Autobiography (Makbul Mubarak, 2022)

“It’s 2017. Forget about hierarchies. We are friends” a former general disingenuously reassures from the other side of the bars in Makbul Mubarak’s pointed exploration of the mediation of power in contemporary Indonesia, Autobiography. A young man with few prospects for the future is drawn towards authoritarianism by a charismatic father figure but is soon confronted by the realities of his quasi-fascist posturing only to discover that there may be no real escape from the violent world of toxic masculinity that he has unwittingly entered. 

19-year-old Kib (Kevin Ardilova) lives alone in a vast mansion, the country home of a former general, Parna (Arswendy Bening Swara), who soon arrives unexpectedly with the intention of beginning his political career. Kib is quite obviously awestruck by the figure of the General, gazing at him like some long lost saviour drunk on the sense of power he exudes from every pore. On silently collecting the old man’s laundry, he stops to stare at a large portrait of him in uniform on the bedroom wall as if somehow thinking he too could one day be a fine general wielding such infinite power for himself. 

Such a thought might in a sense be transgressive. Kib is a servant in this house and as his father Amir, currently in prison for standing up to developers who were trying to steal his land, points out, their ancestors have always served the ancestors of Purna. Purna may tell him that no one cares about class anymore, but it obviously isn’t true or these two men wouldn’t be on opposite sides of the bars, or perhaps they would but their positions might be reversed. “Be careful who you trust” Amir tries to warn his son, but it’s already too late. Kib is ambitious. There’s something that bristles in him when Purna asks after his brother and wonders how well he can be doing as a migrant worker in Singapore with thinly concealed disdain in his voice. When Purna gives Kib an army shirt and says he looks just like him when he was young, a resemblance soon noticed by others, it flatters him to think he may be the General’s son rather than that of a mere servant turned convict. 

The more time he spends with Purna the more like him becomes, walking around with a swagger, exuding power and intimidation as if he really were a soldier not just a boy in a green shirt. Tragically he doesn’t even quite understand how this power mechanism works or what it’s implications are. When he accidentally bumps into a mosque while attempting a tight three point turn, local men surround the car demanding compensation. Purna gets out and puts on a show of authority. On realising what they’re dealing with the men instantly back down. Purna has a sheepish Kib apologise, and the men apologise to him, before explaining that sorry is a powerful word that can turn rage into blessing. What Kib fails to realise is that Purna is talking not about humility but intimidation, a mistake he learns to his cost in bringing a boy only a little younger than himself to Purna to “apologise” for disrespecting him expecting the General to pull the same trick again but shocked when events take a much darker turn than he’d anticipated. 

The boy he brought in, Argus, was the son of a woman whose coffee plantation would have to go if Purna got his hydroelectric plant approved. Purna sells the plant as a way of dealing with the problems caused by inefficient infrastructure but hides the corruption at its centre, forcing families off their land for the developers’ benefit through violence and intimidation. Argus is just as angry Kib, only he’s not falling for Purna’s sales patter. Kib watches the General shift the blame onto the developers, whom he backs and back him, while claiming to be a man of the people and giving a glib speech at the funeral of a boy he killed in nothing other than pettiness. 

Yet Purna is ageing and his grip on power may not be as firm as it once was while his seeming sentimentality in his attachment to Kib as a surrogate son is also a weakness. Kib may be deciding that being a migrant worker’s not as bad as becoming the heir of a man like Purna, but once you’re in it’s hard to get out as the ambivalent closing scene implies catching him dumbstruck once again only now like a general overseeing his troops and in one way or another a prisoner of his father’s house, a servant inheriting the mansion whether he wants it or not. In many ways a tale of seduction, Autobiography paints a fairly bleak picture of the contemporary society ruled by violent masculinity and fragile authority figures who quite literally visit their sins on their sons. 


Autobiography screens 15th/16th October as part of this year’s BFI London Film Festival.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Kinuyo Tanaka: A Life in Film

The BFI Southbank, London will celebrate the work of golden age actress and director Kinuyo Tanaka throughout August and September 2022 beginning with a retrospective of her six directorial features before moving on to showcase some of her most iconic roles from the 1930s to her final major screen appearance in Kei Kumai’s Sandakan No. 8.

Love Letter

Scripted by Keisuke Kinoshita, Love Letter is an examination of the changing society of post-war Japan as an embittered veteran (Masayuki Mori) forced into making a living by writing letters for Japanese women left behind by American servicemen re-encounters his first love (Yoshiko Kuga) but firstly rejects her on realising she too had been the mistress of a US soldier. Review.

The Moon Has Risen

Tanaka’s second film was co-scripted by Yasujiro Ozu and features several homages to his visual style including the use of pillow shots but otherwise has a sensuality and sensitivity not common in his filmmaking. The comic melodrama follows the attempts of a young woman (Mie Kitamura) to set her lovelorn sister up with a sensitive visitor while falling for her childhood friend. Look out for Tanaka’s brief cameo as a ditsy maid. Review.

Forever a Woman

The first film Tanaka began independently, Forever a Woman (previously known as The Eternal Breasts) draws inspiration from current events to interrogate contemporary notions of womanhood through the story of a female poet suffering from terminal breast cancer who eventually rediscovers her femininity through the embrace of her sexual desire. Review.

Wandering Princess

Again based on very recent events, The Wandering Princess is a sumptuous romantic melodrama in which a Japanese noblewoman (Machiko Kyo) agrees to marry the brother of the former emperor of China now a puppet king of the Japanese colony of Manchuria but is eventually separated from him by the fall of the Japanese empire. Review.

Girls of the Night

Recalling Tanaka’s role in 1948’s Women of the Night, Girls of the Night follows a young woman who is sent to a reformatory for former sex workers following the anti-prostitution legislation of the mid-1950s but discovers that no matter how well intentioned the program may be it nevertheless fails to account for the socio-economic realities of the contemporary society. Review.

Love Under the Crucifix

Juxtaposing the use of the crucifix as a method of execution for sexual transgression with the growing influence of Christianity in late 16th century Japan, Takana’s final film as a director stars Ineko Arima as a young woman in love with a reticent lord (Tatsuya Nakadai) who is already married and among the growing class of merchant samurai who have converted to Christianity through trading links with European nations. Review.

Shunkinsho: Okoto to Sasuke

Yasujiro Shimazu’s adaptation of a Junichiro Tanizaki novel in which Tanaka stars as a haughty maid blind since childhood and in an accidentally sadomasochistic relationship with her servant, Sasuke, which only deepens when she suffers a facial disfigurement at the hands of a rejected suitor. Review.

Army

Keisuke Kinoshita’s 1944 melodrama saw him temporarily banned from filmmaking thanks to its subversive conclusion in which Tanaka is cast in the role of a self-sacrificing mother dutifully sending her son off to die for the emperor but desperately searching for him amid the faceless masses of other boys in uniform. Review.

A Hen in the Wind

An atypically dark drama from Yasujiro Ozu, A Hen in the Wind stars Tanaka as a young woman who is forced into a single night as a sex worker in order to pay for medical treatment for her sickly baby only to face domestic violence when her embittered husband finally returns from the war.

The Life of Oharu

Tanaka stars as a noblewoman who falls to the level of a homeless sex worker after being thrown out of the court for falling in love with a man of lower status (Toshiro Mifune) in Kenji Mizoguchi’s melancholy life study.

Mother

In one of Mikio Naruse’s most cheerful films, Tanaka plays a self-sacrificing mother who stoically faces increasing hardships but tries to keep her family together after her husband dies while her self-centred daughter (Kyoko Kagawa) becomes convinced she is romantically involved with a family friend and does everything she can to put a stop to it. Review.

Sandakan No. 8

In this characteristically controversial film from Kei Kumai, Tanaka stars as a now elderly woman who was once of the “karayuki” or young girls from poor families who were sold into sex work and trafficked abroad but then often rejected on their return by those their money had helped to support. Review.

Kinuyo Tanaka: A Life in Film runs at BFI Southbank in August and September.

BFI Japan 2021 to Celebrate More Than 100 Years of Japanese Cinema

The Olympics may be over, but BFI’s long-awaited Japan season finally makes its way to the big screen this October with a vast programme spanning a century of cinema from early masterpiece Souls on the Road right up to a preview of Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s recent festival favourite Drive My Car.

Screening between 18 October and 30 November

Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954)

EXTENDED RUN FROM FRI 29 OCT

Classic jidaigeki gets a post-war twist as a collection of down on their luck wandering samurai come to the rescue of peasants beset by bandits.

Also available on BFI Player

Souls on the Road (Minoru Murata, 1921)

FRI 22 OCT 18:00 NFT2 / SAT 30 OCT 15:30 NFT2

A landmark of early Japanese cinema directed by and starring Minoru Murata, Souls on the Road draws inspiration both from Gorky’s The Lower Depths and German novel Mutter Landstrasse, das Ende einer Jugend by Wilhelm August Schmidtbonn featuring four interconnected tales of mercy and and its absence. Review.

A Page of Madness (Teinosuke Kinugasa, 1926)

SAT 23 OCT 13:00 NFT2 / MON 15 NOV 20:50 NFT3

Teinosuke Kinugasa’s avant-garde masterpiece inspired by a story by Yasunari Kuwabata set in a rural psychiatric institution where a janitor attempts to secretly care for the wife his abuse drove into madness.

I Was Born, But… (Yasujiro Ozu, 1932)

SAT 23 OCT 15:00 NFT2 / SUN 28 NOV 14:45 NFT1

Early silent classic from Yasujiro Ozu in which the faith of two young boys in their salaryman dad is shaken when they spot him humiliating himself for his boss’ benefit. Review.

Also available on BFI Player

Our Neighbour, Miss Yae (Yasujiro Shimazu, 1934) + intro by season co-programmer Alex Jacoby*

SUN 24 OCT 12:40 NFT2 / MON 1 NOV 18:15 NFT2*

Cheerful talkie from Yasujiro Shimazu centring on the close relationship between two suburban families which is disrupted first by the unexpected return of a married daughter and then by the spectre of political destabilisation. Review.

Humanity and Paper Balloons (Sadao Yamanaka, 1937)

SUN 24 OCT 18:10 NFT2 / TUE 2 NOV 20:45 NFT2

The final film from Sadao Yamanaka who sadly died a year later on the Manchurian front after losing his military exemption, Humanity and Paper Balloons chronicles everyday despair in an impoverished street in Edo. Review.

Fallen Blossoms (Tamizo Ishida, 1938) + intro by Japanese film scholar Alejandra Armendáriz-Hernández*

SUN 31 OCT 13:00 NFT3 / WED 3 NOV 18:20 NFT2*

Based on a play by Kaoru Morimoto, Tamizo Ishida’s all-female drama situates itself in a Kyoto geisha house during the Boshin War.

The Life of Matsu the Untamed (Hiroshi Inagaki, 1943)

TUE 26 OCT 20:40 NFT2 / SUN 7 NOV 11:40 NFT2

Director Hiroshi Inagaki later remade this film as The Rickshaw Man in 1958 starring Toshiro Mifune and Hideko Takamine. Nevertheless this original take on the life of an impoverished rickshaw driver who becomes a surrogate parent to a fatherless little boy is often regarded as the better of the two.

Children of the Beehive (Hiroshi Shimizu, 1948) + intro by season co-programmer Alex Jacoby*

MON 25 OCT 20:45 NFT1* / MON 8 NOV 18:10 NFT2

Closely associated with the cinema of children, Hiroshi Shimizu’s post-war independent film follows a series of war orphans and the demobbed soldier guiding them towards a new Japan. Review.

My Love Has Been Burning (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1949)

FRI 5 NOV 18:30 NFT2 / MON 15 NOV 17:40 NFT1

The third in Mizoguchi’s series of films focussing on female emancipation, My Love Has Been Burning stars Kinuyo Tanaka in a biopic of Meiji-era feminist Eiko Hirayama. Review.

Early Summer (Yasujiro Ozu, 1951) + intro by Professor Alastair Phillips, University of Warwick*

MON 18 OCT 14:30 NFT3 / TUE 19 OCT 20:35 STUDIO / WED 20 OCT 17:50 NFT3 / THU 4 NOV 18:00 NFT2 / THU 18 NOV 20:30 NFT3* / SUN 21 NOV 11:30 NFT1

Second in the “Noriko Trilogy”, Early Summer stars Setsuko Hara as a woman who resists arranged marriage but scandalises her family when she accepts a proposal from the mother of the widower living next-door.

Also available on BFI Player

The Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice (Yasujiro Ozu, 1952) 

MON 18 OCT 18:10 NFT2 / WED 20 OCT 20:40 NFT2 / THU 21 OCT 14:40 STUDIO / MON 8 NOV 14:30 NFT2 / TUE 23 NOV 14:30 NFT3

Marital crisis in the younger generation provokes an epiphany in the life of an unhappily married woman in Ozu’s wry exploration of the meaning of wedded bliss. Review.

Also available on BFI Player

Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu, 1953)

MON 18 OCT 20:20 NFT3 / THU 21 OCT 14:30 NFT1 / SAT 13 NOV 14:10 NFT1 /TUE 30 NOV 14:00 NFT3

Post-war classic in which an old couple from the country make a rare trip to the city to see their grown up children but are disappointed to discover that they don’t have much time for them.

Also available on BFI Player 

Love Letter (Kinuyo Tanaka, 1953) + intro by Irene González-López, co-editor of ‘Tanaka Kinuyo: Nation, Stardom and Female Subjectivity’*

SAT 6 NOV 12:30 NFT2 / SUN 21 NOV 14:40 NFT1*

Landmark directorial debut from actress Kinuyo Tanaka scripted by Keisuke Kinoshita and starring Masayuki Mori as an embittered war veteran making a living writing letters on behalf of illiterate women to the GIs who left them behind while fixating on the supposed betrayal of his first love (Yoshiko Kuga) who married someone else and later became the mistress of an American soldier. Review.

An Inn at Osaka (Heinosuke Gosho, 1954) + pre-recorded intro by Professor Hiroshi Kitamura, College of William & Mary

SAT 6 NOV 15:30 NFT2 / SUN 21 NOV 18:00 NFT1

A demoted salaryman begins to find a new sense of solidarity with his fellow humans while staying in a bustling Osaka boarding house in a characteristically bittersweet drama from Heinosuke Gosho. Review.

Godzilla (Ishiro Honda, 1954)

SUN 7 NOV 16:20 NFT3 / TUE 23 NOV 20:40 NFT2

Ishiro Honda’s landmark monster movie needs no introduction, advancing a strong anti-nuclear message as a giant sea lizard is awoken from its slumber by human violence and goes on a grumpy rampage through contemporary Tokyo.

Sansho Dayu (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1954)

MON 8 NOV 20:40 NFT1 / SUN 28 NOV 18:20 NFT1

Mizoguchi’s Heian-era tale follows two aristocratic children who are captured by bandits and sold into slavery while trying to unite with their exiled father.

Marital Relations (Shiro Toyoda, 1955) + pre-recorded intro by Professor Hideaki Fujiki, Nagoya University 

SUN 7 NOV 18:20 NFT2 / THU 25 NOV 18:00 NFT2

Adaptation of the novel by Sakunosuke Oda in which the married son of a wealthy family (Hisaya Morishige) takes up with a geisha (Chikage Awashima) but struggles to adapt to his life without money or status. Review.

She was Like a Wild Chrysanthemum (Keisuke Kinoshita, 1955)

TUE 9 NOV 18:20 NFT2 / TUE 30 NOV 20:40 NFT1

An old man meditates on lost love on visiting his rural hometown in Kinoshita’s tale of heartbreak and social rigidity. Review.

Early Spring (Yasujiro Ozu, 1956)

TUE 19 OCT 14:30 NFT2 / WED 20 OCT 20:15 STUDIO / THU 21 OCT 17:40 NFT2 / SAT 20 NOV 15:20 NFT3 / TUE 23 NOV 17:40 NFT2

An example of a darker Ozu, Early Spring finds the relationship between a young couple (Ryo Ikebe & Chikage Awashima) strained by the duplicities of the salaryman dream as the husband is drawn into an affair with a woman at the office (Keiko Kishi).

Also available on BFI Player

Night Drum (Tadashi Imai, 1958)

WED 10 NOV 20:50 NFT2 / TUE 16 NOV 18:15 NFT2

The life of a loyal retainer (Rentaro Mikuni) is thrown into chaos by rumours that his wife (Ineko Arima) has betrayed him with a travelling musician (Masayuki Mori) in Tadashi Imai’s tense social drama co-scripted by Kaneto Shindo & Shinobu Hashimoto. Review.

Throne of Blood (Akira Kurosawa, 1957) + Inside Cinema: Akira Kurosawa*

MON 18 OCT 20:35 STUDIO / TUE 19 OCT 18:10 NFT1 / THU 21 OCT 20:45 NFT1 / WED 27 OCT 20:30 NFT2* / FRI 12 NOV 14:15 NFT3* / SAT 27 NOV 20:45 NFT1

Akira Kurosawa’s take on Macbeth starring Toshiro Mifune as the ambitious lord and Isuzu Yamada as his steely wife.

Also available on BFI Player

Yojimbo (Akira Kurosawa, 1961) + Inside Cinema: Akira Kurosawa*

TUE 19 OCT 20:45 NFT1 / THU 21 OCT 17:50 STUDIO / FRI 19 NOV 14:30 NFT1* / SUN 28 NOV 12:00 NFT1*

Toshiro Mifune stars as a wandering ronin finding himself in the middle of a turf war.

Also available on BFI Player.

Harakiri (Masaki Kobayashi, 1962)

WED 10 NOV 17:45 NFT2 / TUE 16 NOV 20:30 NFT2

Powerful drama decrying samurai hypocrisy starring Tatsuya Nakadai as a ronin who requests permission to commit seppuku in the courtyard of a lord as an act of revenge for the forced suicide of his adopted son.

Elegant Beast (Yuzo Kawashima, 1962) + pre-recorded intro by Professor Yuka Kanno, Stanford University

WED 17 NOV 20:50 NFT3 / SAT 27 NOV 18:10 NFT1

Dark, claustrophobic farce from Yuzo Kawashima in which a family of dubious morality is outsmarted by a sophisticated schemer (Ayako Wakao). Review.

An Actor’s Revenge (Kon Ichikawa, 1963) + intro by Jennifer Coates, The University of Sheffield*

WED 20 OCT 14:15 NFT1 / THU 11 NOV 20:40 NFT3 / SAT 20 NOV 12:40 NFT3

Kazuo Hasegawa returns to the role of Yukinojo in Kon Ichikawa’s remake of the classic tale as a successful onnagata attempts to take revenge for the deaths of his parents. Review.

Yearning (Mikio Naruse, 1964)

FRI 12 NOV 18:20 NFT2 / SUN 14 NOV 18:20 NFT3 / FRI 26 NOV 21:00 NFT1

Melodrama scripted by Zenzo Matsuyama and starring Hideko Takamine as a war widow who patiently rebuilt and maintained her husband’s family grocery shop for 18 years only for her sister-in-laws to force her out in order to turn it into a supermarket, while her much younger brother-in-law suddenly confesses his lifelong love.

Tokyo Olympiad (Kon Ichikawa, 1964 )

SAT 20 NOV 16:40 NFT2 / WED 24 NOV 18:30 NFT2

Kon Ichikawa’s documentary capture of the 1964 Olympics.

Onibaba (Kaneto Shindo, 1964)

FRI 19 NOV 20:50 NFT2 / TUE 30 NOV 18:00 NFT1

An old woman (Nobuko Otowa) finds herself sinking to depths of inhuman depravity in a desperate need to survive in Kaneto Shindo’s grim fable of feudal Japan. Review.

Also available on BFI Player 

J-HORROR WEEKENDER

Ring (Hideo Nakata, 1998) 

FRI 29 OCT 18:10 NFT2

A single-mother (Nanako Matsushima) begins investigating claims that teenagers are dying seven days after watching a creepy VHS tape in Hideo Nakata’s seminal piece of J-horror adapting the novel by Koji Suzuki.

Also available on BFI Player 

Dark Water (Hideo Nakata, 2002)

FRI 29 OCT 20:30 NFT2

A woman in the midst of a divorce and custody battle is haunted by the spectre of a lonely child in Hideo Nakata’s adaptation of the Koji Suzuki novel. Review.

Cure (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 1997) 

SAT 30 OCT 18:00 NFT2

Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s noirish horror starring Koji Yakusho as a detective investigating a series of bizarre murders.

Pulse (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2001)

SAT 30 OCT 20:40 NFT2

Death is eternal loneliness in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s tech-fearing horror classic starring Kumiko Aso as a young woman investigating the suicide of a close friend. Review.

Also available on BFI Player 

Audition (Takashi Miike, 1999) 

SUN 31 OCT 15:20 NFT3

Takashi Miike’s deceptive drama begins as a gentle romcom before edging slowly towards the horrific as a widower (Ryo Ishibashi) takes his his friend’s advice and sets up a fake audition to find the perfect wife but ends up finding something quite different.

Also available on BFI Player

Ichi the Killer (Takashi Miike, 2001) 

SUN 31 OCT 18:00 NFT3

Takashi Miike’s adaptation of the manga by Hideo Yamamoto in which a sadistic yakuza footsoldier (Tadanobu Asano) pursues a repressed psychopathic killer (Nao Omori).

Preview: Drive My Car (Ryusuke Hamaguchi, 2021) 

MON 15 NOV 19:40 NFT1

A stage actor and director (Hidetoshi Nishijima) attempting to come to terms with the death of his unfaithful wife casts her lover in his upcoming multi-lingual production of Uncle Vanya while developing a relationship with the reticent young woman driving his car in Hamaguchi’s adaptation of the Haruki Murakami short story.

Screening between 1 and 31 December

(Exact screening dates TBC)

Woman of the Dunes (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1964)

A bug collector (Eiji Okada) eventually comes to appreciate his new life of simplicity after being trapped in a hole in the sand with a mysterious woman (Kyoko Kishida) in Teshigahara’s adaptation of the Kobo Abe novel.

Also available on BFI Player

Pale Flower (Masahiro Shinoda, 1964)

Visually striking noir from Masahiro Shinoda starring Ryo Ikebe as a recently released yakuza who enters a destructive relationship with a female gambler (Mariko Kaga).

A Fugitive From the Past (Tomu Uchida, 1965)

A fugitive murderer (Rentaro Mikuni) attempts to forge a new identity for himself in the post-war society but discovers the past is not so easily buried in a late career masterpiece from Tomu Uchida. Review.

Tokyo Drifter (Seijun Suzuki, 1966)

Visually striking, surreal yakuza movie from Seijun Suzuki starring Tetsuya Watari as a yakuza targeted by a rival outfit after his own gang is disbanded.

Woman of the Lake (Kiju Yoshida, 1966)

Yoshishige (Kiju) Yoshida’s adaptation of Yasunari Kawabata’s The Lake starring Mariko Okada as an adulterous woman blackmailed by a third party over nude photos taken by her lover.

Silence Has No Wings (Kazuo Kuroki, 1966)

The first feature from continually underrepresented director Kazuo Kuroki, Silence Has No Wings follows a caterpillar from Nagasaki to Hokkaido.

Death By Hanging (Nagisa Oshima, 1968)

Brechtian drama from Nagisa Oshima in which a Korean student is hanged but survives having lost his memory. Unsure of the ethics of re-executing a man who cannot acknowledge his crimes because he does not remember them, the prison staff proceed to act them out.

Funeral Parade of Roses (Toshio Matsumoto, 1969)

Toshio Matsumoto repurposes Oedipus Rex to explore the impossibilities of true authenticity in an anarchic voyage through late ’60s counterculture Shinjuku. Review.

Shinobugawa (Kei Kumai, 1972)

Two dejected youngsters (Go Kato & Komaki Kurihara) find new strength to embrace post-war freedom in the power of loving and being loved in Kei Kumai’s delicate romance. Review.

In The Realm of the Senses (Nagisa Oshima, 1976)

Inspired by the notorious story of Sada Abe, Oshima’s controversial drama sees two lovers retreat from an increasingly authoritarian society into a private world of self-destructive eroticism.

The Demon (Yoshitaro Nomura, 1978)

A single-mother (Mayumi Ogawa) leaves her three children with their married father (Ken Ogata) when he stops supporting them financially but his wife (Shima Iwashita) is far from happy about the situation in Yoshitaro Nomura’s shocking psychological drama adapted from the novel by Seicho Matsumoto.

The Man Who Stole the Sun (Kazuhiko Hasegawa, 1979)

(C) Toho 1979

’70s pop icon Kenji Sawada stars as a nerdy high school science teacher belittled by his students and the wider society around him but plotting revenge by building a mini atom bomb in his apartment. Review.

Muddy River (Kohei Oguri, 1981)

Two children living by the river in post-war Osaka become friends but their innocent connection is disrupted by the muddiness of life in Kohei Oguri’s moving drama.

Fire Festival (Mitsuo Yanagimachi, 1985) 

A stubborn lumberjack’s refusal to sell his land to developers set on building a marine park sets him at odds with his community culminating in a fiery act of violence in Mitsuo Yanagimachi’s ’80s indie drama.

Tampopo (Juzo Itami, 1985)

Juzo Itami’s comedy classic starring his wife Nobuko Miyamoto as the titular Tampopo, a recent widow struggling to run a small ramen bar eventually rescued by Tsutomu Yamazaki’s wandering truck driver ramen master. Review.

The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (Kazuo Hara, 1987)

Kazuo Hara’s landmark documentary following confrontational Pacific War veteran Kenzo Okuzaki. Review.

Also available on BFI Player

Black Rain (Shohei Imamura, 1989)

Drama centring on the survivors of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. A young woman living with her uncle and aunt finds her marriage prospects all but ruined because of her presence in the city when the bomb was dropped but later bonds with a young man suffering from wartime PTSD.

Moving (Shinji Somai, 1993) 

Shinji Somai’s moving youth drama in which a young girl (Tomoko Tabata) struggles to come to terms with her parents’ impending divorce.

Love Letter (Shunji Iwai, 1995)

Much loved ’90s romantic melodrama from Shunji Iwai starring pop star Miho Nakayama in dual roles as a young woman struggling to move on after the sudden death of her fiancée, and an old classmate of his who happened to share the same name.

Shall We Dance (Masayuki Suo, 1996)

An unexpected ’90s international hit later remade in Hollywood, Shall We Dance? stars Koji Yakusho as a dejected middle-aged man having achieved the salaryman dream but found it unfulfilling discovering a new lease on life after taking up ballroom dancing.

Suzaku (Naomi Kawase, 1997)

Naomi Kawase’s fictional feature debut follows the disintegration of a small family after a railway threatens their rural way of life.

After Life (Hirokazu Kore-eda, 1998)

Hirokazu Kore-eda ponders the meaning of life as the recently deceased are invited to re-create their favourite memory as film before moving on. Review.

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (Ryusuke Hamaguchi, 2021)

A triptych of romantic tales from Ryusuke Hamaguchi in which a young woman realises her friend is unwittingly dating her ex, a student attempts to seduce a professor, and two women connect through an instance of mistaken identity.

SCREENING AT BFI IMAX: Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988)

Katsuhiro Otomo’s seminal anime adaptation of his own manga is set in a dystopian Tokyo of 2019 in which a delinquent biker ends up with superpowers after crashing into a recently released test subject from a government lab.

Battle Royale (Kinji Fukusaku, 2000)

A group of teens is sent to an island where they are told to kill each other off until there is only one survivor in this zeitgeisty adaptation of the cult novel by Koushun Takami which would become the final film directed by Battles Without Honour and Humanity’s Kinji Fukasaku.

Also available on BFI Player 

Talks

BFI Japan runs October to December 2021 at BFI Southbank and selected partners across the country. For the full details on this and other BFI seasons be sure to check out the BFI’s website where you can also find a link to BFI Player. You can also keep up with all the latest news by following the BFI on TwitterFacebookInstagram, and YouTube.

The World of Wong Kar Wai Comes to BFI Player & ICA Cinema 3

4K

Wong Kar Wai’s long-awaited if controversial restorations are making their way to the UK streaming throughout February 2021 with physical screenings planned for such time as cinemas are able to reopen. After launching via ICA’s Cinema 3, seven of the newly restored classics will be available to stream via BFI Player from 8th February.

As Tears Go By


Hong Kong. 1988. Dir Wong Kar Wai. With Andy Lau, Maggie Cheung, Jacky Cheung. 102min. Digital 4K. 18
This 4K digital restoration was undertaken from the 35mm original camera negative by the Criterion Collection in collaboration with L’Immagine Ritrovata and One Cool. A Janus Films release.

4K

Wong Kar-Wai’s moody triad debut stars a young Andy Lau as a lovelorn petty gangster who is forced to host a distant cousin (Maggie Cheung) when she comes to the city to seek medical treatment for a respiratory illness. It is worth noting that the new restoration streams in the original Cantonese language track rather than the Mandarin dub previously released in the UK and therefore features the iconic Cantopop cover of Take My Breath Away. If nothing else, the film deserves an accolade for the most oblique cinematic I Love You in the unforgettable line “I found that glass”. Review.

(Clip from previous release)

Days of Being Wild

Hong Kong. 1990. Dir Wong Kar Wai. With Leslie Cheung, Carina Lau, Maggie Cheung, Andy Lau. 94min. Digital 4K. 12A
This 4K digital restoration was undertaken from the 35mm original camera negative by the Criterion Collection in collaboration with L’Immagine Ritrovata and One Cool. A Janus Films release.

Leslie Cheung stars as a restless Casanova unable to reconcile himself to his sense of rootlessness in maternal confusion while breaking hearts all over Hong Kong from the sweet and innocent Maggie Cheung who later falls for sad policeman Andy Lau to vivacious cabaret dancer Carina Lau who falls into a self-destructive spiral following the end of their affair.

Chungking Express

Hong Kong. 1994. Dir Wong Kar Wai. With Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Faye Wong, Takeshi Kaneshiro. 102min. Digital 4K. 12A
This 4K digital restoration was undertaken from the 35mm original camera negative by the Criterion Collection in collaboration with L’Immagine Ritrovata, Jet Tone, One Cool, and 3H Sound Studio. It was supervised and approved by Wong Kar Wai. A Janus Films release.

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A snapshot of ’90s Hong Kong, elliptical romance Chungking Express follows two lovelorn policemen each confronted by heartbreak as Takeshi Kaneshiro accidentally becomes involved with jaded assassin Brigitte Lin while Tony Leung Chiu-wai is semi-stalked by pixieish fast food stall counter-girl Faye Wong.

Fallen Angels

Hong Kong. 1995. Dir Wong Kar Wai. With Leon Lai Ming, Michelle Reis, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Charlie Young Choi Nei, Karen Mok Man Wai. 99min. Digital 4K. 15
This 4K digital restoration was undertaken from the 35mm original camera negative by the Criterion Collection in collaboration with L’Immagine Ritrovata, Jet Tone, and One Cool. It was supervised and approved by Wong Kar Wai. A Janus Films release.

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A quasi-sequel to Chungking Express, Fallen Angels features two intersecting stories one again featuring Kaneshiro but this time as a crazed criminal recently escaped from prison who falls for a mysterious woman whose boyfriend left her for a woman called “Blondie” who is also a point of tension between hitman Leon Lai and his partner who lives in Kaneshiro’s building.

Happy Together

Hong Kong. 1997. Dir Wong Kar Wai. With Leslie Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Chang Chen. 96min. Digital 4K. 15
This 4K digital restoration was undertaken from the 35mm original camera negative by the Criterion Collection in collaboration with L’Immagine Ritrovata, Jet Tone, and One Cool. It was supervised and approved by Wong Kar Wai. A Janus Films release.

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A landmark for LGBTQ+ representation, Wong’s 1997 tragic romance stars Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Leslie Cheung as melancholy lovers who move to Argentina in an attempt to save their relationship only to break up and sporadically return to one another.

In the Mood for Love

Hong Kong. 2000. Dir Wong Kar Wai. With Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Maggie Cheung Man Yuk. 98min. Digital 4K. PG
This 4K digital restoration was undertaken from the 35mm original camera negative by the Criterion Collection in collaboration with Jet Tone Films, L’Immagine Ritrovata, One Cool, and Robert Mackenzie Sound. Supervised and approved by Wong Kar Wai. A Janus Films release.

Wong’s undoubted masterpiece and international breakthrough once again stars Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Maggie Cheung, this time as betrayed spouses in ’60s Hong Kong who begin to fall in love despite themselves as they bond in shared loneliness but are unable to act on their desires.

2046

Hong Kong. 2004. Dir Wong Kar Wai. With Tony Leung, Gong Li, Faye Wong, Takuya Kimura, Ziyi Zhang, Carina Lau, Chang Chen, Dong Jie, Maggie Cheung, Bird Thongchai McIntyre. 129min. Digital 4K. 12A
The 4K digital restoration was undertaken from the original 35mm elements by Sony Pictures Classics, in collaboration with Jet Tone Films,
L’Immagine Ritrovata, One Cool, and Robert Mackenzie Sound. The restoration was approved by Wong Kar Wai. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

A quasi-sequel to In the Mood for Love and Days of Being of Wild, 2046 follows Tony Leung Chiu Wai’s Chow Mo-wan as he struggles to overcome his longing for Maggie Cheung, romancing Days of Being Wild’s Carina Lau, observing the lovelorn landlord’s daughter Faye Wong as she struggles in her romance with Japanese tourist Takuya Kimura, entering a complicated relationship with 2046 resident Zhang Ziyi, and continuing to chase the past with gambler Gong Li who has the same name as the woman he can’t forget.

Screening at BFI Southbank (once reopened)

Ashes of Time Redux

Hong Kong. 2008. Dir Wong Kar Wai. With Leslie Cheung, Brigitte Lin, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Carina Lau, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Charlie Young, Jacky Cheung, Maggie Cheung. 93min. 35mm. 15

This notoriously troubled production finds Wong in wuxia territory in the company of his frequent collaborators Leslie Cheung, Brigitte Lin, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Carina Lau, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Charlie Young, Jacky Cheung, and Maggie Cheung for a prequel to the well-known tale The Legend of the Condor Heroes. With the original negatives of the film apparently lost, the 2008 “Redux” edition was re-edited and rescored from existing prints.

The Hand (Extended Cut)

Hong Kong. 2004. Dir Wong Kar Wai. With Gong Li, Chang Chen. 56min. Digital. 15

The director’s cut of Wong’s contribution to the 2004 anthology Eros stars Chang Chen (Happy Together, 2046, The Grandmaster) as a diffident tailor’s assistant who is sent to measure up high end call girl Gong Li in heady ’60s Hong Kong.

My Blueberry Nights

China/France/USA/Hong Kong. 2007. Dir Wong Kar Wai. With Norah Jones, Jude Law, Rachel Weisz, Natalie Portman. 90min. 35mm. 12A

Despite an A-list roster of Hollywood talent, Wong’s international feature debut failed to live up to his homegrown reputation with critics often remarking that his attempt to reconfigure his key concerns for an American milieu inauthentic at best as he follows a Norah Jones on a US road trip through heartbreak and despair.

The Grandmaster

Hong Kong/China. 2013. Dir Wong Kar Wai. With Tony Leung, Ziyi Zhang, Chang Chen, Zhao Benshan, Xiao Shenyang, Song Hye Kyo. 108min. Digital. 15

Starring Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Wong’s long-awaited take on the Ip Man legend finds the grandmaster reflecting on the nature of kung fu while sparring with the daughter of an old rival played by Zhang Ziyi. On its domestic premiere, the film ran to 130 minutes and was then cut down to 123 for Berlin. The “international” cut screening here, however, runs to 108 minutes and is so extensively re-edited as to constitute an entirely different film leaning heavier on action and on onscreen explanatory text. Still, Wong’s breathtaking fight sequences are present in the all their glory as is his melancholy romanticism. While not among the new restorations, The Grandmaster will also be available to stream via BFI Player.

The seven new restorations will be available to stream in the UK via BFI Player from 8th February and on ICA Cinema 3 for 14 days following the first screening.

Onibaba (鬼婆, Kaneto Shindo, 1964)

How do you go on living in a world turned upside-down? It may be the central theme of post-war cinema, but few have tackled it in such a direct if allegorical way as Kaneto Shindo, repurposing a Buddhist parable about the perils of duplicity as a lesson in the dangers of the age, defined by a cruel hunger which could not be satisfied by bread alone even if there were bread to satisfy it. Onibaba (鬼婆), as the title implies, makes a villainess of an old woman driven to extremes by her chaotic times, but perhaps suggests that the times make villains of us all.

Deep in the war-torn country of 14th century Japan the imperial capital of Kyoto has been razed, a horse is said to have given birth to a cow, and the sun rose black in the sky leaving day as dark as night. With farmers dragged away from their fields to fight in a war they barely understand on behalf of distant lords, the grain basket of the nation is close to empty. An old woman (Nobuko Otowa) and her daughter-in-law (Jitsuko Yoshimura) have learned to make ends meet by hunting battle-weary samurai, stripping them of their armour, and throwing their bodies into a gigantic pit sitting right in the middle of the tall grass like a gravitational black hole of human compassion. The old woman has been patiently waiting for the return of her son, Kichi, who was taken away by the samurai, certain that everything is going back to normal when the war is over. Kichi, however, will not be returning. Hachi (Kei Sato), another young man from the village taken along with him, brings the sad news that the old woman’s son was beaten to death by a mob of farmers much like herself resentful of the war’s intrusion onto their land. 

Everything becomes food, Hachi explains, a sentiment extremely familiar to those who lived through the chaos of the immediate post-war era. Pointing at a baseline problem in the feudal economy, the war starves the poor and makes the wealthy hungry. The fields run wild with no men to tend them, as if symbolising the madness of the times. Lost in the tall grass, samurai and peasant alike search for an exit but are drawn only towards that black pit of human cruelty, more beasts than men driven by the need to survive alone. 

Without her son, the old woman is unable to farm, and without her daughter-in-law she is unable to survive through killing. She knows that these are times without feeling and that if Kichi will not return there is no reason for her daughter-in-law to stay. Ushi (Taiji Tonoyama), the broker for the looted samurai armour, makes an indecent proposal of extra millet for sexual favours but the old woman defiantly turns him down, perhaps not quite realising the offer was likely not intended for her. Which is to say that Hachi is not the only man in town, but is perhaps the only “desirable” one. Such desires that there are apparently cannot be satisfied by a crusty old man like Ushi, but are there all the same. Hachi presents a triple threat. The old woman knows her survival depends on the younger one, but also that she has no means to keep her now that her son is dead. She offers Hachi her body instead but he, as she did Ushi, baulks at the idea of slaking his lust on such an old woman. 

When a strange samurai wanders into her hut and orders her at the point of his sword to lead him out of the tall grass a solution presents itself. The old woman lures him to the black pit and prises away the ornate oni mask which he claimed he wore to protect his beautiful face from the ravages of war. Despite the fact that the samurai appears to have suffered from some kind of aggressive skin disease, the old woman unwisely decides to put the mask on her own face, convincing her daughter-in-law that her relationship with Hachi is sinful and appearing out of nowhere dressed as a demon to remind her that she’s going to hell. The mask’s crazed expression becomes fused with her own face, cementing her transformation into a “demoness” which it seems had already begun with stretch of white disrupting the uniformity of her hair and the kabuki-esque exaggeration of her eyebrows. Running desperately through the tall grass she cries out that she’s human, but this world has made demons of them all. The black pit of hunger knows no fill, and there can be no satisfaction in a world so devoid of human feeling.


Onibaba is currently streaming on BFI Player as part of the BFI’s Japan season.

Original trailer (dialogue free)

Cruel Story of Youth (青春残酷物語, Nagisa Oshima, 1960)

More interested in politics than cinema and never quite at home in the studio system, Nagisa Oshima began his career at Shochiku as one of a small group of directors promoted as part of the studio’s effort to reach a youth audience they feared their particular brand of inoffensive melodrama was failing to capture. Like The Sun’s Burial, Cruel Story of Youth (青春残酷物語, Seishun Zankoku Monogatari) is a nihilistic tale of a fracturing society, but it also looks forward to Night and Fog in Japan in its insistence that youth itself is a failed revolution and this generation is no more likely to escape existential disappointment than the last. 

The film opens with teenager Makoto (Miyuki Kuwano) and her friend Yoko (Aki Morishima) trying to get free rides from skeevy middle-aged men rather than having to pay for a cab. As you might expect, that’s a fairly dangerous game and while it might be alright while there’s two of you, as soon as Yoko has been dropped off, the driver changes course and suggests going for dinner only to park in front of a love hotel and try to drag Makoto inside. Luckily, or perhaps not as we will see, she is “rescued” by young tough Kiyoshi (Yusuke Kawazu), a student and angry if politically apathetic young man. Struck by his manly white knight act, Makoto takes a liking to Kiyoshi but he too later rapes her under the guise of satisfying her curiosity about sex to which he attributes her ride hailing activities. After this violent genesis, they fall in “love” but continue to struggle against an oppressive society.

We assume that the “cruel story of youth”, and it is indeed cruel, that we are witnessing is that of Makoto and Kiyoshi, but it’s also that of her slightly older sister Yuki (Yoshiko Kuga) and her former lover Akimoto (Fumio Watanabe) who has become a conflicted doctor to the poor betraying himself by financing the clinic through charging for backstreet abortions. Yuki complains to her apathetic father that they were strict with her in her youth, that she’d get a hiding just for coming home after dark, whereas Makoto can stay out all night and not get much more than a stern look. Her father explains that times were different then, “We thought we had new horizons. We started again as a democratic nation, and it was a responsibility that went hand in hand with freedom. What can I say to this girl today?” admitting both the failures of the past and the mistaken future of a society that actively resists change. 

Yuki and Akimoto were part of the post-war resistance, left-wing students like the older generation of Night and Fog in Japan, who’d actively fought for real social change but had seen that change elude them. Yuki, we hear, left Akimoto for an older man but perhaps now regrets it along with her half-finished revolution. She may not approve of her sister’s choices, but she also on some level admires her for them or at least for the strength of her rebellion even if it will ultimately be as fruitless as her own. “This is a cruel world and it destroyed our love” Akimoto laments, mildly censuring the youngsters in suggesting that his love was pure and chaste because they vented their youthful frustrations through political action whereas this generation is already lost to the mindless hedonism of unbridled sexuality. 

He forgives them, because he feels that their plight is a direct result of his failure to bring about the better world, but there is also a suggestion that it is a lack of political awareness which is somehow trapping the young. Oshima cuts from footage of the April Revolution in Korea which is described as a “student riot” in the news to a protest against the Anpo treaty at which Kiyoshi and Makoto look on passively from the sidelines. “I think taking part in the demonstrations is stupid”, Makoto’s friend Yoko tells a prospective boyfriend, “why don’t we think about getting married instead?”, drawing a direct line between social conservatism and political inaction. 

Makoto and Kiyoshi rebel by using, or to a point not using, their bodies as a direct attack on the society. Following their rather odd and troubling meeting, the pair earn their keep through repeating the experience. Makoto picks up men who will inevitably have an ulterior motive, and Kiyoshi rescues her, extorting money from their targets. Yet it is Kiyoshi who is forced to prostitute himself, gaining financial support as a gigalo kept by a wealthy middle-aged housewife who is just as sad and defeated as Yuki and Akimoto, dissatisfied with the path her life has taken and in her case attempting to escape it through passion and control exerted over the body of a young man. Though the consequences of a becoming a kept man may be different than those Makoto would face should the less “nice” delinquents get their hands on her, they do perhaps fuel his sense of violent emasculation which he channels into a pointless act of revenge against the society in the form of its most powerful, wealthy middle-aged men whose misogyny he claims to abhor while simultaneously mirroring and directly exploiting.

“Someone needs to be responsible” a strangely sympathetic policeman insists, chiding Kiyoshi that at heart he’s just a petty criminal who liked having money no matter how he might have tried to dress it up. “You’re just like them, you’re a victim of money too”, he adds correctly diagnosing the flaws of an increasingly consumerist society. Only, no one takes responsibility. Kiyoshi’s lady friend pulls stings. It turns out her husband does business with Horio, one of Makoto’s pick ups who despite being nice and kind still had his way with her and then reported Kiyoshi for extortion. Akimoto explained that their failures would drive them apart, but Kiyoshi swore they’d always be together only to wonder if in his love for her the only thing to do is save Makoto from his corrupting influence though she does not want to leave him. We won’t be like you, Kiyoshi countered, because we have no dreams with which to become disillusioned. But youth itself is a failed revolution, and the force which destroys them is perhaps love as they meet their shared destinies at the hands of an increasingly cruel society.


Cruel Story of Youth is currently streaming on BFI Player as part of the BFI’s Japan season.

Original trailer (no subtitles)

The Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice (お茶漬けの味, Yasujiro Ozu, 1952)

Famously, many of Yasujiro Ozu’s films end with a young woman getting married and the emotional desolation that it provokes in those left behind. Ozu, unlike some of his contemporaries, generally comes down on the side of marriage. His heroines always succumb, rarely finding independence or resignation and settling for a second choice even if their first proved unavailable. The Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice (お茶漬けの味, Ochazuke no Aji), however, takes him in a slightly different direction in asking what, if anything, is to blame when a marriage is unhappy, repurposing the arranged married debate to perhaps imply that wedded bliss is less about romance than it is about endurance and mutual understanding. 

Taeko (Michiyo Kogure), a middle-aged woman, consented to an arranged marriage to Mokichi (Shin Saburi) at the usual age but seems to feel little more than contempt for him. A friend from school, Aya (Chikage Awashima), invites her on an impromptu trip to an onsen and for reasons not entirely clear, Taeko feels she has to lie rather than simply telling Mokichi that she would like to go away with a friend for a couple of days. Aya encourages her to spin a tale that her niece, Setsuko (Keiko Tsushima), who often stays with them in the city, has been taken ill and is in need of urgent care, but the plan is foiled when she swans into their home right as rain before Aya could give her instructions. Caught on the hoof, Taeko is forced to improvise that a different friend is ill, the four women eventually heading off on a girls’ trip leaving Mokichi at home alone and apparently none the wiser. 

Perhaps surprisingly, Mokichi turns out to be a kind and considerate, if perhaps dull, kind of man. We later discover that he knew all along that Taeko was lying but thought it wasn’t worth making a fuss over. He makes a point of chatting with the maid, asking after her family and is apparently well acquainted with her circumstances. Unlike other men, he doesn’t spend his time out drinking or gambling or even overworking, coming home to read instead, but still Taeko is put out when she phones him at work to kickstart the onsen plan and discovers his desk to be empty. It turns out that he met up with the younger brother of an old friend killed in the war who had asked for his help with a recruitment exam. Non-chan (Koji Tsuruta), as everyone calls him, is a cheerful sort guy who openly admits he wears army surplus suits and likes to eat in restaurants which are “good and cheap”, all of which suits Mokichi much better than his wife’s rather more sophisticated tastes. The younger man is quick to introduce him to the pleasures of the age including bicycle racing and pachinko parlours which is where he runs into an old army buddy, Hirayama. 

While Taeko and her old friends break into a rendition of a song from their student days with Setsuko looking on in minor confusion, Mokichi sits around a small table with Hirayama and an equally out of place Non-chan recalling his glory days in Singapore and singing old army songs. They are each, in their own and infinitely parallel ways, mourning the promise of their youth. Taeko’s friends, Aya and Takako, have an equally cynical view of marriage. Takako’s husband has gone to Paris and she, it seems, couldn’t be happier with her newfound freedom, while Aya runs a small boutique and regards hers as little more than a necessary inconvenience. When the ladies take in a baseball game, Aya is surprised to spot her sports-hating husband on the bleachers apparently escorting a woman she recognises from a nearby bar, but she isn’t in any way jealous or angry merely amused and planning to use it as extra leverage to persuade him to buy her a new kimono despite the fact that we later see him asking her for money (which she snatches back as punishment). 

Despite all of that however Taeko’s tragedy maybe that somewhere deep down she wanted her marriage to work. Her open contempt for Mokichi, likening him to a big fat carp and referring to him as “Mr. Bonehead” in assuming he is stupid enough to believe all her lies, annoys the otherwise modern Setsuko who sees their unhappy union as definitive proof that arranged marriages do not work. Interrogated by her exasperated niece who was sure her aunt would support her in her resistance to her parents’ matchmaking, Taeko claims that she is happy and perhaps she is even if in her unhappiness, but Setsuko’s unexpected seizure of her agency though rudely walking out on the omiai brings her own marriage to a crisis point. Mokichi cannot quite say so but tacitly supports Setsuko’s desire to decide her own romantic future even if he disapproves of her irresponsible rudeness to her prospective suitor. “Forcing her to marry against her will would just create another couple like us” he eventually explains to Taeko in boldly saying that which should not be said. 

It would be easy to think that the problem is Taeko and Mokichi simply aren’t suited. There is an obvious class difference that seems to be a continuing problem for the snooty Taeko. It annoys her that he insists on pouring his miso soup into his rice bowl which she feels is common, like his cheap cigarettes and preference for third class rail travel. He explains that it’s not that he’s cheap, simply that these are the things he likes, that he’s familiar with, that make him feel relaxed. Their upbringings are different. Taeko feels relaxed in first class because that’s how she’s always travelled and she likes the finer things because they reassure her in her status. That might be one reason they occupy different areas of a shared home, he with a traditional futon in a tatami mat room, she in a well appointed Western-style boudoir even as she exclusively wears kimono. 

Yet the problem isn’t that they like different things so much as an essential misconnection. Without perhaps knowing, Taeko is so filled with resentment over her lack of control of her romantic destiny that she’s never warmed to her husband or felt secure in her marital home. It’s a cliche to say she doesn’t understand him, but perhaps she wanted something different to what she eventually got. A sudden crisis after the Setsuko episode sees Taeko make a temporary retreat only for Mokichi to be abruptly sent abroad. Sharing the homely comfort food of green tea poured over rice, she finally begins to understand that what she took for indifference was perhaps merely a different way of showing love. Mokichi really is a man who likes the simple things, affection without ceremony, like the flavour of green tea over rice. She knows that unlike Aya’s husband Mokichi will never betray or hurt her. He is infinitely “reliable” which might not sound romantic, but is perhaps the only solid basis for a successful marriage. 

That’s the advice she eventually offers to Setsuko, walking back on her commitment to arranged marriage, a “feudal” tradition she and all the other women had been determined to force onto her despite the fear and pain it caused them in their own youth and beyond, to remind her that marriage is for life. Find someone “reliable”. A flashy suit and a handsome face might look good now, but they might not in 20 years’ time. Setsuko has taken a liking to Non-chan who claims to be “reliable” but his taste for pachinko and bicycle races might suggest otherwise. In any case, after a heartwarming resolution that repairs the fractured marriage of Mokichi and Taeko, Ozu ends on a moment of cheeky ambivalence in which Non-chan says the wrong thing, upsetting Setsuko who retreats into a small hut. Non-chan repeatedly apologises and tries to enter, while she pushes him back out, neatly symbolising the arc of a marriage as an accidental battleground of intimacy though in this case one with a playful resolution. 


The Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice is released on blu-ray in the UK on 18th May courtesy of BFI in a set which also includes an audio commentary by Tony Rayns. The first press edition also comes with a booklet featuring an essay by Tom Milne.

Short clip (English subtitles)

BFI Japan 2020 to Celebrate More Than 100 Years of Japanese Cinema

The Olympics may have been postponed and everything seems like it’s on pause, but the BFI’s planned mammoth Japan season is still doing all it can to make its way to us in the 2020 that never was. With the cinemas closed for the foreseeable future, the BFI will be making the first part of the season available online via BFI player with strands dedicated to golden age directors Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu as well as a series of classics including films by Mikio Naruse and Seijun Suzuki, cult movies, and the best in 21st century cinema. Once the BFI reopens, we can also look forward to some rarer treats from this century and the last.

BFI Player

A series of strands will begin streaming via BFI Player over a six month period beginning with Akira Kurosawa and Classics (11th May), followed by Yasujiro Ozu (5th June), Cult (3rd July), Anime (31st July), Independence (21st August), 21st Century (18th September), and J-Horror (30th October). Subscriptions to BFI Player are available for £4.99 p/m following a two week free trial.

Akira Kurosawa (11th May)

  • Seven Samurai – classic jidaigeki gets a post-war twist as a collection of down on their luck samurai come to the rescue of peasants beset by bandits.
  • Throne of Blood – eerie retelling of Macbeth starring Toshiro Mifune as the man who would be king and Isuzu Yamada as his ambitious wife.
  • Yojimbo – samurai western starring Toshiro Mifune as a ronin drifter wandering into a turf war.
  • Sanjuro – sequel to Yojimbo in which Mifune reprises his role as the titular Sanjuro as he helps some locals stand up to samurai corruption.
  • Rashomon – a series of witnesses provides contradictory accounts of the same event in an adaptation of the story by Ryunosuke Akutagawa starring Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyo, and Masayuki Mori.
  • The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail – comedic kabuki adaptation in which a samurai attempts to escape with his retinue after being betrayed by his brother by disguising himself as a monk.
  • Drunken Angel – post-war tragedy starring Toshiro Mifune at his most dashing as gangster dying of TB and Takashi Shimura as the compassionate yet alcoholic doctor trying to save him.
  • Stray Dog – a policeman (Mifune) and his partner (Shimura) scour post-war Tokyo for a missing gun.
  • Ikiru – existential drama starring Takashi Shimura as a civil servant reflecting on his life after discovering he has a terminal illness.
  • Hidden Fortress – two bumbling peasants agree to escort a general and a princess in disguise to safe territory in return for gold.
  • The Bad Sleep Well – contemporary take on Hamlet starring Toshiro Mifune as man enacting an elaborate revenge plot against the corrupt CEO who drove his father to suicide. Review.
  • Red Beard – humanistic drama starring Toshiro Mifune as a gruff yet compassionate doctor to the poor. Review.
  • Ran – King Lear relocated to feudal Japan.
  • Sanshiro Sugata Pt 1 & 2 – drama inspired by the life story of a legendary judo master.
  • The Most Beautiful – naturalistic national policy film from 1944 following the lives of female factory workers.
  • No Regrets for Our Youth – 1946 drama starring Setsuko Hara as a professor’s daughter who marries a radical leftist later executed as a spy.
  • One Wonderful Sunday – post-war drama in which an engaged couple attempt to have a nice day out in Tokyo for only 35 yen.
  • I Live in Fear – Toshiro Mifune stars as a factory owner so terrified of nuclear attack that he becomes determined to move his family to the comparative safety of Brazil while they attempt to have him declared legally incompetent on account of his intense paranoia.
  • The Lower Depths – 1957 adaptation of Gorky’s novel following the lives of a collection of people living in an Edo-era tenement.
  • High and Low – Toshiro Mifune stars as a wealthy man encountering a dilemma when his chauffeur’s son is kidnapped after being mistaken for his own.
  • Dodes’ka-den – Kurosawa’s first colour film exploring the lives of a collection of people living in a shantytown above a rubbish dump.

Classics (11th May)

  • Late Chrysanthemums – Naruse’s 1954 drama following the lives of four former geishas (played by Haruko Sugimura, Chikako Hosokawa, Yuko Mochizuki, and Sadako Sawamura) as they try to get by in the complicated post-war economy.  
  • Floating Clouds – Naruse’s 1955 romantic drama starring Hideko Takamine and Masayuki Mori as former lovers floundering in the post-war landscape. Review.
  • When a Woman Ascends the Stairs – Naruse’s 1960 drama starring Hideko Takamine as a widow turned Ginza bar hostess.
  • Onibaba – period horror from Kaneto Shindo in which a mother and her daughter-in-law survive by murdering samurai and selling their armour. Review.
  • Kwaidan – horror anthology from Masaki Kobayashi featuring adaptations of classic Japanese folktales.
  • Hana-Bi – noirish poetry from Takeshi Kitano as a former policeman takes on an unwise loan from yakuza to care for his terminally ill wife. Review.
  • Black Rain – Shohei Imamura’s 1989 drama set in the aftermath of the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima.
  • Branded to Kill – the anarchic 1967 hitman drama that got Seijun Suzuki fired from Nikkatsu.
  • Woman of the Dunes – Hiroshi Teshigahara’s adaption of the Kobo Abe novel in which a bug collector is imprisoned in a sand dune after missing the last bus home and being persuaded to spend the night in the home of a local woman.
  • After Life – poignant drama from Hirokazu Koreeda in which the recently deceased are permitted to recreate a favourite memory. Review.
  • Youth of the Beast – Seijun Suzuki drama starring Jo Shishido as a mysterious figure playing double agent to engineer a gang war. Review.
  • Gate of Hell – period drama starring Machiko Kyo as a loyal wife who tricks a man trying to kill her husband to have her for himself to kill her instead. Review.
  • Cruel Story of Youth – post-Sun Tribe youth drama from Shochiku directed by Nagisa Oshima. Review.
  • An Actor’s Revenge – Kon Ichikawa’s visually stunning tale of vengeance and madness. Review.

Yasujiro Ozu (5th June)

  • I Was Born, But… – 1932 silent in which two little boys have a hard time accepting that their dad has an inauthentic work persona. Review.
  • Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice – 1952 drama starring Shin Saburi and Michiyo Kogure as an unhappily married couple. Review.
  • Tokyo Story – post-war classic in which an old couple from the country make a rare trip to the city to see their grown up children but are disappointed to discover that they don’t have much time for them.
  • Good Morning – consumerist comedy in which two little boys go on a pleasantries strike to get their parents to buy them a TV.
  • Late Autumn – drama in which a young widow tries to marry off her daughter with the help of old friends from college. Review.
  • An Autumn Afternoon – Ozu’s final film stars Chishu Ryu as an ageing widower preparing to marry off his only daughter. Review.
  • Early Summer – a family’s attempt to marry off a daughter is frustrated when they realise she is carrying a torch for the widower next door.
  • Equinox Flower – drama of generational conflict in which an authoritarian father is forced to accept his daughter’s right to choose her own husband without asking for his advice or consent.
  • Late Spring – classic in which a young woman’s close relationship with her widowed father leaves her reluctant to marry.
  • Dragnet Girl – silent crime film starring Kinuyo Tanaka as a gangster’s moll who decides to reform after meeting the sister of a new gang member.
  • Walk Cheerfully – silent crime film in which a gangster wants to go straight after falling for an ordinary girl.
  • I Flunked, But… – silent college comedy.
  • Days of Youth – two students compete for the affections of the same girl.
  • Where Now Are the Dreams of Youth? – tragedy enters a carefree college existence when a naive young man games the system to offer all his friends jobs after inheriting his father’s company.
  • Woman of Tokyo – silent drama in which a student is devastated to learn that his older sister is not a translator as he thought but works as a bar hostess to finance his education.
  • Early Spring – rare Ozu drama exploring the taboo of an extra-marital affair.
  • Tokyo Twilight – grown up sisters reunite with the mother who abandoned them as children to run off with another man.
  • That Night’s Wife – 1930 crime drama in which a man is hunted by police after resorting to robbery to pay for his daughter’s medication.
  • The Lady and the Beard – 1931 comedy in which a traditionally minded man’s refusal to shave off his beard makes it difficult to move on with his life.
  • A Mother Should Be Loved – a young man discovers the woman who raised him is not his birth mother.
  • The Only Son – drama in which a mother visits her grown-up son and is disappointed to learn he has a wife and child he never told her about.
  • What Did the Lady Forget? – a modern girl visits her professor uncle but is disturbed to see him henpecked by his traditionalist wife.
  • Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family – a widow discovers that her grown up children are unwilling to support her and their younger sister when their father suddenly dies leaving them deep in debt.
  • There Was a Father – a father’s attempts to do the best for his son perpetually keep them apart.
  • A Hen in the Wind – a returned soldier struggles to accept his wife’s decision to resort to prostitution to pay for a doctor to save their son’s life in Ozu’s atypically dark post-war drama.

Cult (3rd July)

  • Gushing Prayer – pink film from Masao Adachi dramatising despair in the wake of the failure of the student movement.
  • Inflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands – pink film in which a hitman is brought into contact with the yakuza who killed his girlfriend while looking for kidnapped woman.
  • Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss – first in the Stray Cat Rock series starring Akiko Wada and Meiko Kaji.
  • Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion – Meiko Kaji stars as a woman falsely imprisoned.
  • Lady Snowblood – Meiko Kaji stars as a young woman seeking revenge against the men who raped her mother.
  • Orgies of Edo – three tales of Genroku decadence from Teruo Ishii. Review.
  • House – surreal horror from Nobuhiko Obayashi in which a high school girl takes some friends to visit her aunt but ends up in a colourful nightmare world.

Anime (31st July)

  • Summer Wars – Mamoru Hosoda’s breakthrough feature follows the summer adventures of maths genius and moderator of online world Oz Kenji Koiso as he is unexpectedly invited on a trip with his crush, Natsuki, only to be expected to play the part of her fake fiancé whilst also dealing with a vast internet-based conspiracy.
  • The Girl Who Leapt Through Time – Mamoru Hosoda’s loose sequel to the much-loved novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui.
  • Wolf Children – touching animation from Mamoru Hosoda in which a single-mother raising two children alone must comes to terms with the different paths her children take.
  • Ghost in the Shell – Mamoru Oshii’s iconic adaptation of the Shirow Masamune manga in which a cybernetic ally enhanced policewoman hunts a hacker known as the Puppet Master.
  • Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence – sequel to the original Ghost in the Shell set in the Hong Kong of 2032.

Independence (21st August)

  • Funeral Parade of Roses – Toshio Matsumoto’s avant-garde take on Oedipus Rex.
  • Tetsuo: The Iron Man – surrealist body horror from Shinya Tsukamoto.
  • Maborosi – a young widow struggles to come to terms with the apparent suicide of her husband in Hirokazu Koreeda’s debut feature.
  • Sawako Decides – an aimless young woman struggles to find direction in her life in an early comedy from Yuya Ishii starring Hikari Mitsushima.
  • Getting Any? – zany pop culture comedy from Takeshi Kitano in which a man goes to great lengths to get a car solely so he can have sex in it. Review.
  • The Woodsman and the Rain – comedy from Shuichi Okita in which a film director bonds with a lonely lumberjack while shooting a zombie movie.
  • Love Exposure – 4-hour epic from Sion Sono in which the son of a priest becomes obsessed with upskirt photography.
  • The Mourning Forest – a bereaved mother bonds with the elderly resident of a care home where she works in an award winning drama from Naomi Kawase.
  • A Scene at the Sea – poetic drama from Takeshi Kitano about a deaf refuse collector who becomes fixated on surfacing. Review.
  • Dangan Runner – three men ricochet towards an inevitable ending in the debut feature from SABU. Review.
  • Zigeunerweisen – surreal drama from Seijun Suzuki starring Yoshio Harada as a nomad on the run after being suspected of seducing and killing the wife of a fisherman.
  • Shinjuku Triad Society – sleazy ’90s noir from Takashi Miike in which a mixed race policeman goes up against a Taiwanese gang over to discover his younger brother has joined them as a rookie lawyer. Review.
  • Violent Cop – a rogue cop attuned to the ways of violence abandons all pretence of civility in pursuit of justice but encounters only nihilistic futility in Kitano’s Bubble-era noir. Review.
  • Boiling Point – a disaffected young man finds himself on a self-destructive mission of vicarious vengeance but struggles to escape his sense of inferiority in Kitano’s deadpan exploration of explosive repression. Review.
  • Sonatine – tired of the life, a veteran gangster ponders retirement but knows his brief island holiday is only a temporary respite from his nihilistic life of violence in Kitano’s melancholy existential drama. Review.
  • A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn – pink film from Daisuke Goto in which a woman impersonates her senile father-in-law’s long gone favourite cow and allows him to milk her.

21st Century (18th September)

  • Still the Water – island coming of age drama from Naomi Kawase. (not included in subscription, £3.50 to rent)
  • Sweet Bean – a dorayaki salesman bonds with an old woman who helps him improve his bean paste in Naomi Kawase’s moving drama.
  • Nobody Knows – siblings are left to fend for themselves when their mother abandons them in Hirokazu Koreeda’s gritty drama.
  • Still Walking – Hirokazu Koreeda’s moving depiction of a typical family. Review.
  • Cold Fish – Sion Sono’s gory serial killer drama inspired by a real life incident.
  • Tokyo Tribe – a rap musical manga adaptation from Sion Sono.
  • Mitsuko Delivers – a heavily pregnant woman returns to her home town and proceeds to solve everyone’s problems in Yuya Ishii’s cheerful comedy.
  • For Love’s Sake – musical manga adaption celebrating the Showa era songbook from Takashi Miike.
  • Journey to the Shore – haunting romantic drama from Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Review.
  • Creepy – Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s eerie mystery drama. Review.
  • The Lust of Angels – edgy train groping drama from Nagisa Isogai.
  • Harmonium – a family is torn apart by unexpected tragedy when a face from the past pays a visit in Koji Fukada’s probing drama. Review.
  • Departures – a cellist accidentally takes a job as a traditional mortician but keeps his new occupation a secret in this Oscar-winning drama from 2008.

Early films 1894-1914 (12th October)

The BFI will also be showcasing restored gems from their archive featuring footage of turn of the century Japan.

  • Japanese Dancers (1894) – rare footage of Japanese women performing an imperial dance.
  • Ainus of Japan (1913) – footage depicting the indigenous people of Hokkaido.
  • Japanese Festival (1910) – footage of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Yokohama Harbour
  • Shooting the Rapids on the River Ozu in Japan (1907) – 1907 river journey.

J-Horror (30th October)

  • Ring – a deadly curse is transmitted via videotape in Hideo Nakata’s J-horror classic.
  • Dark Water – a woman in the midst of a divorce and custody battle is haunted by the spectre of a lonely child in Hideo Nakata’s adaptation of the Koji Suzuki novel. Review.
  • Audition – Takashi Miike’s deceptive drama begins as a gentle romcom before edging slowly towards the horrific.
  • Gozu – truly strange yakuza horror comedy from Takashi Miike.
  • The Happiness of the Katakuris – Takashi Miike’s strangely cheerful musical take on the Korean film The Quiet Family.
  • Battle Royale – controversial drama from Kinji Fukasaku in which high school students are shipped to a remote island and forced to fight to the death.
  • Tetsuo II: Body Hammer – sequel to Shinya Tsukamoto’s cyberpunk body horror.
  • Pulse – death is eternal loneliness in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s tech fearing horror classic. Review.
  • Cure – Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s noirish horror starring Koji Yakusho as a detective investigating a series of bizarre murders.
  • Kuroneko – ghost cat film from Kaneto Shindo.
  • Snake of June – erotic drama from Shinya Tsukamoto in which a mysterious man targets a repressed woman and forces her to engage in illicit sex acts.

BFI Southbank

The season will continue at the BFI Southbank once the venue reopens.

  • Golden Age – season programmed by Alexander Jacoby and James Bell showcasing Japanese cinema from the 1930s to the 60s including work by Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu, Mikio Naruse, and Akira Kurosawa, and starring Kinuyo Tanaka, Setsuko Hara, Hideko Takamine, and Toshiro Mifune.
  • Radicals and Rebels – also curated by Alexander Jacoby and James Bell, the Radicals and Rebels strand focuses on film after 1964 from the New Wave to the genre classics of the ’90s including work by Seijun Suzuki, Nagisa Oshima, and Kiju (Yoshishige) Yoshida.
  • 21st Century – contemporary classics co-presented by Japan Foundation and curated by Junko Takekawa.
  • Anime – major two month season curated by Justin Johnson and Hanako Miyata showcasing modern masters such as Satoshi Kon, Mamoru Oshii, Makoto Shinkai, Mamoru Hosoda, and Naoko Yamada.

For the full details on this and other BFI seasons be sure to check out the BFI’s official website where you can also find a link to BFI Player. You can also keep up with all the latest news by following the BFI on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

Sweet Dream (迷夢 / 미몽, Yang Ju-nam, 1936)

Sweet Dream still 2The picture one gets of the 1930s is largely one of fear and oppression, especially in Korea under the increasingly brutal Japanese colonial regime, but then it was also a time of intense social flux in which the continuing influence of Western culture and the effects of the great depression placed the traditional way of life into question. 1936’s Sweet Dream (迷夢 / 미몽, Mimong, lit. “delusion”) is, at the time of writing, the oldest extant sound film, and perhaps attempts to kick back against the “corruptions” of the modern age in telling a tragic story of ruined motherhood in which a young woman’s desire for material wealth and a social freedom eventually draws her to her doom.

Our “heroine” is Ae-soon (Moon Ye-bong), a married wife and mother who resents the restrictive nature of her life and attempts to escape it through embracing the “modern” hobby of shopping – with her husband’s money of course, while neglecting her young daughter Jeong-hee (Yoo Seon-ok) whom she perhaps sees as a symbol of the forces which make her a prisoner of her own home. It’s on a shopping trip that she begins her descent into ruin when she’s spotted by the extremely suspicious-looking Chang-geon (Kim In-gye) who swipes her handbag while she’s busy wrapping up purchases only to give it back to her as a kind of meet cute. Nevertheless, Ae-soon is smitten, especially as she believes that Chang-geon is extremely wealthy. Kicked out by her husband for her increasingly unacceptable behaviour, Ae-soon moves in with Chang-geon at his hotel and embarks on the fun loving and fancy free life of her dreams.

As might be expected, the film does not end there and Ae-soon will pay for her “selfish” choice to pursue pleasure in her own life rather than channelling all of her hopes and desires into her family as a woman is expected to do. Truth be told, Ae-soon is not a particularly sympathetic woman, especially as her husband Seon-yong (Lee Keum-ryong) is portrayed as kind, sensitive, and devoted to his daughter who is clearly his primary point of concern in his dealings with his wife. It is therefore difficult to sympathise with her dissatisfaction in her married life which, externally at least, appears comfortable, stable, and close to the ideal that many young women would hope for in a society which continues to favour arranged marriage.

What Ae-soon wants is something which a woman is not allowed to have – freedom. Then again, the film asks us to set aside the natural desire to be free and see Ae-soon’s refusal to conform as a corruption born of excess modernity. Rather than abandon her home to pursue a career or a dream, Ae-soon leaves in pursuit of a man and even then she pursues him not for reasons of love or desire but greed. No sooner has Ae-soon begun to discover that Chang-geon is not all he claimed to be than she’s planning the next conquest in chasing a famous dancer she quite liked the look of at the theatre the previous evening when Chang-geon skipped out to meet a “business associate” leaving her feeling neglected. Unable to chase material success off her own bat, she chases it through men by using her sexuality which places her at the wrong end of just about every social code going even while she herself continues to abide by the tenets of those social codes by remaining in a monogamous relationship with Chang-geon which is in reality not so different from her marriage save for the absence of her daughter, the fact they live in a serviced hotel, and the illusion of having more money and with it more social power.

Ae-soon is no Nora. Her decision to abandon her daughter isn’t born of a sudden awakening to the destructive effects of patriarchy (which the film otherwise belittles in its casting of Ae-soon’s dissatisfaction as a dislike of housework), but of “mistaken” ambition which, paradoxically, she pursues through trading up her sexual partners in order to increase her material wealth and social standing. Ae-soon rejects her maternity and with it her daughter because she wishes to assert her own identity and finds it impossible to maintain both within the society in which she lives, but allowing a woman to reject the ideas of home and family, as Ibsen had done 50 years previously, is too dangerous an idea for the Korea of 1936 and so Ae-soon’s “sweet dream” is in effect a siren song which will lead her down a dark path towards the only redemption possible for a woman who has betrayed the very idea of what society believes a woman to be.

Strangely enough, Sweet Dream was commissioned as a public information piece sponsored by the Choman Traffic Office as the first “traffic film” intended to increase awareness of traffic safety which is why the subject features so prominently throughout culminating the heavily foreshadowed traffic accident that provokes Ae-soon’s reawakening to her latent maternity. Understandably unhappy, the sponsors requested that the next traffic film be “more cheerful and artistic” yet what could be more symbolic (except perhaps a train) of the dangers of modernity than a speeding motorcar? Ae-soon should perhaps have learned to look both ways and cross when the going’s clear, but then again the film seems to insist that the safest place for her to be is inside the cage, that the only path to “happiness” lies in learning to accommodate oneself within its confines as any attempt to deviate from the accepted course will lead to disaster not only for the individual but for society as a whole.


Sweet Dream was screened as part of the Early Korean Cinema: Lost Films from the Japanese Colonial Period season currently running at BFI Southbank. It is also available as part of the Korean Film Archive’s The Past Unearthed: the Second Encounter Collection of Chosun Films in the 1930s box set, as well as online via the Korean Film Archive’s YouTube channel.

Early Korean Cinema: Lost Films from the Japanese Colonial Period

hurrah-for-freedom-poster.jpgClassic Korean cinema is making a long awaited return to the BFI this February with a fantastic season of rarely screened (and sadly just rare) films produced during the Japanese colonial period.

Crossroads of Youth + season introduction

crossroads of youthThe oldest extant Korean film, Crossroads of Youth follows the adventures of a young man who travels to the city to find work after his arranged marriage falls through only to fall for a girl who is about to be sold to a money lender in payment for a debt.

The screening will be preceded by an illustrated lecture from the Korean Film Archive’s Chung Chong-hwa. As at the screening at the Barbican back in 2012, the silent film will be screened in the original fashion with live music and performances and narrated by a byeonsa.

Sweet Dream + Fisherman’s Fire

 The Korean Film Archive’s Chung Chong-hwa will introduce the films at the Friday 15th screening.

sweet dream still 1Acclaimed film editor Yang Ju-nam made his directorial debut with 1936’s Sweet Dream – a melodrama revolving around a vain housewife who abandons her daughter and moves in with a lover at a hotel after her husband throws her out.

fisherman's fire still 1Co-produced by Shochiku and supervised by Yasujiro Shimazu, Ahn Cheol-young’s Fisherman’s Fire follows the melancholy fate of fisherman’s daughter In-soon who is faced with being sold in payment of a debt but escapes to Seoul only to wind up being forced to become bar girl.

Military Train + Volunteer + intro by Baek Moonim, Yonsei University

military train still 1The only film directed by Suh Kwang-je, Military Train is also accounted as the first pro-Japanese government film, which is a fairly unfortunate legacy whichever way you look at it. Intended to boost recruitment, the film follows two best friends and roommates whose lives are disrupted when one is approached by resistance agents seeking info about the military train.

volunteer still 1Another recruiting film, Anh Seok-young’s Volunteer follows a poor farm boy who is thrown off his land and resents his meagre prospects. He sees entry to the Japanese army, which has recently relaxed regulations to allow Korean men to join, as a path to making something of himself…

Tuition

tuition largeOne of the many films inspired by a child’s essay Tuition is a mildly subversive propaganda melodrama about a little boy struggling to pay his school fees who goes on a perilous adventure when his grandma is taken ill. Full review.

Spring of the Korean Peninsula + discussion

spring of the korean peninsula still 1The directorial debut of Lee Byung-il (The Love Marriage), Spring on the Korean Peninsula (adapted from Kim Seong-min’s award winning 1936 novel Artists of the Peninsula) follows a young film director struggling to film a new version of the Chun-hyang story. When he loses his lead actress, he hires his friend’s little sister but then makes a disastrous choice to facilitate his artistic dreams.

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion featuring Korean film scholars Baek Moonim (Yonsei University), Lee Hwa-jin (Inha University) and Chung Chong-hwa (Korean Film Archive), and chaired by season co-curator Kate Taylor-Jones.

Hurrah! For Freedom

hurrah freedom still 1Sadly incomplete and, ironically enough, a victim of censorship in the Park Chung-hee era, Hurrah! for Freedom (also known as Viva Freedom!) is the appropriately titled first film to have been released after the liberation and follows a betrayed resistance fighter who escapes from Japanese capture and hides out in a nurse’s apartment while covertly continuing his resistance activities.

Early Korean Cinema: Lost Films from the Japanese Colonial Period runs at the BFI Southbank from 7th February. Tickets are currently on sale to members with public sales beginning on 15th January.