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Archive for 映画

New at Japan Flix: ‘Three String Samurai’ [review]

The fresh-faced JapanFlix has been selecting the tastiest flicks from all genres of eiga and giving them a much deserved US release. With all of them available to rent or buy through iTunes, it couldn’t possibly be easier to get a flavour of what we here in the States have been missing. I was given a special treat preview of the 2005 comedy Three String Samurai (オーバードライヴ in Japan), now available through the JapanFlix website.

There has always been a special place in Japan’s heart for the shamisen, both because of it’s native folk music connections and the peculiarly ancestral depths that it evokes.  The sound evolved around the late 1990’s, with the addition of multicultural instruments an expansion of the repertoire. In particular, the focus has strongly favoured the Tsugaru-jamisen native to northerly Aomori prefecture – which just happens to be where the story of our hero takes place.

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‘Parade’ @Japan Society w/Isao Yukisada and Tatsuya Fujiwara

warning: this post contains spoilers (labelled)

“A horror movie disguised as a teenage slacker flick”

Such was director Isao Yukisada’s summation of his 2009 film Parade「パレード」. Speaking during a Q&A at New York’s Japan Society on July 10, Yukisada was surprisingly talkative and candid considering the deeply subversive film he had given to his audience.

Of course, there were likely many who had either sussed out the mystery earlier on, or simply read Shuichi Yoshida’s 2002 novel (though the collective gasp indicated that a fair few had not). Yet for a film that manages to successfully be two genres at once, and focuses on 5 different individuals, the ending loses none of it’s potency.

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‘Blood of Rebirth’ w/Toshiaki Toyoda @Japan Society

For those in New York of the 日本 persuasion, the 4 July holiday has been a mere sidenote. The main events have been courtesy of this year’s New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) and Japan Cuts. These sacred days of summer have offered long-awaited premiers of films still fresh off the reels in Japan, as well as rare opportunities to see The Best of Unreleased Naughties on the big screen. Spring may have had it’s cherry blossoms, but NYCJapan is in full bloom.

click to see my Flickr shots

A prize moment for devotees of cult films Aoi Haru and 9 Souls was the guest appearance of director Toshiaki Toyoda, who attended both screenings of his comeback film Blood of Rebirth 「蘇りの血」 for the film’s introduction and Q&A session afterward.

Saturday’s New York premier was akin to greeting a lost hero’s return for the packed audience, who applauded and cheered as he entered the stage doors. While almost all would have been acquainted with his very public arrest in 2005 – and the tarnishing of Hanging Garden‘s release – Toyoda’s life after prison until the announcement of Rebirth had remained a mystery. The movie itself only proved to deepen the mystery even more.

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Toshiaki Toyoda: the slow burn

Might seem a strange choice of tagline for a director with a police record for possessing stimulants. However, fans of Toshiaki Toyoda will know exactly what I mean.

Toyoda is a director who brings to mind slow-motion, didactic scene jumps, and achingly real-time story arcs. There is no falling back on ‘Japaneseness’ to snare either native or foreign markets, no glorification of the mundane, and he restrains from that common desire of directors to make his presence known on the screen. The man knows himself, knows his work, and simply sticks to it.

Hence the slow burn, a result of complete artistic confidence. His catalog errs on the side of quality rather than quantity, with just six films since he began writing and directing his own work in 1998. Personally, I have so far only seen Aoi Haru (Blue Spring) and 9 Souls, and read fan reviews of the others.

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