I bought PAINTED FACES (1988) on VHS at a Chinatown video store in 1999 and only just got to see it a week ago. It’s a drama about a Peking Opera troupe in Hong Kong in the 1960s and the efforts of its stern instructor, Master Yu, to train a group of boys, all sent there by their hard-pressed parents, in the dying arts of Peking Opera performance. Three of the boys just happen to be Jackie Chan (called “Big Nose” by the other characters), Sammo Hung (called “Sammo” by the others although he didn’t get that name in real life until he was an adult), and Yuen Biao, three performers who would revolutionize Hong Kong cinema in the 1970s and ’80s with their stunt-filled action and martial arts comedies. The three starred together in a number of 1980s films themselves, including PROJECT A, PROJECT A II, DRAGONS FOREVER, WINNERS AND SINNERS and WHEELS ON MEALS. Chan and Hung became important directors of their films as well.
L-R: Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao in PROJECT A (1983)
An Olympic Fable: Run for Life
One of the most obscure anime titles in my VHS collection was found in a battered case in a used video bin at a now-shuttered video store back in May 1998. At the time I had no idea what its exact origin was, but I was sure it was Japanese animation, thanks to the © 1983 Harmony Gold credit on the case and the style of art seen in the intriguing image of a young man in Ancient Greece running with a look of urgency on his face. Harmony Gold is the U.S. company that crafted the 85-episode syndicated series, “Robotech,” in 1985 by stringing together three unrelated anime sci-fi series from 1982-84 and adapting the dialogue so that the stringing together made sense. The title on the case of the videotape I bought is “An Olympic Fable: Run for Life,” while the onscreen title on the tape itself is just “Run for Life.”
At the end of my previous entry, a critique of GODZILLA (2014), I offered a teaser of this one, with five images from the first classic Godzilla movie I went back to after seeing the new one. After taking a number of screen grabs, I thought I’d make an entire entry composed of scenes from the film to show how poetic imagery infused the entire film (and other Japanese kaiju–giant monster–films) in a way that seems alien to the creators of the remake. By happy coincidence, I’ve been reading a book of academic essays called In Godzilla’s Footsteps: Japanese Pop Culture Icons on the Global Stage (Palgrave Macmillan 2006), edited by William M. Tsutsui and Michiko Ito, and it happens to contain an essay called, “Mothra’s Gigantic Egg: Consuming the South Pacific in 1960s Japan,” by Yoshikuni Igarashi. The essay looks at the first two Mothra films, MOTHRA (1961) and GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA (1964, aka GODZILLA VS. THE THING, as it was called in its U.S. release in 1964), and discusses Japan’s relationship to the South Pacific, where Mothra originates, in its history and popular culture and how the South represents an “innocent past” and a “mirror of Japan’s desire to escape the effect of its economic success—consumerism.” Igarashi goes on to discuss GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA and how Godzilla “represents a threat to Japan’s postwar prosperity” while Mothra has become “an emblem of Japan’s consumerism.”
Following are images from the film interspersed with excerpts from the text of Igarashi’s essay: