After the Rain | 雨あがる

13 04 2015

 

rain

Winner of the Japanese Academy Award, After the Rain is a 1999 film based on the last script by the legendary Akira Kurosawa, filmed and produced after the director’s passing while the film was still in preproduction.

The entire action takes place during the Samurai era, in the countryside when a group of people gets stranded in an inn during a heavy rain. Roads are washed off, travel becomes off-limits and so the world slows down while the unwilling participants get to pass the time together in a small and now crowded space at this outpost of civilization. Nothing is the word.

But things do happen.

The protagonist gets to grow over the sequel of unexpected events, the supporting characters get to create a meaningful canvas at the backdrop of which the entire plot gets to come to its resolution. And the audience gets to watch the ever unique exploration of human nature, Akira Kurosawa’s signature in cinematography.

There’s something intangible about the director’s spirit being so carefully preserved throughout the entire film. Each scene as if breathes Kurosawa, his vision being laid out in front of millions of human eyes who get to witness the  magic one more time. Kurosawa always aims at the unseen, the ephemeral, that ultimate fabric that connects humanity – in a variety of very telling situations in which actions speak louder than words.

After the Rain does not contain too many dialogues – but it does however contain many scenes where words become  obsolete. Through showing – not telling – the storyteller’s original idea comes to life when entrusted with the masters of Japanese cinema. And in that, Kurosawa’s ideal lives on.

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2015. All rights reserved.





FILM

6 05 2013

Der_Untergang_-_Poster DOWNFALL (2004)

It is customary in many countries to watch WWII movies during the first week of May, thus commemorating the atrocities that took place now over 70 years ago.
In those movies, the tragedy is kept alive, being brought on screens – to preserve the memories, to remind of the warnings, to hope that the same never happens again.

In 2004, Germany produced DOWNFALL (Der Untergang), focusing on the life of a young woman who becomes Hitler’s secretary not long before Berlin is taken by the Russian Army.

The film is made in the best story telling tradition, with a typical and recognizable German attention to detail. Some scenes are artistically over-dramatized, to enhance the impact the tragedy had on people involved in it, and their descendants. Not an easy task, perhaps, but Germany did it again, and did it well. Is it the need to rehabilitate itself that drives German cinematography to the highest production quality when it comes to a WWII movie? Whatever the reason, due diligence was done in creating historically accurate and believable characters, and emotionally honest scenes that sort of imprint, visually, the statements of truth.

A special comment needs to be made on the brilliant performance of Bruno Ganz in the role of Adolf Hitler. Playing one of the most complex and dark villains in human history is not a walk in a park. Certainly, Bruno Ganz did well in studying his role and making sure the image he created is not stereotypical, but very much correct, exact to the point of body language and Hitler’s nervous tics. That is a very scary thing to do for a film actor – getting under the skin of such an evil figure, penetrating inside his mind, staying in this dark character for the duration of production, living with the after-taste. Undoubtedly, Ganz succeeded in bringing Hitler from the past closer to us today – and in that, there’s a certain element of horror, subtle, perhaps not immediately recognized, but apparent after a moment of contemplation. What we, normal people, like to believe, is that evil is not natural, not human and must, therefore, be explained by some sort of anomaly, disease, mental condition…. How many biographers dissected Hitler’s personality? How much literature has been written on his personalia? Well, that all becomes irrelevant when a living, breathing tirant is addressing the audience, comfortably sitting in soft chairs of cinema theaters. Bruno Ganz’s performance made a very powerful point – Hitler was a human being, sane and smart and if not for his monstrous side, he could have been a next door neighbor. Humanity shows in his patient attitude, his caring smile, his compassionate speech…. Only we know that that is the most incredible of lies. Realization that Hitler is one of us is definitely the toughest truth anyone could ever want to deal with.

DOWNFALL is also built on dialogues with evergreen and characteristic statements, designed to make us think, analyze, go deeper into the human soul. WWII is the ugliest of all human tragedies, it still affects generations, and its impact is still felt worldwide. When the film’s main character leaves falling Berlin behind, she does not depart empty handed – with her, she takes the emotional trauma of her nation, memories that will haunt her and pain that will trouble her for decades after.

We’re still dealing with consequences of WWII, with mysteries and cover-ups, seeking absolution and redemption, but the resolution has yet to come.

Watch DOWNFALL Trailer on Youtube

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2013. All rights reserved.





FILM

7 08 2012
Big Man Japan

Big Man Japan (2007) is a very peculiar kind of movie. Very traditional and very Japanese, in a sense that the refined feel of the human presence and the environment is rather innerving.

The movie starts off as a documentary footage, slowly moving forward to the essence. This suspense is what makes this film a tangible experience.

The main character – Masaru Daisato – appears like a normal man who tells the story of his everyday life. Maybe he is a little out there, but other than that nothing extraordinary, if not for his ability to become very, very big. And he needs electricity to do that.

In Big Man Japan, the country needs protection from weird creatures. Who are they, where do they come from? I guess it’s up to us, viewers, to speculate about their origin and purpose. But in the movie the big man zaps himself and grows to an incredible height – so as to defeat the evil entities.

Not to spoil the pleasure of watching this mockumentary, one thing needs to be said – Big Man Japan is a parody on the modern society, it incorporates many elements of today’s Japanese society and culture, and in a subtle way hints to the state of society globally.

Entertaining in a very cunning manner, the film has an unusual format with inclusion of classic monster scenes, black & white footage and recognizable Japanese humor. Plain fun to watch.

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.

Big Man Japan Official Trailer





FILM

1 07 2012

THE WHITE COUNTESS

Nearly a century old political tragedy brings two people together amidst events of a catastrophic magnitude. This is the setting of The White Countess (2005), a pure and genuinely beautiful love story, embroidered onto the distorted canvas of history.

So many plots like this, developing at times of a crisis… The White Countess differs because it opens up a door into a very much unknown world for many. Russian émigré, nobility in exile, forced to abandon everything they knew and loved, and find a new existence, new purpose of life elsewhere.

For too many families this meant painful separation, loss and even brutal death of their loved ones. And for many families today, this means an endless search for roots, collecting tidbits of data from archives of which large parts are missing.

The White Countess is a heartwarming story of an incredible woman who lost everything and had to rely on her wits to make a living in nearly impossible conditions, and an American businessman with a challenging disability, wealthy and influential, wishing to fulfill his dream of a gentle creature from another world, a woman who becomes his soul mate.

An exploration of human nature is perhaps the most exciting journey one can take, and the most unpredictable one. And that is in fact the essence of this film, and how for one lucky guy his longing becomes his reality.

 

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.

View Official Movie Trailer on Youtube





FILM

17 06 2012

The Jackie Robinson Story

Before Martin Luther King put his life to service and a nationwide fight for civil rights, there was Jackie Robinson, a man of a humble appearance, a great athletic talent and  with the lion’s heart.

Featuring the legendary baseball player’s life story, the biopic The Jackie Robinson Story, produced in 1950 by Jewel Pictures and revived in color in 2005 by 20th Century Fox, is a cinematographic antiquity, but its message does not lose actuality till this very day.

Though the film does not unveil many circumstances and events of Jackie’s life and activism, it does bring out his personality and due to one fact alone that Jackie starred in the film playing himself – and doing the job quite well – the film carries historical value. Owing  to the brilliant performance of Minor Watson whose role of Brooklyn Dodgers’ president Branch Rickey required him to be convincing as a believer in the democratic character of baseball as a universal sport, and as such alien to any form of discrimination and racism, the film made history. The lines Watson had to say in one of the scenes advocating for equality in sport are now epic.

Quite linear – what could be expected of a biographic film – The Jackie Robinson Story is best seen in its original black and white format; that’s a sure way to feel the flavor of the 50s, to dive into the atmosphere of the time and walk with Jackie Robinson till his monumental victory on that baseball field some sixty years ago.

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.

 





FILM

5 06 2012

The Lightkeepers

Starring Richard Dreyfuss and Tom Wisdom, The Lightkeepers (2009) is a very light, indeed, romantic comedy with a sweet flavor. When a young son of a British multimillionaire throws himself overboard a steamer somewhere in the vicinity of Cape Cod in 1912, little does he know that a new chapter in his life is about to begin. But first, he meets the light keeper.

Two men –  fussy and paranoid due to his respectful age Atkins and young dashing John Brown, call themselves ‘women haters’ and attribute many of their misfortunes to the presence of women in their lives. And so they strive to avoid them all together, protecting their self-inflicted paradise that has become the downtown joke.

Only the men’s little idyll is not destined to remain forever. Two women walk – or, shall we say, drive on a horse and carriage – into their isolated habitat, seeking quiet vacation at the beach near the lighthouse. However, what they find there is far from quiet.

Written and directed by Daniel Adams, this brilliant, refreshing comedy is played with the authenticity of the century old cultural heritage – so nicely done are the dialogues, the body language, the facial expressions and the characters’ costumes, the setting and their vivacious joyful manner of going about their daily business. The film demonstrates the importance of proper casting, as well as attention to detail in each scene.

In contrast to the recent trend in cinema and the demand for dramatic shocker-action films, The Lightkeepers is a delightful nuisance, serene, dynamic and entertaining.

For lovers of the English language and culture, this film is a real treat that doesn’t wear off its freshness after many a time.

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.

Official Trailer of The Lightkeepers (2009)





FILM

25 03 2012

THE ISLAND

The Island was released in 2006. Directed by Pavel Lungin, a talented Russian film maker, the movie has a carefully thought through cast as an essential component to its very texture, starring Pyotr  Mamonov, for whom the role of father Anatoli is nearly autobiographical.

Smooth and delicate, The Island was filmed according to the best standards of modern cinematography. With technical aspects so well perfected, the film allows to concentrate on its main theme, its spiritual message. For viewers coming from other backgrounds than Russian Orthodox, the film opens up a door, a very wide door, into the world of intimate and authentic spirituality, unique and non-existent anywhere else outside Russia – a perfect opportunity to explore.

The plot is quite simple, and therefore so tragic. A soldier’s war crime becomes his sin, the sin that he cannot forgive himself, although he seems to be pardoned by the highest authority. The soldier becomes a monk, and a monk becomes the healer, the one for many lost souls on the vast territories of a wild and untamed country, the one for the confused and the desperate. Father Anatoli draws from his unlimited faith in God, his devotion and desire to please God through service, and his ability to see beyond the unseen, to know what is hidden from the eyes of common people. Why him, why is he chosen? There are no answers, only more questions. Aren’t we all chosen, aren’t we all recipients of the message – in different times and at different altitudes and frequencies?

People come and go, the monastery and the monks are still there, and so is the healer – at least for a while – and perhaps there’s so much to learn from many canonical books and prayers in those books, but The Island in the end makes only one point – know thyself.

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.

The Island in IMDb

Official Trailer





FILM

29 02 2012

20th Century Boys

‘Kenji, come play with me…’

Manga adaptation on screen is a risky undertaking. However, somehow, this didn’t scare creators of the Japanese film trilogy 20th Century Boys. The product that was first offered to the audience in 2008, now occupies its rightful place among the top productions of the Japanese film industry, having also been critically acclaimed on the international arena.

Directed by Yukihiko Tsutsumi, the trilogy revolves around a story of young kids, boys who make a pact they pledge to honor with their lives. They go on into their adulthood, carrying memories of their childish games, only to discover that one of them took things way too seriously. Decades later, now all grown up and mature, they try to figure out who is behind the menacing events that suddenly begin enveloping the entire world. As reports of more deaths keep streaming in, Japan and the rest of the world slowly sinks into the almost animalistic fear of the one, who calls himself Friend.

Built on a number of urban legends and incorporating many cultural idiosyncrasies, 20th Century Boys is a dynamic science fiction action thriller that features polarized aspects of human nature being revealed in a classic confrontation of good v. evil. This ain’t no Godzilla, but the super-natural adrenalin-fed flavor stays strong throughout all three parts.

Very Japanese and very universal in its character, the trilogy has a global appeal and quality that will keep 20th Century Boys in the vintage selection of the modern day cinematography.

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.

More on the Official Site of 20th Century Boys UK 





FILM

16 02 2012

Japanese Story

Directed by Sue Brooks, Japanese Story starred Tony Collette and Gotaro Tsunashima, and grossed over 4 mln dollars at the Australian box office upon release in 2003.

The story begins with a business partner arriving from Japan to Australia and needing a tour. What happens then is a combination of drama and romance, and a slow motion, however fast moving, development of a connection between two people from two different worlds.

It starts a little like sampling new food or trying on a new dress, but then grows into waves of passion and emotion. The effect is being confirmed by the music, a blend of a subtle texture of the Japanese silk and the oh so spacious Australian sky.

Japanese Story centers around the theme of an immediate human connection on a deep intimate level. It’s a touching and elegant story of a man and a woman and what could have been between them, but what never truly got its chance.

On the other hand, the tragic and powerful ending of Japanese Story, having introduced another female character, leaves a peculiar aftertaste. What seemed like a careless adventure of one reckless man, turned out to be a heartfelt journey of two women.

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.

Official Trailer for Japanese Story





FILM

22 01 2012

Childlike Past and Alien Present:

Super 8 and Attack the Block’s Children and Aliens

by MICHAEL PANUSH

The best science fiction stories do more than entertain us with big budget starships or creep us out with freaky aliens. While they entertain and entrance, they also use the fantastic elements of a sci-fi story as tools to create a compelling look at our own modern reality. They make us think about our own time and place. This willingness to employ science fiction to tackle bigger issues turns a special effects-laden blockbuster into a masterpiece.

Last year saw two science fiction films featuring young protagonists dealing with extraterrestrial invasions. Both films offer amazing performances, especially from young actors, accompanied by great action, breathtaking monsters and brilliant directing.

The purpose of this essay is not to dissect the movies as better critics have already had their say on both Super 8 and Attack the Block. Rather, let’s talk about the cinematic worlds that each movie created and see if there are differences between the overall premises and emotional value of each film. Finally, let’s explore how, like all good sci-fi, Super 8 and Attack the Block have a purpose beyond giving us a monster movie’s thrills and chills.

JJ Abrams’ Super 8 came out on June 1st and featured the story of a nice kid named Joe Lamb (played by actor Joel Courtney) and his friends, experiencing the arrival of a vicious non-human being in their American small town while making a zombie movie in the summer of ‘79. Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block was released in the United States on July 29th and features an aspiring young street thug named Moses (played by actor John Boyega). His gang of juvenile delinquents tries to survive an alien attack on their council estate in modern, lower-class London.

In a nut shell, Super 8 brings on the nostalgia for the past, while Attack the Block deals with unease in the present.

At first glance, Super 8 and Attack the Block are very similar. They both deal with a bunch of youngsters taking on a monstrous threat. They both owe a lot to Steven Spielberg’s films, complete with kids riding around on bikes. They both have unflattering portrayals of the government – whether it’s the mysterious military occupiers of Super 8 or the blundering, swarming ‘Feds’ of Attack the Block. They both even have their young protagonists use specialized slang – like ‘mint’ in Super 8 and countless examples of lower class London vernacular in Attack the Block. Finally, each does a good job of capturing the strange feeling of adolescence in a changing, unsure world.

But that’s where the similarities end.

Super 8 is all about a fond remembrance of childhood and the past. The 1979 it depicts is not free from trouble, but the troubles can always take a backseat to creativity. And that creativity is in full bloom. The kids are watching zombie flicks by George Romero, learning make-up from movie magazines and generally indulging their inner Tom Savini by making a film of their own. And so when danger arrives, it’s not even a big deal – it’s an opportunity to add a touch of big budget production to their movie.

That’s not to say there are no conflicts. Presence of a mysterious alien and occupying troops cause their share of problems for all the characters. There is inner turmoil as well, with a young romance for Joe and his changing relationship with his friends. But for the children, all of these travails are youthful and innocent. They’re charming, reminding of the gawky nervousness we all have had in our pasts. The world itself is full of wonder and an overall feeling that if you try hard – and are artistically-minded – everything will work out all right.

You get a few hints of a larger American paranoia, but not many. If we take a quick look at history, we can see that 1979 wasn’t exactly a great time for America. Watergate, the Cold War, racism, riots and Vietnam – all of that loomed large in the national consciousness. George Romero’s 1978 Dawn of the Dead – a film which is referenced by the young filmmakers of Super 8 – perfectly embodies that turmoil. But you wouldn’t get an idea of it when you’re watching Super 8. There’s maybe a mention of the USSR from a housewife at a town meeting, which is played for laughs and Vietnam is used by the kids as a handy bit of back story for their movie. That’s about it.

Director J.J. Abrams isn’t putting a turbulent time of American history under a microscope. But then again, that’s not his purpose with Super 8. He’s trying to capture a sense of wonder and youthful exuberance, aspirations and fears in the film. Overall, Super 8 is about nostalgia. Because of that, its emotional charge is almost an exact opposite of Attack the Block.

The London Riots occurred in August soon after Attack the Block had been released. Whether Attack the Block could be called prophetic or not, it perfectly captures the torment and distress caused by poverty in the more disadvantaged areas of London. That Attack the Block manages to do this while telling a compelling creature feature story, being frequently hilarious and showing the journey of its main character is nothing less than a triumph. Attack the Block isn’t set in a dream world of adolescent longing and artistic experiments. The world in the movie reflects the cold reality of our own – bleak, cruel and sad. And even with all that, Attack the Block still lets you know that there’s room for saving the day and the possibility of change.

Before the aliens show up, the setting of Attack the Block is far from being a pleasant place. Bonfire Night, fireworks and smoke make it look like a war zone. The first thing we see is a mugging at the hands of Moses and his aspiring thugs. Moses and his friends live in the world where the law is unfriendly and is therefore feared. With no chance of outside help, survival is a matter of trust in one’s friends. They’ve got no time to be creative and can only vaguely experience adolescent love.

One particular line perfectly sums up fear created by this environment. When members of his gang are speculating on the origin of the extraterrestrials, Moses suggests that the government engineered the beasts to kill ‘Black boys.’ This conjecture is similar to conspiracy theories blaming the US government for creating the AIDS virus or bringing crack cocaine to America to kill off disadvantaged Black people. The theories are a symptom of the hate and mistrust for a system that has failed. The system doesn’t work in Attack the Block either and the kids and their few allies are on their own.

The film’s ending is built on hope. Moses must learn responsibility and team-up with those he and his friends previously distrusted, if any of them are to avoid death and save the Block. The friendships forged while facing the alien attack are more than just a union against a common enemy. The companionship of these characters of varied races and classes show that differences can be overcome in the pursuit of heroism.

Last year was a good season for science fiction movies. There were many entertaining ones and a few that really stood out. Attack the Block and Super 8 are going to be in the latter category. This evaluation isn’t coming from a film expert, but from someone who does his best to understand a deeper meaning in fiction. The impact of Super 8 and Attack the Block goes far beyond the simple thrills of sci-fi action. These two films hold up a skewed mirror and let us have a good look at our reflections while still telling a compelling story. Super 8 is nostalgic and Attack the Block is nearly prescient, but both of them have the piercing insight that has always been the hallmark of good science fiction.

Michael Panush ©2012. All rights reserved. Courtesy CSReview ©2012.
Twenty-Two years old, Michael Panush has distinguished himself as one of Sacramento’s most promising young writers. Michael has published numerous short stories in a variety of e-zines including: AuroraWolf, Demon Minds, Fantastic Horror, Dark Fire Fiction, Aphelion, Horrorbound, Fantasy Gazetteer, Demonic Tome, Tiny Globule, and Defenestration. He currently attends UC Santa Cruz. Michael began telling stories when he was only nine years old. He won first place in the Sacramento Storyteller’s Guild “Liar’s Contest” in 2002 and was a finalist in the National Youth Storytelling Olympics in 2003. In 2007, Michael was selected as a California Art’s Scholar and attended the Innerspark Summer Writing Program at the CalArts Institute. He graduated from John F. Kennedy High School in 2008 and currently attends UC Santa Cruz.
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 Personal Website: http://www.clarkreeper.com/
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This post is part of the Curiosity Quills Blog Tour 2012. Curiosity Quills is a gaggle of literary marauders with a bone to grind and not enough time for revisions – a collective, creating together, supporting each other, and putting out the best darn tootin’ words this side of Google. Curiosity Quills also runs Curiosity Quills Press, an independent publisher committed to bringing top-quality fiction to the wider world. They publish in ebook, print, as well as serialising select works of their published authors for free on the press’s website.







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