A sports company trains a model to become a pro-golfer with unpredicted results.
Japanese auteur Seijun Suzuki’s unnerving thriller on the dark side of manufactured fame.
In the last decades of his life, director Seijun Suzuki received recognition outside Japan- firstly for his highly stylized action movies, such as Tokyo Drifter (1966) and Branded to Kill (1967). These were among the last programme pictures he would make for Nikkatsu, before they fired him after Branded. Suzuki’s films had become too surreal and incomprehensible for the studio. Suzuki challenged his dismissal by suing Nikkatsu. However, his firing would mean that he made less than a handful of TV movies in the following decade. His only cinematic feature from this period is A Tale of Sorrow and Sadness, produced by Shochiku.
Perhaps as a consequence of this being Suzuki’s return to feature filmmaking, Sorrow is comparatively easy to follow and understand. Suzuki’s trademark use of colour and artistic shots serve the script, rather than the other way around. This results in an intense, unnerving depiction of crazed stalkers, grueling schedules, manipulative management and rampant media.
Read more about A Tale of Sorrow and Sadness (Japan, 1977) …
A spoiler-free review of an unusual, atmospheric and little-known Japanese thriller.
Death. It’s in the title. The official English name of this unusual Japanese suspense movie is ‘Deaths in Tokimeki’. Tokimeki refers to the heart pounding (for example with excitement) and is often left untranslated. In a similar vain to Et Mourir de Plaisir (1960), Tokimeki ni shisu is an intriguing title for an equally intriguing cult film. Who is going to die?
The idyllic countryside setting of Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido, complimented by a calming musical score, makes it hard to imagine at first how violence and death will occur in this film. Kudo (Kenji Sawada, The Man Who Stole the Sun (1979)) arrives at a small local train station (the now defunct Oshima station), where a doctor (Naoki Sugiura) meets him.
Read more about Tokimeki ni shisu (Japan, 1984) …
Can an ex-yakuza just released from jail rebuild his life or will he be drawn back into underworld conflicts by a reckless and mysterious young woman?
New wave director Masahiro Shinoda’s breakout film is this crisp, black-and-white noirish adaption of Shintaro Ishihara’s novel. It begins with Murata (Ryo Ikebe), a yakuza who has just come out of prison for killing a man. He becomes attracted to the angelic, innocent looking Saeko (Mariko Kaga), who is hooked on gambling with hanafusa cards.
Read more about Pale Flower (Japan,1964) …
Flamboyant singer Kenji Sawada playing a reclusive atom bomb-building, junior high school teacher? Bunta Sugawara, famous for his tough Yakuza portrayals, playing a hardboiled cop? Kimiko Ikegami (the pretty one in cult horror classic Hausu (1977)) playing a vacuous radio DJ? A big budget Toho ‘action’ film with art-house elements directed by independent Kazuhiko Hasegawa? An original screenplay written by Leonard Schrader, the brother of Taxi Driver’s screenwriter? Just from its components, it is clear that you are in for no ordinary film with Taiyo wo nusunda otoko!
Main character Makoto Kido is a seemingly lazy, gum-chewing sleepy science teacher. Ridiculed by his students- he is somewhat socially awkward and lonely, living in a small apartment with only his ill-fated cat for company. The script and Sawada’s excellent portrayal gradually reveal snapshots of his true nature to the viewer.
Read more about The Man who Stole the Sun (Japan, 1979) …
… from Professor Spool’s archive.
Same title, different film!
We now bring you a review of the second of two films released in the sixties entitled The Damned (read part 1 here.).
‘You must realise that today in Germany anything can happen, even the improbable…’
This line, spoken after about the first ten minutes, sets the scene for what you are about to see and hear – anything can and does happen.
The rich and respected Von Essenbeck family may have survived World War I and the subsequent depression, but now there is a new demand on their wealthy steel industry. As Hitler seeks to rebuild Germany’s infrastructure, munitions and its position in the world, the Von Essenbecks decide to do business with the Nazi party. However, the head of the family, Baron Essenbeck has no regard for national socialism. His murder early in the film is merely the start of this decadent, dysfunctional family’s scheming. Their plotting unfolds against the unmitigating political violence of 1930s Germany, such as the infamous ‘night of the long knives’.
Read more about The Damned (W.Germany/Italy, 1969) …
……from Professor Spool’s archive
Either end of the 1960s decade saw the release of films both entitled The Damned. The first was located in a contemporary England, the latter set in Nazi Germany. Into the Retroscope will provide you with a review of each film, with this initial article focusing on the earlier movie.
From the opening panoramic shots of the Southern England coastline to the closing sequences of a helicopter hovering over a doomed boat at sea, The Damned (aka These are the Damned) makes effective use of its Weymouth in Dorset seaside location.
Read more about The Damned (UK, 1963) …
A predictably plotted Hammer vampire film with a decadent atmosphere, two former Playboy Playmates and a surprising amount to say about the nature of human evil.
Twins of Evil is the third and final Hammer film to be based (loosely) on Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla. It is a sequel of sorts to the novella- featuring added witchhunters, satanists and of course, vampires and twins.
Mary and Madeleine Collinson star as the titular twins, Maria and Frieda Gellhorn. They travel to the small, misty ‘Central European’ Karstein village to stay with their aunt (Kathleen Byron) and witch-hunting uncle (Peter Cushing). Although the twins’ characters appear to have grown up together, Frieda speaks in foreign accented English, whereas Maria’s accent is closer to Received Pronunciation (both actresses were dubbed). This was probably done to help viewers to tell them apart. Interestingly, foreign accented Frieda is the more adventurous of the two. She soon gets drawn into the mysterious goings-on in the castle above the village.
The other two main characters are Weil (the aforementioned witch hunter) and Count Karstein (Damien Thomas).
Weil is determined to rid the village of satanic elements. Cushing, as usual, takes the role very seriously and portrays a multifaceted character torn between his obligations to God and the Brotherhood and his growing realisation that burning young women at the stake might not be the most effective way to eradicate evil. Cushing steals each scene that he is in- his increasing fear for the safety of his twin nieces is palpable.
Read more about Twins of Evil (UK, 1971) …
Chijin no Ai (知人の愛) is based on the 1924 novel of the same name by renowned author Junichiro Tanizaki. It is one of several adaptions of Tanizaki stories dealing with unorthodox relationships and sexual obsession that were directed by Yasuzo Masumura in the 1960s and 1970s. Two other notable examples are Manji (卍, 1964) and Irezumi (刺青, 1966).
The film’s story takes place in a contemporary setting, like Masumura’s adaption of Manji. This is clear from the very first frames, which show a power station that is definitely postwar and not from the 1920s. The course of the story in its new time frame spans from 1966 to 1967- with fashions and cars to match. The crisp, warm colour of the print brings out the bold colours of Naomi’s psychedelic wardrobe.
It starts by introducing Joji Kawai (Shoichi Ozawa)- a quiet, serious and bespectacled middle-aged electrical engineer. His boss berates him for never joining the employees’ social activities, nor showing interest in getting married. After some prodding he admits that he did get a pet cat.
When he gets home that evening, he starts looking for his pet. The cat turns out to be a girl called Naomi.
Read more about Chijin no Ai (Japan, 1967) …
Strange things happen in the middle of nowhere.
Picnic At Hanging Rock tells the story of a girl’s college in the Australian outback, forever changed by the events of Valentine’s Day 1900. Based on the novel by Joan Lindsay, three girls and a teacher go missing on a picnic to a nearby rock. Efforts to find them and the mysterious nature of their disappearance have a far-reaching effect on the local community.
It is a slow film but one with a thread of tension running through it. The nature is awe-inspiring- especially the sheer scale of the titular Hanging Rock. The panpipe music by Gheorghe Zamfir that accompanies the landscapes is used to emphasise their hypnotic beauty. In contrast, ethereal piano music is used to accompany the girls (in particular Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5). Despite the peaceful soundtrack, it is difficult to relax while watching. Every few minutes, there is another tug at the string. The watch that stops working, the loud ticking clock on the headmistress’s office wall, the trancelike effects of the heat, ants crawling over hands…. All these elements come together to create a tense yet beautiful, painterly film.
Read more about Picnic at Hanging Rock (Australia, 1975) …
Japanese New Wave cinema of the 60s and 70s was a rebellion against established styles of filmmaking. Major Japanese film studios began to promote young assistant directors to helm their own features- about young people and aimed at the youth market. These directors would deliver a kick of creative revitalisation into Japanese cinema. They would tackle challenging themes- sexuality, political radicalism, social inequality- all against the background of Japan’s postwar identity struggle.
Read more about The Japanese New Wave Film Rebellion …