Thoughts on life after the PhD
A few more films that I didn’t have time to write full reviews of:
This film by the late, great animator Satoshi Kon (who also made Tokyo Godfathers and Perfect Blue) is thought to have inspired Christopher Nolan’s Inception (if unconsciously). Both films focus on a device that allows you to enter and influence someone else’s dreams. Where Inception mostly made narrative sense, though, Paprika is off-the-wall trippy. Half the time I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, and that’s not necessarily a criticism. Visually it’s amazing, beginning with the dizzying opening sequence where the main character jumps in and out of billboards, TV scenes, and photographs. There’s a constant parade of strange beasts and dolls that are occasionally terrifying. People and spaces stretch, contort, and implode in ways that appear much more real (and more squirm-inducing) than most anime sequences. Ultimately, the whole exercise allows Kon to comment on the dream-like nature of cinema itself. A great film for anyone who isn’t necessarily into anime, as it’s radically different from most other anime films, both in style and tone.
そこのみにて光輝く(The Light Shines Only There, 2014)
This film from third-generation Korean-Japanese director Mipo Oh took the top spot on Kinema Junpo’s annual “best 10” list for 2014. It’s incredibly grim but beautiful to look at, and the performances are spot-on. Set in a drab seaside town in Hokkaido, it tells the story of two deeply scarred people who are drawn to each other and want to build a life together, but are endlessly trapped by their circumstances. Not easy viewing, but it stays with you.
女が階段を上る時 (When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, 1960)
I first saw Mikio Naruse’s film about a 1950s Ginza bar hostess in a graduate class ten years ago. Watching it again, I was struck by how beautifully composed every shot is, and at the same time how claustrophobic—the camera never shows us the whole picture, choosing instead to focus on the actors’ faces and their immediate surroundings. It’s a wonderful time capsule of 1950s Tokyo, when rationing was coming to an end and the city was just beginning to enter its economic miracle, even though barren and bombed-out neighborhoods remained. Hideko Takamine is one of those stunning 1950s screen beauties that you just can’t look away from, and she embodies her role effortlessly.
珈琲時光 (Cafe Lumiere, 2003)
Another one that I saw a while ago, shortly after moving from Tokyo to L.A. At that time it filled me with a deep sense of nostalgia because I missed Tokyo so much, and Cafe Lumiere does an incredible job of conveying exactly what it’s like to live here. The tiny apartments with tatami flooring and just enough room for a futon and a low coffee table, the endless sound of trains, the local coffee shops, the sound of cicadas in the summer, the trips into the countryside where there’s more space and more green. Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s film is a visual and thematic homage to Ozu, and his long, unmoving camera shots are mesmerizing, even when all we’re looking at is a living room where a woman is hanging up laundry.
writing•translation•scholarship on Japan (and a few other things)
tales of travel, research, and life
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