Mrs. Noisy (ミセス・ノイズィ, Chihiro Amano, 2019)

“Cases involving two parties must be viewed from differing angles” according to a lawyer trying to point out why a case that was cast iron days before is now a non-starter. Most of us know it’s a bad idea to judge people on appearances, but few of us have made the leap to acknowledging that it’s wrong to judge people at all, especially when you don’t and can’t know what’s happening in other people’s lives. Being self-involved is hardly a crime, but if it’s a bad quality in a human being it’s an unforgivable sin in a writer, which is why the heroine of Chihiro Amano’s Mrs. Noisy (ミセス・ノイズィ), apparently inspired by an early viral video phenomenon, is struggling to overcome a nasty case of writer’s block. 

Some years ago, under a pen name, novelist Maki (Yukiko Shinohara) made a name for herself with an award-winning book. After giving birth to her daughter, Nako (Chise Niitsu), she swore motherhood wouldn’t slow her down but six years later she’s published nothing of note. After moving to a new apartment with her freelance musician husband Yuichi (Takuma Nagao), Maki hopes to kick her writing career back into gear but an immediate spanner is thrown in the works by a strange noise early in the morning that turns out to be the old woman next-door furiously beating her futon. Maki asks her to stop, but her impatience only gets her neighbour’s back up and starts an ongoing conflict that only worsens after Nako, feeling neglected by her mother’s dedication to her work, wanders off and the neighbour, Miwako (Yoko Ootaka), accompanies her to the park. 

Later, we’re shown things from Miwako’s point of view and realise that when she said there were “reasons” she was out beating a futon at 6am she was telling the truth. Not only that, she tried to explain but was abruptly cut off by an impatient Maki who was not in the mood to listen. It doesn’t help that the Japanese word for “bugs” also means “ignore”, but many of the upcoming problems could have been resolved with a little more patience and politeness, which is something Maki decided she didn’t need to bother with in deciding not to go around introducing herself to her new neighbours as is the usual custom.  

Likewise, when Yuichi abruptly announces he can’t watch Nako the following day as planned, it’s easy enough to think he’s being unreasonable, letting his wife down and implying his career’s more important than hers, but that rather ignores the fact that his explanation is perfectly reasonable in that freelancers cannot (in contrary to popular opinion) dictate when and where they work, and that he offers to keep Nako occupied that evening instead so Maki can meet her deadline. As time wears on, we start to doubt Maki’s sense of subjectivity, realising that she’s begun to blame all of her problems on the old woman next door whom she doesn’t even really know. 

Of course, there are other conflicts, social and generational differences. To a woman of Miwako’s age, it seems “common sense” for an older woman to look after a little girl who seems lonely, in the same way it seems “common sense” that’s it’s wasteful to throw out perfectly good food just because it’s slightly misshapen, but then the world is not as accepting of “common sense” as it likes to think it is. To Maki, a younger woman not used to living in a tight knit community, it seems inappropriate to take someone else’s child to the park without checking with them first. Admittedly, Nako’s claim that Miwako’s husband (Taiichi Miyazaki) gave her a bath (not quite what happened) also sets alarm bells ringing, as perhaps it should, but again could have been settled with much less acrimony if it weren’t for an unfortunate personality clash between the two women in which Miwako offers some “common sense” advice that Maki herself is to blame for her daughter wandering off, touching a nerve in Maki’s conflicted sense of maternity that sees her cruelly firing back and drawing something of a battle line. 

Perhaps unpredictably, Yuichi sides with Miwako, pointing out that whatever Maki says, the fact remains that Nako wandered off because she felt neglected. Maki’s mother (Yuki Kazamatsuri) tells her that she needs to pay more attention to her husband and family, be more of a “wife” and make an effort with the housework, which sounds like old-fashioned sexism and perhaps it is but there’s also truth in it in that Maki really is only thinking about herself. Her editor too tries to guide her to a self-realisation that will reinvigorate her writing career, but she remains blinkered and obtuse. Maki decides Miwako is a batty old woman, and takes bad advice from her get rich quick cousin (Masanari Wada) to use her as a model for a story which becomes a big hit with a new, younger editor who selects it as a serialised column in a magazine for young people where its snarky mean-spiritedness finds a natural audience. Her cousin even uploads a video of the two women comically fighting on the balcony which goes viral and sends sales through the roof. But the meanness of the new, online world is something which cannot be controlled and can have terrible, unforeseen consequences when ordinary people become the focus of malicious rumour and painful ridicule. 

Even so, Maki takes a long time to see the light. She bristles when her editor tells her that her work is shallow, but fails to understand that the cause of its shallowness is her own unwillingness to engage with the world around her. “Following the surface of things is pointless” he tells her, only by taking the time to understand others can she write with true authenticity. Maki assumed Miwako was a horrible old woman after seeing her swipe offerings from a roadside shrine, only to later realise that she in fact replaces them every day (and perhaps it was her who put those cute little clothes on the statues to keep them warm). You can’t know what’s going on in other people’s lives, but if you don’t take an interest eventually people will stop taking an interest in you. 


Mrs. Noisy screens as the Opening Night movie of this year’s CinemAsia Film Festival on 4th March where the director Chihiro Amano will be in attendance to present the film.

Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020 Announces Complete Lineup

The Osaka Asian Film Festival returns for its 15th edition from 6th to 15th March bringing with it some of the best in recent East Asian Cinema. This year’s edition will open with the Malaysian film The Garden of Evening Mists starring Hiroshi Abe as a reclusive Japanese gardener, and close with the anthology movie Kamata Prelude featuring four segments helmed by Japanese indie directors Ryutaro Nakagawa, Mayu Akiyama, Yuka Yasukawa, and Hirobumi Watanabe.

China

  • Better Days – Derek Tsang’s Soul Mate followup stars Zhou Dongyu as a bullied young woman bonding with a bad boy played by boyband superstar Jackson Yee. Review.
  • Spring Tide – a repressed journalist is caught between her old school loyal to the party mother and cheerful daughter Yang Lina’s familial drama.
  • Wisdom Tooth – the close relationship between a brother and sister is threatened by his new girlfriend, her undocumented status, and a suspicious death at sea.

Hong Kong

  • Apart – melancholy student activist drama running from the Umbrella Movement to the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill protests.
  • Fagara – a young woman discovers the existence of two half-sisters, one from Taiwan and the other mainland China, following the death of her estranged father. Review.
  • The Fallen – the daughter of a drug kingpin comes home with revenge on her mind in Lee Cheuk-pan’s G Affairs followup.
  • My Prince Edward – a woman working at a bridal shop has met her Prince Charming and wants to get married, the only problem being the sham marriage she was paid to take part in several years previously.

Indonesia

(C)PT Screenplay Sinema Film
  • Hit & Run – action comedy in which a celebrity policeman reality TV star is teamed up with a conman to catch a drug kingpin who has recently escaped from prison.

Japan

  • Good-bye – a young woman quits her job to work part-time in a nursery and bonds with the father of one of the kids.
  • For Rei – an introverted young woman dreams of meeting her absent father.
  • Kamata Prelude – Four-part anthology film directed by Ryutaro Nakagawa, Mayu Akiyama, Yuka Yasukawa, and Hirobumi Watanabe.
  • Kontora – a young woman uses her grandfather’s wartime diary to look for buried treasure in Ansul Chauhan’s Bad Poetry Tokyo followup.
  • The Modern Lovers – a married salaryman with a baby on the way reconnects with an ex.
  • The Murders of Oiso – the everyday lives of four construction workers in a small town are thrown into disarray by the murder of their former teacher.
  • On the Edge of Their Seats – high school drama adapted from a stage play set on the bleachers of a baseball game.
  • Naked Uncle – a failed actor returns to his hometown and tries to reconnect with his resentful brother.
  • Reiko and the Dolphin – family drama from pink director Shinji Imaoka in which a young couple try to come to terms with the loss of their daughter in the devastating earthquake which struck Kobe in 1995.
  • setsuko – continuation of the fantasy drama series from Zon Pilone which imagines a pre-war love triangle between actress Setsuko Hara and legendary directors Sadao Nakajima and Yasujiro Ozu.
  • Woman of the Photographs – a model with a disfiguring scar asks a photographer to retouch her photos but begins to feel conflicted about misrepresenting herself.
  • VIDEOPHOBIA – latest from Daisuke Miyazaki in which a young woman discovers that she has become the victim of revenge porn.
  • Yan – a young man is compelled to take a message to his estranged older brother in Taiwan whom he hasn’t seen since the end of their parents’ marriage.

Korea

  • Birthday – powerful drama following a family bereaved by the Sewol ferry tragedy. Review. (screening with Japanese subtitles only)
  • Children Gone to Poland – documentary exploring the little known story of children evacuated to Poland during the Korean War.
  • House of Hummingbird – a young girl’s perspective widens when she connects with her enigmatic Chinese teacher. Review. (screening with Japanese subtitles only)
  • Lucky Chan-sil – film producer Chan-sil finds herself unemployed after the director she’d been working with suddenly dies, taking a job as a cleaning lady for an actress and bonding with a handsome French teacher.
  • Malmoe The Secret Mission – an illiterate crook teams up with a man from a wealthy, pro-Japanese family to compile a Korean dictionary during the Colonial era in which the Korean language was banned. (screening with Japanese subtitles only)
  • Sunshine Family – a Filipino family living in Korea finds itself in a difficult situation after the father knocks someone over in a hit and run.
  • Way Back Home – a woman’s peaceful family life is threatened when she receives a call to say the man who raped her ten years previously has been apprehended.

Malaysia

(c)2019 ASTRO SHAW, HBO ASIA, FINAS, CJ ENTERTAINMENT ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
  • The Garden of Evening Mists – a young Malayasian woman travels to meet a reclusive Japanese gardener to ask him to design a memorial for her sister but ends up becoming his apprentice.

Philippines

  • Babae at Baril (The Girl with the Gun) – a saleswoman finds a gun on her doorstep and decides to use it to take revenge on a patriarchal society.
  • LSS(Last Song Syndrome) – two young people are repeatedly brought together by the music of Ben and Ben in this indie romance.
  • Metamorphosis – drama exploring the lives of intersex people.
  • Write about Love – rom-com in which an aspiring female screenwriter gets her screenplay greenlit but only on the condition she teams up with a male veteran to “improve” it.

Taiwan

  • The Gangs, the Oscars, and the Walking Dead – madcap comedy in which two aspiring filmmakers end up making a zombie film with a gangster who insists that his wife play the leading role.
  • Heavy Craving – a lunch lady hoping to lose weight strikes up unexpected friendships with a deliveryman and cross-dressing student. Review.
  • Miss Andy – a transgender woman takes in a woman and her child after they escape from an abusive relationship.
  • Nobody – a grumpy old man bonds with a teenage girl after she breaks into his apartment to spy on her dad whom she suspects is having an affair.
  • Your Name Engraved Herein – drama set in 1988 in which two boys fall in love but struggle to find acceptance in a changing society.

Thailand

(C)2019 GDH 559 Co., Ltd.
  • Happy Old Year – a young woman’s conflicted feelings about the end of her relationship are revived while attempting to have a clean out in the latest from Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit.

The Osaka Asian Film Festival runs from 6th to 15th March at venues across the city. Full details for all the films as well as ticketing links are available via the official website. You can also keep up with all the latest details by following the festival on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

Farewell to Dream (夕やけ雲, Keisuke Kinoshita, 1956)

Does adulthood mean the death of dreams, or simply accommodation with disappointment? Yoichi (Shinji Tanaka), the cheerfully romantic hero of Keisuke Kinoshita’s Farewell to Dream (夕やけ雲, Yuyake-gumo), has made his peace with “losing” out in the great game of life, comforting himself in working hard to provide for others while becoming good at what he does, but keeping one eye always on the past and the boy he once was whose horizons were boundless and future untethered. 

In his chipper yet somehow poetic opening monologue, 20-year-old Yoichi introduces us to the family fishmonger’s he runs with his mother. If he says so himself, standards have improved since his father’s day and he’s done quite well for himself. His mother even jokes about finding him a wife, but that’s a long way off. To show us how he got here, he picks up his binoculars, a present from an uncle who sailed away and never came back, to show us “the last chapter of his youth, full of innocent dreams”. At 16, Yoichi dreamed of becoming a sailor, staring out over the horizon and catching sight of a beautiful woman in a distant window far on the other side of town. He lives with his parents and three younger siblings, while his older sister Toyoko (Yoshiko Kuga) has an office job that supplements the family income seeing as there’s not much money in fishmongering. 

Yoichi describes his sister as beautiful yet cold. No one can quite believe such a fantastic beauty was born to a lowly family of fishmongers with a back alley shop in a small town, but her beauty has made her cruel and avaricious. She wants out of poverty and she doesn’t much care what she has to do to escape it. She knows the easiest way, and in real terms perhaps the only way, is to attach herself to a man of means, which is why she’s just agreed to marry a man named Sudo (Takahiro Tamura) who comes from a wealthy family and is head over heels in love with her. When he tells her that his family business has collapsed and he’s no more money, she abruptly calls the engagement off and begins courting her widowed boss, eventually marrying him despite the fact that it’s a second marriage and he’s more than twice her age. 

Toyoko may just be playing the only cards she’s been dealt, but she’s also a personification of selfish post-war individualism. She only cares about herself, has no real sense of morality, and a total disregard for the feelings of others. Sudo, who for some reason truly seems to have loved her, cannot let her go, turning up on her wedding day to punch her in the face. Toyoko is fully aware of the effect she has on men and skilled in manipulating it, drifting back into an affair with Sudo even after her marriage, leaving her irate husband forever ringing her parents with orders to return her to her new home as if they had any real influence over her. 

Despite himself, Yoichi is by contrast the “good son” who gives up the right to his individual future to take care of his family. At 16, he hates being a fishmonger’s boy because the other kids tease him that he always smells of fish, as if he can’t wash away the scent of poverty. He dreams of freedom as a sailor out on the wide ocean, forever staring at the horizon with his binoculars, and of the beautiful woman who, he decides rather romantically, must be suffering with some kind of illness which is why she’s always in her room. When his father becomes ill, suffering a heart attack brought on by Toyoko’s harsh words, Yoichi begins to realise that his dreams are dying. Like the fish in his shop, he’s trapped, no longer able to swim free but tethered to the ground. There can’t be anything more of life for him than becoming a fishmonger himself, whether he liked it or not. His fate was sealed before he was even born. 

Yet unlike the flighty Toyoko who seems unhappy in her marriage but doing her best to put up with it by continuing to do as she pleases, Yoichi has made peace with warmhearted practicality. At 16 he lost everything – his father, the image of Toyoko, his younger sister fostered out to a badgering uncle, his best friend, the beautiful woman in her lonely room, and finally the horizon and his dreams. “His dream was as fleeting and as beautiful as the clouds at sunset” the opening text tells us, echoing the film’s title with a poetic melancholy that makes plain that Yoichi has not so much abandoned his dream as made the memory of it a part of him, a relic of another time when all was possible. Still, in essence perhaps it’s only what it is to grow up, an acceptance of shrinking horizons and that dreams are by definition things destined not to be, but that’s it’s OK in the grand scheme of things because that’s just the way life is. Forced to become a fishmonger, Yoichi becomes the best fishmonger he could be, and even if he does so with a heavy heart, he has a lightness in his step in knowing he does it not for himself but for those he loves. 


Titles and opening (no subtitles)

The Perfect Game (完全な遊戯, Toshio Masuda, 1958)

In the mid-1950s, Nikkatsu had courted controversy with a series of films depicting the amoral excesses of the immediate post-war generation. The “Sun Tribe” movies embedded themselves in a world of new bright young things who were largely independently wealthy and thoroughly bored by the ease of their lives. Nikkatsu was forced to halt production on the Sun Tribe films after only three (Toho and Daiei added one each of their own), but they did precipitate a wholesale shift towards youth movies which became the studio’s signature theme. 

Best remembered for his contributions to Nikkatsu’s action noir, Toshio Masuda’s The Perfect Game (完全な遊戯, Kanzenna Yugi, AKA The Tragedy of Today) arrived two years after the Sun Tribe craze but neatly picked up the baton dropped by Kon Ichikawa’s Punishment Room in its tale of nihilistic college boy amorality. As the film opens, our four heroes are playing mahjong and lamenting their lack of funds. They are all, it goes without saying, middle class boys largely supported by their parents who, as far as we know, are high ranking salarymen. They are not hungry, or worrying about how to pay rent or tuition, they are just bored and want extra money to go out having fun before they they are forced into the corporate straightjacket with the regular salaryman jobs many of them already have in the bag thanks to the tremendous power of nepotism. 

As the the opening text implied, they viewed their money making exploits as a game, proving how clever they think they are in getting one over on the universe, but all too quickly it spirals out of control. Toda (Yasukiyo Umeno), the ring leader, has come up with an ingenious money making scheme. It turns out that there’s an illegal betting office some distance away from the bicycle racing stadium that keeps taking bets until someone rings from the track and tells them who won, which means there’s about a five minute delay between the winner being declared and bets being called. The boys figure that if they can somehow beat the lag they can win big. To make it work, they ask their “friend” Kazu (Masumi Okada), who they seem to regard as a bit dim, to join them as well as recruiting an old codger to call the race before the boards go up. Surprisingly it works out, but unfortunately the yakuza-backed bookmaker, Matsui (Ryoji Hayama), wasn’t banking on such a big win and doesn’t have the funds to pay out in one go. 

Toda in particular is pissed off. The wind taken out of his sails, he’s not sure what to do which is when So (Akira Kobayashi), the pretty boy of the group, suggests an ironic punishment. Matsui had joked that he’d put up his adorable kid sister Kyoko (Izumi Ashikawa) as collateral if he couldn’t pay out, so why don’t the boys take him at his word and kidnap her. Rewinding a little, these snotty college boys are about to become kidnappers, adding a little blackmail on the side. This isn’t a fun game anymore, someone is going to get hurt whatever happens even if they can’t know the extent to which their plan to earn a few bucks to blow on jazz bars and pool rooms is going to incur collateral damage. 

Unlike the boys, Kyoko is a working class girl. She wants to keep her head down and work hard, not quite approving of her brother’s involvement with the yakuza and wishing he’d find an honest job but also acknowledging that he had few options and it’s his job at the bookies that’s been keeping them all this time. Their father died in the war, and their mother (Yumi Takano) is very ill, bedridden with heart trouble. Kyoko is no innocent, she brushes off So’s attempts to court her by revealing that dozens of creepy guys try the same thing every day, and most of them don’t stop at passing notes. For whatever reason she ends up warming to him, making him take her to a theme park while her mother worries at home, while he also begins to feel conflicted about the plan in falling for her for real. 

So’s mistake is the childish belief that they’re still playing a game and everything will be alright in the end. He foolishly trusts that his friend’s are men of honour and that Matsui will come up with the money and redeem his sister in no time at all. But money’s not easy to come by even if you’re a yakuza, and the boys might not want it anyway if it comes with additional complications. Visiting with Kyoko’s sickly mother, he perhaps begins to see the gap between his comfortable existence and theirs of constant struggle. He’d been so proud to tell Kyoko that he had an interview lined up at a big company because of family connections, but when he arrives there he feels irrelevant. The interview board only ask him questions about his dad, as if he didn’t really exist. Finally they ask him to talk about what he did at uni, what his “passions” are, if he did anything of note in the past few years, perhaps even fall in love? They’ve unwittingly touched a nerve, but So is in any case forced to reflect on the meaninglessness not only of his adolescence, but of his future. This interview has been a farce, but they’re giving him the job anyway because he’s his father’s son. What more is there to say?

The other boys are also worried about their job prospects, concerned that someone might talk and they’ll be forever tarnished by “youthful exuberance”, refusing to take any personal responsibility for the consequences of their “perfect game”. Unlike So they still want to live in that inherently unfair world which exists for upperclass men to do as they please. Toda and So weren’t quite like their friends. They felt conflicted. Toda embarrassed to be borrowing money from his girlfriend but rejecting the others’ belief that you don’t have to pay women back, only to angrily bark at her that there’s “no way a woman can understand” the intensely masculine debate he’s just had with So about responsibility, which he accepted by deflecting in pushing So’s complicity back on him in an attempt to share his guilt. Unlike the Sun Tribe films, youth takes responsibility for itself and its friends, but can find no way to atone for its moral abnegation. 


Original trailer (no subtitles)

The Balloon (風船, Yuzo Kawashima, 1956)

The uncertainties of the post-war world are often conveyed through the familiar “cloud” metaphor, but in characteristic fashion Yuzo Kawashima opts for something earthier in the manmade “Balloon” (風船, Fusen). Less representative of its troubled humanists than the amoral villain Tsuzuki (Hiroshi Nihonyanagi) who likes to know which way the wind is blowing so he can go that way too, these balloons are up in the air because they’re afraid to land fearing the inevitable pop if they pick the wrong spot.

Our hero, former painter Murakami (Masayuki Mori), has become the head of a successful camera firm. His son, Keikichi (Tatsuya Mihashi), works with him, while his 20-year-old daughter Tamako (Izumi Ashikawa) is a reluctant student still living in the family home. Out of step with his times, he’s known as a decent and compassionate boss, offering his staff a significant wage increase in excess of that recommended by the union just because he thinks it’s the right thing to do. Unfortunately, Keikichi is much more like his conservative mother and does not quite share his father’s egalitarian principles. He’s currently engaged in a “relationship” with widowed bar hostess Kumiko (Michiyo Aratama) but treats her extremely badly, throwing money on the side table as he leaves her apartment to make it clear that he views himself as a customer and not as a lover. When Murakami re-encounters a family friend, Tsuzuki, at his father’s funeral it sets off a chain of events that will change his life completely. Now a shady nightclub entrepreneur, Tsuzuki is dead set on making his singer, Mikiko (Mie Kitahara), a star and thinks a good way to help make that happen might be to get her married to someone with money, like, for instance, Keikichi. 

Raised in Shanghai, singing in French, and forever wearing berets, Mikiko may indeed be the face of avaricious post-war youth, apparently having floated along with Tsuzuki halfway across the world in search of a place in the sun. Urged on by her manager, she goes to war against Kumiko who, in contrast to the “bar girl” image, is earnest and naive. Working as a hostess places her on the fringes of the sex trade, but does not necessarily imply that she makes a living by sleeping with her customers, and she certainly seems less than grateful to receive money from Keikichi whom she believes to be her boyfriend. Mikiko willingly weaponises her sex appeal and seemingly endures no consequences for doing so, while Kumiko is roundly rejected as a “fallen woman” and deemed an unsuitable match by Keikichi’s snooty mother. 

Tamako, by contrast, actively reaches out to Kumiko and attempts to make her a member of the family, never for a second considering that she might not be welcome because she can see that Kumiko is a “nice” person. Much more like her kindly father, she finds herself uncomfortable at home and mostly holes up in the attic painting. After suffering childhood polio, she’s been left with muscle weakness in her left arm and is treated like a child by her mother and brother who openly tell people that the illness has also made her “simple”. Despite all that, however, she sees only the best in people and desperately wants those around her to be happy. 

The difference in her own family is brought home to her when her father takes her with him on a business trip to the much quieter, more traditional Kyoto where he has reunited with a pair of youngsters whose late parents once rented him a room when he was temporarily displaced by post-war confusion. Like Kumiko, Rui (Sachiko Hidari) is a kind person in difficult circumstances. She too is working in a bar and has done some work as a photo model, even glamour shots to earn money to pay her brother’s university fees. Rui doesn’t want to go on doing that in the future, but doesn’t feel too bad about it either because she only exposed the outside of herself, and really who cares about that. 

Beginning to regret some of his life choices, Murakami wonders if he mightn’t be better to move back into the attic room in Kyoto and pray at the temple everyday like before instead of trying to make money he feels has slowly corrupted his family. Confronted with Keikichi’s near sociopathic self-involvement over his relationships with Kumiko and Mikiko, he comes to the conclusion that all he can do is cut him loose and hope he learns some humility through being forced to stand on his own two feet. Given a talking to by his father Keikichi doubles down with his misogynistic world view, insisting that “all women are whores” and all relationships are essentially transactions while claiming that he, himself, as well as men in general, is the real victim because he’s being forced to carry the can for the way the world works. Murakami isn’t having any of it, calmly asking him if he’d say the same thing to his mother, which he sheepishly admits he couldn’t. 

Mikiko likens Tsuzuki to one off his metaphorical balloons, pointing out that he was an imperialist in Shanghai and now seems to have it in for the bourgeoisie, but for all his cynicism he seems to have a kind of admiration for a woman like Kumiko who carried on loving one man no matter how poorly he treated her. If only he had a woman like that, he might have found a place to land and his life would have been very different, he muses. Murakami, meanwhile, has rejected the modern city, certain that his son is the way he is because his life has been too easy and access to wealth has given him a superiority complex that’s put him out of touch with ordinary people. Disappointed with his own family, he decides to make a new one with the two cheerful youngsters in Kyoto, hoping that he will at least be able to save his daughter from the ravages of a rapidly declining society which seems primed to swallow the sensitive whole.


Currently available to stream on Mubi in the US.

Death Row Woman (女死刑囚の脱獄, Nobuo Nakagawa, 1960)

How far does freedom extend in the complicated post-war society? Best known for his eerie horror films, Nobuo Nakagawa takes a stab at B-movie crime in a tale of wronged femininity as a woman’s attempt to escape her father’s authority ends in a death sentence. Death Row Woman (女死刑囚の脱獄, Onna Shikeishu no Datsugoku) sends its wrongfully convicted heroine on the run, literally, from a cruelly patriarchal society, but there is something quite perverse in its ambivalent conclusion which at once frees and vindicates but also suggests that perhaps daddy knows best after all. 

As the film opens, patriarch Imai (Hiroshi Hayashi) is engaging in a bonding ritual with his prospective son-in-law, Aoki (Keinosuke Wada), teaching him how to hunt. Meanwhile, his daughter, Kyoko (Miyuki Takakura), has wandered off with another man, Soichi (Tatsuo Terashima), with whom she is in love. Soichi is obviously worried about Aoki, but she tells him that the marriage is her father’s idea and she’s no intention of going through with it, not least because she is pregnant with Soichi’s child. The pair embrace, engaging in a clinch in the woods, but are spotted by Kyoko’s step-sister, Minako (Yasuko Mita), who apparently doesn’t like someone else hunting what she’s got her eye on, pointing her shotgun right at the loved up couple before her mother (Fumiko Miyata) arrives and knocks it out of the way sending a shot into the air in the process. 

Soichi is a spineless sort of man, telling Kyoko that he “can’t talk to old people” and refusing to go with her to see her father. She’s confident Imai will have to give in seeing as her pregnancy makes this a fait accompli, but he tells her to get an abortion and if she doesn’t like it she can get out. Imai wanted her to marry Aoki because he picked him out as a son, an heir to leave his company to. As Kyoko points out, he never considered her feelings, only seeing her as a tool to be manipulated for his own ends in securing his business interests. Imai objects to Soichi not only because he resents having his authority undercut, but because Soichi is a “nobody” and he finds the idea of his daughter marrying someone from a different social class distasteful in the extreme. All of that is about to become moot, however, because seconds after Kyoko storms out vowing to marry Soichi even if it means severing ties with her family, Imai drops dead, not of an apparent heart attack as it first seems but of poison! As the last person to see him alive and with the entire household having heard their row, Kyoko is arrested for her father’s murder and sentenced to death. 

Jumping on over a year, Kyoko’s son is seven months old and apparently living in a children’s home rather than being cared for by any of her family while she languishes in prison still proclaiming her innocence. Nakagawa flirts with woman in prison tropes, putting Kyoko in a room of four women including a predatory lesbian, but eventually allows her to find female solidarity with a “habitual criminal” who helps her escape in order that she might prove her innocence and be reunited with her son. Kyoko’s decision to escape is prompted by an awkward visit from Soichi who has neglected to bring the picture of their baby he’d promised her while claiming to be working hard on her case. He tells her that he’s engaged a lawyer who has turned up evidence implicating Aoki who has made several attempts of his own to visit her all of which she has turned down. Unbeknownst to her, he’s even transferred to the town near the prison and is living in a company dorm not too far away. Coming to the conclusion that Aoki is the architect of all her misfortune, she determines to pay him a visit and either get a confession or take her own life. 

Aoki, however, turns out to be a good guy after all. He didn’t kill Imai and has been living near by because he’s sure Kyoko didn’t either and is determined to crack the case. Aoki helps her hide from the authorities and manages to get her on a train to Tokyo daringly defying the police dragnet, while the case’s original investigator begins to smell a rat in staking out the Imai home. Soichi seems to have become awful close with the two Imai ladies, so perhaps he really was the odious social climber old Imai feared him to be. So far, Kyoko’s attempts to take charge of her own future in rejecting her father’s authority have not gone well. She has ended up with a death sentence for daring to challenge the social order by advancing her own agency and has escaped from the literal prison, but is once again locked up for her own safety while Aoki does all the investigating on the outside. Her desire to reassume her role as a mother to a child technically born out of wedlock is what eventually gets her caught, leaving her at the mercy of the magnanimous police who, thankfully, decide that the duty of law enforcement is to act in the best interests of justice, admitting their mistakes rather than covering them up to save face. 

So, Aoki turns out to be good and Soichi bad. Kyoko is vindicated, proving herself innocent of the crime of patricide, but is punished fiercely for her attempt to escape her father’s control. It’s tempting to think that the message is that her father knew best after all and if she’d only done as she was told and married Aoki without making a fuss all of this could have been avoided. Amoral post-war ambition has been unmasked, everyone has been shuffled back into their original class boxes with order seemingly restored. Kyoko has “escaped” her imprisonment, but is she truly “free”? “That’s all in the past now”, Aoki reassures her, “but hang on tight anyway”. 


Tarzan and the Treasure (泰山寶藏, Liang Zhefu, 1965)

Nothing is guaranteed to turn people against each other faster than hidden loot. So it is for the children of two wartime conscripts inheriting a dubious legacy from their departed fathers in the enticingly named Tarzan and the Treasure (泰山寶藏). The world was beginning to open up in 1965, but in cinema at least there was still space for the “mysterious East” even when seen from the relative proximity of Taiwan. 

A Taiwanese businessman travels to Macao in search of the missing half of a map said to lead to treasure hidden in the Malayan mountains by the Japanese at the end of the war. The man’s brother, Zheng, and the father of the man he’s supposed to meet, Fan, served together as conscripts to the Japanese army and agreed to tear the map in two because they were afraid that their descendants may try to do each other out of their shared inheritance. That proves truer than they could ever know seeing as they both died young. The businessman is shot dead by crooks including Fan’s son (Chin Tu) who planned to steal Zheng’s half of the map and get the treasure for himself, but thankfully he didn’t have it on him, leaving it with his niece Shufen (Liu Qing) for safekeeping. Fan’s son is also killed by his gangster boss who takes his leads about Shufen and her young cousin Hong-luk (Ba Ke) heading to Malaya and runs with them. 

Shufen meanwhile has been warned by a policeman from Macao that her uncle is dead and gangsters may be on her tail. Inspector Khoo tells her to go and wander around in the jungle as bait while he is supposedly going to protect her and her cousin. Hong-luk privately dreams of finding the treasure, but Shufen reminds him they’re here for “revenge” and to smoke out the gangsters, not to get rich. While in the jungle, however, they encounter many more dangers than the alien element of invading criminality. Despite being firmly set in the modern era, Shufen and her cousin repeatedly run into members of a primitive tribe, some of whom turn out to be predatory. A hero is, however, forever on the horizon and whenever Shufen finds herself shouting for help “Tarzan” (Gao Ming) swings out of the jungle to rescue her. 

Somewhat surprisingly, “Tarzan” speaks perfect Taiwanese but wears only a leopard print loincloth and a few bangles. He is apparently, and for obvious reasons, a popular guy but only has eyes for So-bi, his increasingly jealous girlfriend with an equally jealous sister constantly outraged on So-bi’s behalf. Tarzan never falls for the the “Jane” figure of Shufen standing in for urban sophistication but remains her protector, not only from the predatory members of his own tribe but from the gangsters too even as they bring unwelcome modernity in the form of guns into this idyllic paradise. 

As they said, Shufen and her cousin haven’t come to find the treasure, only to get justice and in the hope of figuring out what happened to Shufen’s father and brother who came to Malaya some years ago after Fan’s death made getting the second half of the map impossible. The treasure itself, unearned wealth with a less than ideal genesis, is the corrupting influence which has caused so much pain and suffering. Zheng may have given his life for it, his brother and Fan’s son were shot for it, and now amoral gangsters from Macao may make sure that Shufen pays for it too even though she seems to have no interest in striking it rich. The lesson seems to be that going off to foreign countries to pull dollars out of the hillsides is a meaningless and risky business. Shufen has the right idea in that she’s gone to Malaya to restore her family and if possible bring it home while paying her respects to her late uncle. 

Greed, romantic jealousy, and the dangers of the jungle, however, threaten her mission. Wise for his years, little Hong-luk is increasingly convinced they’ve been double-crossed and that “Inspector Khoo”, if that’s his real name, must be in league with the gangsters, having tricked them into coming into the mountains all alone without the promised police “protection” even while they’re supposedly acting as bait for vicious Macao gangsters. Rest assured, however, that the authorities are eventually vindicated while Shufen remains just as innocent as the guileless Tarzan but standing up to the forces of corruption as long as she is able. The “treasure” that she discovers is family unity, preparing to leave the exoticised “Eastern paradise” for the urban sophistication of “civilisation” in Taiwan, but taking something of Malaya with her as she goes.


Screened as part of touring retrospective Taiwan’s Lost Commercial Cinema