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Deanna Durbin and Her Japanese Fans

15 Aug

I was watching THE WHOLE FAMILY WORKS (1939), a Japanese film directed by Mikio Naruse about a family with seven kids trying to make ends meet in contemporary Japan, when I was struck by a scene 20 minutes into it where the second oldest son, Genji, who has left school to work, opens a magazine or workbook of some kind during a scene where he’s helping his younger brothers study in the room they share and reveals a photo of American movie star Deanna Durbin that he’s hidden in the book.

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Hollywood and Japan: Betty Boop Crosses Cultures

15 Feb

I recently watched a Japanese film from 1934, an early talkie called OUR NEIGHBOR MISS YAE (TONARI NO YAE-CHAN), directed by Yasujiro Shimazu, about two young brothers, a university student and an adolescent middle school baseball star, who live across the street from Yaeko, an attractive young student, and the romantic complications that ensue when Yaeko’s older sister Kyoko returns home after leaving her husband and begins to flirt with Keitaro, the university student, whom Yaeko has always had her sights set on.

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From Wake Island to Gamera to Perry Mason

23 Nov

In 1942, Hollywood made WAKE ISLAND to commemorate one of the earliest battles in the Pacific War. As depicted in the film, the American marines on Wake Island, vastly outnumbered by attacking Japanese in the early months of the war, fought back valiantly for weeks before finally being overrun and killed. In the film, Brian Donlevy plays Major Geoffrey Caton, the Marine commander on the island, and Albert Dekker plays Shad McClosky, a civilian engineer heading all construction on the island. McClosky resents having to take orders from Caton, but when the fighting starts, he demands weapons for himself and his men. Caton says no. When the Japanese finally storm the beaches en masse, Caton and McClosky man a machine gun together in a foxhole and fight to the death.

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OPERATION BOTTLENECK – A Hollywood WWII Film with Asian Female Commandos

1 Aug

Friday, July 24th, marked the 95th birthday of Japanese-American actress Miiko Taka, who is, happily, still with us. She is best known for co-starring with Marlon Brando in SAYONARA (1957), in which she plays a Takarazuka performer in Kyoto who has a romance with an American Air Force officer. To celebrate the occasion of her birthday, I found one of her more obscure Hollywood films on Amazon Prime and watched it. OPERATION BOTTLENECK (1961), released by United Artists, is pretty much a standard World War II tale of a small American unit going behind the lines in Burma to blow up a “bottleneck” in a key road the Japanese army needs to advance into India. In the course of it, however, they free five “comfort girls,” local village women who had been forced into serving the Japanese officers at their headquarters, and must train them in combat to assist in their mission. It’s a pretty far-fetched story, done on quite a low budget and has some major problems with sexist dialogue and racial slurs, not to mention profoundly insensitive treatment of the comfort women, but it’s also quite distinct from other Hollywood treatments of the war with Japan. It is, I believe, the only World War II movie made in Hollywood with an actress of Japanese descent given top billing and also the only time Hollywood has shown an American officer leading Asian female guerrillas in a war movie, although when they go into combat they’re not quite dressed as they are in this poster:

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Setsuko Hara Centennial

17 Jun

The great Japanese actress, Setsuko Hara, would have turned 100 today, June 17, 2020. She died five years ago at the age of 95. She’s most famous for her films for director Yasujiro Ozu, including LATE SPRING, EARLY SUMMER, TOKYO STORY, LATE AUTUMN and THE END OF SUMMER. She starred in NO REGRETS FOR OUR YOUTH (1946), Akira Kurosawa’s first postwar film, and again for Kurosawa in THE IDIOT. She made four films for Mikio Naruse, including REPAST, SUDDEN RAIN, THE SOUND OF THE MOUNTAIN and DAUGHTER, WIVES, MOTHER. Her last film was Toho’s all-star saga of the 47 Ronin, CHUSHINGURA (1962), and she played the wife of the protagonist, Oishi, a chamberlain secretly plotting over the course of a year to rally the ronin and avenge the death of their disgraced lord. Continue reading

Great Moments in Classic TV 2019

25 Jan

In 2019, I saw 425 TV episodes, 325 of them American and 100 Japanese. I will focus here on highlights from classic American TV that I discovered this past year.

The single series I watched the most episodes from was “Perry Mason,” for a total of 70. I’ve been going slowly, but methodically, through the nine-season box set I purchased in 2017 and I watched from “The Case of the Renegade Refugee” (Season 5 / #13, Dec. 9, 1961) to “The Case of the Simple Simon” (Season 7 / #24, April 2, 1964).

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World War II on Film: “Crusade in the Pacific” (1951)

26 Nov

I’ve been immersed in World War II research lately. What started it was the random discovery of tons of material on the war on YouTube. I began watching all sorts of documentaries and collections of original footage from the war. I then plunged into my collection of Hollywood movies on the subject, watching or re-watching 18 so far. Then, and most importantly, I pulled books about the  war off my history shelves and began reading chapters on the subjects I’d just seen in the films and documentaries. For example, after watching a TV documentary about Guadalcanal and then a movie in which the battle is featured, I would look for chapters on Guadalcanal in various books to get the full story. My emphasis has been on the war with Japan and I began reading The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945, written by eminent historian John Toland and published in 1970, in which the author interviewed many Japanese participants and read through Japanese transcripts and documents to get their side of the story. I’m over halfway through it.

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Jeff Chandler Centennial

15 Dec

Jeff Chandler would have turned 100 today, December 15, 2018. He died an untimely death in 1961 at the age of 42 after a back operation left him with blood poisoning, right after coming home from finishing his last film, a WWII movie shot in the Philippines called MERRILL’S MARAUDERS, which would be released a year after he died. Directed by Samuel Fuller and based on a true story, it was one of Chandler’s best films.

As a leading man under contract to Universal Pictures, Chandler occupied a unique position in the 1950s, the decade in which he did most of his major work. Tall, athletic, rugged and boasting sharp, protruding features—square jaw, dimpled chin, thick curling lips, long straight nose, high cheekbones, piercing eyes, dark, bushy eyebrows, and prematurely graying hair—Chandler found himself playing unsmiling officers, tribal chiefs and authority figures of various sorts in a wide range of genres, notably westerns, historical adventures, war movies, swashbucklers, and romantic melodramas. As an actor, he had a limited range, one he voluntarily adhered to, but did wonders within that range. As far as I can tell, he played a genuine villain only once—in the 1959 western, THE JAYHAWKERS, in which the hero was played by Fess Parker, TV’s Davy Crockett.

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Robert Aldrich Centennial

9 Aug

Robert Aldrich was born on August 9, 1918 and would have turned 100 today. (He died in 1983.) He was one of my earliest favorite movie directors. By the time I saw THE DIRTY DOZEN (pictured above, with Aldrich in the red sweater directing, with Charles Bronson on the right) in high school, I’d already seen three of his earlier films, two in theaters (THE LAST SUNSET, HUSH HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE) and one on TV (VERA CRUZ), and I loved DOZEN so much I made it a point to seek out every one of his films as they came out. In fact, just three weeks after I first saw DOZEN, I went to see his newest movie, TOO LATE THE HERO (1970) when it opened on Broadway. I missed the next one, THE GRISSOM GANG (1971), when it opened, but starting with ULZANA’S RAID (1972), a cavalry-and-Indians western starring Burt Lancaster, I saw every one of his remaining films in theaters on their original release. Also, as I began taking film classes in college and seeing movies in repertory theaters in Manhattan, I sought out Aldrich’s older films, especially as I learned of the high esteem he was held in by auteurists, and discovered for myself some of his very best films, including KISS ME DEADLY (1955), ATTACK (1956), and WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962), not to mention the chance to see VERA CRUZ (1954) on the big screen. At the beginning of 2018, I finally caught up with Aldrich’s debut film, THE BIG LEAGUER (1953), a baseball drama starring Edward G. Robinson, and, as of this writing, I have only one Aldrich film left to see, the rarely-screened lesbian drama, THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE (1969).

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The Best Films of 1956

18 Dec

The older I get, the more I like watching films from the 1950s, the decade in which I was born, especially the mid-1950s. I like revisiting my favorites from that period and continually discovering new films from that time, be they westerns, dramas, crime movies, historical epics, musicals, sci-fi, horror, etc. It was a unique period for filmmaking, as Hollywood was undergoing a transition from the studio era, its ironclad contracts and ownership of theaters to one of independent production, independent theater chains, a loosening of the Production Code, more location shooting and greater acceptance by the public of foreign films. The old guard was still turning out exemplary work, as seen in the films of John Ford, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, William Wyler and King Vidor, all of whom had gotten their start during the silent era, while younger directors with bolder visions and new stylistic approaches had emerged during and after the war, including Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, John Huston, Elia Kazan, Anthony Mann, Vincente Minnelli, Nicholas Ray, Don Siegel, Samuel Fuller, Robert Aldrich, Douglas Sirk and Otto Preminger. In addition, a host of new talent was emerging from television, Broadway and documentaries and quickly finding their way to Hollywood, including Stanley Kubrick, Arthur Penn, Martin Ritt, Delbert Mann, Sidney Lumet, John Frankenheimer, and Robert Altman. These overlapping waves of directors offered an unprecedented talent pool the likes of which Hollywood has never seen since. It’s no coincidence that a group of French film critics developed the auteur theory around this time.

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