World Theatrical Premiere of 4K restoration. Introduced by John David Baldwin, creator of http://www.uchidatomu.com/ and contributor to Arrow’s recent blu-ray release.
Also known as The Straits of Hunger, Tomu Uchida’s late career masterpiece stars Rentaro Mikuni as a man whose attempts to start again in the post-war era are frustrated by the reappearance of a woman from his past. Review.
Indo-Japanese co-production 10 years in the making adapting the sanskrit epic in which exiled prince Rama retreats to the forest where he incurs the wrath of the demon king Ravana. When his beautiful wife Sita is kidnapped, be becomes embroiled in a battle which will decide the fate of the kingdom.
The screenings take place in January, 2023 at Japan Society New York. Tickets priced at $15 / $12 students & seniors, and $5 Japan Society Members are on sale now via the official website and you can also keep up with all the year-round events by following Japan Society Film on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
As the investigative duo at the centre of Hideo Nakata’s eerie supernatural horror Ringu (リング) begin to unlock the mystery of Sadako, we’re told that a strange woman who may have had some kind of psychic powers was loathed by those around her in part because of her habit of sitting and staring at the sea. Nakata opens the film with waves and often returns to them as if suggesting in this millennial horror that what we fear is a transmission we cannot see. In the end there may not be so much difference between the magic of an analogue TV broadcast and a message from another plane.
In any case, perhaps the central message is that one should pay more attention to the words of those whose warnings are often dismissed on the grounds of their age and gender. Journalist Reiko (Nanako Matsushima), for example, doesn’t seem too invested in a video she’s making about a cursed video related by a trio of high school girls in a cafe who explain that they don’t personally know anyone who’s died after watching it but have been reliably informed by friends of friends who apparently do. As will later be discovered, the girls actually give Reiko crucial information but for whatever reason she does not remember it until coming to the same conclusion herself. In any case, it’s not until her own niece, Tomoko (Yuko Takeuchi), dies in mysterious circumstances that Reiko starts to wonder if this is more than a spooky story elevating the chain letter to new technological heights.
According to the urban legend, if you watch the cursed tape you’ll immediately get a phone call telling you you’ll die in seven days. The supernatural entity now synonymous with the film, Sadako, is manipulating these still analogue waves for herself. Sending her messages via television and telephone she is a literal ghost of the airwaves and as Reiko’s ex-husband Ryuji later puts it radiating her sense of rage in her own mistreatment, insisting that her story be known and that those who refuse to acknowledge it should not be allowed to survive. Just as Reiko should have listened to the high school girls, someone should have listened to Sadako and because they didn’t others now have no choice.
In a sense Sadako represents this nascent fear of technological advancement. When Reiko answers her flip phone, it’s a reminder that there’s no escape from unwanted communication even if you can in theory try to switch it off. The girl with Tomoko when she died was driven out of her mind and now won’t venture anywhere near a television, as if you could escape Sadako’s wrath by merely keeping your distance from the portal. The two teenagers who died around the same time as Tomoko were in a car in the middle of nowhere, but cars have radios which receive radio waves. Sadako travels through the air, invisible until she chooses not to be. She may only have a direct line, but it is in one sense a call for help she’s issuing only in the very inefficient manner of a vengeful ghost whose rage has become indiscriminate or at least directed towards the society that wronged her and everyone in it rather than a single guilty party.
In a certain sense, you can cure the curse only by spreading it. If everyone everywhere suddenly understood, learned Sadako’s painful history, then the curse would wither and die with no new hosts to go to which is perhaps what Sadako wants. Yet it leaves Reiko with a dilemma, knowing that to save the lives of those closest to her she may have to ask someone else to risk their life or even expose them without their consent. Throughout the film she’s been depicted as an imperfect mother, divorced and often leaving her small son Yoichi to fend for himself at home while the boy at one point walks past his own father in the street and does not seem to recognise him so absent had he been in his life. Through their shared quest to undo the curse, the pair in a sense reclaim their parental roles and repair their familial ties in working together to save their son’s life in contrast to the parental figures surrounding Sadako who may have done the reverse. Sadako frightens us because of her transgressive qualities, quite literally transgressing the barriers between ourselves and the stories we tell by crawling out of them and finding us here, on the other side of the screen, where we thought we were safe to remind us not to look away and to listen to those whose voices are all too often ignored.
“Samurai aren’t as great as you might think” according to a jaded retainer in Kihachi Okamoto’s Kill! (斬る, Kiru) but it’s a message that the ambitious farmer at the film’s centre struggles to take in. Having been a victim of samurai violence he resolves to become a samurai while a former samurai turned yakuza drifter attempts to show him the hypocritical realities of the samurai life as they find themselves swept into local intrigue when a band of young revolutionaries arrive to cut down a corrupt and oppressive lord.
Corrupt and oppressive is perhaps the defining image of the samurai in post-war cinema, but like the film’s title that cuts both ways. Farmer Tabata (Etsushi Takahashi) sold his lands to buy a sword after witnessing peasants cut down during an uprising but he’s decided the best way out of oppression is to become an oppressor and is dead set on achieving samurai glory through the time-honoured method of distinguishing himself in battle. That may prove a little difficult given that his new boss, Ayuzawa (Shigeru Koyama), immediately mocks him for swinging his sword as if it were a scythe. Then again as former samurai Genta (Tatsuya Nakadai) explains to him, if you don’t know what you’re doing you can always just stab people which at the end of the day does rather undermine the idea of samurai elegance in the art of killing.
Genta keeps trying to tell Tabata that “samurai are no good” but Tabata still wants to be one anyway even after learning that Ayuzawa means to double cross them, hiring ronin to take out the young samurai whose sense of honour he manipulated to eliminate the admittedly corrupt (but aren’t they all?) lord for his own political gain while planning to send in his retainers to finish off the job to ensure there are no witnesses. Genta gave up his samurai status because he was “disgusted” by just this sort of duplicity along with the meaningless codes of loyalty that govern samurai society and caused him to betray a friend who was acting only in the interests of justice. Leader of the ronin Jurota (Shin Kishida) did something similar though in his case for love when his fiancée’s father was condemned on false charges and she and her mother exiled. He wants not land or status but only money in order to redeem the woman he loves from a geisha house and like Genta is under no illusions about the nature of samurai life having figured out most of what’s going on but hoping to emerge with the means to liberate both himself and his wife from samurai oppression.
Even the elderly chamberlain later rescued by Genta tries to warn Tabata that the samurai life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, hinting at the ways they are also oppressed by their own code while clearly gleeful to have had the opportunity of stepping into a teahouse for the first time responding to Genta’s request to stay put that if he could he’d like to stay put for the rest of his days. Both former samurai, neither Genta nor Jurota are minded to draw their swords knowing that whatever the outcome it would be unhappy while the young who thought it was their duty to change the world by removing one who brought shame on their names are faced with the realisation that they have been used and their resistance will count for nothing. Even their bond as brothers banding together to achieve a common goal is eventually disrupted by alcohol and petty jealousy.
Genta acts as a kind of chorus, touched by the naivety of the seven samurai holed up in a mountain lodge because they believed in justice, while knowing that the society itself is innately unjust and already beyond redemption. Tabata eventually comes to a similar conclusion having gained samurai status but found it quite literally uncomfortable deciding to shake off his newfound nobility and rejoin Genta as a cynical yet pure hearted wanderer because the only way to escape samurai oppression is to actively live outside it. The final irony is that it’s the elderly chamberlain who eventually sets him, and all they women trapped in indentured servitude at the geisha house, free using samurai gold to enable them to escape a system he himself cannot escape but does not exactly support while Genta enlists the help of local peasants to hold a festival of rebellion to cover the final assault. Marked by Okamoto’s characteristically absurd humour and cartoonish composition along with the eerily gothic emptiness of the deserted ghost town where not even yakuza can survive the film takes on a quasi-spiritual dimension in which Genta and the gang eventually walk out of hell if only into a purgatorial freedom.
Japan Society New York has announced the lineup for its upcoming autumn programme of classic films and anime kicking off on Sept. 2 with a 35mm screening of Kihachi Okamoto’s satirical chambara Kill! and closing on Nov. 14 with the much loved Studio Ghibli classic My Neighbor Totoro.
Inspired by the same source material as Akira Kurosawa’s Sanjuro, Kihachi Okamoto’s absurdist jidaigeki finds a naive farmer and jaded samurai turned yakuza swept into local conspiracy when seven samurai arrive intent on removing a corrupt lord little knowing they too are merely pawns in a much grander game.
Landmark adaptation of the Taiyo Matsumoto manga directed by Michael Arias and following two street kids in a futuristic city who survive through pickpocketing only to have their territory contested by invading yakuza intent on building an amusement park.
Classic J-horror from 1998 directed by Hideo Nakata and adapted from the novel by Koji Suzuki in which a journalist with a young son begins investigating a series of unexplained deaths among teens who had each watched a mysterious videotape.
The much loved Studio Ghibli classic in which two little girls discover a new world of wonders after moving to the countryside while their mother is ill in hospital.
The fall season runs Sept. 2 to Nov. 4 at Japan Society New York. Tickets priced at $15 / $12 students & seniors, and $5 Japan Society Members are on sale now via the official website and you can also keep up with all the year-round events by following Japan Society Film on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.