Category Archives: Japan

#304 Hiroshima Mon Amour

(1959, Alain Resnais)

“You saw nothing in Hiroshima”

So it is today that the Japanese surrendered at the end of World War II, which seems an appropriate time to review a movie about the Hiroshima bombings. I would have done it back on the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombings themselves, but I took a long hiatus and didn’t do it so this will do instead. So, Hiroshima Mon Amour then. What’s it like?

Set in Hiroshima (obviously), a French actress (Emmanuelle Riva) is in Japan filming a movie about peace, where she gets into a relationship with a Japanese man (Eiji Okada). The two discuss the Hiroshima museum and then start talking about love and loss and memory. And…uh…the movie kinda stopped being about Hiroshima at that point and…I’m not really sure what it was about by the end.

Yes, this is another French-made film about Japan that rambles on about nothing for a long time and ends up not being about Japan after all. Yes, it’s Sans Soleil all over again. What is it about Japan that makes French filmmakers so enamoured with it that they have to make a philosophical essay of a movie in response? Please tell me. I’d like to know. I’d also like to ask, can we ban them from ever doing it again?

Essentially, this is a long conversation between two people of different nationalities about things. Not specific things. Just things. It starts out with them discussing a Hiroshima memorial museum and ends up with the actress reminiscing about a German soldier that she dated during the war, which of course was forbidden and so she was full of angst. And there’s some stuff about memory in there and everything is dressed up in flowery poetic dialogue that sounds completely unlike anything a real human being would say in casual conversation.

Because of this latter issue, the main problem with the movie is our good old friend “not giving a crap about the central characters.” They waffle on about nothing and talk in such flowery ways that they don’t feel like people, they feel like a catalyst for an essay that Alain Resnais wrote once. And not a very interesting essay either. Your essay gets an F, Alain. Sorry.

Here’s why. Your essay makes no sense and has no central point. Is Hiroshima Mon Amour about Hiroshima? No, that’s just added to the title to mislead you and make you think it may be about something a little more interesting (as interesting as World War II can be at this point). It drops the Hiroshima stuff pretty quickly and then just rambles on forever. I also found it hard to care much about the German solider romance backstory because I kept wondering what the hell happened to the Hiroshima stuff that the movie was allegedly supposed to be about.

In fact, it’s so hard to talk about this movie beyond this aspect because this is all there is. It’s just two people who barely know each other and are never really introduced to the audience talking. For 90 minutes. About nothing.

So again, I say, can we ban French people from making rambling essay movies about Japan? Or if not, can we ban them from being praised by critics and ending up on these lists? You want a movie about the devastation WW2 wreaked on Japan? Go watch Grave Of The Fireflies instead. You’ll get a lot more out of it.

Starring Emmanuelle Riva, Eiji Okada, Stella Dassas & Pierre Barbaud
Written by Marguerite Duras
Produced by Samy Halfon & Anatole Dauman
Music by Georges Delerue & Giovanni Fusco
Cinematography by Michio Takahashi & Sacha Vierney
Edited by Jasmine Chasney, Henri Colpi & Anne Sarraute

Favourite Scene: Whenever they actually talked about Hiroshima, which, you know, the film was allegedly supposed to be about.
Scene That Bugged Me: Absolutely everything else.

Watch it if: You like rambling French films
Avoid it if: You want a movie about Hiroshima

#293 Throne of Blood

(1957, Akira Kurosawa)
蜘蛛巣城 Kumonosu-jō

“You, who would soon rule the world, allow a ghost to frighten you”

My experience with Shakespeare is not the best. Due to a British education system that seems determined to suck the life out of every form of literature by drily overanalysing every line of a play, my experience of Shakespeare has been spending an entire year reading Macbeth very slowly and subsequently wanting to never read Macbeth again.

So perhaps reframing Shakespeare could help. Perhaps if an influential Japanese director could have made a movie transposing Macbeth to feudal Japan and making it a dark movie about samurai, I could feel a little better about it. Oh hey, look, it’s Throne Of Blood! That’ll do nicely.

While returning from a battle against their lord’s enemies, samurai generals Washizu (Toshiro Mifune) and Miki (Minoru Chiaki) encounter a spirit in the forest who tells of a prophecy for the two men. Washizu is to become master of North Castle, and will soon become lord for the whole castle complex too. Upon returning to their lord, the first part of the prophecy comes true, leading Washizu’s wife, Asaji (Isuzu Yamada), to convince him to kill the lord and bring about the second part. As you can imagine, it doesn’t end well.

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#184 In The Realm Of The Senses

愛のコリーダ (Ai No Korida)
(1976, Nagisa Oshima)

“A girl like you can stab a man’s heart without a knife”


WARNING: TRAILER IS VERY MUCH NSFW! (as if that thumbnail didn’t make that obvious)

There’s something odd about Japan’s attitude towards sex. They have a reputation for producing incredibly debauched and outright weird pornography, despite their strict censorship laws that prevent genitalia being shown on camera. On top of this, traditionally there seems to be a bizarre link between sex and death, no more obvious than when, in 1936, former prostitute Sada Abe strangled her lover, Kichizo Ishida, during sex then removed his penis and carried it around with her everywhere.

In The Realm Of The Senses is based on this true story, and is the most sexually explicit movie on the Movies You Must See list. The movie is an account of Sada (Eiko Matsuda) and her affair with Kichizo (Tatsuya Fuji) leading from his initial sexual advances while she worked as a servant in his home to the eventual murder. And because their relationship was known for being very sexually charged, so is the movie, since a great deal of it features entirely un-simulated sex scenes. That’s right, it’s practically porn.

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#153 Ran

(1985, Akira Kurosawa)

“In a mad world, only the mad are sane”

Japanese cinema these days is known primarily for two things: anime and horror. In both cases, it tends to be stereotyped as either heavily sexualised or incredibly violent, sometimes even both at the same time. But there is one name that endures to remind the world that this isn’t true of all Japanese cinema: Akira Kurosawa, the king of the samurai epic. And the movie we’re looking at today is possibly his most ambitious work, Ran.

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#63 Akira

(1988, Katsuhiro Otomo)

“TETSUOOOOO!”

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#57 Audition

(1999, Takashi Miike)

“I was waiting for your call”

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#54 Spirited Away

(千と千尋の神隠し- Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi)
(2001, Hayao Miyazaki)

“Nothing that happens is ever forgotten, even if you can’t remember it”

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#35 Grave Of The Fireflies

(1988, Isao Takahata)
(火垂るの墓 – Hotaru no Haka)

“Why do fireflies have to die so soon?”

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#13 Ring

(1998, Hideo Nakata)

“There’s this video curse that’s everyone’s talking about…”

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#7 Princess Mononoke

(1997, Hayao Miyazaki)

“She is neither human nor wolf”

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