made me feel like I was traveling on a gentle stream, constantly feeling the waves beneath me, like a gentle stroke of the hand or the almost unnoticeable rocking of a cradle. In this sense the film was comparable to Ozu's and Mizoguchi's work, but somehow even more subtle.

What was so modern was the fact that the editing seemed almost a character in itself, similar to the remarkable camera-work in Dreyer's Ordet (1954) or Vredens dag (1943) which is revealing us a deeper understanding of the film and its characters rather than simply showing them to us.

I feel that Naruse's editing and cinematography are the most interesting aspects of his films, elevating the stories significance beyond the obvious. The wonderful sets and settings shouldn't be forgotten either! I found the story itself to be rather conventional.

The narrative and its characters were introduced in a very interesting way, and I thought that the first half of the film was setting up a delicately ingenious spectrum of emotions and interrelations. Unfortunately the second half of the film and its resolution were rather didactic and and formulaic compared to the set up (though by itself it would have been perfectly fitting in any other - less complex - film). Somehow I felt that he failed a bit in trying to dissolve the many layers he had woven. Maybe he should have kept them intact. This criticism might seem a bit harsh to a viewer of this film, especially since the procedure is again reminiscent to the way Ozu dealt with the plot in his films. Unfortunately I haven't yet the feeling that Naruse was able to elevate the story and its characters in his films' conclusions in a similarly sublime fashion. The best efforts I have seen to date - Ukigumo (Floating Clouds / 1955) and Midaregumo (Scattered Clouds / 1967) - sustained the energy he had built throughout the narrative, while delivering poignant and resonant endings.

This is already more than most director's are able to do, and in my opinion the basis for a real mastery of the cinematic medium. In this regard, and considering the resonance of the last two films I've seen by him, he may have already become one of my favorites.

The only problem I have at the moment, is where I'm going to see more of his films on the big screen.

Geishas Without Diaries  Jonathan Rosenbaum

Depressing movies with unhappy endings are often seen as offering a bracing contrast to the standard Hollywood fare. This may help explain the appeal of Brokeback Mountain, whose drafts of misery are seen by some people as daringly honest and authentic.

I wonder. Some lives are full of misery, but this doesn’t mean movies that reflect them are automatically more truthful. If the shepherds played by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal had sustained a happy, loving relationship over several decades in spite of everything, Brokeback Mountain might have been truly daring–and it wouldn’t have been less believable. The impulse to privilege the dark is hardly new; in prerevolutionary Russian cinema, tragic plots ending in suicide were so common and popular that some Hollywood imports with happier endings were revised to make them more “commercial.” I would argue that a certain complacency surrounds some of these doom-ridden scenarios, especially ones that suggest social change is impossible–a vested interest in the status quo, even conservatism, seems to lurk behind the apparent apoliticism.

Having seen 10 of the 19 films by Mikio Naruse (out of a career total of 89) screening at the Gene Siskel Film Center’s retrospective that started in January, most of them post-World War II features, I can think of only one–Travelling Actors (1940), an uncharacteristic comedy about two Kabuki actors who play a horse–that might cheer someone up. (None of his early silent films, many of which are comedies, is in the retrospective.) Steeped in lower-middle-class life, Naruse’s most celebrated films usually feature plots that disappoint the modest expectations of their working-stiff characters. Even Travelling Actors, also screening this week, is preoccupied with deprivations tied to class.

Over the years the appreciations written by Naruse’s most eloquent American defender, Philip Lopate, eagerly embraced the director’s defeatism, which I found alienating. “Naruse’s forlorn flavor of existence can become addictive,” he wrote. “One of the charms of Naruse’s art is its earned pessimism. It takes for granted that life is unhappy; therefore, we can relax in the possession of sadness, acquiesce from the start to the fate of disenchantment.” A similar hopelessness permeates Lopate’s recent dismissal in the Nation of James Agee’s most adventurous, contentious, and politically acute writing; he calls Let Us Now Praise Famous Men “unreadable” and finds the posthumously published essay “America, Look at Your Shame!” (excluded from the Library of America’s selection of Agee’s essential writing, which Lopate deems “excellent”) unworthy of mention.

Lopate’s attitude seems tied more to an American context than a Japanese one. And in the case of Naruse’s masterpiece Late Chrysanthemums (1954), what’s most impressive isn’t its fatalism or resignation but its energy and vivid portraiture.

Naruse (1905-’69) is less known for his visual style than either Yasujiro Ozu or Kenji Mizoguchi, though his utter lack of sentimentality has stylistic consequences–his abrupt cutting between sequences, for example, prevents us from lingering over the pathos of his characters and sometimes has the jolting effect of a door slammed in our face. His work is most recognizable for the vividness and conviction he shows in representing these people and for the extraordinary performances he elicits from the actors portraying them.

The writer Naruse most liked to adapt was Fumiko Hayashi, a celebrated fiction writer who died in 1951, the year Naruse finished Repast, his first adaptation of her work. Her stories were the source of six of his better-known features, including two of the most celebrated, Late Chrysanthemums and Floating Clouds (1955). Late Chrysanthemums is based on three stories about aging former geishas, and one of the most remarkable things about the screenplay by Sumie Tanaka and Toshiro Ide is how seamlessly they’re combined.

Kin (Haruko Sugimura), a childless ex-geisha, has become a greedy loan shark, and two of her clients are Tamae (Chikako Hosokawa) and Tomi (Yuko Mochizuki), former colleagues and widows with grown children. Tamae’s son has become a paid escort for an older woman–the reason his mother cringes when he tries to help her out with expenses–and Tomi’s daughter works at a casino and has just become engaged to a wealthy man she met there. None of the three middle-aged women has a man in her life, though they don’t seem to mind, having had their fill of catering to clients. Yet we’re also keenly aware that they’re increasingly lonely.

These women are as vivid as the characters in Erich von Stroheim’s Greed–not just because they’re obsessed with money, but because Naruse has an uncanny feeling for extraneous detail. Twenty years ago Dave Kehr aptly noted in this paper that Late Chrysanthemums “is a masterpiece of narrative construction,” yet paradoxically many of the things that register most indelibly aren’t essential to the story. Furthermore, although there’s nothing attractive or likable about any of the characters, they have a passion that’s fascinating, and we can’t anticipate any of their moves.

Kin is plainly a hateful, embittered miser who doesn’t mind hounding or even evicting the people who owe her money. But Naruse refrains from treating her as a simple villain, and what’s most memorable about her is the way her few vestiges of romantic hope are dashed by a visit from a former lover (she unexpectedly and awkwardly delivers an offscreen internal monologue) and the warm, animated way she pantomimes her household instructions to her deaf-mute maid–a side of her personality she shows to practically no one else. What’s most memorable about Tomi is the way she secretly mocks her daughter for primping in a mirror next to the table where they’re having lunch and the two times she sneezes during the same meal–a detail that’s about as gratuitous as one can imagine in narrative terms, yet Naruse somehow makes it seem essential.

Underplaying everything that might be construed as a dramatic climax, Naruse imbues the smallest gestures of these women with the weight of their entire personalities, so that the “action” becomes the moments when they’re most clearly being themselves. A rude sneeze carries the full force of an ugly, tired woman’s unexpressed feeling that she’s about to be abandoned, and when Kin quietly burns a photograph of a man she once loved we sense that her soul is also being obliterated.

Only The Cinema [Ed Howard]

Raging Bull Movie Reviews (Mike Lorefice) review [3.5/4]

Strictly Film School review   Acquarello

CineScene.com (Chris Dashiell) review

DVD Times  Noel Megahey, Mikio Naruse Collection, LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS, WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS, and FLOATING CLOUDS

CineScene.com (Howard Schumann) review  reviewing REPAST, WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS, LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS, also seen here:  Talking Pictures (UK) review

The New York Times (Vincent Canby) review

DVDBeaver.com [Gary W Tooze]  Mikio Naruse Collection, LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS, WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS, and FLOATING CLOUDS

 

FLOATING CLOUDS

Japan  (123 mi)  1955

 

Chicago Reader (Dave Kehr) capsule review

Mikio Naruse belongs with Ozu and Mizoguchi in the great classical tradition of Japanese cinema, though he remains almost unknown to American audiences. Like his famous colleagues, he specialized in melodrama, but his work rigorously denies both the spiritual transcendence of Mizoguchi and the human connections of Ozu, moving instead toward a sense of defeat and futility. Floating Clouds (1955), which was a huge popular success in Japan and remains his best-loved film today, tells of a young woman's determined love for a man she knows to be worthless; the film piles betrayal upon betrayal, but her hope is never shaken. Naruse's visual style is austere to the point of invisibility; his meanings are contained in his actors' faces and in his distinctive dovetailing of dramatic incidents, a narrative pattern that allows his characters no rest, but affords a strange peace in its constancy. In Japanese with subtitles. 123 min.

The films of Mikio Naruse   Dan Sallit film comments, October/November 2005

Just one of the most amazing of all films. I noticed this time how very good the script by Yoko Mizuki (from Hayashi's novel, of course) is: it takes a lot of planning to introduce so much melodrama and yet keep bringing the film back to the same ostinato figures and slightly comic repetitions. It took me a while to grasp that the melodrama wasn't going to advance the story, that all Takamine's bitter "last words" and Mori's retreats into the shadows are not to be taken at face value.  My take on the role of melodrama in these films is that Naruse uses it to give the stories a dramatic structure that he then hijacks for his own, non-melodramatic purposes.  I think he needs big drama the way that Hawks needs genre, as something that he uses to create a set of expectations, which he will fulfill in an unexpected way.  The development of these characters is incredibly daring, almost absurdist, without announcing itself as such. When you think about it, the lives of most couples fall into an existential pattern - you're in love, you fall out of love, and then what happens for the rest of your life? - that almost no other movies care to treat. Naruse clearly outdoes himself here, moving through time and locations with an ease that makes me think of The Searchers.

User comments  from imdb Author: liehtzu from Korea

With this film Naruse Mikio took his place in my favorite directors list. "Floating Clouds" is a masterpiece on par with any work produced by any major filmmaker, period. Hard luck Yukiko (Takamine Hideko) remembers the days of wine and romance back in Indochina but Kengo (Mori Masayuki) isn't having any of it - he's the usual unsympathetic Japanese man you find in just about every Japanese film from this era. The war is over, the survivors are back in Japan and Yukiko wants to rekindle the old flame. Her former lover Kengo accepts her back in a rather half-a***d fashion - sex, jealousy, murder and pseudo-redemption ensue.

The director's uncanny ability to sympathize with his characters as he watches them go down in flames invests the film with a warmth that counteracts the cruelty and keeps "Floating Clouds" from being insufferable in a way that, say, Antonioni's films are insufferable. Because he was so shy Naruse avoided the flashiness or the odd quirks that were trademarks of his contemporaries. At his best, in films like "Floating Clouds," he showcased a lovely if not incredibly distinct cinematic style. In anyone else's case I would mean that as something of a minor insult but I have nothing but reverence for this man. His ability to view the human situation realistically means that his films will age much better than other films of the era such as "Life of Oharu," which today seems hopelessly dated. If "Floating Clouds" isn't quite as good as my favorite Naruse film "When a Woman Ascends the Stairs," it's because it goes on just a bit too long. Regardless, it's one hell of a good movie.

A Nutshell Review  Stefan S.

 

If you're looking for a movie that deals with clingy relationships, then Floating Clouds is without a doubt a movie that fits the bill to a T. Directed by Naruse Mikio and based upon the novel by Fumiko Hayashi, the female character in the movie will bring back memories of those who have had to deal with such stifling clinging, and well, for those who do act as such, a stark and accurate portrayal that would be akin to holding up a mirror and looking at oneself.

Hideko Takamine put up a commendable, if not personally what I deem as a remarkably irritating performance as Yukiko Koda, a woman perhaps with little self-esteem and respect, who decided to sacrifice an entire forest for one singular tree. Being sent to Indochina during WWII, she chances upon Kengo Tomioka (Masayuki Mori), and while he seemed to be prim and proper, and not giving her a second glance, soon they fall in love with each other, one despite having a wife back home, and the other, knowingly being the other woman.

But when the war ends and they get repatriated back to Japan, she looks him up, only to discover that he will not leave his wife, nor to rekindle their passion started in a foreign land. To make things worse, she discovers he's quite the cad, and to compound the problem, her insecurities and her paranoia makes you wonder why she can't afford to sever ties. It's one thing being made to suffer from unrequited love, but it's another if you are made to suffer deliberately, and bear witness to the insincerity of the other party. Running slightly over 2 hours, it does take its time to showcase the sorry state that Yukiko undergoes.

You can't really find fault with Naruse Mikio's direction of the movie - the handling of the narrative structure in the first act was deft, with the transition of time seamless, and the actors do their job to allow you to connect with their characters. However, like I mentioned, perhaps Yukiko Koda did such a fine job, that for me I found her to be a tad too irritating, even for my liking.

 

Floating Clouds   Keith Uhlrich from Slant magazine

Floating Clouds is a frigid Mikio Naruse masterpiece, charting the tempestuous love affair between the needy, often paranoid Yukiko Koda (Hideko Takamine) and the distant, emotionally stoic Tomioka (Masayuki Mori). The film opens post-World War II with Yukiko returning to Tokyo from French Indochina to rekindle her relationship with Tomioka, who is living a quiet life with his sickly wife and seemingly views the wartime romance he and Yukiko shared as little more than a harmless indiscretion. Initially taken aback by her arrival on his doorstep, he nonetheless agrees to walk with her for a few minutes (indeed, much of the film is given over to observing the couple as they amble aimlessly along various city streets and country roads). Accompanied on the soundtrack by a vaguely tribal, Middle Eastern-inflected musical composition (a satirically exoticized melody/motif that Naruse returns to and replays over the course of the film), the duo reflects on their first meeting in Indochina. Memory and current action seamlessly intermingle and Naruse concludes by brilliantly collapsing the dual timelines, smash-cutting, at scene's climax, between the lovers' years-removed embraces. It's one of the more romantic sequences in movies, though Naruse quickly defuses the intoxicating sense of quixotic sublimity by instilling a plague-like imbalance in his characters. Neither Yukiko nor Tomioka ever feel similarly: their love for each other creates only profound disharmony and antagonism, which leads them down a path of inevitable destruction. As is so often the case in Naruse's films, the characters use money as a manipulative trump card—currency is the key, in the director's worldview, to possession and control of any given person or situation. As the lovers become increasingly estranged because of their vindictive back-and-forth, the viewer may feel, as I did, an escalating sense of alienation and confusion. Yet I think this is exactly Naruse's intent. He slowly distances us from the lovers and their actions (a colleague astutely described Floating Clouds's ever-deepening sense of detachment as a precursor to Fassbinder) so that the movie's climactic progression of events—revolving around Yukiko's prolonged tubercular death rattle—hits us all the more fiercely. And it is only through the film's luminous final close-up that we, like Tomioka, become aware of those very things callously taken for granted that are now tragically and irretrievably lost.

not coming to a theater near you (Ian Johnston) review
 
Strictly Film School review  Acquarello
 
DVD Times  Noel Megahey, Mikio Naruse Collection, LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS, WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS, and FLOATING CLOUDS
 

DVDBeaver.com [Gary W Tooze]  Mikio Naruse Collection, LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS, WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS, and FLOATING CLOUDS

 

SUDDEN RAIN

Japan  (91 mi)  1956

 

The films of Mikio Naruse   Dan Sallit film comments, October/November 2005

I found this film perplexing, and not entirely satisfying. The structure seems almost improvised, with the story moving from patch to patch instead of weaving the different strands together: I was especially perturbed when a long interlude about the husband's work life took over the film more than halfway through. The marital conflict in the film is quite interesting: I especially liked the way Setsuko Hara presents her familiar "ideal woman" persona to everyone but her husband, to whom she is a bit of a shrew. But I had the feeling that some of the big scenes and turning points weren't quite working, and that some aspects of the story were underdeveloped.

Sudden Rain   Keith Uhlrich from Slant magazine

The greatest shock of Sudden Rain comes when Ryotaro Namiki (Shuji Sano) declares to his wife Fumiko (Setsuko Hara) that she has no dreams. For those familiar with Hara's typically incandescent screen presence this is less of an insult than pure blasphemy, though it's all to director Mikio Naruse's subversive point. A typically subdued, perpetually smiling presence in many Yasujiro Ozu films (a persona also on display in Naruse's own Daughters, Wives and a Mother), Hara in Sudden Rain uses her trademark beatific grin as a kind of Noh-theater disguise masking a virulent emotional undercurrent. From first frame to last, Fumiko and Ryotaro engage in the most vicious verbal battles, hurling insults both subtle and bald-faced as they navigate the treacherous terrain of a marriage gone stale. Playing, in toto, like a Henry James adaptation of The War of the Roses, Sudden Rain's initial scenes are mostly relegated to intimate interiors, charting the husband and wife's repetitive rituals with an incisive psychological precision. Naruse slowly expands his scope, introducing a succession of neighbors, co-workers, and acquaintances inhabiting the couple's Tokyo suburb. All are varied, lovingly detailed individuals who, in one way or another, comment on and drive the central husband/wife drama to its climactic sequence, a transcendent breaking point/resolution in which Ryotaro and Fumiko deliriously knock a child's balloon between them. Particular attention should be paid to Naruse's use of music in the film: the omnipresent piano score not only hints at one character's renouncement of a lifelong artistic desire, it also hilariously blurs the line between diagetic and non-diagetic sound, revealing an unexpectedly playful side to a director far-too-often characterized as a stalwart pessimist.

A WIFE’S HEART

Japan  (101 mi)  1956

 

The films of Mikio Naruse   Dan Sallit film comments, October/November 2005

Small, well-constructed, and really quite good.  We get a lot of subtext right off the bat, as the "happy" Takamine-Kobayashi marriage functions on such a purely practical level that its absences are conspicuous.  When she finds love outside the marriage, Takamine is so predisposed to snap that her husband's decisive demonstration of decency does nothing but create a bitter sense of obligation in her.  So the conventional "marriage tested and restored" plot, complete with the hope of financial success at the end, is actually a cover for a mirror-image "happiness promised and withdrawn" emotional dynamic that is as fully worked out as one could want.  Takamine is very good, throwing in a particularly nice impression of a stereotypical cheerful hostess in the restaurant scenes; many directors would present such flexibility of self-presention as insincerity, but Naruse always accepts it as natural and never underlines it.  The high-profile conflict over money with Kobayashi's family turns out to be just a warm-up test for the couple, but it is one of Naruse's scariest depictions of familial pressure.

A Wife's Heart   Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

The best moments of A Wife's Heart involve things not said or seen and this is most explicit in the interactions between Kiyoko (Hideko Takamine) and her bank clerk bachelor confidant Kenkichi (Toshiro Mifune). Kiyoko, along with her husband Shinji (Keiju Kobayashi), wants to open a coffee shop and so goes to Kenkichi to ask for a loan. Director Mikio Naruse never focuses on the duo's talk of money; as filmed, their entire relationship is a series of beginnings and endings with the middles cut out. It is at first purely a business association, though after Shinji (at the manipulative behest of his matchmaker mother) gives a majority of the loan to his deadbeat brother Zenichi, Kiyoko starts to think that her feelings for Kenkichi may be more then platonic. Following through on his setup, Naruse never lets either character nakedly confess their heart's desire. The closest they come is during a sequence, set against the backdrop of a torrential downpour, where Kenkichi utters the first few words of a thought that he will never finish. In other hands this scene might have played as masochistic repression, but Naruse allows the rainstorm to act as an expressive emotional outlet—nature thus concludes what Kenkichi cannot.

FLOWING

Japan  (117 mi)  1956

User comments  from imdb Author: simon-1303 from United Kingdom

This is a series of vaguely connected episodes set in and around a geisha house. Staff come and go. There are money transactions between everybody. Naruse knows this area to perfection and uses this knowledge and some tremendous actresses to portray both interesting day to day details and some of the major issues. Linked themes are the ending both of careers and of businesses in the context of a decline in the popularity of geishas and their traditional entertainment skills in post war Japan. Even less than in other Naruse films, there is little depiction of the geisha with clients and more about their 'off stage' lives.

As ever, Naruse's camera-work and editing is tremendous in capturing scenes and actions.  

User comments   from imdb Author: crossbow0106 from United States

While watching this film, you could be reminded of Mizoguchi's "Street Of Shame" which mined the same territory, that being a geisha house in Tokyo at the time when the government of Japan was considering outlawing prostitution. The difference between the two films is that this film is less grim, though by no means a happy film. Set almost completely in the geisha house, it tells the story of the people in it. Not all are geishas, though. Hideko Takamine plays the daughter, and she wants to get a regular job. The house itself is in debt, with the threat always looming that the mother will have to sell. The actresses in this film are excellent, and they make the film so, so good. The aforementioned Ms. Takamine, Izuzu Yamada, Kinuyo Tanaka and especially the amazing Haruko Sugimura are just great portraying the characters in this film. It is not an especially happy life, but director Naruse shows brilliantly that these ladies know how to do one thing best: survive. A near great film, on a par with "Street Of Shame", but not so foreboding. Highly recommended.

Chicago Reader (Pat Graham) capsule review  

Brimful and elusive, like the Heraclitean river that forever moves while standing still, Mikio Naruse's 1956 masterpiece, about a geisha house come on hard times (and not incidentally running athwart modernizing currents in Japanese culture), poises at the indefinable edge of variation and stasis, between evanescent incident and immutable form. Unlike his more famous contemporaries—the traditionalist Ozu, the insular Mizoguchi, the too easily co-opted Kurosawa—Naruse sustained an open-ended relation to contemporary Japanese life, mercilessly clearsighted, and his matter-of-fact juxtapositions of new and old, modern and traditional, tend inevitably toward unsettlement. The largely female cast, including Kinuyo Tanaka, Hideko Takamine, Isuzu Yamada, and Haruko Sugimura, comprises an extraordinary ensemble, and Tanaka especially, as the self-effacing housemaid, is remarkable (all the more so since her performance runs strongly against the Western emotional grain). A great film, not to be missed. In Japanese with subtitles. 117 min.

The films of Mikio Naruse   Dan Sallit film comments, October/November 2005

This is probably my second favorite Naruse after Floating Clouds (Editor's note: Lightning joined Floating Clouds at the top of my Naruse list after this writing), but it doesn't have the conceptual daring of the earlier film: it's more in the sneak-up-on-you category than the what-the-hell-am-I-watching category. But it really sneaks up: there are four separate characters (I would throw Sugimura in as a primary along with Tanaka, Yamada and Takamine) whose inner lives are set into vibration, and at the end they're all vibrating hard, so that every corner of the geisha house seems to be leaking mystery.  Takamine's character is especially unusual: hard to the point of criminality (she almost certainly was intentionally shortchanging the employees, causing much of the house's trouble), but ashamed of her hardness because she identifies with the geisha tradition she rejected, and therefore paralyzed in her life decisions.  The beautifully lit samizen jam at the end has great power: a new generation of geisha is in the wings, and the calm and authority of the demonstration reaffirms the traditions that give Yamada's life its meaning...but we know that things are falling apart.

User comments  from imdb Author: GyatsoLa from Ireland

'Flowing' is a moving, beautifully made story centered around the demise of a long established geisha house, drowned under mounting debts. We witness the story largely through the eyes of the new maid Rika (Kinuyo Tenaka) as the elegant but unworldly mistress of the house Otsuta (Isuzu Yamata) tries to save her business. In this she is aided by her more worldly daughter Katsuyo (Hideko Takamine), but she is undermined by her hard-nosed older sister and an apparently sympathetic senior geisha guild member.

There is really nothing to this story - just an episode in the death of an older world, but its told with great sensitivity and not a little humour. There is a very funny scene where two drunken geisha joke about how little they have to do to make their money. But the overwhelming feeling is nostalgia and sadness as these women fight the dying of their business in a harsh world where women without husbands are thrown onto their own devices. It is also unusual in that it deals honestly and frankly with the aging process and the fear of poverty in old age.

The reputation of Naruse seems to be increasing all the time - he is surely in the top rank of directors. This is the first of his movies that I've seen, but I would definitely want to see more. Every scene is beautifully framed with lovely sets and wonderful, naturalistic acting. There is a rare sense of authenticity about this movie. It is worth seeing both as an example of a terrific movie (it is genuinely compelling and entertaining) and a fascinating insight into another world.

Strongly recommended both for film buffs who want to know more about this fine director, and for anyone interested in Japanese culture.

Flowing   Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

 

At the opening of director Mikio Naruse's masterful Flowing, maid Rika Yamanaka (Kinuyo Tanaka) is hired at Tsuta House, a struggling back-alley Tokyo establishment, and the geisha tellingly take to calling her Oharu. A reference to Tanaka's most famous role (as the mythical martyr of Kenji Mizoguchi's period melodrama The Life of Oharu), the association also acts as a distancing device for both the character and the viewer, placing us in a seemingly privileged position of observational prominence. Yet this is far from the tonal truth of the matter: Certainly Rika seems a rebellious goddess among mortals, yet more one who has come to Earth out of curiosity rather than judgement, out of a desire to participate in and observe the workings of a somewhat alien reality.

The drama of Flowing depends heavily on a viewer's identification with this cinema surrogate; it is Rika's entrance that permits us a brief glimpse and insight into the geishas' downward-spiraling existence and it is her implied exit from that world at film's end that brings down the curtain on what is, finally, a non-narrative slice of life that feels profoundly equivalent to the blink of an eye. In its own way, Flowing is an end-of-days film, a silent apocalypse (charting the last gasps of the old-world geisha class) along the slate-cleansing lines of the Dardenne brothers' recent work. Yet where a Dardenne film such as The Son is heavily suffused with a sense of the Western Catholic—the movie's protagonists consistently fearful of speaking the holy, purifying Word of God—Flowing, in its generally muted and mellow tone, feels supremely indebted and connected to Eastern Buddhism's karmic path toward enlightenment. The key word in any definition of karma is behavior: how we behave in this life (as well as in our previous ones) determines the quality of our future lives.

It is this very sense of the importance of the everyday with which Flowing is primarily concerned (indeed, the examination of behavior via cinema might be posited as the primary thematic obsession of Naruse's filmography). The geishas drink and fight, obsess over a lack of clients, put off hounding creditors with false promises, and pursue dreams that never come to fruition. Yet above all, they persevere, and the director allows their efforts to build, oftentimes at the pace of life itself, to an unsurprisingly outstanding conclusion. It is here, in Flowing's final, nearly silent last passage, where the film's many mundane actions coalesce and play out as transcendent ritual, while the final lap dissolve to an ever-flowing river suggests a heavenly, hopeful merging of the
tragic with the triumphant.

 

not coming to a theater near you (Ian Johnston) review

 

Strictly Film School review   Acquarello

 

A Film Canon [Billy Stevenson]

 

Flowing - Catalogue | The Masters of Cinema Series 

 

DVD Times  Noel Megahey, Naruse Volume 1: REPAST, SOUND OF THE MOUNTAIN, and FLOWING

 

The New York Times (Vincent Canby) review

DVDBeaver dvd review  Gary W. Tooze, Naruse Volume I: REPAST, SOUND OF THE MOUNTAIN, and FLOWING

ANZUKKO

Japan  (110 mi)  1958  ‘Scope

 

The films of Mikio Naruse   Dan Sallit film comments, October/November 2005

A clearly told and compelling story, well within Naruse's range of interests, and yet it somehow seems a bit thin, less behaviorally dense than other "unhappy marriage" films.  Perhaps the material is not as congenial as it looks: unlike other dueling Naruse spouses, the embittered, alcoholic husband is pretty much beyond the pale, incapable of putting up a good social front for anyone; which means that Naruse loses the ability to conceal the man's feelings behind routine behavior.  The focus shifts almost immediately from "Can they get along?" to "How long can she take it?"  More typically, the essentially sympathetic wife comes off rather haughty and hurtful to her husband, seeming to relish striking at his weak points.  Not until the last scenes do we see the "zinger" that Naruse is hinging the film upon: the question is not when the wife will leave, but what hidden aspect of her nature keeps her in this marital hell.  But I wished that I was "zinged" earlier, because the marital scenes inevitably become somewhat repetitive.  Maybe a second viewing will look different, after the revelation of the ending.  In the important role of the wife's father (object of the husband's jealousy), So Yamamura is a little too amiable and full of poetic wisdom for my taste - I wish he were a little more implicated in the problem.  The father-daughter relationship, as warm as it is, seems to work in complex, possibly damaging ways in the daughter's mind - I feel as if this important side of the romantic triangle could have been shown with a more analytical eye.  A good film, but I don't feel greatness in it very often.

Anzukko  Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

Director Mikio Naruse has admitted to going through a dark period as a younger man and his 1958 film Anzukko (the first he is credited with writing after 1950's White Beast) seems, in part, his way of dealing with the tortures of his past. In Ryokichi Urshiyama (Isao Kimura), a struggling writer who, over the course of the film, sinks into a vicious cycle of despair and drunkenness, Naruse creates a vividly unsympathetic on-screen surrogate. He's a character as much cursed by fate as by his own inadequacies, a constant failure who takes out his frustrations on those around him and who is never redeemed. In a late sequence, Ryokichi jealously destroys the garden of his successful novelist father-in-law Heishiro (Sô Yamamura), then breaks down and cries before quickly renouncing all responsibility for his actions. Such is his circuitous, sorrowful behavior throughout, nearly one-dimensional in its predictability and repetitions, yet Naruse clearly has an affinity and understanding for this character who many would no doubt toss aside without a second thought.

Naruse examines his own faults and fears through Ryokichi, though he also considers the reverberating effects of the character's actions. In truth, Anzukko is less Ryokichi's story than it is his long-suffering wife Kyoko's (Kyôko Kagawa). Naruse details the couple's courtship in the film's romantic and intoxicating first half-hour, as the characters ride bicycles and speak their minds against a series of mountain-town backdrops photographed in crisp, naturalistic black and white. As is typical in late Naruse, the setting is post-World War II, though the mood is decidedly—as it turns out, deceptively—less bleak. Kyoko's parents are well off, seemingly old-fashioned (especially when it comes to courtship rituals), yet desirous, nonetheless, of their daughter's happiness over all else. And yet when Kyoko finally marries Ryokichi it is this very push-and-pull between the traditional and the progressive (mirroring, I'd suggest, Japan's indeterminate post-war mentality) that leaves her character in a kind of spirited, yet submissive limbo.

In its second half, Anzukko plays as a sort of prequel to Naruse's marital-strife drama Sudden Rain, with the director similarly illustrating the divide between houses via his superb compositional grasp of interior space and through his keen use of music as psychological demarcator. Thus does a classical piano piece that Kyoko plays in happier times become a thematic constant whenever the setting switches to her father's country house, while the very lack of music in the film's city/suburb scenes—coupled with Kyoko's wistful gaze at an upright that she never plays and must sell to survive—suggests the character's emotional stagnancy and desire to escape. It's a desire Kyoko eventually represses out of an adherence to tradition (as she is repeatedly told, only the husband may ask for a divorce), plus there is a suggestion that, beneath the couple's consistently vitriolic interactions, they deeply love each other. Naruse revels in the inherent contradictions of being human and if Anzukko at time feels like an apology for past transgressions it is likewise a loving portrait of a woman tragically caught between her wants and her responsibilities, fated to tread a potentially never-ending path between the trials of her marriage and the refuge of her past.

SUMMER CLOUDS

Japan  (128 mi)  1958  ‘Scope

 

User comments  from imdb Author: simon-1303 from United Kingdom

Most Naruse films seem to be about geisha's or ex-geisha's. This however is a tale of everyday farming folk, as in the long running UK radio soap, The Archers. Much of the long 128 minutes is spent demonstrating paddy field farming techniques. However, there is a fair bit of family drama around marriage, succession, land, kids leaving home, children disappointing parents and vice versa, the prevalent theme being the way industrialisation enables young people to escape from the unappealing nature of farming and the control exercised by their elders.

Some beautiful scenery, brought out by Naruse's filming/ editing and intermittently convincing characters go some way to compensate for a glacial pace and a somewhat over attention to details. However, drama is only present from time to time so some patience is required.

The films of Mikio Naruse   Dan Sallit film comments, October/November 2005

I enjoyed this film more the second time around - I can't believe I thought it was too diffuse when I first saw it, because this time it seemed if anything too well organized around its theme, which is the passing of a patriarchal, family-centered way of life and the onset of an individualistic ethos that dooms collective enterprises like the family farm.  I really enjoyed the early scenes with Nakamura, who was equal parts oppressor and amiable grownup kid; and I was really struck by the extreme but beautiful illuminated backgrounds in the romantic scenes between Iwashima and Isao Kimura.  About 75 minutes in, I started to feel that the scenes were becoming verbal recapitulations of established thematic points; and the ellipses in the last hour didn't keep me from feeling that the theme was driving the characters.  I was especially unconvinced by Nakamura's sale of his land - and, in general, I felt that some tension left the movie as that character's power ebbed.  Once again, Naruse saves his "kicker" for the final scene: Iwashima, whom we originally took for a force of individualistic change, is actually old school, one of the dwindling few who can be counted upon to sacrifice her happiness for the survival of her (hated) community.  As in Anzukko, it would take a subtle eye to anticipate this kicker - I think Naruse wants these developments to be partly foreshadowed and partly surprising.  I think of the film fondly, though not as an unqualified success.

Summer Clouds   Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

Summer Clouds is director Mikio Naruse's first film in color and Scope and it's an unfortunately strained effort, a sprawling, yet detached familial soap opera with an atypical country setting. For the most part the new locale and aesthetic formats seem to cramp Naruse's style; much belied by his later Scope efforts, Summer Clouds is pretty much all empty photography, essentially meaningless in its exterior grandeur and especially dull when it moves (as it all too often does) indoors for badly blocked, overly extended conversation scenes. After the unsung visual mastery of his prior film Anzukko—a profound summation of the expressive possibilities of both black-and-white photography and 1.33 aspect ratio—Summer Clouds is an unfortunate regression, yet its placement in the director's canon suggests we view it primarily as an exercise, an immersion in new ways of artistic expression that lead to bigger and better things. And to be fair, the film does have its scattered share of moments, most involving the relationship between jaded country girl Yaé (Chikage Awashima) and married city reporter Okawa (Isao Kimura) who, on the pretext of reuniting a splintered faction of Yaé's family, strike up an affair. Tellingly, their scenes together are often the ones with little-to-no dialogue, and it's only here—as Naruse dances about architecture in a newfound rectangular space—that the visuals take on the incisive depth of the director's best work.

not coming to a theater near you (Ian Johnston) review

 
WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS

Japan  (111 mi)  1960  ‘Scope

 

Chicago Reader (Dave Kehr) capsule review

A 1960 film by Mikio Naruse, perhaps the greatest Japanese director as yet unknown to American audiences. Where most directors begin with an anonymous style, Naruse started out as a strong individualist (Wife! Be Like a Rose!) and gradually pared his work down to the sublime blankness of his late films, of which this is one. It's a melodrama of extreme emotional violence—about a woman (Hideko Takamine) who runs a bar in Tokyo's Ginza district and the seemingly endless series of betrayals that befall her—but Naruse treats it with such evenness that it becomes microscopically subtle: its deepest pain is conveyed by lack of expression on the actor's face. With Masayuki Mori (Ugetsu) and Tatsuya Nakadai (Kagemusha). In Japanese with subtitles. 110 min.

Time Out London (Trevor Johnston) review [5/6]

The centrepiece of BFI Southbank’s Mikio Naruse season (see Other Cinema), this brilliant melodrama is a contender for reissue of the year. It’s a film which encapsulates the strengths of this masterly Japanese director whose work has barely been seen here. He’s known as a great director of actresses, and his signature performer Hideko Takamine is outstanding as a middle-aged hostess struggling to maintain her self-respect in the sleazy whisky-lubricated environs of Ginza’s bar circuit, as she wrestles with the dilemma that the admirers who could offer her financial security demand her ‘reputation’ in exchange. Battling to support her family and keep her own long-suppressed emotions in check, each night that she climbs the stairs to smile at the clientele is a painful reminder of her limited options. Fascinating as social study, painstakingly assured as storytelling, this compares with Sirk’s ‘All That Heaven Allows’ and Fassbinder’s ‘Fear Eats the Soul’ as a heartbreaking portrait of a defiant woman outflanked by the repressive mores around her. A new classic.

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs   Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

This seminal Mikio Naruse masterpiece details a period in the life of Tokyo bar hostess Keiko Yashiro (Hideko Takamine) as she ekes out a living and dreams of opening her own business despite the constant challenges of money and men. Three Naruse regulars (Masayuki Mori, Tatsuya Nakadai, and Daisuke Katô) form a masculine triptych of hope for Keiko, promising finances, the comforts of marriage, or the possibility of love, yet each relationship (or lack of one) ends in crushing disappointment. The drama builds slowly, playing out against the backdrop of a polite Japanese society where few speak their mind, and Naruse's insistence on focusing on inconsequential everyday behaviors and transactions may initially seem perplexing. Yet it is all prelude to a raw, brilliantly sustained final half-hour where Keiko bares her soul to a lover unwilling to listen, then faces the rejection of a man who loved her too long from afar. A minimalist piano theme (first played against stark Art Deco-styled opening credits) recurs throughout the film; clearly adherent to the compositional principles of jazz, it parallels the instrumental interplay between Keiko and her suitors, foreshadowing her eventual abandonment and giving voice to the oft-repeated titular action. The final close-up—featuring Keiko smiling in lieu of tears—might be frozen, framed, and subtitled "Lady Sings the Blues."

Eye for Film (Jennie Kermode) review [5/5]

"I hate to ascend the stairs," says Keiko, known to her clients as Mama-San, upon facing another night's work. Keiko is a hostess in the bars where prosperous Japanese businessmen go to drink and be entertained. Her living depends on smiling, laughing, flattering, and generally making sure everyone has a good time, but at the end of it all she has very little energy left for herself.

Now she has reached a turning point in her life. She must decide whether to marry - if a suitable opportunity presents itself - or whether to launch her own bar. Either way, she needs male protection and support. Meanwhile her family, who consider her rich because of the luxurious trappings she needs to sustain her business, exert continual pressure on her to support them.

Despite being nearly 50 years old, When A Woman Ascends The Stairs comes across as a thoroughly modern film; but then, the issues it deals with are timeless ones. It is modern in its willingness to explore the situation from Keiko's point of view and to lay bare the grim reality behind her apparently glamorous lifestyle.

Though shot in black and white, its rich visuals provide a luminous depiction of the classy yet seedy world of the hostess bars, contrasting them with the homes of the poor, which are shot in a more traditional, almost nostalgic style. This visual eloquence cleverly underscores the film's more brutal exploration of Keiko's plight.

Though not overtly feminist and, indeed, romantic in its approach to feminine virtue, it's not shy about stressing the injustice which she faces. To marry - even a man who loved her - would be, in its way, another form of prostitution, giving up what freedom she has in exchange for financial security. To open her own bar would mean being trapped in the hostess world forever, condemned to repeat the actions which she despises ever more. Meanwhile, though one after another of the men in her life fall in love with her, entranced by her virtue and fortitude, she is devastatingly lonely, with no-on in whom to confide. Happiness is only ever temporary and, even then, is difficult for her to find without compromising herself.

In the role of Keiko, Hideko Takamine gives the performance of a lifetime, ably illustrating her distress even whilst she wears a painted smile. Though the formalities of polite behaviour limit her means of expression, her subtle glances and gestures enable the viewer to feel continually connected to her, drawn into her private world. It is this sense of intimacy which gives the film its real power. It also enables it to cross linguistic and cultural barriers, so it's not necessary to be Japanese to relate to what's happening and be affected by it. This is a truly universal film; it's a grim one, and at times difficult to watch, but it's a highly accomplished piece of cinema which should not be missed.

DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson) dvd review  Criterion, also seen here:  Turner Classic Movies dvd review

Move over, Douglas Sirk: we've just seen a 'women's picture' that makes us forget all others. Japanese director Mikio Naruse's 1960 drama When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Onna ga kaidan wo agaru toki) is simply a masterpiece, a superior story about life as it is lived in the Ginza district of small bars. Hideko Takamine's supervising hostess feels the economic pinch that gives ulcers to small business operators all over the world. Nobody seems to be on the side of an independent woman. Creditors, competitors and potential 'patrons' all want a piece of her life.

Synopsis: Beautiful widow Keiko "Mama" Yashiro (Hideko Takamine) is a Ginza district bar hostess slipping into debt. She supervises several younger bar girls, whose job it is to entertain and serve businessmen in need of relaxation and support. Some of the girls, including the cute Junko Inchihashi (Reiko Dan of Red Beard) turn 'pro' and sleep with the customers, but Keiko has avoided becoming the mistress of any of the married industrialists that frequent her bar. They offer the financing Keiko needs to gain independence, but always with the price tag of sexual favors. Keiko is pressured to increase the popularity of her bar but can do nothing when ex-employee Yuri (Keiko Awaji) lures away her best clients. As a number of financial and emotional setbacks begin to wear her down, Keiko considers going the kept woman route. Through it all, bar manager Kenichi Komatsu (Tatsuya Nakadai) stays secretly in love with Keiko, convinced that she's above the venality around her.

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs could also be titled 'when a woman goes into business.' This absorbing drama takes a character we would normally associate with film noir into the real world of the Ginza, where a hostess's fortune is measured in how many men she can attract to her bar. Keiko is not a prostitute, although many of her girls regularly sleep with clients for money. She's also not a Geisha; one client brings a painted, traditionally attired Geisha with him to her club. Keiko is a firm-minded woman trying to survive in a business climate cruelly slanted against women. The businessmen run up large bills for the illusion of being 'special' and the prestige of having beautiful women wait on them. They can withdraw their patronage at any time. Individual hostesses must decide how best to behave in a climate that encourages men to make passes. Keiko is convinced that being too easy isn't good policy. Besides the personal degradation, she feels that sleeping with a casual beau would lessen her attractiveness in the long run.

Behind everything is the illusion of carefree prosperity. Even Keiko must spend on a fancy wardrobe and an attractive apartment to maintain a false front of success. Her clients play games of false humility, praising the success of others while talking poor and spending big. The nature of the job requires Keiko to be two-faced to all of them. Only Komatsu thinks he sees the real Keiko behind her placid guise as the respected Mama-san, the impeccable hostess devoted to her dead husband.

Several of Keiko's high rollers have shifted their business to Yuri's new bar. Yuri looks successful but has run up enormous bills and is losing money. Keiko is advised to emulate Yuri's hip, modern attitude but resists changing from what works for her. She doesn't wear flashy kimonos or western dresses and isn't as flirtatious as her girls, who can come on as real gold diggers. Keiko's clients owe big bar tabs, but she doesn't hound them with phone calls as does Yuri; it's just not polite. If Keiko doesn't collect the money, she must pay it herself. In fact, when a competing hostess dies, heartless creditors immediately descend on her penniless family.

At regular intervals Keiko treads the stairs to her club while we hear her voiceover narration. Behind her beautiful, calm face is a knot of anxieties. Her mother criticizes her lifestyle. Her brother plagues her for money to bail him out of legal scrapes and treatments for his polio-afflicted son. Wealthy admirers like the elderly Goda (Ganjiro Nakamura) dangle huge sums in front of Keiko, thinking they can buy her favors the same way they order drinks in her bar. Keiko is in love with one attractive businessman, Nobuhiko Fujisaki (Masayuki Mori). But he is married, and is no more sincere than her other suitors. Unlike her flashier competition, Keiko is discreet and observes impeccable manners. But those qualities don't seem to be appreciated.

When the promiscuous Junko announces that she'll open her own bar, Keiko's congratulations have a bitter edge -- Junko has taken the 'sponsorship' arrangement with Goda that Keiko turned down. Keiko's efforts to obtain financing for her bar without becoming a kept woman come to naught -- all opportunities would compromise her integrity, and all of her stair-climbing seems to get her nowhere. Yet Keiko takes full responsibility for her life and would never consider herself a victim of the system. Making a living and observing a moral code seem to be mutually exclusive goals.

The pressure on Ginza businesswomen is indicated right from the start, when we hear about a hostess who has killed herself. Keiko drinks too much, missing work and developing an ulcer. She accepts a marriage proposal from the apparently sweet and wealthy Matsukichi Sekine (Daisuke Katô), a decision that begins Keiko's downfall. It's the tailspin of a woman under too much pressure, who unwinds far too suddenly.

Mikio Naruse's excellent direction mixes studio sets with location work, and he gets great performances from the Toho acting pool. Daisuke Katô, one of the original Seven Samurai, is exceptionally good, along with the relative newcomer Tatsuya Nakadai. Although not credited, Akiko Wakabayashi (Dogora, You Only Live Twice) can be spotted as a bar hostess. But the film belongs to Hideko Takamine. She puts her performance into her eyes, and we care deeply what happens to her. Near the end of the show Naruse stages a devastating confrontation between Keiko and an overworked mother. Keiko stands in a dirty yard while two kids ride a tricycle in circles around her. The potent image makes the coded social criticism of American 'women's films' seem petty.

Criterion's DVD of When a Woman Ascends the Stairs is presented in a fine enhanced B&W transfer. A few shots exhibit some density mottling, but otherwise the visuals are pristine. Masao Tamai's sleek Tohoscope camerawork matches composer Toshirô Mayuzumi's xylophone-driven jazz score, creating a clean, modern feel. The laid-back title sequence is particularly good.

Donald Ritchie contributes a full-length commentary, arguing for director Naruse as the unheralded equal of Japanese greats Mizoguchi and Ozu. Actor Tatsuya Nakadai, now sporting a white beard, is present to discuss the experience of filming the movie with director Naruse and his fascinating co-star.

An insert booklet presents essays by Philip Lopate, Catherine Russell and Audie Bock, offering slightly different takes on the problem faced by Keiko the club hostess. Is she in control of her fate, or is she just a pawn? Actress Hideko Takamine is present with a 1984 piece remembering Naruse. A trailer is also included. The disc producer is Kim Hendrickson.

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs: They Endure  Criterion essay by Phillip Lopate

 
When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960) - The Criterion Collection 
 
Review of When a Woman Ascends the Stairs   David Austin from Cinema Strikes Back

 

Only The Cinema [Ed Howard]

 

Electric Sheep Magazine  CB

 

Culture Wars [Ion Martea]

 

FilmFanatic.org

 

User comments  from imdb Author: Ed Uyeshima from San Francisco, CA, USA

 

DVD Talk (Stuart Galbraith IV) dvd review [5/5] [Criterion Collection]

 

Find Timeless Relevance ‘When a Woman Ascends the Stairs’  Loukas Tsouknidas from Film School Rejects 

 

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Jon Danziger) dvd review  Criterion

 

DVD Verdict (Dan Mancini) dvd review [Criterion Collection]

 

DVD Town [Christopher Long]  Criterion

 

Strictly Film School review  Acquarello

 

stylusmagazine.com (Andy Slabaugh) review

 

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review  Criterion

 

CineScene.com (Chris Dashiell) review

 

Filmjourney  Doug Cummings reviews REPAST and WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS

 

DVD Times  Noel Megahey, Mikio Naruse Collection, LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS, WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS, and FLOATING CLOUDS

CineScene.com (Howard Schumann) review  reviewing REPAST, WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS, LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS, also seen here:  Talking Pictures (UK) review

BBCi - Films  Anna Smith

 
When a Woman Ascends the Stairs | Film | The Guardian    Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian

 

The New York Times (Bosley Crowther) review

 

DVDBeaver.com [Gary W Tooze]  Mikio Naruse Collection, LATE CHRYSANTHEMUMS, WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS, and FLOATING CLOUDS

 

DAUGHTERS, WIVES AND A MOTHER

Japan  (123 mi)  1960  ‘Scope

 

The films of Mikio Naruse   Dan Sallit film comments, October/November 2005

This one got a lot of love from some of the other Naruse regulars, but I was rather disappointed in it. The script wasn't exactly bad, but it leaned on its themes a little hard, especially the family's financial exploitation of Setsuko Hara. The romantic interlude between Hara and Tatsuya Nakadai was one of the most generic things I've seen in a Naruse film; Haruko Sugimura's devouring mom does everything but get in a catfight with her daughter-in-law (though Naruse does give her an interesting last scene); and Hideko Takamine waits in the wings for a Lightning-like moment of truth that never really arrives. The structure doesn't feel quite right to me: the money theme dominates three-fourths of the film, then gives way near the end to a Make Way for Tomorrow-type dilemma; and the surprise character revelation that Naruse uses so often is saved for the last two shots of the film, and was inscrutable to me.

Daughters, Wives and a Mother   Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

Featuring one of Naruse's most beautiful endings (a sublime visualization of generational reconciliation with the titular matriarch running to assist a weeping infant), Daughters, Wives and a Mother is unfortunately something of a dull slog through territory better covered in the director's prior masterpiece Sudden Rain. Setsuko Hara stars as Sanae Sakanishi, widowed at the film's outset and left a substantial inheritance that soon becomes the instigator of much familial discord. The vicious edge that Naruse brought out of the actress in Sudden Rain is nowhere evident; she's back to her usual smiling self, projecting a sort of resigned luminosity that tramples nearly everything and everyone in its path, most unfortunately Naruse regular Hideko Takamine as her even more subdued sister (a case where two powerful personalities effectively cancel each other out). Naruse's typically piercing psychological insight—comparable to the best work of Henry James and Eric Rohmer—only emerges in select scenes: in addition to the above-mentioned final image, a moment where Sanae rejects her vintner lover Kuroki (Tatsuya Nakadai) while foregrounded against the chiaroscuro shadows of dancers in a restaurant, as well as a superb sequence, in which the Sakanishis view the youngest son’s home movies, that hints at the growing emotional divides that will ultimately tear the family apart.

User comments  from imdb Author: Michael Kerpan (kerpan) from New England

An idiosyncratic mixture of acerbic comedy, family chronicle and romance. Totally unheralded -- but if not a masterpiece, awfully close.

This film features a large extended family (and associates) even more extensive than the one portrayed by Ozu in "End of Summer". The central character is Setsuko Hara -- a poised middle-aged woman, whose wealthy (and prestigious) husband dies at the outset of the action, leaving her widowed but holding the proceeds of a million yen insurance policy. Being childless, her former in-laws have no objection to her return to her own family.

Although Hara's widowed mother is still alive (living in a wonderfully large house on the outskirts of Tokyo), the household is dominated by the eldest son of the family (Masayuki Mori). His wife (played by an unusually subdued Hideko Takamine) is generally well-meaning but too self-effacing (her only strong admonitions are to urge her husband to loan money to her uncle's troubled business). Also in the house are a couple of children and one of Hara's little sisters (played by the irrepressible Reiko Dan). There are two other married siblings not in residence -- a sister (living with hen-pecked husband Tatsuya Nakadai and his dragon-lady mother Haruko Sugimura) and a little brother (an advertising photographer).

Hara insists on moving into the smallest room in the house (the former maid's room) and paying disproportionate rent -- and she lets her siblings persuade her to lend them most of her insurance money. Meanwhile, a matchmaking family friend is trying to arrange a re-marriage with a well-off, well-born older man (harmlessly dotty and with no sex appeal -- played by an unusually funny Ken Uehara). Hara is not, however, disturbed by any of this. At first, numb and oblivious, her life takes a radical turn when she goes on an excursion with her little brother (and his wife) to the vinery of a client. The heir of this thriving family business (Akira Takarada -- best known as the romantic gloomy young scientist in "Godzilla") is immediately smitten by Hara -- and she with him (despite being more than 10 years older than he is).

As Hara's would-be swain takes to making more frequent visits to Tokyo (and actually _kissing_ Hara -- on the lips), the business belonging to "Uncle" (played by an increasingly seedy Daisuke Kato) is going down the tubes fast, Haruko Sugimura is demanding that she be put in an old people's home (after her son and daughter in law suggest they want to move into their own apartment), and her little brother's wife takes off (putting him in his place after some misbehavior by taking a long trip on her own -- and letting his stew). Then the house of cards falls down -- Kato's business goes bust -- and it turns out Mori has mortgaged (without permission) the jointly-owned family home and invested the money in the failed business (along with half of Hara's insurance proceeds).

Hara decides to marry the noble ninny (Uehara) after all -- as he has promised to let her mother stay with them (he's an orphan, after all). But now, she needs to break up with Takarada. She tells him, after a farewell dance at a swank nightclub, "thank you forever for bringing this half-dead person back to life -- but your parents want you to marry a young wife, who can bring you children -- and you must do this" (paraphrase). As it turns out, Hara's mother can't bear the thought of moving into the kind of ritzy milieu that Hara will be living in -- and plans to move into an old people's home (since her son and daughter will be moving into a tiny house -- after the looming sale of the family home). Takamine finally comes into her own -- intercepting the letter, and convincing both Hara and her mother-in-law that the mother should come live with her family, to help make amends for their past bad behavior.

There is an awful lot of plot to be gotten through in this long (for Naruse) film that clocks in at over two hours. Yet, as eventful and melodramatic as this plot sounds on paper, the film flows effortlessly, with an amazing illusion of naturalness. (This film reminded me a good deal of the old BBC "Pallisers" series). The highlight of the film is Setsuko Hara -- in what may be her sweetest and most radiant performance. It looks like someone involved with this film had discovered Audrey Hepburn -- and the denouement of her story here is rather like "Roman Holiday" -- with the roles reversed.

Despite the fact that I was able to watch this only in the form of a nth generation copy of an ancient Hong Kong TV broadcast (with decent but very hard to read subtitles -- and horrible sound), this was one of my biggest "cinematic" treats of recent months. I have seen other Naruse films that might be even greater on a purely theoretical basis -- but none that I enjoyed more. After having seen my 17th Naruse film, I am convinced that he was Japan's second best golden age director (after Ozu) and a far more skilled and varied artist than the stereotype -- pessimistic purveyor of cinematic soap operas.

I previously wrote:

The heir of this thriving family business (Akira Takarada -- best known as the romantic gloomy young scientist in "Godzilla") is immediately smitten by Hara -- and she with him (despite being more than 10 years older than he is).

On further consideration, I have determined that the actor playing the part of Setsuko's heart throb is Tatsuya Nakadai (who was NOT in Godzilla). The rest of the sentence remains true, as corrected.

As to who Akira Takarada plays, I would guess (based on a shot from Godzilla) that he plays Hara's younger brother (the photographer).

THE APPROACH OF AUTUMN

Japan  (79 mi)  1960  ‘Scope

 

The films of Mikio Naruse   Dan Sallit film comments, October/November 2005

I have a feeling I might like this film a lot more if I ever get to see it again. It's mostly about the lives of two young children, who are maybe not quite interesting enough to carry the film, and one of whom (the girl) isn't a very good actor. But the film has a simple, pure structure that Naruse makes work for him: I especially liked the stereotypical long-suffering hard-working mom who is surreptitiously revealed as a delinquent. The Scope photography is really good-looking, and the sad ending sneaks up on you. Perhaps this is a major film disguised as a throwaway project.

User comments  from imdb Author: simon-1303 from United Kingdom

This is a bit sad but great. Think Kes, the Railway Children and other great children's classics. There's sadness but never sentimentality because children just have to deal with what happens to them.

Here, the kids have single parents, other kids get at them, there's uncertainty and dislocation. Responsible adults can be unfair and ignore or deceive their children. Still, they make friends, have interests and pastimes and are often looked after by friendly grownups, even if their parents aren't perfect. As ever, the strong group culture of Japan, as portrayed, is supportive, even if sometimes oppressive.

The filming is wonderful, not a redundant interior or exterior shot in the pacey 78 minutes and the acting is great by all concerned. Several locations are used well and tied together with street and travel scenes.

Take your kids or not - you'll love it.

The Approach of Autumn   Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

In tenor, The Approach of Autumn recalls the stark, light-touch despondency of Morris Engel's Little Fugitive. Both films are about the casual cruelties of childhood though with decidedly different cultural viewpoints. Where Engel ultimately relieves his wandering child protagonist of the mistaken belief that he killed his older brother, thus tipping the scales of tragedy back into precarious balance, Naruse puts his inquisitive, beetle-loving young lead Hideyo (abandoned by his deadbeat mother and living with disinterested, working-class Tokyo relatives) through a seemingly never-ending series of trials-by-fire that force him well beyond the point where he might retreat to anything familiar. In contrast to Little Fugitive's appropriately American insularity (where the external problem is "solved" through the return to a deceptive status quo), The Approach of Autumn typifies post-war Japanese cinema's general sense of an enemy without, forcing its will upon a society resigned to inevitable and violent change. An extended sequence where Hideyo and his girlfriend Junko (tellingly a child of the upper class) take an impromptu journey to an industrialized beach features some of Naruse's greatest Scope photography. Clearly the director has as much an eye for exterior as interior landscapes.

A WANDERER’S NOTEBOOK

Japan  (124 mi)  1962  ‘Scope

 

The films of Mikio Naruse   Dan Sallit film comments, October/November 2005

I can't find a way into this movie.  It manages to create a character for Hayashi, but not much of a storytelling context: the focus remains on her stoicism in the face of relentless poverty, and on the poetry of her voiceover commentary on her struggles.  Takamine's performance, though livened with comic moments, mostly seems actorish to me, too devoted to impersonation.  Characteristically, Naruse gives only partial information about important character points: Did Hayashi really sabotage her literary rival?   Was her bad record with relationships a character trait?  But here the ambiguity doesn't suggest alternative narratives.  The film winds up mythologizing Hayashi just by putting her so up front and center, and I'm not sure that mythologizing suits Naruse.

User comments  from imdb Author: liehtzu from Korea

I saw this film in a horrendous video dub with difficult-to-read subs so I can only recount what I could glean from it. Many of Naruse Mikio's best films were adaptations of books by his favorite author, Hayashi Fumiko ("Lightning" "Late Chrysanthemums" etc.). "A Wanderer's Notebook" (also known as "Lonely Lane" or "Her Lonely Lane") was the final Hayashi film and one of his last before his death in the mid-sixties. Taken from Hayashi's autobiography, it's the story of a cynical, hard as nails female writer living in poverty who falls in love with a real b****rd (the typical unfeeling Japanese man littered throughout Naruse's films), who she knows is a real b****rd but who she somehow cannot pull away from. Hayashi is portrayed superbly by the always amazing Takamine Hideko, who has played the role for Naruse in previous films and who has aged like fine wine. In a way "Her Lonely Lane" feels like it's as much of a swan song for Takamine as it is for Naruse. Never has she played with such restrained bitterness; it's a flawless performance. Unlike "Floating Clouds" she remains alive at the end, a successful author with a large house and a kind husband. Her meeting with a man who loved her in her youth in the garden behind her home is a truly eloquent scene: as she is speaking to him we become aware that old memories still haunt her decades after the fact, though she never says so. It is moments like these in which Naruse's pessimism becomes sublime - Hayashi is aware that her hard-won victories can't stack up against the costs, but the moment is so beautifully melancholic that it seems to transcend the past, if only for an instant.

A Wanderer's Notebook   Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

A Wanderer's Notebook, also known as Her Lonely Lane, is director Mikio Naruse's hollow biopic of authoress Fumiko Hayashi, whose work the director often adapted for the screen. Interesting that the source of some of Naruse's best films (Late Chrysanthemums and Floating Clouds among them) should prove, in her film incarnation, to be such an empty vessel. As played by the usually stellar Hideko Takamine, Hayashi is all down-turned eyes, shuffling gait, and metronomic facial tics. It's an off-putting, what-you-see-is-what-you-get performance, one that, if ignorant Western sensibilities were to prevail, we might term "Oscar Bait," though several colleagues' passionate defenses (contending that Takamine is doing an intentional silent comedy-inspired turn) suggest that a future reevaluation is necessary. For now, I stand by my initial reaction: that A Wanderer's Notebook is basically the Naruse stock company (in addition to Takamine, Daisuke Katô, Keiju Kobayashi, and Kinuyo Tanaka all play prominent roles) gathered together in service of a conventional rags to riches narrative. Wallowing in ineffectual storybook squalor, Naruse and his actors are like constrained fairy-tale puppets (Hayashi is something of a cross between Pinocchio and the ugly duckling) trying to capture life's unpredictable rhythms within a handsomely designed, though wholly inadequate Cinemascope rectangle. The working-class milieu, a familiar stomping ground for the director, never seemed so unreal, dominated as it is by the actors' bug-eyed physical mannerisms tossed out from underneath a variety of appliances and accouterments. I suspect there's something of a Noh-theater sensibility to the choices made by Naruse and his troupe—forced to enact real people and events, they effectively turn their faces into exaggerated masks, though the resultant self-aware grotesquerie finally seems more in service of hagiography than truth. Only when A Wanderer's Notebook turns meta (via the superimposition of several of Hayashi's most famous sentences over on-screen action) does one get a sense of Naruse's personal connection to the material and to his literary muse. In particular, the final sequence's recapitulation of the Hayashi quotation that ends the director's Floating Clouds is a profound complement to the earlier film and to its literary progenitor, one of the few moments where A Wanderer's Notebook eschews awestruck reverence for piercing insight into an artist's complicated heart and mind.

YEARNING

Japan  (98 mi)  1964  ‘Scope

not coming to a theater near you (Ian Johnston) capsule review

So many of Naruse’s films end on a point of stasis, with the narrative conflicts unresolved, and Yearning might be the extreme example of this, where the long close-up on Reiko’s face, coming after her failure to catch up with the body of her would-be lover borne away from her down the alleys of a mountain village, reiterates her sense, stated in the middle of the film of having wasted her life.

Yearning starts off in low-key shomin-geki mode. Reiko is a war widow who has devoted her life to running her in-laws’ neighbourhood grocery store, whose existence is now threatened by the arrival of cutthroat supermarkets. But the film takes a sudden shift sideways with the declaration of love for her from her younger brother-in-law (a declaration that the traditionally-minded Reiko instinctively rejects)and never recovers, climaxing with the long, marvellous train journey north which ends in tragedy. Once again, a Naruse heroine (the incredible Hideko Takamine) is left to simply survive.

The films of Mikio Naruse   Dan Sallit film comments, October/November 2005

I still think this is a good film, but I'm trying to work out problems with it that I didn't perceive when I saw it 20 years ago.  The first half functions mostly as a setup, establishing Takamine as the face of heroic, long-suffering Japanese womanhood, and Kayama as a dissipate due to frustrated love, a familiar fictional archetype. (Matsuyama's script repeats these formulations, and others, a few times too often - I felt myself working a little too hard to overlook script flaws.)  After Kayama declares his love, Takamine's surface starts to crack, and her behavior becomes erratic.  The nasty family conflict, and all the business about the death of small grocery stores, serve not only as a background for the erosion of the fictional archetypes, but also as a slingshot to throw the would-be lovers out onto that very nice train ride, where Takamine struggles coyly to modify her faithful-wife persona to allow the possibility of yielding to the persistent Kayama.  But she has difficulty getting her persona switched over to a new track.  The ending isn't resolving well in my mind: Takamine's freak-out at the kiss, and her subsequent regrets, work for me in terms of psychology, but not as a turning point for the story.  Why does the steadfast Kayama take this glitch as a cue to give up and return to dissipation, even with Takamine sending him encouraging signals over the phone?  It would make perfect sense, psychologically and structurally, for the film to gradually show Kayama's dissipation as character-based rather than as a response to romantic deprivation, but I feel that the film doesn't devote as much effort to exposing Kayama's hidden character traits as it does Takamine's.  On balance, though, still a strong movie.

Yearning  Keith Uhlrich from Slant magazine

 

It is best to begin a discussion of Mikio Naruse's Yearning by focusing on its concluding image: a close-up of war-widow Reiko Morita, played by the director's favored actress Hideko Takamine, as she watches the body of her brother-in-law Koji (Yuzo Kayama) being wheeled away along a rocky rural path. I bring up the film's devastating final visual first because of its reverberatory complexity; what passes across Takamine's face here echoes not only through this singular narrative (its screenplay authored by the lead actress' husband, Zenzo Matsuyama, from a story by Naruse), but also across the entirety of its director's career. This is the key moment in Naruse's filmography and so it is tempting for the critic, struck dumb by awe and admiration, to avoid interpretation at any cost. Isn't it better to trot out a well-worn cliché (something along the lines of "words cannot express…") rather than spoil what is, in effect, a miracle? Yet adherence to such "silence is golden" dogmatics finally gets us nowhere; indeed, it is silence of a sort that ultimately undoes Reiko, who masks her true feelings for so long and with such societally-sanctioned deference—she is, in a way, the ultimate Naruse heroine—that it breeds a tragic turn of events mired in irreversible uncertainty.

This sense of inescapable tragedy is apparent from Yearning's opening scene. A truck owned by the Shimizuya Supermarket chain winds its way through the streets of a post-war Japanese suburb, blaring an obnoxious and intrusive advertising jingle. The sounds of its movement rise and recede as it skulks, like a stealthy bird of prey, across several starkly composed black-and-white widescreen images. As the truck drives by Reiko, who stands in front of the small grocery store that is her deceased husband's hand-me-down legacy, she gazes solemnly after it. If the protagonist's last close-up is indescribable, her introductory one is all-too-readable: change, of an unduly harsh and destructive nature, is in the air and Reiko knows it. What has just passed before her is an omen of inevitability, though one lacking the crushing context of hindsight. A weightless symbol, in other words, foreshadowing the endpoint to a journey yet to be mapped. The narrative road that follows this ominous opening, though clearly demarcated into three acts, is nonetheless characterized by knife's-edge shifts in tone that keep all involved, both on- and off-screen, in a perpetual state of imbalance.

At first, Yearning appears to be a typically late-Narusian offering, a low-key and observational drama that obsessively details Reiko's day-to-day routines. In addition to keeping her small business afloat, Reiko must deal with her meddling in-laws, who have their minds set on selling the grocery store, and also attend to Koji, who inexplicably indulges in a rebellious cycle of petty crime and violence. One of Naruse's great talents is in making the mundane mysterious so when Koji declares, seemingly out of nowhere, that he's been in love with Reiko for years, it takes more than a few moments to acclimate to the film's suddenly malleable emotional terrain, even though, in retrospect, it makes perfect psychological sense. It's a shock to witness how charged and raw the duo become after Koji's admission, and Naruse's camera, under the guiding eye of cinematographer Jun Yasumoto, never blinks, maintaining a harsh, voyeuristic presence as the characters move, like increasingly frenzied celestial bodies, through a space made unfamiliar because of a naked confessional moment.

In Naruse's world, such bald emotionalism is often seen as an exploitable sign of weakness and so it is with Reiko's in-laws, who use this new vulnerability to their advantage and force her to relinquish control of the grocery store. Despite its casually cruel nature, this action seems to bring Reiko some level of peace and also gives her the strength to rebuff Koji's advances. Yearning's Japanese title, Midareru, literally means "to be disordered" or "to get confused" so when the film's second act comes to a close (in a sequence eerily reminiscent of the final minutes of Naruse's '30s melodrama Apart from You) it feels like a proper, present-tense ending. Having achieved some semblance of order, Reiko calmly boards a train and waves goodbye to her former life; the character, like many a Naruse protagonist, quietly accepts her fate and its disappointments in order to maintain and/or regain a sense of status quo. But it is not to last for Koji has followed Reiko onto the train.

What ensues is probably Naruse's most brilliantly sustained sequence. As the train races on to an unspecified destination, Reiko and Koji play out a romantic, yet foreboding courtship-in-miniature. The melodramatic tensions of the second act fade away (it is as if the characters have gone beyond the movie they inhabited into entirely new surroundings) and it seems possible that the duo can build a life together. But their initial sense of excitement (one that Naruse implies could only continue if the train never stopped) eventually erodes, and with the end of the characters' journey comes a kind of emotional atrophy.

The psychological burden of the duo's old lives finally catches up with them when they retreat to a mountain town shrouded in a thick, immobile fog—one of Naruse's greatest visual metaphors for purgatorial stasis. In an emotionally charged confrontation, Reiko once more denies Koji's affections and he storms off into the night, seeking the numbing solace and deadly company (or so the finale ambiguously suggests) of alcohol. This brings us full-circle to Reiko's final close-up, about which pages should be written though such extended analysis will not be attempted here. Suffice to say that it is one of the cinema's most primal images, a silent scream of recognition and understanding by way of soul-crushing regret, one that forever hangs, like a masterpiece of portraiture, within its own timeless space, waiting to be looked upon so that it may gaze back, alternately, in horror and in revelation.

 

not coming to a theater near you (Ian Johnston) review

User comments  from imdb Author: Furuya Shiro from Kumamoto, Japan

SCATTERED CLOUDS

Japan  (108 mi)  1967  ‘Scope

 

The films of Mikio Naruse   Dan Sallit film comments, October/November 2005

One of my favorite Naruse films. Like Floating Clouds, it's a love story, and it's parsed in the same way into a reiteration of meetings and partings, set in different locations and shaped with ellipses to emphasize cycles instead of forward motion. The hero and heroine are perhaps too well matched: a good little boy and girl, both strengthened and hemmed in by a sense of guilt and duty. The story's irresolvable dilemma is tailored just for them: one senses that many of the supporting characters would be able to cope adequately with this kind of obstacle to love. As Tsukasa and Kayama ricochet through their damaged lives, they sing and dance occasionallly, drink a lot, play pachinko, bear up under morally compromising jobs, and have fun sometimes, though their next unexpected meeting always wipes the smiles off their faces. Much of the film's force comes from the spectacle of strong people maintaining their dignity through an unending trial. Maybe Floating Clouds is a love story in the guise of a story about endurance, and Scattered Clouds is the other way around.  My one problem with this film is that the ending seems to hit too hard, with too many reasons for the lovers to part: maybe Naruse could have gotten away with just that terrible, violent train passing the lovers' cab, with its implicit sense of catastrophe.

Scattered Clouds   Keith Uhlich from Slant magazine

 

Scattered Clouds, director Mikio Naruse's final film, plays like the melancholy last dance (to a somber tango accompaniment) of an extended evening of revelry now teetering on the fine line separating drunkenness and sobriety. It's the cinematic equivalent of a hangover, though the heady haze the film conveys is part of its charm and very much in tune with its deeply saturated color photography, which constantly threatens (especially during an extended rainstorm sequence) to spill over its borders and run together in a kind of chaotic emotional release. These are the fragile aesthetic threads that parallel the tenuous boundaries separating widow Yumiko Eda (Yôko Tsukasa) from her potential beau Mishima (Yuzo Kayama). Theirs is the opposite of a meet-cute: Mishima accidentally kills Yumiko's husband Hiroshi (Yoshio Tsuchiya) with his car, shattering the couple's plans to move to America. The first half of Scattered Clouds compares and contrasts Yumiko's hostile grief with Mishima's sense of indebtedness (a trait particularly important to and inherent in Japanese culture). At first the widow understandably rejects Mishima's attempts at atonement, but she slowly comes around and accepts a monthly monetary remuneration. Eventually, Hiroshi's family legally revokes Yumiko's married name and inheritance, so she retreats to a country hotel run by her sister Ayako (Mitsuko Kusabue). Coincidentally, Mishima's employers have transferred him to the same town and so the duo begin a tentative courtship, though one that—befitting Naruse's psychology-obsessed cinema—is infringed upon by a variety of external stressors. This reaches an apotheosis late in the film when Yumiko and Mishima become spectators to an accident eerily similar to the one that killed Hiroshi. It's as if they step outside of themselves and gain an intellectual distance from a situation they have only observed through an up close and personal emotional prism. It's the final obstruction that effectively stunts the duo's peculiarly burgeoning love and it turns Scattered Clouds's threatened explosion of feeling in on itself, resulting in a no less overwhelming, if deceptively calm implosion.

 

2 Things @ Once  reviewing SOUND OF THE MOUNTAIN and SCATTERED CLOUDS

 

Nash, Margot
 

UTS: Writing and Cultural Studies - WCS staff details  

Margot Nash is a screenwriter and a director with a background as a cinematographer, a film editor and an actor. She holds an MFA from COFA, UNSW. Her research topic was: The research, writing and visual preparation for a feature film. She has produced, written and directed a number of award-winning short films and documentaries as well as working as a lecturer and consultant.

In 1994 she wrote and directed Vacant Possession, a feature drama about family, racial conflict and the complexities of reconciliation for which she was nominated for Best Directing and Best Original Screenplay in the AFI awards. Vacant Possession won a Speciale Mention du Jury at the Films De Femmes festival in Créteil in Paris in 1996, and in 1999 three of her films For Love Or Money (co filmmaker), Shadow Panic and Vacant Possession screened in Créteil as part of a Tribute to Australian and New Zealand Women Filmmakers.

Margot has worked extensively in the Pacific running documentary training workshops for Pacific Island women television producers. She has worked for SBS and CAAMA as both a consultant and a mentor for Indigenous filmmakers, and for Metro Screen in the Multicultural and Indigenous Mentorship Programs.

She has been a judge in the NSW Premier's Literary Awards (scripts and plays) the Australian Directors Guild Awards (features) and the Sydney Film Festival Dendy Awards (documentary).

In 2005 she directed and script edited her second feature film Call Me Mum about mothering, family and race relations in Australia. Call Me Mum was short listed for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards as well as the AWGIE's, and received four AFI Award Nominations winning Best Supporting Actress Television Drama and sharing Outstanding Achievement in Screen Craft, Television. 

In 2008 she was a visiting scholar at NIDA and an artist in residence at Bundanon where she worked on her current feature project, My Mother's Shoes, about performance, aging and constructions of fear.

VACANT POSSESSION
Australia  (95 mi)  1996

 

Vacant Possession > Overview - AllMovie   Sandra Brennan 

This often ironic, metaphorical drama offers insight into identity questions faced by many contemporary Australians. The story centers on the expatriate Tessa who has come back to her country after a long absence. She originally left the country when her father found out that she was pregnant and that the father of the child was an Aborigine. She later had the child aborted. Now her mother has died and she has returned to the family home to pay her respects. Living in the home is her sister and their volatile father who has given up control of the house. The sisters fight over ownership of the house.

User comments  from imdb Author: leask81 from adelaide, australia

There are a lot of films out there like this one - see FRAN, WARM NIGHTS ON A SLOW MOVING TRAIN, WINTER OF OUR DREAMS, WITH LOVE TO THE PERSON NEXT TO ME, WAITING AT THE ROYAL, THE SUGAR FACTORY, SEEING RED, SILVER CITY, and even SHINE, just to name a few (!!) - all of which portray a realistic life of an oppressed individual, and then give us reasons for his or her opression for the next ninety minutes. Much of the time, these films are either too obtrusive, or too vague...not so VACANT POSSESSION: while being allowed to think and conclude ourselves, we are given enough factual information to re-create Tessa's life. Like so many teens who leave home, her decision is not based on one unfortunate mishap, but on one ultimate occurrance which is the "final straw" after a multitude of bad things (including a drunk, war-crazed father, pregnancy and forced abortion, prejudice, etc...). The performances and script are truly wonderful, and help to create this searing account of one woman's daily struggle with life as she can do nothing but run away from everything. And it's strangely uplifting, unlike similar films like WRONG WORLD, which can be quite depressing. If you think your life's a bit of a struggle sometimes, watch this...and be thankful... Rating: 8/10.

Green Left - Shadows of the past   Kim Linden

Vacant Possession intertwines memories, dreams, reality, the past and the present, all culminating in a vivid story about the concept of home, the meaning of place and all the memories and emotions that a home or former home can evoke.

The home in this movie is an old weatherboard house called "Irene". The spectacular setting of the film, at Botany Bay and Kurnell in Sydney, creates a moody background, contrasting heath and mangrove vegetation with the industrial and airport landscape while Sydney's skyscraper skyline lies on the horizon in the distance.

The central character is Tessa (Pamela Rabe). Just before she dies, Tessa's mum, Joyce (Toni Scanlon), changes her will to bequeath the house, which Tessa grew up in, to Tessa and her sister, Kate (Linden Wilkinson). Joyce has left the will somewhere in the house, and Tessa, who lives the life of a gambler somewhere overseas, goes back to stay in the home full of emotional secrets to search for the new will.

In every corner there is a memory of Tessa's childhood (young Tessa played by Melissa Ippolito) and her teenage years (played by Simonne Pengelly), the memory of being told not to play with the Aboriginal kids down the road, the memory of the Aboriginal guy she loved (Mitch, played by Graham Moore) and her pregnancy to him, the memory of her mother taking her out one night to have an abortion, and more.

The most haunting memories for Tessa are of her father, Frank (John Stanton). Frank is plagued by his own memories of World War II. The war left Frank with a mental illness and made him a violent man. His violence is what drove Tessa out of her home and overseas.

Margot Nash, the feminist writer/director, was fascinated by housing in Australia as a symbol of an alien European culture imposed on the land. The story is constantly interrelated to the way in which Aboriginal people feel about home and land and contrasted to the way white people relate to them.

Nash says she got the title of the movie from a vacant possession party she went to at an inner city Sydney squat which was about to be sold. "For me it invoked not only the image of the empty house but the idea of Terra nullius, the principle that stated Australia was an empty continent, and could be taken possession of and colonised."

Vacant Possession  Oz Film Database  

'Vacant Possession' was made on a low budget of $1.54 million, was fully financed by the AFC and produced in co-operation with Wintertime film and As If productions. It was filmed between the 8 of Nov and 17 Dec 1993. I was unable to find information concerning the details of box office figures for Australia or overseas. The only information I could find was that it premiered at Melbourne Film Festival, in June 1995. In Australia the video is distributed by 'Siren Entertainment' under the banner of 'art-house', and is relatively hard to find at video stores, apart from ones that specialise in festival films.

Set in Kurnell on the edge of Botany Bay, 'a mythical site of mangrove swamps, wildlife, snakes, birds. . . and weatherboard cottages', close to where Captain Cook landed in 1770 'Vacant Possession'(1995) tells the story of a white woman and 'prodigal daughter' (Pamela Rabe) returning to her family home after the death of her mother. Returning home Tessa is forced to confront unresolved issues, which are triggered by the spectre of a father, who forced Tessa to flee fall those years ago, when he discovered that she was pregnant to her Aboriginal lover, Mitch. Dealing with issues of 'hearth and place' and 'remembrance and regret', Vacant Possession cleverly weaves a highly personal story of unresolved relationships from the past, which must be met in the present, onto a background involving the Aboriginal legacy of Australian history and issues of our unresolved colonial past.

The film opens with Tessa's (Pamela Rabe) arrival home, and we are immediately made aware of the unresolved tensions between her and her older sister Kate (Linden Wilkinson), and her disturbed father Frank (John Stanton). The sibling rivalry is made apparent over the inheritance of the family home, 'Irene', a neglected sunbleached weatherboard, of which their unstable father has relinquished control over (Dzenis,1996:52). Clashing over the ownership of the house, both sisters are relying on the cash settlement, Tessa to 'start over', and Kate, to remove her family from the financial dire straits, inflicted by her 'drinking and gambling husband'. In order to find the new will, which her mother wrote on her deathbed, Tessa returns to 'Irene', and begins the search. Wandering through the house, sorting through her mothers belongings, and the collected debris of her childhood, the exploration becomes more than Tessa had bargained for, as the home triggers painful and vivid memories. For Tessa, Irene is far from 'vacant', it is a place invested with significance and haunted by emotional ghosts of the past; of a troubled childhood caused by her volatile and irrational 'war damaged' father, and of unresolved tensions between her and her Aboriginal neighbours. Thus as the film progresses, the space of the Spartan and echo filled house, becomes a site where Tessa'a memories, fantasies and dreams intertwine and transitions from past to present become 'part of the same space, occupying the same body' (Dzenis,1996:52).

Thus we witness a young Tessa playing, her mother singing, a rampaging father igniting irrationally and unpredictably. More ominously we bear witness to a young girl falling in love with an Aboriginal boy Mitch, becoming pregnant to him. Her mother tries unsuccessfully to force her daughter to have an abortion. A father hysterically wounds the boy and a young girl flees (Dzenis,1996:52). As Tessa confronts these memories past and present collide, in one moment she consoles her younger self, compassionately watching, and 'so the recognition and healing begins'.

"It is a most ambitious undertaking: an excavation into the emotional psyche of a young woman and it's links and parallels to the structure, formation and deniaof nationhood" (Dzenis,1996:53)

Focusing primarily on the return of long absent expatriate Tessa, and her attempts at reconciliation with an older sister, and deeply disturbed father, 'Vacant Possession', has been thematically aligned with a film released in the same year, Richard Franklin's 'Hotel Sorrento'(1995), which also has a 'women centred' narrative and deals with similar issues. However as Adrian Martin (1995) and others have noted, 'Vacant Possession' extends beyond this thematic framework as 'for the heroine of this film, exploring the past includes facing up to the Aboriginal legacy in Australian history', thereby giving, 'Vacant Possession', a 'far broader social significance'. The strength of the film, therefore comes from the way in which, Nash has woven a number of themes together and storylines together each one having a kind of metaphorical relationship to the other. In this way 'Vacant Possession' can be read not simply as a personal drama concerning family conflict and its relationship to the present, as through the character of Tessa larger questions concerning issues of Australian national identity particularly in relation to our colonial past are generated and confronted. Thus Tessa must reconcile, not only with her sister and war scarred father, but also with Australia's colonial past. In questioning her own sense of belonging, her own stories and identities, these issues as, Dzenis (1996) suggests are linked to 'the structure, formation and denial of nationhood' (Dzenis,1996:53). In an interview with the director and screenwriter, Margot Nash she states:

"We have colonised this country; we're living in a post-colonial society, trying to understand what that means, and trying to find our place and sense of belonging" (Nash, cited in; Corbett,1995:19).

This difficulty and ambivalence is visually articulated in the film when Tessa is having a 'rest' in Millies room. Looking around the room she is confronted with strong images of a 'collective' aboriginal identity; a Mabo poster, pictures of Archie Roach, the Aboriginal songwriter and musician, an Aboriginal flag, these images set against the chatter of Millies close knit family, particularly in relation to her estranged one, work to reinforce Tessa's feeling of isolation at the time, and also more generally questions of her identity and sense of belonging. Incorporated into this story is also the character of Tessa's father ( John Stanton), who represents for me, not only a traumatic figure from Tessa's past, but also within the context of the themes of nationhood a national identities acts as a representation of Australia's colonial past, of a 'historical Australia'. Frank is a casualty of WWII, who cuts his family to pieces, and throws out his daughter for becoming pregnant to an Aboriginal boy, and as Nash suggests a figure that a lot of Australian families of that period were affected by. He was also the bearer of overtly racist and bitter attitudes towards the indigenous population and thus the dialogue between Tessa and her father provides a forum for these issues of resentment and discrimination to be discussed, exposed and interrogated.

Read in this way we can see that 'Vacant Possession', is very much a 'white story', and Nash asserts herself that this is what she perceived as the strength of the film. That is whilst the film deals with the 'difficulty and ambivalence of the relationship between white Australians and the land, and between indigenous peoples and colonisers, the film doesn't as such attempt to tell 'Aboriginal stories'. Nash states herself that; 'I came to understand that as a white person I couldn't tell Aboriginal stories. That's for Aboriginal people to do (Corbett,1995:18). Nash also talks about this process in one interview, about the difficulties of being overtly 'politically correct' only ending up in 'cliche land'. Nash therefore acknowledges the difficulties that come with her position, but this is the one criticism (that I am aware of), that was made of the film. Anna Dzenis, in her review points to moments where the film was 'heavy handed', 'wearing it's heart too much on it's sleeve' (Dzenis,1996:54). I would agree with Dzenis that there were rather self aware or obviously 'well intended' moments in the film, like Dzenis, however I would also agree that by no means was the films 'overall vision' destroyed by these moments.

Vacant Possession      Alistair Jones

 

Not Reconciled: "Australian Cinema after Mabo" by Felicity Collins ...   Eva Rueschmann from Senses of Cinema, December 2005

 

VACANT POSSESSION    Production handout (pdf format)

 

Review - Twin peeks   book review of Deb Verhoeven's Twin peeks: Australian and New Zealand feature films, by Screening the Past, June 30, 2000 

 

Memory in ruins: the woman filmmaker in her father's cinema   Felicity Collins from Screening the Past, December 1, 2001

 

Australian Television: 1995 AFI Awards 

 

DION BEEBE   bio on cinematographer

 
Nashef, Rola

 

DETROIT UNLEADED                                          C+                   79

USA  (90 mi)  2012  ‘Scope                                Official site  

 

While there is a shortage of Arab-American films, and far fewer (if nonexistent) comedies, so this Lebanese-American film is in a world by itself, expanding and developing her earlier short film by the same name in 2007.  Writer/director/producer Rola Nashef was born in Lebanon where her earliest childhood memories are of the civil war conflict before her family moved to America.  Growing up in Lansing, Michigan, the population was integrated between blacks, whites, Arabs, Mexicans, and other Hispanic groups, where the prevalence of jobs in the auto industry created a melting pot.  When her family moved to Detroit, she was stunned to find it more segregated, but despite the ghetto image, Detroit is becoming more multicultural, where there’s a prevalence of Arab men working behind bulletproof glass cages in gas stations, and where the director contends “It’s still the cheapest place to make a movie.”  While the common perception is one of racial hostility between the Arab and black communities, Nashef’s experience is far different from the stereotype perpetuated by an angry, racist-tinged Clint Eastwood in GRAN TORINO (2008).  Perhaps her younger age has something to do with it, as this is a film about people whose lives are still in front of them.  Its predecessor may be another film written and directed by a Palestinian-American woman, Cherian Dabis in AMREEKA (2009), a family drama that explores both the existing prejudices in the Middle East and in coming to America, yet its warmhearted spirit filled with lovable characters elevates the material and drew plenty of praise.  In much the same way, Nashef has drawn an intricate character study of intersecting lives, all coming together in the holy grail of a mini-mart gas station.  In Chicago, at least, the Goodman Theater put on a theatrical stage production in 2008 of Brett Neveu’s play Gas for Less, Review: Gas For Less: Chicagoist, where the action takes place in a similar setting, but it’s interesting to see how one tragically exhibits fading dreams, like the end of an era, while the other uses comedic interactions to pick up on the idea of a new beginning. 

 

The film’s opening prologue shows gas at only $1.93 a gallon, something of a time capsule in itself, but also a friendly Lebanese-American gas station owner Ibrahim (Akram El-Ahmar) that engages with his customers, seen in an era before the plexiglass where he’s out in the open sharing his hopes and dreams for a better life in America, proud to have a son that wants to go to college in California.  But he’s tragically shot and killed in a robbery, where his son Sami (E. J. Assi) resentfully foregoes college to run his father’s business, actually located near East Grand Boulevard and Woodward, where gas prices now hover over $4.00 a gallon and the station has been equipped with plexiglass, where Sami is stuck for long hours working behind a thick and ugly protective glass cage.  As the station is open 24/hrs a day, he shares a daily shift with his cousin Mike (Mike Bateyeh), a guy who dreams that he and Sami will eventually own dozens of gas stations.  Mike is hugely ambitious to the point of being manic, something of a hustler where he fills the back of the cage with various crap he buys from mostly black street vendors thinking they can make a few extra bucks.  Hardly a social critique, more along the lines of Kevin Smith’s CLERKS (1994), the film instead relies upon a steady stream of diverse customers, each bringing their own personalities into play, where the rhythm of the film is generated by these sudden faces that appear in front of the glass, where some are regular customers, others may be over-excited kids that are stoned, with each thankfully breaking a cycle of neverending boredom.  A running gag throughout the film is a feud with an unseen neighboring gas station owned by another Arab relative, where the competition is always luring customers with cheap deals or fancy cappuccino coffee machines.  But Sami’s world changes when Mike’s attractive and brash talking cousin Najlah (Nada Shouhayib) walks in selling phone cards, bringing her behind the cage to wait for Mike to show up, where a little awkward small talk leads to an initial attraction, but Naj insists no one can know about it, as she doesn’t want to be the talk of family gossip where all they talk about is who’s seeing who.

 

Unlike the gabby and ever cheerful Mike who loves the job and takes an interest in all the customers, Sami is quieter, sitting sullenly behind the glass, rarely befriending any of the customers, where only visits from Naj seem to perk him up.  From the outset, it’s clear neither Mike nor Naj’s overprotective brother Fadi (Steven Soro), who can be forcefully bullying at times, approve of this relationship, as she’s in a higher economic bracket where better things are expected for her, so the entire developing relationship takes place in secret behind the glass without ever going out on a date, where he brings her behind the cage and they simply talk to each other.  One of the things this director gets right is she has an ear for the breezy rhythm of naturalistic dialogue, creating believable, if underdeveloped, characters who are amusing throughout, accentuating a cultural dynamic of how this couple is so challenged to actually be with each other, where part of the fun is seeing just how it all plays out.  One of the better scenes is when Naj and her girlfriends go out clubbing in skimpy party dresses, but the night is short circuited when Fadi shows up, so a quick escape leaves them with few options, one of which is paying a visit to her “gas station guy.”  With the others still waiting in the car overreacting to everything they see, Sami is awestruck by what he sees, as to him, she’s mesmerizingly beautiful, a stunning contrast to what he’s used to seeing in the store.  When he chances a kiss, she’ll have none of it, claiming she’s not that kind of girl, leaving him puzzled and bewildered, while silently displaying her own confusion and inner conflict.  The film loses an opportunity to explore what’s underneath many of the mostly black customers, where one grows curious about any progression in developing attitudes about their Middle-Eastern counterparts, but there’s also a longstanding customer that goes back to the era of Sami’s father who provides a certain stability and dramatic heft to the narrative, as he’s representative of the changing neighborhood outside where people are going through hard times.  While the film may be overly optimistic and naively upbeat, where some of the quirky characters with their eccentric behavior are somewhat cliché’d, the film was actually more interesting when it was a comic struggle just to see one another, intriguing even when nothing was happening, turning predictably conventional by the end, like a fairy tale ending, but at least it stakes out new territory. 

 

DETROIT UNLEADED  Facets Multi Media

Twenty-something, second generation Lebanese-American Sami works the night shift behind the bullet-proof glass of his family's Detroit gas station/convenience store. He had been planning a different life for himself before his father was fatally shot in the pre-plexiglass days. Now seemingly content in his discontent, Sami runs the store with his overzealous cousin Mike (Mike Batayeh, Breaking Bad) who, despite a cash flow problem and a gas war with a rival down the street, exuberantly schemes to build a service station empire. Sami half-heartedly agrees to Mike's plans until the gorgeous Najlah walks in the door, selling cheap long-distance phone cards.

Rola Nashef's first feature film may well be the first Arab-American romantic comedy-drama and is also a modern day take on Romeo and Juliet. Sami and Najlah furtively meet behind the plexiglass, as Najlah tries to keep their relationship a secret from her strict brother as they fall in love. Detroit Unleaded is a brilliant debut film that showcases the new age of Arab-American cinema.

Detroit Unleaded / The Dissolve  Andrew Lapin

Detroit Unleaded exists first and foremost as a much-needed counter-narrative. Yes, America, people still live, work, love, and dream in Detroit. Yes, Arab-Americans who run gas stations can have quirky romantic misadventures like everyone else, while slipping freely between English and Arabic. These should not be new ideas, and yet Rola Nashef’s matter-of-fact debut feature feels fresher than it should.

The world of the film unfolds around Sami (EJ Assi), a young man with a meek demeanor. After his father is killed by a robber in the pre-credits sequence, Sami reluctantly agrees to take charge of the family gas station. It’s a dingy 24-hour joint, in one of those off-the-grid parts of Detroit where grass is starting to grow through the pavement, though Sami and his mother (Mary Assel), like most of the area’s real-life Arab community, live in middle-class comfort in nearby Dearborn. Sami co-owns the station with his fast-talking hustler cousin Mike (Mike Batayeh, who steals the film), who dreams of franchising and loads up the store with bootleg DVDs and slushee machines to compete with an unseen rival across the street. “It’s raining pennies!” an employee yells when the competitors shave a cent off their gas price, so Mike grabs a giant stick and marches outside to change his own rate sign.

Tangents like these are everywhere in Detroit Unleaded, and take up far more screen time than the romance that’s intended to be the film’s anchor. Nashef knows how to write good dialogue, and lavishes attention on everyone, from the factory worker who stops in for coffee every night to the twitchy “parking-lot manager” everyone assumes is a crackhead. It’s colorful yet overwhelming, as though Nashef crammed as many characters as possible into the margins to prove the Motor City hasn’t been abandoned. (“Take that, Detropia,” she may well be whispering, with good cause.) When love interest Naj (Nada Shouhayib), a cell-phone sales agent, shows up for the first time, she’s just another customer in a long line; Sami has to invite her into his bulletproof glass cage before she can assume any other role to him, and to the film.

Nashef puts a ton of energy onto the screen, though often it feels like that energy is moving in every direction except forward. Thanks in part to frequent montages of Mike’s business dealings, the romance between Sami and Naj doesn’t take focus until 45 minutes in. And though there are wedges to drive between the “up-do girl” and “gas-station guy,” including Naj’s domineering older brother (Steven Soro), every source of tension meets an abrupt, fuzzy resolution.

More fascinating are all the ways Nashef finds to play with her setting, using Sami’s bulletproof isolation to illustrate the ever-present yet unspoken fear that violence could claim his life at any minute. Extreme close-ups emphasize the buzzer he must press to unlock his shield for Naj, while the sounds of customers outside the glass come in muffled. He stores a gun behind the counter—not to use, but because he would certainly carry a firearm after what happened to his father. These moments bring an unsettling subtext to what otherwise could have been Arab Clerks. Though Unleaded doesn’t hit the same narrative or stylistic heights as Bilal’s Stand, Sultan Sharrief’s winning 2010 no-budget comedy about a Muslim taxi driver in Detroit, it still has charm to spare. The film’s engine stalls from time to time, but it never dies—much like the city it’s set in.

Slant Magazine [Tina Hassannia]

Rola Nashef's Detroit Unleaded features an early montage of women in hijabs, storefronts covered in Arabic writing, and a "Welcome to Detroit" sign, directly and quickly establishing Motor City's strong Arab community. EJ Assi and Nada Shouhayib star as Sami and Naj, twentysomethings stuck at home due to family pressure. The film opens with Sami's father being fatally shot while working at the family gas station; the story then flashes forward to the present day, where a grown-up Sami has shelved his dreams for college in order to keep the business alive. Naj, meanwhile, works at her brother Fadi's (Steven Soro) cell-phone store despite having a business degree. Moving back in with Mom and Dad may be a common phenomenon for American post-collegiates in recent years, but it's always been the expected course for many second-generation Middle-Eastern twentysomethings. The film explores how such traditions and lack of opportunities in Detroit hold back Sami and Naj, and though they're initially semi-accepting of their fates, complete with eye rolling and exasperated sighs, the film's simplistic solution to their problems is to have them overstep family expectations and leave the city.

Sami and Naj's relationship can only develop within the safe and covert confines of Sami's bulletproofed workplace, as their families forbid them to date, and the film is most successful in scenes that humorously depict Naj's attempts to circumvent Arab tradition in order to establish her own sense of freedom outside of Fadi's overprotective watch. She forces her friends to flee a club after spotting her brother there, and when realizing she shouldn't have blabbed about Sami to her friends, she pretends to break up with him to prevent rumors.

Though the film compellingly engages with the specific problems of a cultural group rarely represented in American film, the solution for Sami and Naj to run off together materializes too easily and abruptly; after Naj's brother finds out about their relationship, it only takes a simple phone call from Sami to convince an upset Naj to leave Detroit behind. Ending with the happy couple driving off, the film doesn't grapple with the aftermath of their departure on their respective families. This includes Sami's stay-at-home mother, Mariam (Mary Assel), who relies on her son's income and laments the day when he'll leave their family home. While her character arc is more focused on how she must move on from grieving her husband to enjoy life again, the film chooses to neglect practical circumstances about her future.

Detroit Unleaded is meticulous in detailing the shibboleths of its characters to capture the contemporary diasporic experience of Detroit's young Arab community, but its storytelling is too rudimentary, as is the characterization of its main character. For someone who hates his job, Sami never expands on what exactly he might do if the gas station were out of the picture, and though the film does much to underscore the monotonous nature of Sami working long shifts, it does so at the sake of developing his outside interests or any other defining traits. When Naj presses him about his future plans, he quickly changes the subject. Because the film isn't written with the kind of nuance necessary to flesh out this kind of inner turmoil, the vague circumstances in which the two depart feels like a copout. In the last scene, when a stranger asks where Sami is headed, he smiles and says, "I don't know yet. I'll find out when I get there."

Certainly, the film's takeaway message lies in the old adage that life is about the journey instead of the destination. Yet after delineating how difficult it is for the characters to leave their families and has outlined the tangible, cultural limitations in young Arab-American life, Detroit Unleaded almost seems to suggest the fantastical notion that picking up and leaving is as easy as filling up a tank of gas and flooring it out of the wasteland.

Director statement  Turning My Camera On Detroit’s Arab Community, by Nola Rashef from indieWIRE, November 22, 2013

 

Paste Magazine  Shane Ryan

 

Village Voice  Nick Schager 

 

Tiny Mix Tapes [Andrew Eastwick]

 

NightsAndWeekends.com [Kristin Dreyer Kramer]

 

Profile: Rola Nashef  Scott Macauley from Filmmaker magazine

 

This is the American Dream? - World Socialist Web Site  Joanne Laurier, also an interview with the director November 11, 2013

 

Director interview Danny Peary interview from SAG Harbor Express, November 20, 2013 

 

Variety  Alissa Simon

 

Detroit Free Press  Julie Hinds

 

The Oregonian [Jamie S. Rich]

 

Detroit Unleaded Movie Review (2013) | Roger Ebert  Steven Boone

 

New York Times

 

The Moment That Breaks a Man | Performing Arts Review | Chicago  Tony Adler’s review of Brett Neveu’s play Gas For Less, from The Chicago Reader

 
Nasrallah, Yousry
 
MERCEDES

Egypt  France  (108 mi)  1993

 

Mercedes  Ed Gonzalez from Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages

 

Yousry Nasrallah is the cinema's most remote of unknown pleasures. Years before he lobbed a grenade at film festivals worldwide with his four-and-a-half-hour pro-Palestinian fever-dream The Gate of the Sun, Nasrallah burned the incense of 1,001 Rushdian Nights with Mercedes (which he'll introduce Thursday at the Walker to kick off the U of M's "Cinema and Society in the Arab World" series). The Egyptian-born director's films reveal a profound kinship to magical realist tradition. And in all of Mercedes' expressions--the elaborate anecdotes, colorful allusions, and crazy asides (in one scene, a child screams, "I hate weddings! I hate them!" while madly playing with his fly)--is the feeling of a literate prankster wildly goosing a stuffed-shirt culture.

In a great Mauritz Stiller film, Sir Arne's Treasure, an old woman envisions a group of men sharpening their knives--the same men that will later kill her and her family. Mercedes is a more modern invention, but its vision of history--past and present, thrown apart by crisis--has a similarly lyrical quality. Before Warda (Youssra) gives birth to her first child, whom she conceives not with her older, light-skinned husband, but with an African American politician, her mother pours milk on her head so as to prevent the child from coming out dark-skinned. This form of colorfully detailed storytelling--rooted deeply, absurdly, but reverentially in the traditions and superstitions of a modern Egyptian culture--reveals Nasrallah's kinship to the deep-throated, mythmaking dramas of Gunter Grass, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Emir Kusturica.

The story's wondrously spastic maze of comic sketches is overrun with Muslim fundamentalists, tramps, agents, gays, internationally hopping politicians, and drug dealers; finding a way out of this mess becomes, for Warda's blond-haired son Noubi (Zaki Abdel Wahab), a test of his will and spirit. (For the audience, a printed family tree might be necessary to remember how everyone fits together.) At a party, Noubi agrees to destroy Raifa (Menha Bataoui), the drug-pushing wife of his uncle. Noubi nonchalantly hatches the plan by sending a piece of steak to the meat-phobic woman's table, around which a fit of hysteria explodes. Nothing, though, seems to go according to plan: Noubi's uncle dies (Raifa, naturally, is allergic to his body), but not before he asks his nephew to seek out Camal (Magdi Kamel), who is really Noubi's brother and who may or may not want to claim his inheritance if he believes Raifa will pump him full of heroin.

In Mercedes, Nasrallah takes the pulse of his nation in sharp, concentrated doses. A man who suffers a traffic jam screams, "Damned country! Nothing moves!"--a counterpoint to what Noubi does, which is to move so fast that no one can seem to catch him. A note on the title: It's a reference to the car, which divides, at least according to one of the film's bourgies, the country's people into two categories--those who own one and those who dream of owning one. Noubi, nonconformist that he is, casually blows the man's theory: He refuses reduction, which is the theme of this very smart, progressive film. (A highlight has two women giggling and gawking at Noubi's morning wood.) But Mercedes is also the name of the Spanish woman who holds the key to Camal's location. Upon learning this secret, Noubi gives a moor's last sigh before traveling to Giza to look for his brother, only to stumble first upon a woman, Afifa (also played by Youssra), who looks like his mother and says that she is a "Wednesday Child" (a relative, perhaps, of Rushdie's midnight children?).

The director flings his humanist net far and wide, revealing parts of his culture rarely seen on film. Egypt is notoriously homophobic, so it's surprising to see the country's gay culture depicted on film with such vibrancy and affection--another thread in a nation's busy way of life. Just as queer and fantastic is how the film begins in black-and-white and explodes into color with the news of the Berlin Wall tumbling to the ground. Nasrallah is prone to rocking patches of fluidly interlocked scenes with an explosion of some kind: Afifa crying "rape" in order to escape a trick's grip, a car accident that kills Camal's lover, Raifa's absurd allergic reactions. What these flash points do is send the film's story spiraling in tangential directions so that Mercedes comes to resemble a dense network of veins, flooded with blood and punctured intermittently by sprocket-like pressure points. Nasrallah conveys this idea of an oft-pinched body politic with an effortless style that suggests Fassbinder's camera sliding back and forth across rooms on rusted dolly tracks. Which is to say that Nasrallah's mad, mad, mad, mad world is as giddy as it is hardcore

 

AFTER THE BATTLE (Baad el Mawkeaa)

France  Egypt  (125 mi)  2012 

 

Dave Calhoun  at Cannes, May 17, 2012

This realist melodrama from Yousry Nasrallah tries its damnedest to convey how messy, contradictory and confusing were the events of the 2011 uprising in Egypt. But in doing so it attracts all those same accusations itself.

‘After the Battle’ mixes a main thrust of densely-packed drama with news footage, sometimes segueing from one to another with the intention of seamlessness. It tells of an unusual alliance between a horseman, Mahmoud (Bassem Samra), from the suburbs of Cairo near the Pyramids, and Reem (Menna Shalabi), a liberal, cosmopolitan woman working in advertising who is politicised by the events of the Arab Spring. The two meet when a friend of Reem takes her to Mahmoud’s neighbourhood, where the community, reliant on tourism, desperately needs aid to feed their starving horses. Over the next few months, the pair develop an intense friendship born partly of romantic attraction but mostly out of a fascination with each other’s way of life and view of the world. Finally, in the autumn of 2011, they spill onto Tahrir Square together.

‘After the Battle’ aims to show the complexity behind the simplicity of the images and the ideas we have received about Egypt’s revolution. Mahmoud is one of the ‘Tahrir Square Knights’, who in February 2011 rode into the square to attack the crowd of revolutionaries, in what became known as ‘The Battle of the Camel’. The likes of Mahmoud were presumed to be conservative and violent, but ‘After the Battle’ shows that they too, were marginalised and under threat from the Egyptian status quo and in need of change.

The trouble with ‘After the Battle’ is that it feels like every idea and experience related to the Arab Spring in Egypt has been thrown into the one pot. The film was devised without a script, over the middle months of 2011, and it shows. Some of the acting is hysterical. Much of it is poor. There are too many stereotypes: the young, female, modern divorcee; the unreconstructed, simple and uneducated male; the pantomime villain community leader. The film feels like both a too-basic allegory of the country’s wider woes and a story far too steeped in barely comprehensible detail. It lurches from scenes of intense debate to scenes of soapy melodrama. The dial is mostly turned up to ‘shouty’.

You imagine that, in 10, 20 or 30 years time, ‘After the Battle’ will be of value to historians of the Arab Spring. It’s a film conceived and constructed in the eye of the storm – full of contemporary debates and characters that emerge from real social, economic and political divisions and allegiances. However, as a film, it’s an indecipherable, chaotic blitzkrieg of half-baked ideas and hot-headed dramatisations of reality. In that sense, you could say it’s true to its source material.

After The Battle  Fionnuala Halligan at Cannes from Screendaily

Yousry Nasrallah probes Egyptian society during the heated and heady days of last year’s revolution in Tahrir Square in After The Battle, a thinly dramatised vehicle for Nasrallah and his co-writer Omar Schama to air some fervid domestic debates.

Opting to funnel the polemic through the central character of Rim, a middle-class Cairo advertising executive turned impassioned NGO activist and Mahmoud, an impoverished and illiterate horse-rider from the Giza Pyramid village of Nazlet, Nasrallah never manages to lift his characters out of the plot schematic, despite a generous running time.

The result is a flatly shot mash-up of politics and drama that run side-by-side and are often individually interesting but never convincingly connect. While After The Battle (Baad El Mawkeaa) could find enthusiastic audiences at home in Egypt and other interested parties in the Arab world and diaspora (in particular co-production territory France), it will face tougher challenges outside that arena.

Nasrallah’s central thrust is to drive the plight of an ignorant villager and his limited world into the heated debate of Tahrir Square - which happened when the now-deposed President Hosni Mubarak’s forces convinced some Nazlet villagers to race their animals through protestors in what became known as ‘The Battle of the Camel’.

The fictional Mahmoud (Samra), is one of those villagers, now shamed for his actions and dealing with the consequences. Bringing divorced, bourgeois Cairo hothead Rima (Chalaby) into contact with Mahmoud has forced Nasrallah and Schama into gymnastic plot contortions, however, resulting in the creation of Rim’s veterinarian friend Dina (Phaedra) who works for an NGO which is providing feed for the animals, including Mahmoud’s beloved horse Jamaica.  

One kiss in the bushes later, and Rima is all-but setting up shop in Nazlet, counselling Mahmoud’s wife Fatma (El Sebai), sorting out their sons’ problems at school, and organising a horse rider’s union - none of which goes down well with village strongman Haj Abdallah (Abdallar).

Nasrallah bounces interesting ideas around his film, but few of them gain any real traction. Sections dealing with the role of women in this turbulent era in Egypt recall the more impactful and tightly focused Cairo 678, although the juxtaposition of the wall built in Nazret to keep the villagers away from the pyramids with the Cairo protests and Rim’s urban lifestyle is strong. Of the actors, Samra (The Yacoubian Building) is effortlessly convincing while Chalaby has a tougher character to make sense of. Production values here are adequate, with Nasrallah and cameraman Samir Bahsan turning in solid, no-frills work. Music is lightly applied.

After the Battle: Cannes Review  Deborah Young from The Hollywood Reporter, May 17, 2012

Egypt's premiere director Yousry Nasrallah and scriptwriter Omar Schama tackle the aftermath of the Arab Spring in this in Competition film.

It may be too soon to come to terms with the confused aftermath of the Arab Spring, a major undertaking that Egypt’s premiere director Yousry Nasrallah and scriptwriter Omar Schama tackle with intelligence and passionate boldness in After the Battle

Set in the highly charged political atmosphere of today’s Cairo, the tale of a young middle-class woman activist and her reckless entanglement with a lower-class anti-revolutionary bursts at the seams with ideas and impressions lifted directly from Tahrir Square, breathlessly thrusting the viewer into the midst of current events. Though too excited and involved to balance history and fiction, the film has enough atmosphere and topical fascination to ride the wave of international curiosity in the region. It should translate into wide art house release, especially in Europe and Arab territories.

The film’s great merit is Nasrallah’s consummate story-telling, which allows non-Egyptian audiences an easy entry point into the familiar sight of thousands of demonstrators who, in February of 2011, were violently charged by horsemen in what has come to be known as “the Battle of the Camel.” The impetuous Rim (Meena Chalaby) goes with her friend Dina (Jordanian actress Phaedra) to distribute fodder to hungry horses in the ancient village of Nazlet, in the shadow of the Pyramids. Now that the tourists who once hired them have disappeared, the horsemen are so poor they can no longer afford to feed their mounts. Here she meets the strapping, guileless rider Mahmoud (Bassem Samra) and they exchange a forbidden kiss in the night.

Their promised affair fizzles, without completely dying out, when Rim discovers he has a family and tries to educate the lot to participate in the revolution. Tahrir Square has forever changed their lives, though not for the better, because Mahmoud was pulled off his horse while attacking the demonstrators and beaten. A video of his humiliation is on You Tube, for which his sons are mocked and beaten in school. His spirited young wife Fatma (Nahed El Sebai) just wants things to return to normal.  

The characters are all complexly drawn to illustrate their vast social divide, and the scenes set in Nazlet go deep into the fabric of Egypt’s materially poor but humanly vibrant under-class, associated with the enduring sands and stones of Giza. Nasrallah manages to use the Pyramids as a natural backdrop to the action, and the inhabitants (jeered at as thugs and tomb-raiders by Rim’s middle-class friends) have an elemental relationship to the ancient world that recalls Shadi Abdel-Salam’s recently restored classic The Mummy, another film about Egyptians attempting to reclaim their history. Specifically, the locals want the government to knock down a concrete wall separating their village from the Pyramids and the tourists who are their livelihood – a wall that looks a lot like the one in Israel, sheltering tourists who no longer arrive.

While Chalaby’s Rim gives women’s issues a central role in the film, her brassy self-consciousness doesn’t earn sympathy points and borders on over-acting. Far more effective is Samra, who draws the emotional Mahmoud as a strong but tragic character in the neorealist mold. Riding his horse at a fancy dressage, he is shamefully banned as a jinx by the powerful local boss Haj Abdallah (stage actor Salah Abdallah), to whom he grovels and later begs for a job in a chillingly realistic scene. El Sebai’s Fatma has the same charming smile of subservience – their poverty is real and there is no room for noble attitudes with two kids and a horse to feed.           

Drew McWeeny  at Cannes from HitFix, May 17, 2012

 

CANNES 2012: Yousry Nasrallah's AFTER THE BATTLE  Glenn Heath Jr, from indieWIRE Press Play, May 16, 2012 

 

Kevin Jagernauth  at Cannes from the indieWIRE Playlist, May 17, 2012

 

Blake Williams  at Cannes from Ion Cinema, May 17, 2012

 

Domenico La Porta  at Cannes from Cineuropa, May 17, 2012

 

Cannes '12, Day One: Wes Anderson kicks off the festival in enchanting form  Mike D’Angelo at Cannes from The Onion A.V. Club, May 17, 2012

 

Post Sarkozy Cannes 2  Robert Koehler from Filmjourney, May 17, 2012

 

DAILY | Cannes 2012 | Yousry Nasrallah’s AFTER THE BATTLE »  David Hudson at Cannes from Fandor, May 17, 2012

 

Jay Weissberg at Cannes from Variety, May 17, 2012

 

Xan Brooks  at Cannes from The Guardian, May 17, 2012

 
Natali, Vincenzo
 
SPLICE                                                                     B                     86

USA  Canada  France  (104 mi)  2009

 

Alien babies?  Mutant creatures with tails?  I’m so there!  Especially since it stars Sarah Polley, who has barely been seen other than Isabel Coixet movies in the past decade, if at all in the last 5 years, so the curiosity factor is high.  Polley, as always, plays that special breed of human being that continually goes beyond our current level of perception, playing a scientist who is so advanced in the field of genetic engineering that she has to continually hide what she’s working on, as humans can’t grasp that degree of leaps and bounds in the wide open spaces of the new frontier in scientific advancement, preferring instead tiny increments that include a system of checks and balances so nothing surprising ever happens.  Polley and Adrien Brody are lovers as well as scientific partners, given free reign to mix the DNA of various animals to create new hybrid life forms, all designed to bring in the almighty corporate dollars.  But they do a little experimenting on their own behind the scenes which, admittedly, forms the real basis of interest here, as what they create is completely surprising, even to them.  Altering the genetic makeup to include human DNA, what they breed is first created just to know it could be done, but when the odd and fascinating creature develops signs of personality and intelligence, their lab experiment enters the Frankenstein phase, as “It’s alive!”  Brody is inclined to get rid of it, because of the danger factor involved, as if this creature was eventually discovered, they could go to jail and it would ruin the company, but Polley takes a nurturing approach, becoming mother and teacher, especially when she learns how quickly this creature ages, allowed only a brief window at life that they’d never forgive themselves this rare opportunity.

 

In addition to FRANKENSTEIN (1931), much of this resembles ALIEN (1979), especially the initial phase when the baby creature escapes and hides in the clutter of the laboratory and no one knows if it’s friend or foe.  Polley instantly bonds with it, however, becoming the imprinted mother, and treats it with the affection of a newborn baby, finding it beautiful despite its rather hideous look.  But it grows quickly, developing peculiarities that take these scientists by surprise, eventually causing friction between them as they’re each so single-minded in their approach, as they’re instinctively decisive with no room for compromise or middle ground.  Of course, there are no written rules here, as they’ve crossed completely into unknown territory, where much of the audience’s fascination is how utterly unpredictable this new species becomes, where reading the creatures thoughts and instincts is much like deciphering the codes provided by babies.  When the creature spells out a complicated scrabble word, and it’s a reflection of its own personal state of mind, well this is beyond the revelations of Charlotte’s Web, it’s deliriously exciting to think about having that kind of unexplored and unexpected intelligence.  As the imagination soars with limitless creature possibilities, the human limitations take on greater prominence, because the couple can’t agree on anything, the company doesn’t know about its top scientist’s latest discovery, and the scientists themselves haven’t the available time because the company expects immediate results from their original hybrid life form, something this couple has all but left behind in their demanding needs of raising a new life form. 

 

It’s a mad scramble of mixed interests where the audience knows all too well that these kinds of stories don’t usually end well, where more than likely some unforeseen disaster will occur.  Unfortunately, this part of the story is all too predictable, as that’s exactly what occurs, a somewhat formulaic end to an otherwise eye-opening creation.  Even with the knowledge that this creature is born in computer graphics, evolving into an adult as actress Delphine Chanéac, it clearly has the appeal of a lifelike creation, though far different than anything else on the planet.  It’s also clear that the audience is invested in this new creation, actually caring about whether it lives or dies, as we’ve followed the entire life cycle from the beginning and we know it’s not immune to pain or having its feelings hurt.  What’s truly unique is that the creature always defines itself on its own terms, through a series of trial and errors and with its own learned revelations, some of which are remarkable, including the extent of its own powers, which is beyond its creators wildest dreams.  Unfortunately, what finally happens is a bit preposterous, feels contrived and over-written, and loses the initial warmth and excitement of introducing something altogether new.  By the time this one’s over, Polley has that look in her eyes as if she’s reached similar territory as Sigourney Weaver in the ALIEN series, who had to take her fight to interplanetary aliens on their home turf and was the only human to survive, witnessing something of staggering proportions that people on earth simply couldn’t begin to comprehend, so they never took it seriously.  Polley has that look as if she’s the last human left on earth who really knows what she’s dealing with.  The audience may feel a bit shell-shocked themselves by the end, but it’s unreasonable to think that test tube babies must remain inside the test tube like lab rats or guinea pigs, or that they’d be happy under continual confinement, like a prison.  There’s a world out there for them to explore, and it’s only natural for them to want to be a part of it.   Unfortunately humans haven’t evolved far enough to let them. 

 

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review [3.5/4]

This movie is messed up, but in the most wonderful ways. Directed and co-written by Vincenzo Natali (Cube), Splice moves through familiar territory, including films like Frankenstein, E.T., and Jurassic Park, but it touches on some seriously complex and twisted ideas, such as the meaning of family and the concept of creation. Nevertheless, it has a perfectly confident and nonchalant tone as it navigates these sticky issues; it's even ever so slightly comical. (Or perhaps the laughter is just a reaction to the movie's uncomfortable suggestions.)

On the verge of losing control of their laboratory under a tangle of red tape, two rebellious scientists, the romantically-involved Elsa (Sarah Polley) and Clive (Adrien Brody) impulsively decide to experiment with crossing animal and human DNA. The result of their experiment matures frighteningly fast, eventually appearing as the weirdly pretty adult female creature known as "Dren" (Delphine Chanéac). Unfortunately, since Elsa and Clive have crossed many legal and ethical lines, they must keep Dren a secret. But their emotional involvement with the creature -- and with each other -- may prevent them from understanding what Dren really is: a potentially deadly monster.

Director Natali balances everything pitch-perfectly, from the performances to the hair-raising sound design, and all the way down to images of the creepy, snowy woods during the film's tense climax. It's easily the most satisfying movie in a summer so far stocked with lazy sequels and duds. Guillermo del Toro was a co-producer.

exclaim! [Robert Bell]

Whether it's slamming assimilative and undiscerning corporate culture (Cypher), the natural human tendency towards blissful, deluded ignorance (Cube) or incompatibility with external stimuli as demonstrated through wish fulfilment irony (Nothing), writer/director Vincenzo Natali has made a career of questioning the quotidian. He hones in on the horrors of drone mentality, pointing out the worst possible scenario while playfully asking the question ― quite literally in Splice ― "what's the worst that could happen?"

Here, he sets his sights on the blind entitlement to parenthood, with married scientists Elsa (Sarah Polley) and Clive (Adrien Brody) struggling with the decision of whether or not to breed while splicing animal DNA in the hopes of curing various diseases and genetic conditions. Illegally forging ahead into human-animal trials, the young couple wind up with Dren (Delphine Cheneac), a creature with a rapid life cycle and the cognitive function of a Homosapien.

It doesn't take a genius to draw the obvious parallel between this sci-fi template and nascent parental anxieties, and Natali makes no effort to hide it. And why should he, as this Freudian freak-out clips along with consistent tension, challenging the audience with alarming psychological acuity that doesn't shy away from the less comforting aspects of psychosexual development.

While the foreboding and unknown of a new species introduced to the world as an outsider sustain narrative function, making for memorable, engaging viewing on its own, the magic of Splice is that it's more than that. Polley and Brody bring their damaged characters to life, with the deconstruction of their gender roles and signifier breakdown propelling the climax and inevitable horrors that unfold.

Sure, the plot becomes a tad predictable in the final act, remaining true to allegorical implications, rather than going for campy Shyamalan shock, but it doesn't make the experience any less affecting. It would be hard to walk away from this film without some sort of reaction, or some sort of thought, whether distaste for its unsavoury implications or appreciation for its lack of condescension. Regardless, this is a movie to see.

The Onion A.V. Club review [B+]  Keith Phipps

Lovers and genetic engineers, Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody play a childless couple in Splice. That doesn’t mean, however, that they’ve never created life. As scientists, they can claim Fred and Ginger, two lab-grown specimens made from mixing material from several different animals. The creatures look a bit like what might happen if a slug devoured a turtle, but looks don’t really matter in the world of corporate science. Yet despite their success, Polley and Brody soon face a change of duties that will take their gene-splicing toys away. But not, that is, until they make one last go-for-broke creation that throws in a little human DNA just to see what happens.

That Brody and Polley’s characters are named Clive and Elsa should alert fans of old horror movies what sort of story they’re in for, and director and co-writer Vincenzo Natali (best known for the microbudgeted cult favorite Cube) doesn’t let down those expecting a 21st century twist on Frankenstein. He throws in elements of David Cronenberg’s The Fly, too, but ultimately Splice owes as much to David Lynch’s parenthood-inspired Eraserhead as any other film. For all the gleaming technology and echoes of cloning, stem cell research, and other contemporary issues, the horror here stems from the couple’s attempts to keep a fragile, newborn creature alive and do right by her as she grows. 

Their experiment with creating a human-animal hybrid at first yields an awful, hatchet-headed monkey-thing with big expressive eyes that send Polley’s maternal instincts into overdrive. Calling it “Dren”—the name of their employer, Nerd, spelled backwards—Polley and Brody take to raising it as their own, first in secret corners of the lab and then on an abandoned family farm. Dren ages, rapidly, and begins to look and act more human, or at least human enough to stir feelings of concern and discomfort in her creators as she matures into a melancholy, willful creature played by Delphine Chanéac.

Played with black humor that never gets in the way of the horror, Natali’s film cleverly exploits Dren’s uncanny semi-humanity. As a child, she wears a happy expression, but her bald head and the tail poking out beneath her dress give her away. Later, the camera lingers on Chanéac’s supple thighs as they rest atop what looks like the lower legs of a shaved mule. Brody and Polley attempt to protect her from the world, only to watch her turn rebellious and resent them for it.

Any resemblance to the actual experience of parenting is, of course, not at all coincidental. Shooting with a cool reserve and a steely-blue color palette, Natali keeps the film unsettling by using icky creature effects, but just as often by offering up grotesque caricatures of real-life parenting discomforts, from the exhaustion to the collapse of privacy to the difficulty of instilling a moral code in an offspring that often seems alien. The film keeps a sometimes too-clinical distance but pushes buttons from afar, including a final act that turns into a series of outrages bound to upset audiences who might have stumbled in expecting the usual monster-of-the-week horror movie instead of this thriving, disturbing, thoughtful mutant of a movie.

CBC.ca Arts (Lee Ferguson) review

Hatched in the spooky recesses of director Vincenzo Natali’s mind, Splice offers Canadian audiences something to crow about: a clever, homegrown monster mash-up that keeps morphing before your eyes. Part sci-fi, part gross-out horror with a dash of family drama thrown in for good measure, the movie is a complete hoot in all of its slithery forms.

Splice begins in a dark, dank lab, where pioneering genetic engineers Elsa (Sarah Polley) and Clive (Adrien Brody) are witnessing the birth of their latest creation, a slimy, shuddering worm named Fred. The product of spliced livestock genes, Fred and his predecessor, Ginger, should be enough to guarantee more funding for the married scientists to continue their innovative medical research. But the corporate backers at Newstead Pharma take one look at Elsa and Clive’s grotesque test results and relegate the hotshots to five more years of dry “phase two” legwork.

Elsa and Clive aren’t content to sift through pig proteins when they could be curing cancer. If their Bride of Frankenstein names didn’t tip you off, they are soon conducting their own top-secret experiment, this time fusing animal and human DNA. Before Elsa can say “It’s alive!” a new creature plops out on the lab floor, swathed in gelatinous goo. Sporting chicken legs, a rabbit face and a head as phallic as anything in the Alien movies, the bouncing little tyke proves capable of rapid-fire growth spurts. Within a matter of months, the lumpen-headed mass has evolved into a little girl named Dren (Abigail Chu), and then a hell-raising adolescent (Delphine Chanéac) who possesses the beauty of Sinead O’Connor and a lethally spiky tail.

With its moody London Philharmonic score and sci-fi set-up, Splice has all the makings of an old-fashioned B-movie, the kind where characters suffer horrific consequences after messing with nature. But Natali and co-writers Antoinette Terry Bryant and Doug Taylor are not content to stay in pop-corny territory for long. Once Dren is unearthed, Splice begins to resemble David Cronenberg’s triumphant remake of The Fly (1986), or his earlier Freudian family headtrip, The Brood (1979).

When the kindergarten-aged Dren starts spelling out human words with Scrabble tiles, Elsa’s previously absent maternal genes kick in, and the film mutates once more, this time into something slyly funny. Clive’s ethical concerns about the Barbie-toting creature don’t stand a chance once beaming, proud mother Elsa wonders aloud if anyone could really look at Dren’s face “and see anything less than a miracle.”

The driven, tightly wound Elsa and Clive prove ill-equipped as parents, and as they hole up in an abandoned farmhouse to keep their rebellious teen offspring under wraps, Splice heads into icky terrain that should shock audiences and inspire someone’s film-school master’s thesis. Splice is teeming with gender-bending creatures, disturbing sex and enough suggestive, oozing body imagery to give H.R. Giger’s alien a run for its money. No Freudian textbooks are necessary, however; the movie invites many readings – from timely genetics debate to a study of the world’s most dysfunctional family – all of them accessible, smart and fun to ponder afterward.

Howard Berger’s excellent makeup effects and the game A-list cast members give Splice a slickness that makes you forget it was shot on a relatively modest budget (roughly $30 million). Brody makes Clive a fully convincing brainiac, but Polley does particularly fine work as Elsa, creating a complex heroine who’s quite fierce and monstrous in her own right.

Splice is an extremely genre-savvy genre movie, and it eventually becomes so hell-bent on delivering new surprises that it fumbles a bit in its climactic scenes. The twists keep coming, but by the end, some of them feel like they belong in a trashier, far more conventional horror movie.

Still, this movie is agile enough that you’ll feel compelled to stick with it. After years of abortive searches for more mainstream material, Telefilm should pat itself on the back for funding this risky project. Splice is dark, to be sure, but it’s also creepy good fun and certainly the liveliest multiplex-bound movie I’ve seen this season. Splice’s experimentation pays off, and something tells me this tiny CanCon movie could mutate into a big fat hit.

Salon.com [Andrew O'Hehir]

 

Cinefantastique [Steve Biodrowski]

 

Sci-Fi Movie Page (James O'Ehley) review  Mark Dujsik

 

Slant Magazine [Ed Gonzalez]

 

The Village Voice [Nick Pinkerton]

 

The L Magazine [Henry Stewart]

 

ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [2.5/4]

 

Beyond Hollywood review  James Mudge

 

Film Freak Central review  Ian Pugh

 

Daily Film Dose [Alan Bacchus]

 

The House Next Door [Elise Nakhnikian]

 

CHUD.com (Devin Faraci) review

 

eFilmCritic.com (Rob Gonsalves) review [5/5]

 

IFC.com [Bruce Bennett]

 

Splice | Review | Screen  David D’Arcy from Screendaily

 

Movie Cynics [The Vocabulariast]

 

Parallax View [Sean Axmaker]

 

Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick) review [3.5/4]  Theatrical release

 

DVD Talk (Jamie S. Rich) review [3/5]  Theatrical release

 

SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review review [3/5]  Richard Scheib

 

DVD Talk (Tyler Foster) review [1/5]  Theatrical release

 

The Independent Critic [Richard Propes]

 

The Wall Street Journal (Joe Morgenstern) review

 

eFilmCritic.com (Peter Sobczynski) review [5/5]

 

RopeofSilicon (Brad Brevet) review [D+]

 

Ain't It Cool Movie Reviews (Harry Knowles) review

 

The Land of Eric (Eric D. Snider) review [B+]

 

One Guy's Opinion (Frank Swietek) review [B-]

 

eFilmCritic.com (Brian Orndorf) review [2/5]  also seen here:  DVD Talk  or here:  Briandom [Brian Orndorf]

 

FlickFilosopher.com [MaryAnn Johanson]

 

eFilmCritic.com (David Cornelius) review [2/5]

 

CineSnob.net (Kiko Martinez) review [B-]

 

Screenjabber review  Craig McPherson

 

Bloody-Disgusting review [2/5]  Ryan Daley

 

Cinematical (Kevin Kelly) review  at Sundance

 

'Splice,' and the Line Between Spoilers and Public Service  Eric D. Snider from Cinematical, June 8, 2010

 

Shock, Awe, and the Films of Vincenzo Natali  Eugene Novikov from Cinematical, June 11, 2010

 

Interview: Vincenzo Natali Explains How to Crack 'Neuromancer ...  Joe Hall (Pt. I) 2-Part interview from Cinematical, May 25, 2010

 

Interview: Vincenzo Natali Talks 'Splice', Internet Leaks and Creature Features  (Pt. II) from Cinematical, June 2, 2010

 

The Hollywood Reporter review  John DeFore

 

Entertainment Weekly review [A-]  Lisa Schwarzbaum 

 

Variety (Justin Chang) review

 

Time Out New York review [3/5]

 

Boston Globe (Wesley Morris) review [3/4]

 

The Boston Phoenix (Peter Keough) review

 

Philadelphia Inquirer (Carrie Rickey) review [3/4]

 

Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]  at Sundance

 

Austin Chronicle review [3/5]  Marc Savlov

 

Tulsa TV Memories [Gary Chew]

 

San Francisco Chronicle (Mick LaSalle) review [3/4]

 

Los Angeles Times (Michael Ordoña) review

 

Chicago Tribune (Michael Phillips) review

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [3/4]

 

The New York Times (Manohla Dargis) review

 
Nava, Gregory
 
EL NORTE

aka:  The North

USA  Great Britain  (139 mi)  1983

 

Chicago Reader (Dave Kehr)

Independent American cinema in the 80s slowly became as slick as the Hollywood product it was supposedly reacting against. Gregory Nava's film (1983), about a Guatemalan brother and sister who escape the political oppression of their home country for a difficult life as illegal aliens in the United States, applies a variety of sophisticated rhetorical techniques to a sentimental, manipulative story line. The show-offy style, with its overanalytic editing, rhyming transitions, and portentous accordion inserts, condescends to the puppy-dog siblings by adopting a detached, superior point of view. Nava is clearly less interested in exploring the tragic reality of the situation than in wringing a few tears from Anglo audiences. Though his subject is a serious one and his intentions are apparently noble, Nava has made a film that is essentially indistinguishable from Love Story.

Time Out

 

After a military massacre of labourers in Guatemala, which leaves his father's head dangling from a tree, Enrique takes his sister Rosa and heads off for the fabled land of opportunity, El Norte or North America, where every house has running water, every man a job. Unfortunately Mexico, with its border guards and illegal operators who smuggle wetback labour, stands in the way; but after crawling several miles through a sewage pipe full of rats, Los Angeles is within sight. Life there without a permit, however, proves harder than down among the rats. Traditional immigrant films from Hollywood (The Godfather?) end in fame, money and beautiful women for the inheritors of the new found land's promise; but El Norte gives us a vision of the downside of the American dream. The film's concentration on the plight of its young hopefuls, however, is done with much humour and compassion, so that the tragedy of its message is very bracing.

User comments from imdb Author: Howard Schumann from Vancouver, B.C

In the 1980s, military repression and civil warfare intensified in both Guatemala and El Salvador, resulting in massacres, forced displacement, and political assassinations. Thousands left Central America to come to America, most of them illegally. Those who entered the U.S. filed for political asylum but despite the reports of murders and disappearances, barely three percent of applicants received asylum. Today, approximately half of Salvadorans and Guatemalans living in the U.S. have less than an eighth grade education and most work long hours in jobs on the low end of the pay scale and their situation makes it nearly impossible to advance or make long term plans.

Gregory Nava's 1983 Indie film El Norte describes the plight of two young Guatemalans, Enrique (David Villalpando) and his sister Rosa (Zaide Silvia Gutierrez) who face reprisals from the military after participating in a protest meeting and undertake a hazardous journey to "the north" to find a better life. The film is divided into three parts: "Arturo Xuncax", describing the circumstances that caused the family to leave Guatemala "El Coyote", detailing their hazardous journey to reach the U.S., and "El Norte", telling the story of their life in Los Angeles. While El Norte does have a strong political message, the core of the film is the relationship between Enrique and Rosa.

The hardships of the journey are told in graphic detail, especially the last test of crossing the border by crawling on their hands and knees through an abandoned sewer line populated by hordes of rats. Things seem to be bright, however, when they arrive in Los Angeles. He becomes a busboy in an upscale restaurant, she finds work as a maid in Beverly Hills, and both try to learn English in their free time. They soon find, however, that life in the U.S. is not all that it appears and their situation unravels when Enrique is reported to INS officials by a jealous employee. El Norte wears its heart on its sleeve and the film tends toward the melodramatic, but it faithfully mirrors the fear and uncertainty that illegal immigrants face each day and I can forgive its flaws and applaud the loving bond between brother and sister and the strength it produces in their lives.

User comments  from imdb (Page 3) Author: david villalpando (davidvillalpando@yahoo.com) from México, City

¡Viva El Norte! my first picture as an actor.

Fifteen years ago, the indigenous people in Guatemala, were living a cruel extermination that forced them to flee toward Mexico and the United States. This exodus lasted a decade and half a million Guatemalans made the journey to America seeking for asylum and refuge.

In that time, a young Chicano film maker, full of noble idealism, honesty, and with no more resources but his immense talent to tell stories, put his eyes in this tragedy and made the most beautiful epic poem ever filmed about our indigenous nations: El Norte, a picture that gave voice to those that don´t have it.

With El Norte, the spectators of that time became aware, in slambang, of a reality that have been communicated to them mostly through the press, but wich they had never confronted in such hard and frontal manner.

And in some way, El Norte became a powerful fighting element. Grew an audience, searched audiences, left the theatres to tell its truth. Got into the schools, universities, into film festivals, and in every forum that wanted to hear it, and its message was founding echo in the spectators identifyed with the story of the lost paradise of all the poor of the world in which Rosa and Enrique represent millions of young people of any color and continent, starving for security and freedom, those that every day start the search of the lost paradise through hell.

Fifteen years had gone by since the time we made this film, and unfortunately, the story that has been told in El Norte, will have to be told for a long time. We, the latinamericans, are in deep debt with Anna Thomas and Gregory Nava. Thank you for making from this tragedy a masterpice.

Some say that a poem never won a workers strike; this may be true, but it is also true that some poems had helped us to keep the faith, and as long as you have faith, you have not been defeated.

And if you don´t belive me, ask via internet to subcomandante Marcos, who has been fighting five years in Chiapas, México, for the indigenous rights, with no weapon other than his word. And by the way, in many of the towns El Norte was filmed. We thank the people who are helping preserve today our story in order to be shown to the future generations.

PopMatters  Renee Scolaro Rathke

I first saw Gregory Nava's intensely beautiful and painful El Norte when I was sixteen or so. My mother's sister had a copy of the film and she made the entire family watch it, one by one. Although the sociopolitical significance of the film largely escaped me at the time, the devastating sorrow and hopelessness of the story was lost on no one, myself included. For years, my family described the level of any given film's sadness by comparing it to El Norte. In fact, most of us refused, or at least resisted, seeing any film suggested by that aunt again, always a little worried about what kind of heartbreak to which she might be trying to expose us. Today, I watched El Norte again. And then I called my aunt, finally ready -- and anxious -- to discuss it with her, 15 years after that first encounter.

El Norte (The North) tells the story of Enrique (David Villalpando) and Rosa (Zaide Silvia Gutierrez), Guatemalan siblings fleeing their homeland for the safety and promise of the United States, after their father (Ernesto Gomez Cruz) is murdered and their mother (Alicia Del Lago) vanishes, both at the hands of the ruling military regime. Nava (who cowrote the film with Anna Thomas) tells the story in three parts: Part I, "Arturo Xuncax" takes place in San Pedro, Guatemala. Arturo is a coffee bean picker and rebel leader, participating in secret late night meetings with other revolutionaries, speculating about possible assistance they could get from the guerillas. As Arturo explains it to Enrique, they seek political freedom and financial independence: the Guatemalan military backs the wealthy, landed elite, and the poor Mayan Indians are forced to scrape a living by working for the landowners. "To the Rich, the peasant is just a pair of arms," Arturo tells his son. While Enrique initially understands his father to mean the Rich of San Pedro, or maybe the whole of Guatemala, he soon discovers that the condescending attitudes of the "haves" towards the "have nots" exist wherever one goes.

In Part I, Nava captures the breathtaking beauty of the Guatemalan countryside, with its lush green mountainsides draped in a bluish mist, the local people in their brightly colored traditional clothing, and their simple, beautiful homes warmly lit with candles when extended families gather for meals and prayers together. These lovely images and sounds of traditional Mayan music are ruptured by fear and violence, when a rebel meeting is broken up by soldiers and everyone in attendance murdered. The most horrifying assertion of the ruling class's brutal power (after all, the military is the force behind their interests) is Arturo's severed head swinging from a tree.

Following this massacre, the wives of the rebels are rounded up by soldiers, never to be seen again. Enrique and Rosa -- remembering the many stories they've heard about El Norte over the years and recognizing the danger they now face -- decide to make their way towards the supposed Promised Land. They are warned that the journey will be a difficult one, but also encouraged by their belief that in the United States, even the poorest people have luxuries, like houses with refrigerators, flush toilets, and electricity. Their godmother Josefita (Stella Quan) has longed to go North ever since she was a little girl and describes it with a what seems to them, legitimate experience: "I read Good Housekeeping," Josefita explains, "I know plenty." She gives her godchildren money for the journey and they take off on foot to Mexico believing, in Rosa's words, "In the North, we won't be treated this way."

Part II, "El Coyote," follows Rosa and Enrique through Mexico. They make their way to the surreal squalor of Tijuana, where they plan to find a "coyote," or guide. Stepping off the bus, they are greeting by a group of men, loudly selling themselves as the best and cheapest coyotes, and comparing the material comforts of the U.S. to the desperation in Tijuana. The camera illustrates, with a series of fast cuts between between images of the promise of the U.S. (meticulously manicured green lawns, big houses, new cars) and the reality of Tijuana (tin shanties, dirt, filth, beggars). Tijuana is, in the words of one of the coyotes, a "lost city."

Further indicating that the siblings are headed to a new world, Part II features traditional Mariachi music, which today sounds nearly stereotypical, at least from a U.S. perspective, where it plays in every Don Pablo's and Rio Grande Restaurant. Somehow, though, this music works to the film's advantage, reinforcing one of its major themes: Rosa and Enrique have their own stereotyped conceptions of Mexicans, passed on to them by their elders in Guatemala ("Mexicans are always saying 'fuck'") and at the same time are counting on others' expectations ("Try to pretend to be Mexican . . . most people think all Indians look alike"). Likewise, the Mexicans see the Central American refugees as ignorant, unsuspecting peasants. Nava plays on these stereotypes comically: The mariachi music is ever present and every Mexican character Enrique and Rosa encounter peppers his sentences with "fuck." The two try, with varying levels of success, to pass as Mexican. In one of the film's lighter moments, Rosa and Enrique are interrogated by the U.S. Border patrol and nearly fail to convince them that they are Mexican until Enrique starts throwing "fuck" into his sentences. "I guess they are Mexican," the Border Patrolman shrugs. "Send them back to Tijuana." These instances add some much-needed levity to this segment, which also contains what in my book qualifies as one the most horrifying moments in any film I've seen. If you have a greater than average aversion (read: phobia) to rats, you'll want to brace yourself mentally as Rosa and Enrique are convinced by their coyote (Abel Franco) to cross into the U.S. via an abandoned sewer tunnel rather than the riskier mountain route.

Finally, Part III: "El Norte." Rosa and Enrique find themselves nearly destitute but able to rent a place of their own. And the North does indeed have the very amenities Josefita promised: electricity, a refrigerator, running water, a flush toilet. Of course, reality is a far cry from the shiny, modern examples in Good Housekeeping and the irony is not lost on either of them: "Now all we need is to find a brand new car we can have without any money," Rosa laughs. It is the first of many disappointments, some of them easier to swallow than others.

El Norte's rerelease is timely not only because the Guatemalan civil war finally ended last December, after 36 years, but also because the U.S. market is hot, it seems, for all things Latin. It is significant, I think, that seventeen years after El Norte was made, the issues it tackles, the circumstances the protagonists endure, are still recognizable in the U.S. to the point of seeming virtually unchanged. Rosa becomes a housekeeper; Enrique gets a job as a busboy and back-waiter. Today, Chicanos and immigrants are forced into the same "shit-work" as the Central American refugees in Nava's movie. Even as the mainstream U.S. purports to embrace "diversity," entire populations find themselves displaced, dispossessed, and disillusioned by the empty promise of open-armed prosperity. Rosa and Enrique must face the sad reality that their father's hopes for the North have proved hollow: "Life is very hard here," laments Rosa, "We are not free."

Nava's film reinforces that oppression is cyclical and unending in its final images. Enrique, after suffering yet another series of tragedies, stands outside a motel in a crowd of other Latinos, hoping to be picked up for day labor. "I need strong arms!", the foreman calls out as he pulls up in his pickup truck. It is a bitter realization that Arturo's words about the poor being nothing but arms for the rich holds true even in El Norte. As the haunting Mayan traditional music reasserts itself, Enrique jockeys for a position on the truck, holding up his arms to show their strength. It is clear in this heartbreaking moment that in El Norte, they have only traded a familiar oppression for a foreign one.

eFilmCritic Reviews  Slyder

 

El Norte  Ideology and immigration, by Chris List from Jump Cut, March 1989

 

Criterion Confessions [Jamie S. Rich]

 

Slant Magazine [Matt Noller]

 

The QNetwork [James Kendrick]

 

DVD Verdict [Clark Douglas]

 

Epinions [metalluk]

 

eFilmCritic.com   dionwr

 

FilmFanatic.org [Sylvia Stralberg Bagley]

 

Variety.com [Variety Staff]

 

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times  in 1983

 

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times  in 2004

 

DVDBeaver - Blu-ray [Gary W. Tooze]

 
MY FAMILY (Mi Familia)

USA  (128 mi)  1995

 

Movieline Magazine review  Stephen Farber

 

The Perez Family and My Family etch vibrant portraits of Latino culture. Mira Nair, the director of The Perez Family, brings bawdy energy and humor to her panoramic look at the Cuban contingent in Miami. Although Marisa Tomei overdoes her impersonation of a hot-blooded Latin spitfire, the rest of the actors especially Alfred Molina as a sad-sack refugee and Jose Felipe Padron as a streetwise urchin register strongly. The sensual colors and music sweep us along. Gregory Nava's My Family is a tragicomic folktale about several generations of a Mexican family in East Los Angeles, and it shares the same sensual lilt. There's fiery passion in the performances of Jimmy Smits, Esai Morales, Jenny Gago and Elpidia Carrilo.

 

Time Out review

 

Nava's first film since A Time of Destiny, written with his wife and collaborator Anna Thomas, and produced under the auspices of Francis Coppola, is an ambitious saga charting 60 years and three generations of the Sanchez family. Nava exacerbates the structural problems posed by the time-frame by relying too heavily on a folksy voice-over and by adapting his mise-en-scène to the decades, so that the 1920s sequence, in which paterfamilias Jose walks from Mexico to Los Angeles, is relayed in a mystic, misty-eyed style, complete with DW Griffith optical effects. Survive this (and it's a chore), and things come into sharper focus in the '50s, where scenes of teen angst - the death of young tearaway Chucho (Morales) at the hands of the police - are rendered in bold, saturated compositions which inevitably recall gang movies of the period. By the late '70s, the film's fragments of love, pain, anger and injustice are really beginning to add up, particularly in impassioned scenes between youngest son Jimmy (Smits) and illegal immigrant Isabel (Carrillo, a revelation here). It's shapeless, but there's iron in its soul.

 

Tucson Weekly (Zachary Woodruff) review

 

MY FAMILY IS the type of movie that plays out better in one's memory than in the actual theater. A bountiful melodrama covering 50 years of a Mexican family's life in East Los Angeles, the story has important things to say about Hispanic-American history, cultural evolution and assimilation, the unending fight to hold on to values and traditions, and much more. But the entire picture is swathed in an unrelenting sentimentality that often waters down its effectiveness.

A colorful, epic-scale production, My Family is the latest effort from director Gregory Nava and Producer Anna Thomas, the writing-filmmaking team who brought us the independently made El Norte. That film, with its unflinching portrait of two Guatemalans who endure incredible hardship to reach Los Angeles, only to discover that their struggles are only beginning, was one of the most powerful films of 1983. (Who can forget the terror of the scene when the duo find themselves crawling through a half-mile tunnel full of rats?) This time, with a much larger budget at their disposal, Nava and Thomas have opted for a more storybook, soft-focus approach, where even the darkest moments feel sanitized.

Not that the movie's tone shouldn't be somewhat sentimental. After all, this is a tale about family, told from the perspective of one of its members, Paco (with a narrative voice provided by Edward James Olmos). Paco's fond commentary is most welcome during the opening scenes, when the family's parents are introduced. In whimsical, almost magical-realist terms, we learn that the father, Jose Sanchez (Jacob Vargas), spent a year strolling to Los Angeles during the late '20s ("Those days, the border was just a line in the dirt," Paco explains warmly.) In a scenario eerily reminiscent of El Norte, Jose's marriage to Maria (Jennifer Lopez), a local maid, was almost cut short when U.S. officials placed Maria and several hundred other Hispanics on a train bound for Central America. It took her two years to return. "All these things really happened," Paco says, as if anticipating a young audience's disbelief.

But Paco's narration soon becomes part of the film's larger weakness. Not only does My Family begin telling us things we already know (at a key dramatic moment, Maria sees a symbolic owl and actually says, "An owl? In daytime?" to herself), the movie also starts telling us sweet lies. During My Family's second segment, set during the '50s, we are introduced to Chucho, a Sanchez son who runs drugs, leads a gang and has a great personality. When Chucho kills an enemy during a knife fight at a sock-hop, the murder is presented as a sad accident. But when a pursuing cop shoots Chucho, he might as well be the devil incarnate: "We got him! Woo wee!" the cop can be heard shouting, just before beating the crying father with his baton.

What's the point in presenting Chucho, who is obviously supposed to represent a soul fallen from grace because he rejected his parents' values, as guilt-free? This only softens the message, and the disparity between his portrayal and the cop's leaves the viewer with the bitter aftertaste of reverse racism.

My Family partially makes up for this misstep during its third and final segment, set during the '80s. The film allows that whites have made progress in a brief scene showing a WASPy woman (Mary Steenburgen) defending her El Salvadoran housekeeper's right to pursue as much happiness as anybody else. And the purpose of the film's previous two sections becomes clear as the narrative shifts its focus to Jimmy (Jimmy Smits), the youngest son, whose bad attitude has left him an ex-con with an uncertain future. Jimmy's internal battle becomes the third part of a triptych that began with Jose (a committed family man and worker) and then moved to Chucho (a drug dealer who has absorbed too much American greed). Though Jimmy's eventual place in the movie's triptych amounts to little more than a reaffirmation of family values and tradition, Smits' charismatic performance gives it surprising weight.

On reflection, the clever construction of My Family makes for exquisite storytelling. The film leaves you with a wonderful sense of Mexican-American family history, and provides plenty of small details to remember it by (my personal favorite: a scene when the mother, now middle-aged, becomes hysterically emotional over the plot of one of those Telemundo soap operas). But as entertainment, the picture often falls short. Characters repeatedly come and go for no other reason than that that's what people in families tend to do, and the viewing experience is not unlike listening to someone paging through the random events of his photo album. Most damaging, the filmmakers' overzealous sentimentalism never subsides. (The fact that the house where most of the action takes place is surrounded by corn becomes all too appropriate.) My Family has a lot going for it, but if they'd taken away some of that corn it wouldn't have hurt.

ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [3.5/4]

 

DVD Verdict  David Gutierrez

 

Alberto Castillo review

 

Women's Studies, University of Maryland (by McAlister)  Linda Lopez McAlister

 

DVD Talk (das Monkey) dvd review [2/5]

 

Movie House Commentary  Johnny Web

 

Edward Copeland on Film

 

The Aztlán Film Institute's top 100 films   Chon Noriega from Jump Cut, December 1998

 

Entertainment Weekly review [B+]  Lisa Schwarzbaum

 

Variety (Todd McCarthy) review

 

Washington Post (Rita Kempley) review

 

Austin Chronicle (Alison Macor) review [2.5/5]

 

San Francisco Chronicle (Peter Stack) review

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [4/4]

 

The New York Times (Caryn James) review

 
SELENA

USA  (127 mi)  1997  ‘Scope

 

Rolling Stone  Peter Travers

 

Jennifer Lopez excels as Selena, the Tejano singing sensation from south Texas who was shot and killed in 1995 at age 23 by Yolanda Saldivar, the president of her fan club. Director Gregory Nava, justly acclaimed for El Norte, had worked with Lopez in My Family/Mi Familia. He knew that this dancer (TV's In Living Color) and actress (Blood and Wine) had the talent and commitment to give Selena her due. What a shame, then, that Nava's script strands her in such dramatically shallow waters.


Lopez struts onstage in Selena's famous bustiers and boots, lip-syncs to the Tejano songs (a mix of polka, rock, pop, R & B and Latin) that made Selena a Hispanic idol and hits the career high points that led to a Grammy Award in life and international stardom in death.


The private Selena is absent. Not so mysteriously, since Nava, working in tandem with Selena's father -- executive producer Abraham Quintanilla Jr. -- wants a hagiography, not a biography. After Selena defies Abraham (a stolid Edward James Olmos) by marrying guitarist Chris Perez (Jon Seda), her life is conflict-free until Yolanda, fired after accusations of embezzling, shoots Selena in the back at a Texas motel.


Nava doesn't show the murder or much of Yolanda ("She doesn't deserve it," he has stated). Selena's Secret, a new book by TV journalist Maria Celeste Arrarßs, suggests that Selena's marriage was floundering. There's none of that, either, nor should there be. Scandal isn't what this movie needs.

 

Missing is a sense of the interior life behind the smiling face that Selena showed the world. What of the drive that led her to music? What comfort did she find in it? What pain? In one scene at a concert in Mexico, the crowd nearly crushes the stage on which Selena and her band are playing. Lopez is allowed to show a flash of fear, a recognizable human emotion. Nava has said that Selena is meant to be "life affirming." How can it be when life -- the vital mess of it -- is what this misguided elegy leaves out?

 

filmcritic.com (Don Willmott) review [3.5/5]

 

The short life of Tejano superstar Selena Quintanilla-Perez ended in 1995 when the 23-year-old was gunned down by her own assistant. Young, beautiful, newly married, and beloved by millions of music fans, Selena was at the height of her popularity and was making inroads into the mainstream American pop market when it all came to that tragic end. What a biography. And what a screenplay.

Two years after Selena's death, writer/director Gregory Nava brought Selena to the screen with Jennifer Lopez bravely taking on the challenge of appearing in almost every scene, doing all that dancing, and lip-synching all those songs. It was a triumph for the actress that 10 years later she has yet to surpass.

Told in typical episodic biopic style, with every major life event compressed into a three-minute bite, Selena's story begins when, as a little girl (Becky Lee Meza), she watches her father's (Edward James Olmos) doo-wop group struggle on the road across Texas. With his long-suffering wife (Constance Marie) and his other kids along for the ride, things start to look up when young Selena joins the band, wowing crowds with her precocious Tejano talent. What a cutie!

By the time she's a teen, Selena has turned into a voluptuous yet sweet bombshell and is on her way to becoming a breakout star but struggles with the fact that she's American and doesn't speak Spanish, not the best background for someone catering to Mexican-American and Spanish-speaking demographic. As she puts it, she has to be American enough to appeal to Americans and Spanish enough to appeal to everyone else. She learns Spanish to charm Mexican journalists, and before long she's a gorgeous 20-year-old in front of a tight band cranking out Spanish-language hits and touring to huge crowds. Confident enough to calm rowdy audiences of thousands on the state fair circuit, she's a real pro, albeit one with a truly tacky sense of fashion.

Selena eventually falls for the guitar player in her band, Chris Perez (Jon Seda), and marries him against her father's wishes. It's very romantic. But the love won't last. Just as Selena is finally charting in English on the American charts, her assistant and fan club president Yolanda Saldivar (Lupe Ontiveros) shoots her in the wake of accusations of financial wrongdoing.

With lots of drama, a great soundtrack, and solid performances all around, especially from Lopez, Selena races by enjoyably and builds to a conclusion that's shocking even though you know it's coming. Tacking on a maudlin slideshow of the real Selena does a bit of a disservice to Lopez. Though this practice was long fashionable with musical biographies, there's no need for an exercise in comparing and contrasting, especially when you're wiping tears from your eyes.

The 10th anniversary DVD includes new featurettes, deleted scenes, and an extended cut of the film (adding about seven minutes of footage) on a separate disc.

 

Richard Harrington  The Washington Post

"Selena," a loving, reverential bio-film about the young Tejano singing star Selena Quintanilla Perez, is "A Star Is Born" with several twists.

First, it's a rags-to-riches journey with a Mexican American perspective, something seldom represented in mainstream movies. Second, it's not about a pop star who is self-destructive. Finally, it is a drama with a singular tragedy -- Selena's murder at age 23 by the president of her fan club.

Written and directed by Gregory Nava ("El Norte," "My Family/Mi Familia"), "Selena" arrives in theaters almost exactly two years after the slaying. Hers is a story of small struggles of class and culture, musical challenges, romantic dilemmas and family identity. That it serves up no dark secrets seems due less to the sanitizing machinations of Abraham Quintanilla -- Selena's father as well as the film's executive producer and guardian of the singer's image -- than to the facts of her life.

Quintanilla, who groomed Selena for stardom from age 9 and managed her escalating career, is portrayed with gruff ambition by Edward James Olmos. But the film rightfully belongs to Jennifer Lopez, who captures Selena's luminous beauty, innate sweetness and boundless energy. Though she lip-syncs the vocals to the real Selena's voice, Lopez easily captures the joyful physical energy of a pop diva more indebted to Madonna than to Lydia Mendoza.

"Selena" starts with the singer's last and biggest show (61,000 people in Houston's Astrodome), just a month before her death. The opening medley -- including Gloria Gaynor's disco anthems "I Will Survive" and "The Last Dance" -- represents the unimaginative mainstream pop that paralleled the more vibrant Tejano style that made Selena a star. The irony is that the Texas-born singer didn't speak Spanish and had to learn her Tejano repertoire phonetically.

As "Selena" acknowledges in flashback, Abraham Quintanilla's dreams were rooted in the early '60s failure of his fledgling doo-wop trio, the Dinos. Twenty years later, when he noticed Selena's precocious vocal talent, Quintanilla hitched the family wagon to her star, with sister Suzette on drums, brother Abie on bass and himself as manager/bus driver for Selena y Los Dinos. The early family travails recounted here are Brady Bunch-cute, carried mostly by the sweet performance of Becky Lee Meza as young Selena. Sitting on the roof, she tells her sister, "I'm looking up at the moon and dreaming." You smile even as you cringe at the corniness of it all.

At first, Selena's material is pop- and oldies-oriented, all in English. It's only later that Abraham introduces Spanish-language material to reach a wider Tejano audience. By her mid-teens, Selena was on her way to becoming the first female star in Tejano music, a frothy, danceable meld of Mexican ranchera, polka, country, pop and Colombian cumbia. It wasn't just her singing that made Selena a star, but her crowd-pleasing stage presence, itself a mix of down-home earthiness and flirty sensuality.

The film's many musical scenes can be riveting. But "Selena" is less concert film than family drama, particularly focusing on Selena's struggles with her father after she falls in love with, and eventually marries, her guitarist Chris Perez (heartthrob Jon Seda). Their delicate, halting relationship is charmingly outlined, and there are genuine sparks between Lopez and Seda, who seem giddy and clumsy in ways totally appropriate to their youth.

In the months before her death, Selena had made her first English-language recordings and seemed on the verge of realizing her crossover dreams. It's impossible to predict her true prospects, since death provided Selena immediate mainstream entry ("Dreaming of You," a mostly English album released three months after her murder, sold 3 million copies). Though English was her true language, she did not yet have the vocal presence there that marked her Tejano offerings. What's heard in "Selena" and on its accompanying soundtrack does little to upgrade that impression: The film's most vibrant musical moments are when Selena is singing such Tejano hits as "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom," "Como La Flor" and "Baila Esta Cumbia."

Regardless of her crossover prospects, Selena's accomplishments were considerable. Not only was she the first female star in Tejano music, but her appeal was so broad that she attracted fans in the splintered Spanish-language music world far beyond her original Tex-Mex constituency. Music was a major part of that, but so was Selena's role-model image as a self-confident beauty who worked hard to achieve her dream and yet managed to remain genuine. At its best, "Selena" suggests why so many people reacted with such great heartbreak to her death.

SELENA  ¡Siempre Selena! by Chuck Kleinhans from Jump Cut, December 1998

Slate [Sarah Kerr]

 

Linda Lopez McAlister (c/o inforM Women's Studies) review

 

Scott Renshaw review [5/10]

 

ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [3.5/4]

 

Philadelphia City Paper (Cindy Fuchs) review

 

Film Scouts (Leslie Rigoulot) capsule review

 

Crazy for Cinema (Lisa Skrzyniarz) review

 

DVD Talk (Don Houston) dvd review [3/5] [10th Anniversary Special Edition]

 

Movie Habit (Marty Mapes) review [3/4]

 

Mike's Midnight Movie Reviews review  Michael J. Doyle

 

Movie Magazine International review  Monica Sullivan

 

Entertainment Weekly review [B-]  Lisa Schwarzbaum

 

Variety (Todd McCarthy) review

 

The Boston Phoenix review  Alicia Potter

 

Eric Brace  The Washington Post

 

Austin Chronicle (Russell Smith) review [2.5/5]

 

San Francisco Examiner (Walter Addiego) review

 

San Francisco Chronicle (Edward Guthmann) review

 

Los Angeles Times (Kenneth Turan) review

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [3.5/4]

 

The New York Times (Stephen Holden) review

 

Nebbou, Safy
 
THE GIRAFFE’S NECK                             B+                   93
France  Belgium  (84 mi)  2004
 

An intelligent, exquisitely crafted film that gets better as it goes on, featuring the always extraordinary Sandrine Bonnaire as the overly serious divorced mother who is seen mildly browbeating her nine-year old daughter Mathilde to keep up with her studies, as her concentration apparently drifts off from time to time.  The film is centered around the curiosity of the child, in a remarkably appealing performance by Lousi Pili, whose neverending inquisitive energy drives this film, seen visiting her grandfather (Claude Rich) in a retirement home, seen reading secret letters which she finds stashed under her bed which tells her that someone’s not telling her the truth.  She’s been told that her grandmother, her mother’s mother has been dead all these years, but she finds tender letters that she wrote searching for her unseen granddaughter, Mathilde.  The look of the film is dreary and awash in gray tones or dar