Criterion Sunday 221: 生きる Ikiru (1952)

Clearly one of Kurosawa’s greatest films, it’s also perhaps a little forgotten — possibly not amongst hardened cineastes, but that at least is the feeling I get when talking about Kurosawa with other casual film lovers. Part of this is undoubtedly that it’s not set in the shogun era of samurai and peasants (like, say, Seven Samurai), but rather contemporary Japan. It’s about a humble bureaucrat (played by Kurosawa regular Takashi Shimura) who mournfully realises the failure of his life as he gets a cancer diagnosis, and has to deal with that. There’s a hint of Rashomon to the latter half of the film, as people argue at his wake about his lasting achievement — the construction of a children’s playground — but the framing of it, as flashbacks from his funeral, clearly indicate that it is altogether too late in his life. It is, however, poignant and heartbreaking, and feels like a movie that’s not so much depressing in its accounting of a person’s life, as perhaps a little hopeful that some may at least achieve something despite all the obstacles placed in their way.

CRITERION EXTRAS:

  • A fairly easygoing documentary (an episode of a TV series, It Is Wonderful to Create, which pops up on most of Criterion’s Kurosawa releases), which uses interviews with surviving members of Kurosawa’s cast and crew to shed light on how he made his films. This one features Miki Odagiri (the young woman who befriends Kanji after his illness is diagnosed, and then finds him a little creepily intense) talking about Kurosawa’s methods of inspiring her performance, as well as screenwriters and technicians. There’s not a huge deal of insight, but it’s pleasant enough.

FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director Akira Kurosawa 黒澤明; Writers Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto 橋本忍 and Hideo Oguni 小国英雄; Cinematographer Asakazu Nakai 中井朝一; Starring Takashi Shimura 志村喬, Miki Odagiri 小田切みき; Length 143 minutes.

Seen at a friend’s home (DVD), London, Sunday 8 July 2018 (and earlier on VHS at home, Wellington, June 1997).

Burn Burn Burn (2015)

I fundamentally liked this film, even if there was a lot of stuff I didn’t believe at all: because it’s set up as a sort of kooky comedy, it often seems a little too cutely precious in the way characters come together, while some of them seem to have been introduced just to push along a magical sense of healing (particularly re: mothers, which provides a little bit too much sentimentality towards the end for my personal liking). Indeed the entire framework — a road trip by two women to scatter a dead friend’s ashes, who addresses them via self-recorded videos (and quotes Kerouac) — could easily be too much self-conscious quirk. And yet there’s something about those three central performances (by Laura Carmichael and Chloe Pirrie as Seph and Alex, and as Jack Farthing as their dead friend Dan) that gets to a kernel of emotional honesty that I found unexpectedly moving. At its best it reminded me of Inside Llewyn Davis (a film I adored) in acknowledging the way that emotional pain can cause people to act horribly to one another. Meanwhile, gosh, British filmmaking has no shortage of tall pretty posh young women with cut glass accents acting atrociously while being funny (see also the Fleabag TV series just for a start), though it also makes the all too brief appearance of Alice Lowe (most recently seen as director/star of festival favourite Prevenge) all the more delightful.

Burn Burn Burn film posterNEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW
Director Chanya Button; Writer Charlie Covell; Cinematographer Carlos De Carvalho; Starring Laura Carmichael, Chloe Pirrie, Jack Farthing; Length 106 minutes.
Seen at Curzon Bloomsbury, London, Thursday 3 November 2016.

Tig (2015)

Now that I’m a regular habitué of online streaming services, I’m increasingly wading into the murky but usually very time-friendly (given most are around an hour long) subgenre of stand-up comedy sets. One of the recent stars of this scene, who’s been doing the stand-up round for years, is Tig Notaro, though filmically I’d only previously seen her in a small cameo in In a World…. This documentary, however, isn’t just a record of one of her stand-up sets, so much as how that set in August 2012 intersected with her life and those around her in some surprising ways. Those who have seen Louis CK’s TV show, or the film Obvious Child (and if you haven’t, seriously, rectify that) know that stand-ups frequently draw from their own experiences in ways that can sometimes be quite uncomfortable for audiences, and in drawing on her recent diagnosis of breast cancer, Notaro ends up challenging a number of ideas about the disease. The most notable, perhaps, is that she can’t have a baby, and indeed although her body may not be capable of carrying a child anymore, we see her enter a stable relationship and forge forward with plans to have children. Because of its likeable subject, the documentary feels like a relatively easygoing watch despite some tough subject matter, but that’s not to diminish its achievement, and one can only hope for the best for Notaro herself.

Tig film posterCREDITS
Directors Kristina Goolsby and Ashley York; Cinematographer Huy Truong; Length 95 minutes.
Seen at home (Netflix streaming), London, Saturday 31 October 2015.

Miss You Already (2015)

It appears to be the time of year for what are often dismissively termed “chick flicks”. I hate that term, like “women’s pictures” for the melodramas of the 1940s, it smacks of snobbish derision. There are already too many self-satisfied dude auteur films dealing with alienation and violence courting the film school pseuds, not to mention all those deadening superhero epics, so there can never be too many contrasting visions of the world. That all said, I’m not a huge fan exactly, though as far as a melodramatic ‘weepie’ goes, Miss You Already does fine. Drew Barrymore remains a potently charismatic and cheerful presence on any cinema screen even as she reaches her (shock!) 40s, but this film is all about Toni Collette’s English rock-n-roll chick (her accent doesn’t grate, thankfully), with whom Drew’s character grew up, as she acts out, gets into trouble, then has a family (apparently adjusting with ease) and, as we catch up with her, is now coping with a cancer diagnosis. Being set in London, everyone has those kind of perfect London homes that surely don’t really exist (Barrymore and boyfriend played by Paddy Considine live together on a boat overlooking Battersea Power Station!), and meaningful moments take place in picturesque locations — though at least the geography isn’t strained too far beyond credulity. More to the point, Collette gets through the tearful and angry scenes with her dignity intact, which is more than can always be said for whomever scored the film, though leaning on late-80s alt-indie classics is I suppose in keeping with the characters. It’s certainly not a bad film, and it’s even heartwarming in its way.

Miss You Already film poster CREDITS
Director Catherine Hardwicke; Writer Morwenna Banks; Cinematographer Elliot Davis; Starring Toni Collette, Drew Barrymore, Paddy Considine, Dominic Cooper, Jacqueline Bisset; Length 94 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Wandsworth, London, Sunday 27 September 2015.

The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

I suppose it would be really easy to write a review about how this flagrantly tearjerking melodrama of two teenagers falling in love while living with terminal cancer is the worst kind of emotional heartstring tugging, but that would probably be because I somewhat fell victim to it. It’s very hard not to, after all, given the premise, even without the little flourishes that are added to help you along the path. Those flourishes, thankfully, generally steer clear of big string-laden orchestration or gloopily grandstanding sentimental speeches from the parents (at least, as far as I recall).

What’s interesting is that the story is very much told from the point of view of the central character, Hazel (Shailene Woodley), and this — along with just basic business sense on the part of the filmmakers — perhaps accounts for some of the peculiarly airbrushed depictions of the dying kids and their love affair. They are the heroes of their world; their friend Isaac (Nat Wolff) is almost rock-star like in his blindness, looking for all the world like Ferris Bueller in his prime. It’s directed by the maker of the most comfortably middle-class film I saw last year (Stuck in Love.), so everything’s just-so here as well.

In fact, without Hazel’s ever-present breathing apparatus and a few scenes in hospitals, you’d be hard-pressed to spot that they were terminal, and that, presumably, is precisely the point: this is a teen love story, first and foremost, a film about living. When Hazel and the always goofily grinning and cheerfully upbeat Gus (Ansel Elgort) finally share a kiss, the bystanders applaud. They APPLAUD. I might add that this takes place in the most allegorically-loaded of locations, but then the film is at pains to create a world of metaphor and allusion. “It’s a metaphor” is practically the film’s motto, a refrain used to refer specifically to Gus’s habit of keeping an (unlit) cigarette in his mouth. And then there’s Hazel’s quest to find out what happens after the abrupt end of her favourite novel within the film (a novel about cancer, of course), that sends her to Amsterdam to track down its prickly and reclusive author, Peter Van Houten (Willem Dafoe).

We might wonder what happens to her and her family when this particular story ends, but as Hazel discovers, that would be a mistake. The only thing that matters is what happens during the story’s telling. The key, then, is just to go with it, and as such it helps that Woodley is such a watchable and radiant presence at the heart of things. Many of us may know what happens when this story ends; it’s not worth thinking about.

CREDITS
Director Josh Boone; Writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (based on the novel by John Green); Cinematographer Ben Richardson; Starring Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, Nat Wolff, Willem Defoe; Length 125 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Shaftesbury Avenue, London, Friday 20 June 2014.