WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE: Best Ghibli film since MONONOKE

24 May

vlcsnap-2015-05-24-09h36m45s132

WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE is a love story, a ghost story and a coming-of-age tale, all rendered in beautiful, painterly, exquisite 2-D animation. It is about Anna, a troubled 12-year-old girl in modern Japan who is sent to visit relatives in Kushiro, on the island of Hokkaido, for the summer so that she can get a break from the stress that is giving her asthma attacks. While exploring the rural region where she is staying, she finds a magnificent old house that’s apparently been abandoned and eventually meets a beautiful girl named Marnie, who supposedly lives there, and embarks on a series of adventures with her in what soon becomes obvious is some kind of ghostly realm. Revelations gradually ensue, resulting in the kind of emotional spectacle that some of us cherish but encounter too rarely in films these days. That’s all the plot I’m going to give you, since the film will work best if you go in cold, not knowing what to expect.

Continue reading

Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon: PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1948)

16 May

This post is my contribution to the My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon in support of the first National Classic Movie DayThe home page for the blogathon can be found here:

http://www.classicfilmtvcafe.com/2015/03/a-blogathon-in-celebration-of-inaugural.html

Jennie 1

Since a couple of the favorites I would have picked were already taken by other bloggers (e.g. THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES and CASABLANCA), I opted for PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1948), which I saw for the first time as an adult and quickly became a favorite after a TV viewing and a big-screen viewing. I wrote a piece about it after the big-screen showing, which took place 24 years ago yesterday, and, since the piece has never been published, I decided to use it as my entry in this Blogathon. The emphasis is on the film’s use of New York City locations and how they contribute to the romantic and otherworldly aura of the film. Without further ado, here is the original essay:

Continue reading

Orson Welles Centennial

6 May

Orson Welles would have turned 100 today, May 6, 2015. Last night I re-watched ORSON WELLES: THE ONE-MAN BAND, a 1995 documentary which shows Oja Kodar (Welles’ companion for the last 20-odd years of his life) going through film footage Welles left in numerous film cans (mostly 35mm) in storage over the years and sharing bits and pieces of it with us. While there’s little in the way of a potential masterpiece excerpted in it (other than, perhaps, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, his famous late unfinished project, and an arty made-for-TV short version of “Merchant of Venice”), it’s fun watching Welles in a variety of eras and boasting a variety of looks, mainly having fun with the camera. He loved filmmaking and liked to shoot wherever he went. As Kodar shows us, he carried a case with an editing console and another one with various cameras and filmmaking tools wherever he went. If you love Welles, you should see this film because there’s a lot of Welles in it, in all sorts of modes, and Kodar’s love and devotion to him are quite evident throughout.

Continue reading

40 Years of Sentai: Japanese Costumed Superhero Teams

5 Apr

Forty years ago today, on April 5, 1975, a series called “Goranger” premiered on the TV Asahi network in Japan. The full Japanese title of the show is “Himitsu Sentai Gorenja,” translated literally into English as “Secret Squadron FiveRangers.” It was the first in a long franchise devoted to the concept of a team of five people (usually four men and one woman) in color-coded costumes that bestow certain powers and skills on them so they can work together to defeat monstrous enemies either based on Earth or from other planets (or dimensions) who attack Japan and wreak havoc on, usually, Tokyo. Sentai is the general term for this franchise, although Super Sentai is technically the more accurate term for the seasons that began in 1979 since Super Sentai refers to a sentai series with mecha (mechanical vehicles, usually human- or animal-shaped) used by the heroes. (I’m just going to refer to the entire franchise as sentai, non-italicized, in the rest of this piece.) Sentai series are best known in the U.S. for their American version, Power Rangers, which has been on the air since 1993. (The picture on top is from “Denjiman,” the 1980 sentai season.)

Sentai shows are part of the broader Japanese genre of tokusatsu, meaning live-action special effects programs, usually in the sci-fi or fantasy genres. Famous tokusatsu programs include the Ultraman and Kamen Rider franchises and “Giant Robo” (aka “Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot”). I covered some of these shows in Ultraman Heaven, my entry from December 15, 2014, and Classic Japanese TV  from March 16, 2014.

Continue reading

Pioneering manga artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi, chronicler of postwar Japanese alienation

23 Mar

On March 7, manga artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi died in Tokyo at the age of 79. I first heard of him when Dwight Garner reviewed his massive manga autobiography, A Drifting Life, in The New York Times on April 15, 2009. I immediately went out and purchased it after reading the review and read it afterwards.

Tatsumi was famous in Japan for injecting adult themes into Japanese comic books (manga), starting in 1956, when his first full-length manga story, “Black Blizzard,” was published when he was just 21. It’s a vivid, action-packed story of crime, natural disaster, and redemption, done in the style of a hard-hitting, tightly edited crime movie. He popularized the term, “Gekiga,” to differentiate adult-themed manga from comics aimed at children.

Continue reading

ON WINGS OF LOVE (1957): American Songs in Japanese Musicals—and Vice Versa

8 Mar

Hibari cover 2

On November 9, 2014, I wrote about ROMANCE MUSUME (1956), the second in a series of movie musicals starring the group, “Sannin Musume,” consisting of the three top pop stars in Japan of that era, Hibari Misora, Chiemi Eri and Izumi Yukimura. The third film was OHATARI SANSHOKU MUSUME (aka ON WINGS OF LOVE, 1957) and was the last film they made as “Sannin Musume” before going their separate ways (although sometimes two of them would appear together in films). They reunited in 1964, as adults, for HIBARI CHIEMI IZUMI SANNIN YOREBA, which I haven’t written about yet here. The third film, which I’ll refer to as ON WINGS OF LOVE, the English title given on IMDB, is notable for being the first film made in Tohoscope, the first Japanese widescreen process to be used in Japan (by Toho Pictures, naturally). I first heard about this film in a reference in Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s autobiographical manga, A Drifting Life, as depicted in this frame, the caption of which confuses Toho with rival studio Toei:

Tatsumi 1

Continue reading

Oscars 2015: Shorten the Speeches, Amp Up the Stars

27 Feb

Every year the Oscar show unfolds and seems to last forever and every year everyone complains about it. I always tell myself I’m not gonna watch anymore and then, of course, I do. All the way to the end, which is way past my bedtime. This year, the Oscar show was more like the Independent Spirit Awards, with virtually the same movies in competition. Lots of indie people filled the auditorium and few bonafide Hollywood stars of any magnitude were around. There were lots of presenters I didn’t recognize, some of whom I’ve heard of but wouldn’t have been able to recognize (e.g. Chris Pratt), some of whom I’ve never heard of (Ansel Elgort, anyone?), and some whom I’ve heard of but was seeing live for the first time (Margot Robbie). And there were frequent cuts to audience members, presumably nominees, whom I was clearly supposed to know but didn’t.

Eddie Redmayne, eventual Best Actor winner for THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, although I didn’t recognize him when they first showed him

Continue reading

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 45 other followers