Friday, August 1, 2008

Favorite Japanese Films

Many years ago, our local PBS station ran a "Japanese Film Festival" and showed a different Japanese film classic every Saturday night. My husband and I had never seen any of these films so it was an amazing experience for us and we became devoted fans of these old classics.

To mark the beginning of Dolce Bellezza's Japanese Literature Challenge, and to celebrate all things Japanese, I thought I'd post a list of our favorite classic Japanese films, with the descriptions borrowed from Netflix. So perhaps along with your reading for this challenge, you might also enjoy some amazing Japanese films!

When a stoic government official in post-war Japan learns he has terminal cancer, he realizes he has squandered his life on meaningless red tape and has no close family or friendships to lean on. He resolves to use his remaining time to usher an insignificant but popular civic project, a children's playground, through the bureaucracy he knows so well. The acclaimed Akira Kurosawa directs.

With 16th century Japan's feudal wars as a backdrop, director Kenji Mizoguchi's lyrical masterpiece delivers a profound message about the ephemeral nature of human life. Despite the conflict raging around them, a potter (Masayuki Mori) and a farmer (Saka Ozawa) -- two peasants with visions of grandeur -- journey to the city seeking wealth and glory. But their blind ambition ultimately takes its toll … on the families they left behind.

Woman in the Dunes
Hiroshi Teshigahara's award-winning drama centers on a bug expert, (Eiji Okada) conducting research, who's captured by locals. Held captive in a sandpit with a young widow, he struggles with his imprisonment -- and his growing attraction to the woman (Kyôko Kishida). Based on Kobo Abe's novel, the provocatively erotic allegorical film earned the Cannes Special Jury Prize and two Oscar nominations.

The Seven Samurai
Akira Kurosawa's heroic tale of honor and duty begins with master samurai Kambei (Takashi Shimura) posing as a monk to save a kidnapped child. Impressed by his bravery, a group of farmers begs him to defend their village from encroaching bandits. Kambei agrees and assembles a group of six other samurai, and together they build a militia with the villagers while the bandits loom nearby. Soon the raids begin, culminating in a bloody battle.

Masterless samurai Sanjuro Kuwabatake (Toshirô Mifune) finds himself in a feud-torn Japanese village in legendary director Akira Kurosawa's darkly comic film. After pretending to work for merchants on both sides of the feud, Kuwabatake is imprisoned for treachery. He escapes in time to watch the two warring factions destroy each other, just as he had intended. Yojimbo served as the prototype for Clint Eastwood's A Fistful of Dollars.

Thone of Blood
Director Akira Kurosawa's magnificent rumination on Shakespeare's tragic "Macbeth" is a dark samurai drama set in feudal Japan. Two soldiers -- Washizu (Toshiro Mifune) and Miki (Minoru Chiaki) find themselves lost in a dense forest during a powerful thunderstorm. There, they encounter a ghostly old woman who predicts that Washizu will soon rise to power. Indeed, Washizu embarks on a murderously ambitious path and quickly fulfills the prophecy.

Legendary Japanese auteur Akira Kurosawa retells Shakespeare's classic tragedy "King Lear" against a samurai backdrop. Tatsuya Nakadia is a warlord who transfers his kingdom to his eldest son. A power struggle ensues, incited by his two disinherited younger sons. Kurosawa is a master storyteller (almost on par with The Bard himself), and Ran ranks among the maestro's most compelling films.

Winner of the Cannes Special Jury Prize, Masaki Kobayashi's drama centers on samurai Hanshiro Tsugumo (Tatsuya Nakadai). A new political climate finds the once-powerful samurais wandering the country begging estate owners to allow them to commit suicide on their property, when what they really want is a handout. Hanshiro arrives at a lavish manor and asks to commit hara-kiri on the grounds, but the vengeful warrior is harboring a secret.

Hidden Fortress
A general and a princess must dodge enemy clans while smuggling the royal treasure out of hostile territory with two bumbling, conniving peasants at their sides; it's a spirited adventure that only Akira Kurosawa could create.

Picture Bride

(This film is not from the Japanese film festival, but is a beautiful film by Kayo Hatta and a sentimental favorite of ours because it is the story of the Japanese "picture brides" sent to Hawaii in the early 1900s -- my husband's grandmother was one of them!)

Following her parents' deaths, Riyo, a 16-year-old Japanese girl, becomes a "picture bride" for Matsuji, a Hawaiian sugarcane worker who, as is the custom, willingly enters into the arranged marriage. But after Riyo arrives in Hawaii, she discovers that her fiancé has deceived her with an old photo and that Matsuji is really 43. Despite the lie, and with few other options, she marries him -- but won't sleep with him.


Nymeth said...

Thank you for this, Robin! I don't know all that much about Japanese cinema, but I like what I do know, and I really appreciate the recommendations.

A few favourites of mine are Dolls, Grave of the Fireflies (which has to be one of the saddest and most touching movies ever made), and Whisper of the Heart (I loved what this movie had to say about writing and creativity in general).

Bellezza said...

Robin, we just watched Ran this weekend (a Japanese King Lear) which was wonderful! I've wanted to see The Woman In The Dunes, but only after reading the book first. This was a great post, and a great reference guide to Japanese films. Most of them I've not heard of, so I'm glad you brought them to my attention!

The Holistic Knitter said...

Ran is one of my favourite films.
Thanks for the list of others ;0)

Bobbi said...

Great list of films!