Masterful Japanese Films – The Boston Globe

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Picking the five best Japanese movies is like picking the five best movies of all time: kinda silly. You can simply choose five films by Kenji Mizoguchi, which is the subject of an ongoing retrospective at the Harvard Film Archive (until June 23). Or Yasujirô Ozu, or Akira Kurosawa, or Hiroshi Teshigahara, or Hirokazu Kore-eda, all of which are included below.

Setsuko Hara and Chishu Ryu in a scene from the movie “LATE SPRING”, directed by Yasujiro Ozu. PHOTO CREDIT: Film Society of Lincoln Center Library Tag 03282004 Arts & Entertainment 01cinemaniaFilm Society of Lincoln Center / Library / New York Times

Ozu’s “Tokyo Story” is on everyone’s list, but reviewer Brett Michel prefers “Late Spring” for its “finer pleasures.” He adds: “The main performances of Chishû Ryû and Setsuko Hara as a widowed father and a daughter who is afraid to leave him are two of the greatest in all of cinema. The final scene without words [with] Ryû peeling an apple in his empty house remains one of the most heartbreaking on screen.

THIS FILE HAS RESTRICTIONS !!!  Toshirô Mifune and Machiko Kyô in Akira Kurosawa's 1950 film RASHOMON. Play at the Film Forum 05/29 - 11/6, 2009 Credit: Janus Films.  23rashomon 01cinemania
THIS FILE HAS RESTRICTIONS !!! Toshirô Mifune and Machiko Kyô in Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film RASHOMON. Play at the Film Forum 05/29 – 11/6, 2009 Credit: Janus Films. 23rashomon 01cinemaniaJanus Films

One of the few films to have an “effect” that bears its name, it also introduced the West to Japanese cinema and Toshiro Mifune. He plays the boastful samurai who contributes to one of the four conflicting eyewitness accounts of a crime. With Kurosawa’s exhilarating recreation from every perspective, who can tell which one is true?

Few ghost stories are as haunting as this tale of two potters in a war-torn world who see chaos as an opportunity to improve their stations. The brides aren’t keen on the idea, but the two leave anyway. Their triumphs turn out to be illusory, and then some, just like the lives they left behind. One of Mizoguchi’s lightest films.

KYOKO KISHIDA (wife) and EIJI OKADA in the 1964 film "WOMAN IN THE DUNES," directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara.  Film from our Teshigahara series, which we will screen on Friday March 17th;  Saturday March 18;  and Sunday March 19 with a new impression.  Photo credit: Toho Company 01cinemania
KYOKO KISHIDA (female) and EIJI OKADA in the 1964 movie “WOMAN IN THE DUNES”, directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara. Film from our Teshigahara series, which we will screen on Friday March 17th; Saturday March 18; and Sunday March 19 with a new impression. Photo credit: Toho Company 01cinemaniaToho Company

Woman in the Dunes (1964)

Once you’ve watched Teshigahara’s elusive, allegorical fever dream about an entomologist who finds himself trapped in a pit with the titular woman, you’ll find it hard to shake it. Kind of a combination of “The Myth of Sisyphus”, “No Way Out” and the worst relationship you’ve ever had.

Makiko Esumi as Yumiko in 'Maborosi', 1995, directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda.  The film is part of
Makiko Esumi as Yumiko in ‘Maborosi’, 1995, directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda. The film is part of “Tenth Anniversary Tribute: Milestone Film & Video” at the Walter Reade Theater at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. The series runs August 9-24, 2000. 0808rpPHOTO CREDIT – Film Society of Lincoln Center – Original IPTC Information: Caption: Makiko Esumi as Yumiko in ‘Maborosi’, 1995, directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda. The film is part of “Tenth Anniversary Tribute: Milestone Film & Video” at the Walter Reade Theater at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. The series runs from August 9 to 24, 2000 Posted in NYT 11/08/00 – WEEKEND section Posted caption: Makiko Esumi stars in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s ” Maborosi ”, one of the films included in a tribute anniversary at Milestone Film and video. (Film Society of Lincoln Center) – 04koreeda Library Tag 02042005 Weekend 01cinemaniaLincoln Center Film Company

Looking at the previous four entries, I notice that the most recent is 50 years ago. To get us up to speed, I bring back Japanese film expert Brett Michel, who says Kore-eda’s feature debut is a “hypnotically-paced portrait of a young widow who remarries and [is unable to] reconnect with the living. This discreet masterpiece marked the arrival of a major talent.

June 6 marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day; which films best honor those who fought in Europe during WWII? And looking forward to June 15, now that we’re deep into the blockbuster season, what’s been the best summer movie ever? (And it must be better than “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”) Vote at www.boston.com/cinemania.


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