Classic Movie Review: Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter H

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Title: Hiroshima, Mon Amour
Release Date: 10 June 1959
Director: Alain Resnais
Production Company: Argos Films | Como Films |
Daiei Studios | Pathé Entertainment | Pathé Overseas
Summary/Review:

Along with The 400 Blows and Breathless, this movie kickstarted the French New Wave.  Director Alain Resnais previously made the Holocaust documentary Night and Fog, and this movie similarly pulls no punches in using archival footage depicting the horrors of the atomic bomb detonation in Hiroshima.  The better part of the movie though focuses on a non-linear conversation between French Actress Elle (Emmanuelle Riva) and Japanese architect Lui (Eiji Okada) as the have a brief and passionate affair.  Note that their names are French for “Her” and “Him.”

They talk about Hiroshima and the bomb, and they talk about their own experiences during the war (which includes many flashbacks to Elle’s family home in Nevers, France).  The focus of the film is on memories and trying to remember while needing to forget.  It is a bit on the talky side and a bit pretentious as well.  I’m afraid it didn’t hold my attention all that well, but the lead actors are great and I liked the location work and the then innovative “flashes” of memory.

Rating: **1/2

Classic Movie Review: Grave of the Fireflies (1988) #atozchallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter G

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Today’s film is not on any of these lists, but it is highly regarded and in my opinion is an all-time classic film.

Title: Grave of the Fireflies
Release Date: April 16, 1988
Director: Isao Takahata
Production Company: Studio Ghibli
Summary/Review:

I have very limited experience watching anime and associate the genre with fantasy film so was surprised to learn that Grave of the Fireflies is an historical drama set in Kobe, Japan in the final months of World War II.  It tells the story of two children struggling to survive on their own after their mother is killed in by American firebombing raid and their father is away serving in the Japanese Navy.  Seita (Tsutomu Tatsumi) is a young teenager who takes on the responsibility of raising his four-year-old sister Setsuko (Ayano Shiraishi).  The film depicts him as hard-working and devoted but nevertheless still a child himself and limited in what he can do.  Setsuko is the sweetest and an accurate depiction of a very young child.

The movie is both heartwarming and heartbreaking.  Heartwarming in that is a love story between the siblings who care for one another when there is no one else to do so.  Heartbreaking in that it depicts the suffering and poverty of child refugees that is a constant outcome of war.  This film could easily be updated today and be set in Syria, Yemen, or Myanmar, and that’s terrible.  The movie is also beautiful with the bucolic setting of their pondside shelter and a trip to the beach contrasted with the devastation of war.  It’s clearly a deliberate choice by the filmmakers to draw the titular fireflies in the same style as the incendiary devices falling from American bombers.

Grave of the Fireflies is among the saddest films I’ve ever watched but it’s also one of the best.

Rating: *****

Classic Movie Review: Sans Soleil (1983)


Title: Sans Soleil
Release Date: March 2, 1983
Director: Chris Marker
Production Company: Argos Films
Summary/Review:

Sans Soleil is classified as a documentary but it’s really more of a series of vignettes and video essays arranged in an experimental matter.  It is the work of Chris Marker, creator of the equally experimental La Jetée, who presents himself as a fictional traveler who has sent his film to be described by the narrator (Alexandra Stewart). The original footage is largely from Japan, with a loose discussion of Japanese culture and customs, but also includes filmed in Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Iceland, Paris, and San Francisco.  The San Francisco segment is from a sequence that feels like a non-sequitur as the filmmaker visits sites from Vertigo.   I was up too late watching this film and started drifting off to sleep which I think only helped to accentuate the dreamlike qualities of this strange and wonderful film.

Rating: ****1/2

Classic Movie Review: Harakiri (1962)


Title: Harakiri 
Release Date: September 16, 1962
Director: Masaki Kobayashi
Production Company: Shochiku
Summary/Review:

In  1630, in Edo, a ronin, a samurai without a master, arrives the estate of the Iyi clan, requesting to be allowed to commit ritual suicide in their courtyard. Tsugumo Hanshirō (Tatsuya Nakadai) claims that he’d rather die than suffer the humiliation of living in poverty since his own clan was dissolved. The response of the senior counselor of the estate is Saitō Kageyu (Rentarō Mikuni) is “not again.” It had become a shameful practice of ronin to bluff at committing suicide in hopes of getting money or even a position in the palace. Hanshirō insists that he doesn’t intend to leave the estate alive, and as he prepares for seppuku, or harakiri, he tells a story that challenges the honor of the Iyi clan and the samurai code (bushido).

On the surface, Harakiri is a revenge story and an examination of the historical morality of the samurai.  But it is also a metaphor for how the wealthy elite fail in the moral responsibility for the working people.  The samurai who are discarded because they are no longer needed represent the laboring people whose work and lives are often seen as disposable.  Watching this just after Parasite, makes me see a lot of parallels between the two very different movies.

The movie is well-directed and well-acted.  There’s a real slow burn as the details of Hanshirō’s story build upon one another.  And there’s also a long time of building tension before the swords come out for the inevitable samurai battles, which turn out to be very gory.  Harakiri is a powerful, thoughtful, and moving film, and I highly recommend it.

Rating: ****1/2

Classic Movie Review: Yojimbo (1961)


Title: Yojimbo
Release Date: 25 April 1961
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Production Company: Kurosawa Production | Toho
Summary/Review:

In 1860, a  rōnin (Toshiro Mifune) travels through rural Japan, dropping a stick to decide his fate (much like Abraham Lincoln). His path carries him to a town dominated by two rival gangs of criminals. He gets the lay of the land from an elderly tavernkeeper, Gonji (Eijirō Tōno), who tells him that the only the only profitable business in the town is the coffin maker. The rōnin, who makes up the name Kuwabatake Sanjuro for himself, determines that all the criminals deserve death. He offers his services as a bodyguard (“yojimbo” in Japanese) to both gangs and uses the bidding war to initiate a long con for the two gangs to destroy one another.

The movie starts as a comedy but slowly evolves into a grim spectacle. I was surprised by the level of graphic violence for a movie from 1961, although I supposed today’s audiences would find it tame.  Kurosawa’s direction is one again excellent with spectacular framing of the various set pieces and the views of the townfolk peeking through the cracks in their shutters. Kurosawa drew on American Westerns for influence and in turn inspired more Westerns, specifically Sergio Leone’s “A Man With No Name” movies with Clint Eastwood. Mifune’s samurai may be the iconic representation of the antihero that remains a popular character – for good or for ill – in Hollywood movies to this day.

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Reviews: Sansho the Bailiff (1954)


Title: Sansho the Bailiff
Release Date:  March 31, 1954
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Production Company: Daiei Film
Summary/Review:

In the 11th-century, a virtuous governor is banished by the feudal lord because he has been too kind and generous to the ordinary people.  His wife Tamaki (Kinuyo Tanaka) and children, Zushiō and Anju, are sent to live with her brother, but along the journey they are captured. Tamaki is sold into prostitution while the children are sent to a manorial estate where they work as slaves under the brutal Sanshō (Eitarō Shindō).

A decade passes and Anju (Kyōko Kagawa) and Zushiō (Yoshiaki Hanayagi) plot their escape.  What follows is a grim and tragic story of suffering, suicide, revenge, loss, and grief.  The film is punctuated just often enough by moments of humanity that keep one from falling into despair.  But this is a definitely a movie that is an indictment of humankind.

Rating: ***1/2

Classic Movie Review: Late Spring (1949)


Title: Late Spring
Release Date: September 19, 1949
Director: Yasujirō Ozu
Production Company: Shochiku
Summary/Review:

Following on Tokyo Story and Floating Weeds, watching this movie is making me a Yasujirō Ozu fan.  Conceptually it’s linked to Tokyo Story as part of a trilogy of films staring Setsuko Hara as a young woman named Noriko, although otherwise the characters and the film are related.  Two other actors who later appear in Tokyo Story are also stars in this film, Chishū Ryū who plays Noriko’s father Shukichi Somiya and Haruko Sugimura who plays her Aunt Masa.

Noriko is a single 27-year-old woman who has found contentment in supporting her aging father who is still working as a professor.  But Masa has determined that it is time for Noriko to marry, and ensnares Shukichi in helping her convince Noriko.  It’s a deceptively simple movie and one where the unspoken thoughts and desires are just underneath the surface of the smiling faces.

The movie was filmed just after World War II under the American occupation and the war and postwar are also underlying factors, from mention of Noriko’s ill health due to overwork during the war to English language signs and a Coca-Cola advertisement on the roadside.  The movie’s script was actually heavily censored by the Occupation authorities, but nevertheless a beautiful and heartbreaking story of a father and daughter shines thorugh.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Ugetsu (1953)


Title: Ugetsu
Release Date: March 26, 1953
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Production Company: Daiei Film
Summary/Review:

Set during a Civil War in 16th-century Japan’s Sengoku period, this movie is the story of a potter Genjūrō (Masayuki Mori of Rashomon fame) who hopes to take advantage of the troubled times to make a profit selling his wares in a city across a lake. Due to fear of pirates he leaves his wife Miyagi (Kinuyo Tanaka) and their young son behind, but is accompanied by his friend Tōbei (Eitaro Ozawa) and his wife, Ohama (Mitsuko Mito).

The trio are separated in the city. Tōbei, who always dreamed of becoming a samurai, stumbles into being recognized as a hero by one of the armies, and is rewarded with armor, a horse, and troops to command.  Meanwhile, Ohama is abducted, raped, and forced to work in a brothel.  A noblewoman, Lady Wakasa (Machiko Kyō, who also starred in Rashomon and Floating Weeds) visits Genjūrō’s stall and he eventually he goes to live with her and marry her, not telling of his wife and child.

This movie is a ghost movie, but the spectral parts are subtle, and in a way unexpected.  This is also a movie where the two wives are severely wronged and the sympathies of the movie are with them against their foolish husband.  The movie is also a morality play, but again one that is well-done and moving.  I found myself weeping at the end, primarily because the final scenes involve some sweet scenes between Genjūrō and his toddler son.

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: Tokyo Story (1953)


Title: Tokyo Story
Release Date: November 3, 1953
Director: Yasujirō Ozu
Production Company: Shochiku
Summary/Review:

Drawing inspiration from Leo McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow, Tokyo Story is a moving film about an elderly couple and their adult children.  Shūkichi (Chishū Ryū) and Tomi (Chieko Higashiyama) live in the Hiroshima Prefecture of southwest Japan with their youngest daughter, a schoolteacher named Kyōko (Kyōko Kagawa).  The travel by train to Tokyo for the first time in their lives to visit some of their other children.

Their son Kōichi (So Yamamura) is busy with caring for patients in his pediatric practice and their daughter Shige (Haruko Sugimura) is preoccupied with her hair salon.  Their grandchildren show no interest in spending time with them.  Only Noriko (Setsuko Hara), the widow of their middle son who died in World War II service, shows interest in them and takes a day off from her office job to take them sightseeing in Tokyo.

The children decide to ship their parents off to a spa, but the lively atmosphere there does not agree with them and Tomi begins to show signs of illness.  Unprepared for their parents’ unexpected return, the couple have to spend the night separated. Shūkichi reunites with friends he grew up with and spends the night drinking while Tomi forms a stronger bond with the kindly Noriko. They decide to go home early, planning a whistle-stop visit with their youngest son Keizō (Shirō Ōsaka) in Osaka, but end up staying longer as Tomi’s health deteriorates.

Shūkichi and Tomi finally return home, but Tomi falls into a coma.  The children reluctantly travel to their parents’ home for one last family reunion, although Keizō fails to arrive before his mother’s death.  Kōichi, Shige, and Keizō leave immediately after the funeral, still selfish and indifferent to their father. Kyōko is angered at her siblings, and Shūkichi thanks Noriko for treating him better than his own family.

This movie is absolutely beautiful and heartbreaking.  Like Ozu’s later film Floating Weeds, it features his trademark style of fixing the camera in a low position without any pans, zooms, or tracking shots (I believe the camera moves once in the entire movie) while cutting to different angles.  This movie also makes me realize that I’m enamored with Japanese domestic architecture.  It’s a great work of film art that touches on family, cultural changes in modern Japan, and the lingering after effects of the war.

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: Ikiru (1952)


Title: Ikiru
Release Date: October 9, 1952
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Production Company: Toho
Summary/Review:

Ikiru (Japanese for “To Live”) is the story of career civil servant Kanji Watanabe (Takashi Shimura) who works 30 years without missing a day.  He’s shaken by the diagnosis that he has stomach cancer and less than a year to live.  As a widower who is alienated from his son (Nobuo Kaneko) and daughter-in-law (Kyoko Seki), he finds himself with no one to talk about his impending death.

First, he decides on a night of hedonism with a young novelist (Yūnosuke Itō) he meets at a bar. Finding that life is not for him, he is next drawn to a young former employee, Toyo (Miki Odagiri), hoping to learn the secret of her joie de vivre. Finally, Watanabe decides he must do something significant as his legacy. Through the movie, parents from a poor neighborhood have been shuffled through the bureaucracy as they hope to have a cesspool filled and build a playground upon it. Watanabe makes it his goal in life to guide them through the bureaucracy and see the playground to its completion.

The second part of the film is five months later at Watanabe’s funeral.  City officials and Watanabe’s co-workers reflect on his life while arrogantly denying him any agency in building the playground.  Later when it’s just his co-workers and family, more stories and flashbacks reveal the truth. The men commit themselves to living more meaningful lives in honor of Watanabe, but in the final scene are shown being unable to live up to that promise.

This movie is absolutely beautiful and heartbreaking with outstanding acting and cinematography. The other Akira Kurosawa films I’ve watched are period pieces, but Ikiru demonstrates he was just as good, even better, at telling a contemporary story.  It’s definitely a movie I’d highly recommend that anyone should watch.

Rating: *****