Film Reviews by AP

Welcome to AP's film reviews page. AP has written 9 reviews and rated 9 films.

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Le Plaisir

Magician of mood

(Edit) 23/08/2020

I loved this, and the Blu Ray has some interesting 'bonus material' about Ophuls' techniques and character. The film itself consists of three adapted Maupassant stories, the first one very short about youthful spirits resisting, unsuccessfully, encroaching old age. The second one is probably the one the film is most remembered for in its sunlit pastoral world of Suisse Normande in contrast to the friendly but busy and dimly lit urban night world of a brothel, albeit a respectable one. The storytelling is remarkable for the way the prostitutes' lost innocence is so sensitively evoked. The third story, and not the one originally intended by Ophuls owing to production costs, is a smaller cast and more bitter than sweet. Ophuls' achievement seems to me twofold. First, there's his capacity to conjure mood, especially that of the joy of the moment and the ensuing sense of its passing into memory at the same time as looking for the way of making the best of the moments that follow. The second is his camer work, not restless, but almost always moving and this gives the film an energy, sometimes vigorous, sometimes much less so, even gentle, but always engaging. In this film there is also a very engaging narrative voiceover, inviting you to enjoy being entertained.

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Clash of the Titans

Wonderful Load of Old Nonsense

(Edit) 28/01/2019

I imagine it's sacrilegious to say anything unappreciative of Ray Harryhausen, but I did find his special effects quite badly dated now. Mind you, there's plenty of modern CGI out there that doesn't work for me, especially big battle scenes using ridiculously large numbers of moving pixels or whatever. Nevertheless, I enjoyed watching old artistry at work and British mainstream classical actors managing to keep straight faces. Tim Piggott-Smith plays a rare role as a goody, and the young leads do a good job. The best of the monsters for me were the scorpions and Medusa, and the make up for Calibos is dramatic. Good stuff with a beer and a packet of popcorn.

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The Lady of Musashino

Men Getting it All Wrong

(Edit) 28/01/2019

I'm working steadily through Mizoguchi, and it's clear he makes films about how men don't make life easy for women, This film is no exception. I thought there were two main strands: Akiyama's professorial assertion of the acceptability of adultery and Ono's single-minded world of business. Akiyama thinks it's all right to go off with Ono's wife who feels ignored by her husband, but he's furious with his own wife, Michiko, who, as a samurai keen to retain her family's reputation, has had to spend a (sexless) night in a hotel with her cousin, Tsutomo, owing to a rainstorm. It is clear the cousins love each other, but Michiko is able to resist her temptations, while Akiyama isn't. Furthermore, Akiyama attempts to steal and cash in the deeds of Michiko's property. At the same time, Ono, who is also Michiko's brother, tries to borrow money from her for his failing business by asking her to mortage her property. By the end of the film, the only one to have saved face is the honourable Michiko.

I enjoyed the film, but found it a bit meodramatic. Nevertheless, the working-out of the inevitable tragedy was compelling enough to keep me watching, as was the acting all round.

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Musashi Miyamoto

Good Film, Rotten Print

(Edit) 15/10/2018

I agree with VW. The print is blurry, lacking definition, and the night scenes are direly unseeable. (I've always found 'Throne of Blood' best defined in terms of varying greyness, and of Kurosawa's major films, it's the one I least like.)

Thus the two stars.

The story, however, though standard fare, was good enough to grip and I enjoyed seeing Mifune under the direction of someone other than Kurosawa.

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Twenty Four Eyes

Principles and Kindness

(Edit) 19/04/2018

I must have watched this at a susceptible moment, because I found it very moving, though some scenes are, I felt, too extended and I was conscious of my feelings being worked on. Nevertheless, the story of a young, western-dressing bicycle-riding teacher taking on a class of little children on an island where the economy is stone-quarrying or fishing/farming, becoming their friend as they go through life, marrying, losing her husband etc etc, was told with enough candour to have me in tears a few times. The teacher is both kind and keen to teach her charges about life in the wider world, but she finds it hard to toe the patriotic line when war is declared and her careful but consistent opposition to it - an opinion confirmed by the death of several of her grown up boy pupils - holds our respect. I respond intensely to people being good to each other, and there were many moments of that for me in this film in praise of committed gentleness.

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Pigs and Battleships / Stolen Desire

Serious, gritty comedy

(Edit) 19/04/2018

I thought I wasn't going to enjoy 'Pigs and Battleships' - I don't like people being nasty or cruel to each other when the setting is believably realistic, which this movie is. Set in a Japanese port, presumably in 1960 when the film was made, it presents the story of Kinta, a small-time hoodlum/yakuza, and his girlfriend, Haruko, who works in a small bar in the redlight district servicing American sailors. Kinta's gang have a small business looking after the pigs that they sell to the US Navy through a 'big boss' who is Chinese Mr Chen who has a deal going with Mr Sakiyama, a Japanese American. It's a world where everyone knows the 'price of everything and the value of nothing'. This beastliness, however, is not allowed to dominate the film: sure, it's there in everything - the violence, the sexual exploitation, the thieving, the debt, the rape, the murder, abortion - but we are allowed to laugh at these unhappy people as well, even if the laughter is uneasy. Kinta makes a mistake and his gang leader beats him up with reluctant determination; that leader thinks he has cancer, but Kinta stole the wrong X-ray and it's only an ulcer; a shoot up is something the yakuza are not very brave about, and the police clearly have an understanding with them. Haruko, Kinta's father and the gang leader's factory-worker brother are the moral heart of the film: each knows what is right, and Haruko escapes to her uncle in Kawasaki, where we hope a better life lies for her. The piece is energetic and emotive and I enjoyed it.

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Ballad of Narayama

A meditation on the end of life

(Edit) 16/04/2018

I've seen Imamura's later version of this film which appears in 1001 Films to See... I liked that as well, though it has a certain grim factor attached to it and the cachet of having been filmed in conditions that I understand forced the performers into being method actors.

This earlier version of the story is played as if it is a theatre performance. There are painted backdrops and theatrical lighting effects - very good ones - and excellent realistic-looking scenery. The performances are naturalistic, however, and the mother-son relationship at the heart of it I found very moving. This contrasts with the second son's selfishness and the gluttony of his girlfriend. The gluttony is an important element of the narrative as the peasant community is always on the verge of famine and has an understanding that once you reach 70 you have to go to Narayama Mountain to die. An elderly male friend of the mother has not come to terms with this and his desperation and hunger (his family will no longer feed him) contrasts with her dignity and acceptance of the appropriateness of it being her turn to die. She considers herself blessed by being left on the mountain during a snowfall as she will have a quick death.

I liked both films, but for a gentler, more dignified meditation on the imminence of death rather than a sense of the cruelty of life, this version has my current preference.

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Yasujiro Ozu: Three Melodramas

The Salary Man's Life - A Sensitive and Sympathetic Portrayal

(Edit) 30/12/2017

I'm just reviewing 'Early Spring' (with mild spoilers).

I so wanted this film to end as indeed it did, on a note of strongly moderated wary hopefulness and optimism reflected in the peacefulness of the landscape and the ambiguous image of the train (departing? passing through? full or empty...?).

Nevertheless, it is a film whose narrative unfolds at length. I don't, on reflection, think it would benefit from cuts. As one would expect from Ozu, this is not an action movie and its drama is slow to emerge as the drama of the ordinary and everyday often is.

Much, I think, depends on Ozu's occasional, but pointed focus on the strains of being a 'salary man', a strain highlighted by the couple of scenes of commuters going to catch the train at Kamata station. There's one particularly striking episode in a bar in which the young Shoji listens to the reflections of the bar owner - a former salary man who worked in the same company as Shoji (the TOA Firebrick Company), and who got out - and a man with only a little time left before retiring on what will be a pension that is less than he hoped. This perhaps explains why Shoji, and his circle of office friends, spend so much time playing mah-jong in the evenings – to obliterate the dreariness of their daily life and prospects; and it explains why, in turn, Shoji’s wife, Masako, finds herself spending so many lonely evenings at home on her own. Together with what seems, to this European viewer's eye, a marked reluctance on the part of the Japanese male to speak of his feelings to his wife and womenfolk, Shoji’s internalising of the misery of his ‘grindstone’ life creates a distance between him and Masako which, by the time the movie begins, has gone far enough for Masako to turn down a chance to spend time with Shoji at the weekend on a hike with his friends. And it is during this hike that 'The Goldfish' starts making a play for him. You can guess the rest of the story more or less, but then I find Ozu is so good at making the ordinary exceptional.

I found this a very rewarding movie.

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A Sun-Tribe Myth from the Bakumatsu Era

Transnational comedy

(Edit) 19/02/2017

I'm someone who finds some Japanese directors very sympathetic, in particular Ozu and Kurosawa. (I don't quite 'get' Mizoguchi.) I think this is because their style is, mostly, self effacing (which is probably why I don't much enjoy Kurosawa's showier productions like 'Ran' or 'Throne of Blood' where the craft and style rather eclipses, for me, the significance of the story). I like stories of the ordinary, the everyday, the unexceptional that, under scrutiny, is illuminated and elevated to the status of exceptional.

So I'm now exploring directors who have not come to my attention before, and Kawashima is one of them. I enjoyed this film of his - a story about a man, a petty thief in the last days of the Shogunate when American and European interests are changing Japan irrevocably. The thief is a man skilled at living on his wits and he has a talent for technology being able to mend musical watches and make his own printing blocks and ink. He knows he has TB, and enters an 'inn' (brothel) in Shinagawa to enjoy himself mightily with some friends. He is, however, unable to pay and ends up paying off his debt by making himself indispensable to all the longterm employees, male and female, at the inn and thus earning tips. Finally, he runs off to find the European doctor who diagnosed him and to seek his assistance as his TB becomes worse.

Although the thief is at the heart of the film, carrying it along with his energetic zest for living, Kawashima enjoys developing his minor characters. There are prostitutes playing one client off against another, constantly looking for a man who will marry them so they have somewhere secure to go after they are no longer able to earn their keep; there are the grasping brothel owner and his wife, practised in the arts of tight-fistedness and exploitation; there is a gang of revolutionaries (though some of them see themselves as terrorists) planning to set fire to the Foreigners' Quarter; there are the several clients; there are three male servants who have known virtually nothing other than the brothel and who have no prospect of escaping it (including, intriguingly, a half-European one who is revealed to have been abandoned at the brothel by a prostitute long ago); and there's the owners' son, a drunk, who manages, with the hero-thief's help, to escape with the daughter of a carpenter who has sold her to the brothel because he is too poor to keep her.

I enjoyed this narrative immensely. It's pacy and full of intrigue, and in the second half the ingenuity and good-nature of the thief is compelling. Indeed, it is this good nature and joy in living that, for me, is the strength of the film. The man knows he is dying and is determined to extract from it every last scruple of pleasure and delight in his natural gifts that he can. Kawashima perhaps overplays the pathos towards the end as the narrative becomes increasingly punctuated with the thief's coughings, but the final episode abandons them as the dying man pulls off his final trick and makes his escape along the shore disappearing into the future? his death? his cure? - but certainly a future on his own terms.

I don't think the modern day opening was of much importance, though it may have more significance to a Japanese viewer. I think we are required to suspend our disbelief quite considerably at the gullibility of ssome of the male clients, but maybe it is not so unlikely if we consider they are, more often than not, drunk, and their judgments turned by the prospect of sex.

Thoroughly enjoyable.

2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.

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