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Posts Tagged ‘Japan’


Review: Godzilla (1954) and Stray Dog


Directed by Ishiro Honda.
Starring Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura and Fuyuki Murakami.

Stray Dog

Directed by Akira Kurosawa.
Starring Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Awaji and Eiko Miyoshi.

Although Godzilla creator and producer Tomoyuki Tanaka lifted monster-sized elements from King Kong (1933) and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), an early film featuring effects by Ray Harryhausen (Clash of the Titans), the immediate inspiration for Godzilla was a 1954 incident in which a fishing boat called the Lucky Dragon was scorched by an American H-bomb test, seriously burning several of the crew and causing the eventual death of its radio operator from radiation poisoning — clearly the reference point for the opening scene of the original 1954 Japanese Godzilla in which Godzilla’s attack on a small boat appears only as a flash of light.

Science fiction writer Shigeru Kayama, along with screenwriters Ishiro Honda (who also directed) and Takeo Murata, extended the metaphor a bit by paralleling many scenes of death and destruction in Godzilla’s wake with the aftermath of the H-bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, using images of a flattened, burning town and hospitals overflowing with people. These images vividly recall what little documentary footage I’ve seen of the Hiroshima aftermath (to be specifc, the stock footage used in the first 20 minutes of Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour), but pretending that the film’s deeper meaning is much more complicated than “H-bomb testing is bad” is giving the filmmakers a little more credit than they deserve.


Review: Yasujiro Ozu, Part Two (The Story of Floating Weeds and Early Summer)

Yasujiro Ozu’s oeuvre continues to grace screens at the Gene Siskel Film Center for the next few weeks. Among the upcoming films are The Story of Floating Weeds and Early Summer, which are also available in terrific Criterion Collection releases. Other upcoming highlights include Late Autumn (starring Ozu mainstay Setsuko Hara) and An Autumn Afternoon, Ozu’s final film.


Review: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki.
Starring Sumi Shimamoto, Mahito Tsujimura, Hisako Kyôda, Gorô Naya, Ichirô Nagai and Kôhei Miyauchi.

Most of the geeky kids of my generation were introduced to feature-length Japanese animation with Katsuhiro Otomo’s apocalyptic Akira, a stunning apocalyptic masterpiece. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, my own introduction to it was when I was in the sixth grade or thereabouts. Lazing about the house one afternoon, I noticed that an animated feature called Warriors of the Wind was playing on HBO in a few minutes, so — budding animation buff that I was — I decided to give it a try. To put it mildly, it blew my little brain out the back of my skull.

I had never before seen anything even remotely like it. I couldn’t have. American cartoons were nothing like this. There were Disney cartoons, amusing fluff like Smurfs and embarrassing garbage like The Last Unicorn. Even action cartoons like Transformers (which I didn’t realize was also Japanese until many years later), G.I. Joe and the sadly short-lived Dungeons & Dragons were so kiddie-fied that even as I watched them, I knew they weren’t even remotely on the same level as Star Wars or other live-action films. Warriors of the Wind was on an entirely different level: it was an animated film for people with brains.


Review: Yasujiro Ozu, Part One (Tokyo Story and Good Morning)

Twenty-five of the 33 surviving features by Yasujiro Ozu comprise the current retrospective of the brilliant Japanese filmmaker’s career at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

So far, I’ve only seen the five available in four Criterion Collection DVD sets (Tokyo Story, Good Morning, Early Summerand Stories of Floating Weeds, containing The Story of Floating Weeds and its remake, Floating Weeds). Although, if I ever get over this wretched cold, I hope to see a few more at the Siskel Film Center in the coming weeks. Each film I’ve seen has been a touching portrait of a Japanese family (or families), beautifully told.

I encourage you to see any of them that you can, particularly those that are not available on DVD, since it may be the only chance you get for some time. But since I can only properly discuss those films I’ve seen, I’ll be touching on Tokyo Story and Good Morning in this column, to coincide with their upcoming screenings at the Siskel Film Center. Next month, I’ll talk about The Story of Floating Weeds and Early Summer, to more closely coincide with those films’ screenings.