Sunday, May 9, 2010

The View From Home 6: New releases on DVDs

By John Thomason

Tokyo Sonata‭ (‬E1‭)
Release date:‭ ‬May‭ ‬4
Standard list price:‭ ‬$21.49
Tokyo Sonata,‭ ‬the latest from Japanese auteur Kiyoshi Kurosawa,‭ ‬is seemingly a departure from the director‭’‬s preferred forte of cerebral horror and science fiction.‭ ‬At least that‭’‬s how it begins,‭ ‬with a focus on the lives of a middle-class Japanese family of four that echoes Yasujiro Ozu‭’‬s gentle domestic dramas.

But it‭’‬s a film very much of the moment‭ ‬– Ozu‭’‬s preoccupations about the passage of time and how progress and maturation affect and dissolve the family unit are updated to reflect the economic recession of the‭ ‬21st-century global job market through the character of husband and father Ryuhei‭ (‬Teryuki Kagawa‭)‬,‭ ‬who is downsized from his corporate‭ ‬position in the film‭’‬s opening.
A bureaucratic paper-pusher with few if any practical skills and a cringe-worthy lack of confidence in job interviews,‭ ‬Ryuhei is quickly absorbed among the throngs of unemployed drones.‭ ‬Full of shame,‭ ‬he keeps the news of his dismissal from his family,‭ ‬but his sins of omission are nothing compared to his neighbor,‭ ‬a long out-of-work man who dresses like a‭ ‬CEO and has programmed his cellphone to ring with supposed‭ “‬business calls‭”‬ every few minutes.

Ryuhei‭’‬s patriarchal leadership is slipping away,‭ ‬and with it generations of regressive Japanese tradition.‭ ‬He seems to have little control over his sons,‭ ‬one of whom‭ (‬Inowaki Kai‭) ‬pays for forbidden piano lessons with his lunch money while the other‭ (‬Yu Koyanagi‭) ‬leaves to fight for the United States in the war in Iraq.‭ ‬His anger and frustration at his diminished role inside and outside the family boil to the point where his wife Megumi‭ (‬Kyoko Koizumi‭) ‬barely recognizes his behavior.

There comes a point when you‭’‬re reminded that‭ ‬Tokyo Sonata is made by the the guy that gave us the modern paranormal classic‭ ‬Pulse‭ (‬later repurposed as a flaccid Wes Craven slasher‭) ‬and the mesmerizing serial-killer chiller‭ ‬Cure‭ ‬– and the movie never really settles down from there.‭ ‬This exceedingly dark transformation comes to a head when an inept robber‭ (‬Koji Yakusho,‭ ‬one of Kurosawa‭’‬s most frequent collaborators‭) ‬bungles an attempted job at Ryuhei‭’‬s house and instead steals away with a curiously compliant Megumi.‭

What seems at first like an awkward attempt to recast Yakusho as comic relief becomes the start of a journey that‭’‬s as strangely mystical as it is shockingly violent.‭ ‬This is a narrative punctuated by child abuse,‭ ‬rape and double suicides,‭ ‬and one main character is hit by a car and left for dead.‭ ‬But ultimately one leaves‭ ‬Tokyo Sonata with a sense of spiritual transcendence,‭ ‬a little bit of hope in a bleak and uncompromising world.

Movies this foundation-shaking and blazingly original don‭’‬t come across often‭; ‬Kurosawa has been gifted enough to direct several,‭ ‬and‭ ‬Tokyo Sonata is somewhere near the top.

Oshima‭’‬s Outlaw Sixties‭ (‬Criterion‭)
Release date:‭ ‬May‭ ‬18SLP:‭ ‬$61.49

This is the collection art-house cinemaniacs have been‭ ‬salivating for.‭ ‬Oshima‭’‬s Outlaw Sixties compiles five obscure early features from one of Japan‭’‬s most celebrated and controversial provocateurs,‭ ‬Nagisa Oshima.‭ ‬He‭’‬s most known in the west for his‭ ‬1976‭ ‬shocker‭ ‬In the Realm of the Senses,‭ ‬which depicted genital mutilation and unsimulated sex.‭ ‬Indeed,‭ ‬Oshima was one of the first Japanese directors to present uninhibited‭ ‬sexuality on the screen‭; ‬Pleasures of the Flesh,‭ ‬included here,‭ ‬is one of many of his country‭’‬s‭ “‬pink cinema,‭”‬ or heavily edited soft-core porn titles,‭ ‬of the period.‭ ‬But he was also politically astute and cinematically audacious,‭ ‬his avant-garde sensibilities‭ ‬justifiably compared to Jean-Luc Godard‭’‬s‭ (‬His‭ ‬Violence at Noon,‭ ‬included in this set,‭ ‬boasts more than‭ ‬2,000‭ ‬edits‭)‬.‭ ‬The five-disc set also features‭ ‬Sing a Song of Sex,‭ ‬Japanese Summer:‭ ‬Double Suicide and‭ ‬Three Resurrected Bastards,‭ ‬censorship-baiting studies of youth culture that brewed together sex,‭ ‬violence and political invective,‭ ‬making Oshima an‭ ‬enfant terrible to be reckoned with.

Mine‭ (‬Film Movement‭)
Release date:‭ ‬May‭ ‬4
SLP:‭ ‬$22.49

One of the more underreported ripples from Hurricane Katrina‭’‬s‭ ‬devastating landfall has been the hundreds of thousands of pets abandoned in the storm‭’‬s wake.‭ ‬Geralyn Pezanoski‭’‬s documentary‭ ‬Mine follows the volunteer activists who led the rescue effort and the Katrina survivors looking to be reunited with their displaced animals,‭ ‬many of which have been relocated to families elsewhere.‭ ‬While it would seem the pets‭’‬ original owners should have the right to reclaim their animals,‭ ‬you can just as easily make the argument that the pets are better off frolicking in idyllic‭ ‬suburban neighborhoods or agrestic fields than potentially struggling in the blighted rubble of post-Katrina New Orleans.‭ ‬Narrowing its focus to four or five specific animals and their traumatic journeys from one loving family to the next and,‭ ‬sometimes,‭ ‬back again,‭ ‬Mine is sympathetic and understanding of all sides of this complex quagmire of moral,‭ ‬legal and practical considerations.‭ ‬If you‭’‬re a pet lover,‭ ‬prepare for your waterworks to be turned on full blast,‭ ‬either from sadness,‭ ‬joy or both.‭ ‬But you don‭’‬t need to love pets to appreciate filmed journalism as compelling as this.‭ ‬Mine‭ ‬is a story about love,‭ ‬kindness,‭ ‬greed,‭ ‬selfishness,‭ ‬community involvement and sacrifice‭ ‬– epic themes delivered in a tight‭ ‬80-minute package.

One Deadly Summer‭ (‬Bayview‭)
Release date:‭ ‬May‭ ‬11
SLP:‭ ‬$27.99

This forgotten,‭ ‬Golden Palm-nominated‭ ‬1983‭ ‬noirish melodrama by Jean Becker aims to reach a new audience courtesy of Bayview Entertainment‭’‬s exceptional transfer.‭ ‬Isabelle Adjani stars as Eliane,‭ ‬the tartish‭ ‬femme fatale who seduces the affectionately named auto mechanic Pin-Pon‭ (‬Alain Souchon‭) ‬in order to unlock the secrets hidden in his family‭’‬s dusty barrel organ:‭ ‬Turns out the organ was delivered by the men who raped her mother and led to her conception‭ ‬– or so it seems.‭ ‬One Deadly Summer is full of interesting twists and surprises that help to compensate for some of its dated techniques,‭ ‬such as the shifting,‭ ‬unnecessary voice-over narration,‭ ‬which never achieves the‭ ‬Rashomon-like sense of conflicting perspectives and subjective realities that it‭’‬s shooting for.‭ ‬Adjani brings a compelling cocktail of fearlessness and vulnerability to her role,‭ ‬developing a tragic character that‭’‬s ultimately more memorable than the movie she’s in.

John Thomason is a freelance writer based in South Florida.

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