Monthly Archives: May 2011

Kenji Mizoguchi – Japan’s Forgotten Master

by Philip Concannon

September 10th 2011 will mark the 60th anniversary of an auspicious event in the history of world cinema. On that date in 1951 Rashomon won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, introducing western audiences to not only Akira Kurosawa but to the riches of Japanese cinema in general. Rashomon went on to win an Academy Award and its director became an international figure, but he wasn’t the only Japanese filmmaker winning new admirers during this period. In 1952, Kenji Mizoguchi (who was apparently fiercely jealous of the younger director’s acclaim) won the International Award at Venice for The Life of Oharu and he later won back-to-back Silver Lions at the same festival with Ugetsu monogatari and Sanshô dayû. As the western world discovered Japanese cinema, these filmmakers were its twin leading lights.

At some point during the subsequent years, that perception changed. Mizoguchi died in 1956 and the stature of his work gradually seemed to fade with his passing. If you ask people to talk about the great Japanese directors today, Kurosawa will probably be their first answer with Yasujirō Ozu being the most likely second response. It seems they are now widely regarded as the two titans of that country’s cinema and as two of the most respected and influential filmmakers of all time, and while I’m not going to argue against that evaluation, I can’t help wondering why Mizoguchi’s own considerable body of work has quietly slipped out of view. I would suggest that his films are every bit as impressive and vital as anything else produced in Japan in this period. In fact, you could make a fair case for him being the greatest of all Japanese filmmakers.

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by Spank the Monkey

Rina Takeda (left) and Tak Sakaguchi (right) hanging out in between screenings

For those of us who love Asian cinema, the Terracotta Far East Film Festival – which has just completed its third year – is an absolute delight. Its selections aren’t tied by national boundaries or by genre: drama, comedy, martial arts and horror all happily co-exist within its four-day span. And 2011 was the year when I was going to give it the justice it deserved, investing in a festival pass and seeing all fourteen movies in one huge blowout.

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America’s Next Top Model – Cycle 15

by KittyKarate

Over 15 cycles since 2003 (model years are shorter than television years) Tyra Banks has continued on her quest to find America’s Next Top Model. This person has to be a triple threat – to be able walk runway, to do commercial and television and to be strong and edgy enough to do editorial photoshoots. This is a tough challenge she has set, and over the previous cycles she has produced some talented girls, those who have worked consistently as models such as Kim Stoltz, Jaslene Gonzalez, Elyse Sewell and Toccara Jones and others who have bartered their exposure into television and acting careers such as Eva Marcille (née Pigford), Yoanna House and Yaya Dacosta. Sadly the majority of the girls, even winners, slip back into their old lives when the cycle is completed.

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Auto da Fé: The long life of Taxi Driver

by Niall Anderson

When we talk about iconic character shots in film, we’re generally talking about shots where something clever and technical happens. The simultaneous track-back and zoom when Roy Scheider sees Jaws at the beach. The puff of steam from the waiting train as Marilyn Monroe is revealed in Some Like It Hot. The subliminal flash of a skull on Anthony Perkins’s face at the end of Psycho. Taxi Driver is full of these sort of shots – full of elegant trickery and long fluid sequences that belie the rehearsal that must have made them possible – but the single scene that sticks in people’s minds couldn’t be simpler: the unbroken, unmoving shot of Travis Bickle taunting his imagined enemies in the mirror, goading himself into action.

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Video Games and Me

by MarvMarsh

Computer games entered my life in the same way they would have entered that of many children born in the early 70s: by way of my parents turning up one day and forking out for an Atari 2600 console. It was practically the beginning of home gaming and I was right there, kneeling on the floor a couple of yards from the television, taking all 128 bytes of RAM right in my face.

The first game, my first game, was “Combat”. You were a tank, or a plane, and you tried to kill an enemy tank or plane in one on one battle in various battlefields. Bullets could swerve! Yeah, take that, awful film starring Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman and a Loom of Fate; bullets were swerving in the 70s and it was fantastic. Other games followed quickly (luckily my dad kept them coming for a few months) and I loved them. “Pac-Man”, “Berzerk”, “The Empire Strikes Back” (I remember them all) and, best of the lot, “Adventure”, a game I will return to later. I played on the Atari 2600 all the time, as I did all the computers that followed it. Spectrum, Commodore 128 (ooh get me, not having the C64 but the bigger one instead. The drawback was that you had to use a different disc drive and some games wouldn’t load, so that worked out well), Amiga. For something like 15 years I loved games. Then one day, while I wasn’t looking, I fell out of love.

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Odd Future

by Alex Hartland

Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (more often known as Odd Future) are a group of ten or so foul-mouthed young rappers and musicians based in Los Angeles but incorporating members from New Orleans, Florida and Canada. Judging by their prodigious recorded output of 12 albums in 14 months, they spend most of their time making music but there are also videos of them skateboarding and goofing around on YouTube.

In February Hodgy Beats and group leader Tyler, the Creator made their TV debut on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. For the previous 12 months they had been steadily building an underground following through free albums and mixtapes of innovative, profane and often profoundly unpleasant hip hop via their tumblr site. But after the wild performance of these two then-19 year olds, backed by the Roots and, apparently, Sadako from Ringu, the profile of the group was raised beyond all measure. Following sold out shows at South By South West and much media hype, Tyler will tomorrow release “Goblin”, his second solo album and the group’s 13th in total. But how did these apparently repulsive records made by a bunch of upstarts build such a following in so short a time?

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Takashi Miike: On the Outside, Hacking In

A conversation between Spank The Monkey and The Belated Birthday Girl

The US poster for 13 Assassins. The UK one simply isn’t as good, sorry.

SPANK THE MONKEY: This Friday sees the UK theatrical release of Takashi Miike’s second film, 13 Assassins. It’s been a full decade since his debut Audition was in cinemas here, and it’s hard to understand why a director with such a low work rate has achieved the reputation that … oh, I’m sorry, I can’t keep this up. I’m just trying to see if I can write the single most inaccurate opening paragraph ever published on Mostly Film. You’ve got the IMDB stats there: how many films has he made?

THE BELATED BIRTHDAY GIRL: Between Audition and 13 Assassins, about fifty. I think we’ve watched about 33 of his in total, but a couple of them pre-date Audition, so we’ve seen around half of those fifty.

STM: That’s handy. It’s always good to establish your credentials before the jump, I think.

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Unexplained Lights in the Sky: Susan Hiller’s “Witness”

by Ann Jones

Strange lights in the sky, odd saucer-shaped objects circling overhead, aliens who abduct unwitting passers by before returning them to their day to day lives… UFO sightings are familiar territory, occupying the minds of conspiracy theorists and providing the subject matter of countless films and television programmes and an interesting challenge to the ingenuity of special effects designers especially in the days before CGI. To declare my hand from the start: I don’t believe in UFOs. I believe there is always a rational explanation for lights in the sky and that it’s never the presence of space craft from elsewhere in the universe. I believe that the ghost in the tree is almost always a plastic bag, that the shadowy alien form on the television after closedown is probably tiredness, or dodgy technology, or bad weather, or almost anything but attempted communication from another world, that fact and fiction are easily blurred, especially in the presence of the human mind, and that true stories are still just stories. And I believe that you can prove practically anything with the internet if you have a mind to. So why then do I find Susan Hiller’s sound installation “Witness” – currently on display at Tate Britain as part of a retrospective of Hiller’s work – one of the most compelling art works I’ve seen in recent years?

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