It’s Not Too Late to Start Again (Virus 1980)

The late 1970s and early 1980s were lousy with disaster flicks, a sub-genre to which Virus unquestionably belongs.  Apocalypse thrillers have always been in vogue, but they do tend to shift in tone with the cultural zeitgeist. But there was something about the Cold War era that gave rise to some wonderful end-of-the-world movies the likes of which we don’t really encounter anymore.  The bizarre illogic of the Cold War was somehow more conducive to nightmare poetry: two superpowers armed with enough firepower to destroy life on Earth countless times over, where in order to preserve the peace they each must threaten total war.  The only thing keeping those nukes in their holsters was the promise of Mutually Assured Destruction (quite appropriately, MAD).  Edward Albee couldn’t have thunk up any better.

And Virus, mind you, is the gift that keeps on giving.  It’s a rip-snorting good movie that packs in not just one apocalypse, but two.

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Art Meets Artifice in Shohei Imamura’s A MAN VANISHES (1967)

I’d like to destroy this premise that cinema is fiction.
– Shohei Imamura

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.
- William Shakespeare (from As you Like It)

The fuzzy line that separates fiction from reality has become increasingly blurred in recent years. Reality television programs promise to provide viewers with an unscripted look at the life of individuals willing to bare all for our entertainment but there is very little reality found in reality television. Inquisitive cameras, altered environments and skillful editors make participants keenly aware of their involvement in an orchestrated production and truth eventually takes a backseat to drama as would-be stars and starlets compete for their moment in the spotlight.

Cinema has also become progressively more self-aware. The current influx of mocumentaries, docudramas, 3D movies and “found footage” films attempt to obscure reality and mimic authenticity while filmmakers such as Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, Michael Haneke and Abbas Kiarostami seem to enjoy encouraging viewer participation in oblique ways. Their films frequently refuse to provide easy answers to the problematic truths they present and directly or indirectly ask audiences to question what they’re seeing on screen. They illustrate how reality is often subjective, transitory and pliable.

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Snapshots of the Fall: Part II

In my last post I provided a look behind the curtain for the first five weeks of film programming for my fall film calendar. This week we look at the remaining 24 titles that round out the schedule. It features everything from classics such as Vertigo to the state premiere of the latest uncompromising and visually arresting film by Bruno Dumont, Outside Satan (a scene of which is pictured above). [...MORE]

Snapshots of the Fall

The art house film calendar that I program goes to press in two days and, although I’m still waiting for some confirmations, I’m sharing the rough-draft with TCM readers, along with some brief thoughts regarding the choices made.

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Toshiro Mifune Conquers American TV

With apologies to all the film aficionados and experts frequently present here on Movie Morlocks, I don’t believe I’m going out on much of a limb in saying that many other people know or have heard of Toshiro Mifune not from his appearances in masterworks of Japanese cinema but from his appearance in one of the most famous broadcast television miniseries ever presented.  On September 15, 1980, NBC presented Part 1 of their five-part adaptation of Shogun, novelist James Clavell’s sweeping saga about a British sailor shipwrecked in 17th century Japan who ends up smack in the middle of an intense rivalry between two powerful and ambitious men who crave the same thing — to win the title of Shogun.

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Blogathon 2012: Toshiro Mifune and the Strange Case of Stray Dog

A boilingly hot summer day, a crush of commuters, a moment of carelessness. With these universal ingredients, Akira Kurosawa set up a film that would mix the grim obsessions of film noir with a documentarian’s observation of postwar Japanese life. Talk about universal–Stray Dog is a mashup of pulp pop and reportage, of true crime and intimate drama, of buddy cop movies and art house cinema, of East and West. There isn’t much a movie can do that Stray Dog doesn’t put on its agenda.

That being said, the international critical acclaim that greeted this film requires some dissection, because there’s something really weird going on here. Stray Dog was never a barn-burning commercial splash, and it wasn’t even distributed in the US until 1963 (almost 15 years after it was made) but it was an award-winning and highly regarded art house release that contributed substantially to Akira Kurosawa’s growing renown, and there’s something screwy about that.

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Japan Cuts: The New York Festival of Contemporary Japanese Cinema

For the sixth year running, the Japan Cuts film series in New York City presents an eye-opening glimpse of contemporary filmmaking from across the Pacific, the vast majority of which will never receive distribution in the United States. Programmed in concert with the ongoing New York Asian Film Festival (which I covered for Film Comment), it runs from July 12 – 28 at the Japan Society, and will screen 37 features and two shorts. The normally sober-minded fest has gone pop this year, booking a slate bubbling with hyperactive rom-coms and sci-fi extravaganzas, but there is also a sidebar of films responding to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, as well as a tribute to the expressively stone-faced actor Koji Yakusho, who will appear in-person for the screening of The Woodsman and the Rain (2011).

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Ring around J-Horror

J-Horror don’t get no respect.  The long-haired ghosts have become a cliché to be ridiculed, and the tragedy of it is that the audiences perhaps best attuned to appreciate what J-Horror had to offer in its heyday are those least inclined to give it a chance.  I know—I speak from experience.  My love affair with J-Horror began, as all the best movie love affairs do, with opposition.

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The Hazy Lives of Nobuhiro Yamashita

The characters in a Nobuhiro Yamashita film do a lot of standing around. They are waiting for something, whether it be a friend, a bus, or simply for the day to end. Yamashita’s films are about killing time, in the hope that the following morning will contain less of it. But each day seems to grow longer, and these young men and women continue to stand, until they have forgotten what they were waiting for in the first place. These are films attuned to the rhythms of in-between moments , reveling in their awkward absurdity and percolating anxiousness. Yamashita’s films are frequently hilarious but of a kind that sticks in the throat, as life sails by his weightless, indecisive characters. Operating in near-anonymity out of Japan, with little festival or international distribution, Yamashita has forged a consistently funny and bittersweet body of work that is deserving of a vastly wider audience.

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100 years old, and still having fun.

No, I’m not talking about my dad, although he is getting close (just kidding – Happy Father’s Day, ol’ man!), I’m talking about Japan’s oldest movie studio whose simple motto is “We Make Fun Films.” Nikkatsu Corporation has been around since 1912 and is very much still alive and kicking. This is cause for a centenary celebration that is on tour with the help of the Japan Foundation and various regional groups. I was recently approached by the Consulate-General of Japan at Denver with a list of 11 Nikkatsu titles to choose from. Some are quite rare, all are on film, and the question for me is: which four of these should I choose?  [...MORE]

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