Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Dread of Existence

The aesthetics of traditional Japanese art are unique on the world stage due to the country’s history of isolation and assimilation. Be it ceramics, woodblock printing, architecture, or poetry Japanese artists have never been afraid to absorb and imitate various external influences, all the while still keeping the work inherently Japanese. Of course, because of this constant osmotic flow of ideas Japanese art itself is often described in terms of polarities. For example, in the Japanese art of flower arrangement or ikebana the strict rules that govern the art form allow its practitioners the freedom to express a wide range of ideas, yet these ideas can often be boiled down into contrasting polarities; modernity and tradition, nature and civilization, beauty and ugliness.
Of all the various schools of ikebana one of the most highly regarded was the Sogetsu School (Sogetsu-ryu). Founded by Sofu Teshigahara in 1926 the Sogetsu School is famous for advocating its students to study and master all the rules and techniques in the art of flower arranging and by doing so the artist is granted the freedom to express a plethora of ideas. For Sofu and his students the principles that govern the art form never change but the form itself is constantly evolving. Thus Sogetsu artists would utilize a variety of materials to create their sculptures, and yet each piece conformed to the established tenets of the art form.
Sofu’s son Hiroshi was the reluctant heir to the Sogetsu School and though he himself became well regarded within the world of ikebana, it was his filmmaking career that ultimately granted him universal posterity.
Beginning his career in 1953 with a short film about the Edo-period ukiyo-e painter and printmaker Hokusai, Hiroshi Teshigahara spent the better part of the 1950s directing several short films. Each one adopting a different style and tackling a plethora of subjects yet like the tenets of his father’s ikebana school all the films encompass the contrast between documentary and fantasy, a dichotomy that Teshigahara would further explore in his feature films.
During this most prolific period in his life he met and became close friends with two very important future collaborators, the surrealist writer Kobo Abe and avant-garde music composer Toru Takemitsu.
The writer Kobo Abe, like Teshigahara and Takemitsu, was born in Tokyo during the early part of the 20th century when Japan’s desire for empire led to a second World War and countless atrocities being committed by conscripted soldiers in faraway lands. It’s no stretch to state that Takemitsu and Abe’s formative childhood years spent in the Japanese puppet-state Manchukuo, now Manchuria, had a massive effect on the men’s outlook on life and also respective art. Outside the reach of Japan’s rigid social caste system both men were able to enjoy a modicum of freedom and the ability to explore a wide range of interests.
With the end of the war all three men would begin their careers. Abe studied medicine but never practiced due to the fact that he had already started making a name for himself as a writer, not to mention the fact that Abe never managed to pass the exam that would grant the fledgling writer a license to practice medicine. Takemitsu had spent most of the war as a conscripted soldier and though the future composer had very few fond memories of the time it was during his military service that he was first exposed to Western classical music. During the Occupation, confined to a hospital bed, he immersed himself in a plethora of Western music genres at the same time developing an aversion to traditional Japanese music.
What brought these three men together from such disparate fields were not just the hardships brought on by war, but a group that believed in utilizing the most modern and avant-garde ideas from the West to stage equally modern and avant-garde stage productions. Jikken Kobo or the Experimental Workshop was founded in Tokyo in 1951 by a core group of writers, poets, musicians, choreographers, and artists. In total the initial group did not number more than fourteen and though the group was only active for seven years they would define Japan’s avant-garde scene for many decades.
Their first collaboration Pitfall (1962) began life as a television play, written by Kobo Abe, aptly titled Purgatory (Rengoku). Beginning in pitch blackness the film opens on a father and son escaping from some post-apocalyptic industrial complex, viewers approaching this film for the first time with any prior knowledge about the filmmaker or plot might assume the picture to be an attempt at sci-fi or horror by the distinguished trio but the project is so much more than that. As the film reveals more and more of the story to us we discover that the father, played by Hiroshi Igawa, is a company deserter. Running from one mining site to another, odd job to odd job the nameless father ekes out a paltry living while his mute son (Kazuo Miyahara) aimlessly wanders in the background; a ghost, a shadow, or more symbolically an innocent tarnished by cruel or ineffectual forbearers. Eventually the father gets sent to an abandoned mine; apparently a job waits for him there yet unbeknownst to him a white-suited man has set-up the nameless miner to be brutally murdered.
After the miner is killed by the white-suited man a woman, bribed by the mysterious man-in-white, goes to the police to report the crime, but instead of incriminating the man-in-white she incriminates another man for the crime, an individual involved in an internal dispute with an opposing labor union, The film’s pulp aesthetic belies the existential ideas that run through this film and the subsequent collaborations Teshigahara did with Abe and Takemitsu.
The second half of Pitfall veers straight into surrealistic territory as the dead miner is resurrected and wanders the Kyushu landscape in search of his murderer. His investigation grants him no closure though. All he uncovers is more mysteries; a man with the same face as his, a possible conspiracy instigated by a mining company to weaken it’s quarreling labor unions, a ghost town populated by real ghosts, and the mysterious man-in-white who rarely speaks and never gives a clue as to his motives for doing what he’s doing.
As all these events are occurring the dead miner’s son meander’s in the background, oblivious to his father’s death but seemingly connected to the mysterious man-in-white. In several scenes Teshigahara intertwines the young boy and the man-in-white as doppelganger figures. The boy was the first to notice the white-suited man as he took snapshots of the unnamed miner hard at work. Also, it can’t be a coincidence that the boy and man-in-white are often either framed together in shots or the appearance of one is prompted by a cut and a shot of the other. It’s almost as if Teshigahara is commenting on the boy’s precarious future. As the writer and senior film programmer at the Cinematheque Ontario, James Quandt, states in his commentary for the film though many writers have interpreted that the film’s ending which has the boy running away from the deserted mining town as being a positive ending, Quandt thoroughly disagrees. The boy has been witness to five deaths, watched a rape, committed acts of animal cruelty, and been thoroughly unmoved by the events except for when the man with the same face as his father died. The boy’s departure from that town can only mean an uncertain future of poverty and degradation, a lost boy that most likely will end up like the expressionless man-in-white; an anonymous cog in the machine doing the dirty work for the powers-that-be.
This use of doppelganger imagery can also be seen with the dead miner and the labor union leader; both men literally share the same face and equally meet the same cruel end, but their lives could be no further apart. One is poor the other has a modicum of wealth, One is a leader the other a loner, One is rootless the other tied to a community; yet these differences mean nothing. In the new Japan with the death of the old order and the rise of Capitalism all of us are just bags of flesh to be used to advance the system.
For those with more than a passing interest in Japanese history will be very aware that during the start of the 1960s there were bitter battles between the government and various radical leftist groups in Japan over the Anpo Treaty, which gave the U.S. the right to station troops in various Japanese areas and also permitted the American government to exert force and influence within the Japanese parliament. In return for these concessions the U.S. government invested countless sums of money to rejuvenate the Japanese economy as well as make a small number of businessmen with ties to the regime very rich. Of course, this unchecked greed was fed to the public as a desire to rebuild Japan as a world power and showcase the country’s miraculous recovery during the 1964 Summer Olympics when Tokyo would be the host city for the festivities. The success of the Olympics and the prosperity enjoyed by some is tempered by the fact that a vast majority of Japanese citizens were still living below the poverty level and even Tokyo had become pockmarked with ghettos and shanty towns. For many Japanese who had survived the war and were hopeful that a new era of equality and freedom was just around the corner the 1960s was the last gasp for these utopian ideals.
The absurdity of existence would be a prominent theme in Teshigahara’s sophomore feature The Woman of the Dunes (1964), a film that won and was nominated for several international awards, it’s no exaggeration to state that this second collaboration between Teshigahara, Abe, and Takemitsu yielded the most praise, no small feat for a film that transposed the myth of Sisyphus into a 147 minute picture.
Offering up a very simple premise involving a schoolteacher and amateur entomologist being tricked into spending the night with a woman whose home is several meters deep in a sand quarry. Once ensconced there not only is the schoolteacher trapped but he must, on a nightly basis, also dig sand to keep the woman’s house from being buried. He attempts to escape on several occasions, but eventually not only does he surrender to his fate but finds fulfillment in his imprisonment.
What The Woman of the Dunes perfectly captures is the illusory deception caused by our prejudice towards existence and our need to base our identity not on our actions but by external variables. This is evident during the film’s opening scene when the entomologist Junpei (Eijii Okada) begins to monologue on the various documents, permits, licenses, and titles that define him. Also, typical of the man-of-science that he is Junpei is weighted down by his tools; jars, tweezers, pins, etc.; and when speaking to the woman he constantly references the law. Like the characters or anti-characters found in post-modernist directors like Michelangelo Antonioni, Ingmar Bergman, or Alain Resnais, Junpei is a self-absorbed neurotic so hung up on his own needs that he has became detached from the world. Clinging onto man-made constructs like the law and a sense of entitlement Junpei is so blind to the fact that he was never free; bound by the culture he inhabits to unconsciously conform to preconceived norms. Though lauded by critics and cinephiles alike, Woman of the Dunes is one of the most unsettling works to illustrate just how meaningless life is and the malleability of human identity.
At the start of his imprisonment, Junpei tells the titular woman of the dunes (Kyoko Kishida) of his dream and reason for coming to the area, to discover a new species of insect and have his name printed in textbooks for the discovery. This desire illuminates the problem of living that many French existentialists had written about, the issue of existence preceding essence, a state of confusion that limits an individual’s perception of himself or herself in relation to the other. Thus, Junpei’s desire to have his name in textbooks validates his identity as a man of science because the act is an agreed upon honor by a group of men who have been conferred great clout by other men who desire equal validation in that specific field, but in effect the recognition and validation are ultimately pointless. Inside that sand quarry, trapped with only the woman and the villagers to keep him company Junpei must define his worth by what he can do not the titles conferred on him by some abstract body of peers. Junpei’s slow transformation from actively rebelling against the villagers to helping the woman and even finding solace in his makeshift water pump comes after his unconscious rejection of artifice that once defined his life. He may one day leave that sand dune, but the only escape from the despair of living is death; a solution most of us are unwilling to succumb to.
The absurdity of existence, the question of identity, the use of doppelganger imagery, and the problem of despair in everyday life would all culminate in Teshigahara’s third feature, The Face of Another (1966). Using one of Abe’s novels again as source material for the film The Face of Another tells the story of a horribly disfigured man, Okuyama (Tatsuya Nakadai), who takes it upon himself, with the help of his psychiatrist, to literally adopt a new face with the help of new space age polymers. For Teshigahara, the film would be his most surrealistic effort at tackling the existential themes that began in Pitfall and became prominent in The Woman of the Dunes. Unlike either picture though Teshigahara’s third film didn’t garner as much praise from International critics and fans. It offered none of the exoticism and sensuality present in Woman of the Dunes nor could it be classified as blatant social critique, and though it has genre film elements it failed to live up to any expectations that an audience might have. Yet with all that said, The Face of Another is the perfect exclamation point to Teshigahara’s collaboration with Kobo Abe and Toru Takemitsu in the 1960s. 
The Face of Another tackles the issue of identity in a very abstract way. We never see what Okuyama’s original face is. Teshigahara never gives us any hints as to who the man was before his accident and by doing so he makes him a blank slate, a one-dimensional character that exists in the present moment but lacks a past to define him and a future to guide him. As Okuyama’s psychiatrist, played by Mikijiro Hira, posits in the film a face with no identity, meaning a past/background, is dangerous since the anonymity caused by a world of blank slates is that these faceless others are tethered to nothing. With nowhere to belong and no guidelines to follow the only logical outcome is anarchy. For the faceless the freedom afforded by anonymity can only lead to severe psychosis since the human mind can not live in isolation, it cannot define itself, a person must act or react to something and from that can a person become self-actualized. Okuyama’s great folly is not that he took a new identity but that he uses his new identity to hide from the world. Instead of embracing or confronting the world he merely hides from it. As the film progresses it’s evident that Okuyama’s purpose for adopting the mask was not only the shame of disfigurement but his self-hatred for humanity itself. A perfect example of this nihilism is when Okuyama, while wearing his new face, seduces his wife, not to rekindle a new romance with her or get revenge, but to prove to how fickle and faithless she is.
As a counterpoint to Okuyama’s predicament, Teshigahara presents a second storyline involving a young woman, also scarred in the face, but instead of hiding from the world she faces it and appears to be the complete opposite of Okuyama. Yet by film’s end she commits suicide; though she might have had no shame in her disfigurement the fact that her appearance was so grotesque shut her completely off from society.
The existential crisis that Okuyama and the young woman face are not unique to those characters though. In each film, from Pitfall to Face of Another, addresses the great tragedy of living in an advanced post-industrialized society. The freedom to create meaning in our own life through our very actions is such a crippling burden for a majority of people that most either run away like the miner in Pitfall, seek meaning through small tasks like Junpei in Woman of the Dunes, or burrow deep into self-loathing isolation like Okuyama. If everyday is a gift then the only way we can honor that gift is by never retreating into the darkness. We are not defined by the things we own, the beliefs foisted upon us, or by our upbringing, but by the choice we make to act or not. Abandoning this basic human thought is tantamount to suicide.

(First Published in Issue #4 of The Post American, April 2014. Illustrations done by freelance artist Yuri Kim. You can reach her at either her website,, or by e-mail,

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Film Log 7.25.2015

The Confession (1970)

Director: Costa-Gavras
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: Powerful and sad thriller.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Film Log 7.24.2015

Ride the Pink Horse (1947)

Director: Robert Montgomery
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: Unusual film noir. It's not set in the city, the cinematography is fairly bright, and has an upbeat ending. The juxtaposition of an American in the middle of a foreign environment. As in most noir the film is a dissection of American capitalism. How far would you go for riches?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Film Log 7.20.2015 (BiFan 2015 Edition)

Violator (2014)

Director: Dodo Dayao
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: This film scared the shit out of me. I'm glad I got to see the film on the big screen. A laptop cannot do justice to the sound design in the picture. The appropriation of religious imagery adds a lot to the horror and dread that permeates throughout the picture. Each act is punctuated by suicide. 

Film Log 7.19.2015 (BiFan 2015 Edition)

Poison Berry in my Brain (2015)

Director: Sato Yuichi
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: Loved it!! A funny rom-com that doesn't do the cliche thing of trying to build a story on a quirky girl stuck between choosing the "right" man to be happy with. It instead asks a more important question "are you happy with yourself?" The romance angle is the least important part of the film. In Poison Berry in my Brain there are no quirky caricatures or good or bad men. It's just an honest and funny film about how people sometimes allow love to kill the part of themselves that felt happiness.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Film Log 7.18.2015 (BiFan 2015 Edition)

Neko Samurai 2: A Tropical Adventure (2015)

Director: Takeshi Watanabe
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: She's back! Cute and cuddly Tamonojo returns! This sequel has more cat goodness. Great fun.

Film Log 7.17.2015 (BiFan 2015 Edition)

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Director: Stanley Kubrick
Number of viewings: ~5

Comments: I have always had an ambivalent feeling towards this film. I hated it during my first viewing and over time I've grown to love it, but even though I now believe this film to be an essential Kubrick the film's length precludes me to doze off in some scenes.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Film Log 7.12.2015

Ruined Heart: Another Lovestory Between a Criminal & a Whore (2014)

Director: Khavn de la Cruz
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: A pop crime film music video. Sensory overload. Beauty and ugliness freely mixing with one another. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Film Log 7.09.2015

That Thing Called Tadhana (2015)

Director: Antoinette Jadaone
Number of viewings: 2

Comments: Brilliant. Favorite Romantic comedy of the year. Jadaone takes a very well-worn genre and, though not reinventing the wheel, adds fresh life into it. You actually root for the two leads to get together. Beautiful cinematography. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Film Log 7.05.2015

Secretly Greatly (2013)

Director: Jang Cheol-soo
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: Fairly typical action film.The North Korean backstory will be a familiar trope for fans of South Korean cinema. The apartment complex stand-off was an exciting action set piece.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Friday, July 3, 2015

Film Log 7.03.2015

Godzilla (2014)

Director: Gareth Edwards
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: If Pacific Rim (2013) hadn't existed this film would be far more impressive. The fight between Godzilla and the MUTOs in San Francisco was pretty exciting though.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Film Log 7.02.2015

Pacific Rim (2013)

Director: Guillermo del Toro
Number of Viewings: ~5

Comments: Saw this again with the Guillermo del Toro commentary. I don't understand why more people don't love this film more. It is both an ode to mecha and kaiju films and also an original work of genre cinema.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Film Log 6.27.2015

Seven Weeks (2014)

Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: The funeral dirge soundtrack is haunting. Obayashi loves color filters: red, orange, blue, purple, green, etc. etc. The film is long and the circular narrative fits with the story. Death and rebirth. Our memories are a way of keeping the past alive. To forget may be comforting, but in the act of forgetting our demons merely grow stronger. A film as dense as a Pynchon novel.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Film Log 6.26.2015

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Director: George Miller
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: Favorite action film of the year so far. I hope the franchise continues if this is the direction George Miller is taking it. The almost 2 hour runtime flew by so fast. Modern action filmmaking should start with this film. CGI in service of the story and action.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Film Log 6.25.2015

Massacre Gun (1967)

Director: Yasuharu Hasebe
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: Nikkatsu Noir. Baroque shots and expressionistic lighting. An entertaining masculine bromance between Jo Shishido and Hideki Nitani's character.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Film Log 6.23.2015

La Dolce Vita (1960)

Director: Federico Fellini
Number of viewings: 3

Comments: The good life, bursting with all sorts of pleasure but ultimately empty. The film is long and watching it can get exhausting, but still one of my favorites. A brutal film with a sad ending.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Film Log 6.21.2015

It's Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong (2014)

Director: Emily Ting
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: Godawful. White guy teaching Asian girl how to get in touch with her Asian roots. Jamie Chung's character is so helpless in this film. Not even close to approaching Linklater's Before trilogy. So many cliché shots. Terrible on the nose dialogue.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Film Log 6.19.2015

Roma (1972)

Director: Federico Fellini
Number of viewings: 2

Comments: Visually baroque film essay on Rome. Episodic structure. Erotic, grotesque, and thought-provoking. As usual, this film is a fictional autobiography of Fellini's life. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Film Log 6.18.2015

Round Trip Heart (2015)

Director: Yuki Tanada
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: Fascinating film, but began to lose interest after awhile. Nothing particularly special or memorable about this film. Loved Yuko Oshima and Koji Ookura's performances though.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Film Log 6.17.2015

See You Tomorrow, Everyone (2013)

Director: Yoshihiro Nakamura
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: A touching film. Ending made me tear up a bit. Love the way the film ended, neither happy or sad. It just closes. Maybe in a few years we will return to Satoru's story. Gaku Hamada is becoming my favorite male actor in Japan, at least of the new crop of male actors.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Film Log 6.16.2015

A Farewell to Jinu (2015)

Director: Suzuki Matsuo
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: Hilarious. A farcical look at small town politics. Definitely one of the films that can be said to be a product of the recession.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Film Log 6.14.2015

Meeting Dr. Sun (2014)

Director: Yee Chih-Yen
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: Great take on the heist film. More Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958) than Rififi (1955). Love having the setting be in a school.  

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Film Log 6.13.2015

This Country's Sky (2015)

Director: Haruhiko Arai
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: A theatrical film that doesn't feel stage bound. Another film about the war, but this time focused on the Japanese home front. Fuji Nikaido subtly conveys the character's unhappiness through action. Last shot of picture directly reference's Francois Truffaut's 400 Blows (1959). Slow, but done to convey the languid pace of the war.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Film Log 6.11.2015

Kofuku (1981)

Director: Kon Ichikawa
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: Heavily indebted to Akira Kurosawa's Stray Dog (1949) and High and Low (1963). The child actors in this film are holy unconvincing and, at times, very annoying. A standard police procedural.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Film Log 6.10.2015

Snow On The Blades (2014)

Director: Setsuro Wakamatsu
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: Humdrum jidai-geki picture. Beautifully photographed and a talented cast, but nothing very memorable about the film.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Film Log 6.09.2015

Belladonna of Sadness (1973)

Director: Eiichi Yamamoto
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: Lots of phallic and vaginal imagery. Still trying to process what this film is about.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Film Log 6.07.2015

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Director: Doug Liman
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: Starship Troopers meets Groundhog Day. Emily Blunt gets to do her own looping. She is truly a Full Metal Badass. Exciting action choreography. Actual funny dialogue. Tom Cruise yet again plays a jerk who learns to care about other people through the love of a woman.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Film Log 6.06.2015

Groundhog Day (1993)

Director: Harold Ramis
Number of viewings: ~1

Comments: I don't know why I expected this film to be two hours long. The runtime just flew by. Bill Murray is always great.  Chris Elliott has perfect comic timing when delivering lines that a second rate actor would either just try and make funny or rattle off without aplomb.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Film Log 6.04.2015

Goodfellas (1990)

Director: Martin Scorsese
Number of viewings: ~10

Comments: Seen so many times and still great. Even the secondary characters in this film are memorable. Better than The Godfather, rivaled only by Kinji Fukasaku's yakuza pictures.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Film Log 6.02.2015

Real (2013)

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: This film shares the same flaw as Inception. In a universe where a person can enter another's dream one should be able to manipulate and alter the dream reality at will into any shape, size, or form. Yet, Kurosawa and Nolan present very antiseptic dream worlds. Nothing about the dream world and "reality" should be that familiar.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Film Log 6.01.2015

Neko Samurai (2014)

Director: Yoshitaka Yamaguchi
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: As a cat lover maybe I am preternaturally disposed to liking this film, but so what. Neko Samurai is such a sweet endearing film. Yes, the drama can get very saccharine at times but the film earns its kawaii moments.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Film Log 5.30.2015

The Duke of Burgundy (2014)

Director: Peter Strickland
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: Gorgeous cinematography. Most of the time I didn't really know what the chronology of the story was, I still don't, but it doesn't matter. The cyclical plot structure just contributed to the film's dreamy atmosphere. The film was fascinating. The fluid back and forth movement that both the lead actresses took as they fluctuated between master and slave was great. Can this film be called a feminist sexploitation flick? When did this film take place? It feels modern, but looks to have taken place during the 1950s or 60s. Loved this film. Peter Strickland is yet another director whose work I wholeheartedly love. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Film Log 5.29.2015

Force Majeure (2014)

Director: Ruben Östlund
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: Some scenes dragged a bit, but the film has a lot of memorable dreamy images. Also, the deadpan comedy bits are funny. Loved the shout-out to Bunuel with the film's last scene. The film is almost like a more comedic version of The Shining (1980).

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Film Log 5.27.2015

Cousin Jules (1972)

Director: Dominique Benicheti
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: Beautiful documentary. Unseen for several decades. Shot in the course of six years the film unabashedly shows the life of one man. The monotony of daily life is not boring though. Benicheti carefully shoots every scene. Though it is a documentary it feels far more controlled than other recent docs which often advertise their realism through shaky footage, bad lighting, and home movie style editing, yet in Cousin Jules there is a real sense of a director. Within a scene there is a wide variety of shots used and also there is an arc. By arc I don't mean the traditional Hollywood definition of an arc, but a sense that each scene matters and is building towards the film's quiet conclusion. Within a span of a cut many years go by. Benichetti holds on a short for several seconds and then cuts to an exterior shot of the countryside. What we don't realize until much later is that in the space between that cut many years have passed and Jules's wife has died. Does life have a conclusion though? What do our collective actions say about each and every one of us?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Film Log 5.26.2015

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: "The first Iranian vampire Western." I love the film's black and white cinematography. The picture's cinematographer, Lyle Vincent, uses various gradients of black and white to build the very oppressive atmosphere that surrounds the film. At times though, the film feels more like an exercise in style rather than substance and sometimes the film feels like a hipsterish version of the Twilight saga. Sheila Vand, the eponymous girl that does all the walking in the film, does a fine job emoting through the subtle movement of her eyebrows.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Film Log 5.25.2015

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Director: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: Very long film. Too long. Liked the Saul Bass inspired end credits and I appreciated bringing the action somewhat back towards the real world. When Captain  America gets shot by a bullet he feels it. I never liked Captain America before, too white bread for my taste, but this film actually made me care about him. A comic book movie that didn't feel like a rehash of comic book tropes. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Film Log 5.24.2015

Stranger by the Lake (2013)

Director: Alain Guiraudie
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: Poisoned love. A film that could have been penned by Patricia Highsmith. Guiraudie's use of unassimilated sex and nonchalant attitude towards it points to the loneliness that all these gay men feel. The use of a singular location, the lake, illustrates just how removed these men are from the world. Are they hiding?running away? I don't think so, or at least maybe not all of them are. All these men are so mysterious. Michel, is he a self-loathing homosexual or does he murder only when he grows tired of his lovers? So many questions. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Film Log 5.23.2015

Finding Vivian Maier (2013)

Director: John Maloof and Charlie Siskel
Number of viewings: 1

Comments:Inspiring documentary about recently unknown artist Vivian Maier. The film is just as much about Maier as it is the filmmakers journey to uncover the story of the artist. The picture revels in the myth of the artist as an outsider. Maier's pictures are beautiful though. A female Robert Frank? I think so, too. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Film Log 5.22.2015

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came To Eden (2013)

Director: Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: Fascinating but overlong. Too much brooding over a mystery that the filmmakers and their talking heads seem to have the answer to; even if it is just mere speculation. The use of voice actors to read the various character's diary entries was a unique touch. It felt like I was watching a radio drama, but in a good way. Need to rewatch again.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Film Log 5.21.2015

Tim's Vermeer (2013)
Director: Teller
Number of viewings: 1

Comments: The film unpretentiously disproves the myth that art and technology are separate siblings. Tim Jenison meticulously recreates not only Vermeer's The Music Lesson, but also the world that Vermeer inhabited. Is there any other superlative art documentaries out there that take the time to delve into history, art, science, and technique? I hope so. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Ilo Ilo (2013)

It may not be politically correct to say this, but the Philippines greatest export to the world may be human chattel. Although there are plenty of highly educated Filipinos who immigrate to foreign countries and build very successful careers for themselves, sadly the consensus around the world about the Philippines and its people are that they are an impoverished country whose populace migrate to other far more economically abundant places to work as unskilled labor. Be it the US, Europe, Australia, or Asia no matter how many Filipinos you may find working in hospitals, schools, or running their own businesses there will be just as many or even more Filipinos working as maids, nannies, janitors, farmhands, etc. etc. And because of this it has become easy for many to treat these people as less than human. In places like Hong Kong, stories abound about Filipinos being treated worse than the family dog by their employers, and in proudly democratic countries like the US, Filipino maids are often forced to be on-call 24/7 to their host family in the hopes that maybe one day in the distant future they can get the most coveted thing of all, an immigration visa.