a page of madness

film writing by nicholas vroman

Tokyo Filmex 2007 – boxoffice.com blog #4

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Today felt like a good day to check out some of the retrospective screenings that Tokyo Filmex justifiable is building its reputation on. Seeing old movies in Tokyo is surprisingly easy. Tokyo still has a few repertory theaters that show old classics and obscure chanbara. Shinbun Geiza in Inkebukuro and La Puta (well worth the visit just to see the beautiful post-modern confection of a theater) in Asagaya are just a couple places to catch up on Japanese cinema history. What Filmex does, though, is partner with the National Film Center and other institutions and digs deep, finding some true gems and then presenting them in the context of director retrospectives.

This year is no exception. Director Yamamoto Satsuo’s work has been gracing the screen at the National Film Center, the other Filmex venue, for the last few days. Serious cinephiles are flocking to the 2nd floor of the center to see magnificently restored prints of Satsuo’s work. Roughly contemporaneous with Kurosawa, Satsuo had a long career working in the Japanese film industry. From lefty legit theatre in the 1930s, he jumped into the cinema. Getting through the war years making propaganda films, his left-leaning social conscience re-blossomed after the Japanese surrender and he worked the industry, putting his messages into the most unlikely of pop entertainments.

The afternoon screening of The Burglar Story was no exception. Presented in a crisp new B&W widescreen print, this delightful movie from 1965 started as a bit of a clinical Clouzeau-like caper flick, following the adventures of a hardened crew of post-war bandit/profiteers. Soon it turned into a comedy of bumbling burglars. Then, as our hero, played by great character actor, Mikui Rentaro, goes straight, it became something like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. It was a wonderful discovery. I’m looking forward to the Zatoichi film he directed, screening tomorrow.

Later, at the Yurakucho Asahi Hall, Ritwik Ghatak’s 1973 A River Called Titash played. Ghatak’s work is what Filmex’s other retrospective is covering. One of the titans of Indian cinema, his oeuvre has been largely neglected since is death in 1976. Titash could easily be retitled Que Viva Bangladesh. A truly odd movie, it looks like something that could have been shot in the 1930s (but was made in the 70s), has completely unnaturalistic performances, beautiful and stilted tableau shots, and a sprawling story, that I must admit, got a bit tiring.

Bleary eyed, I went to a talk session with two of the festival competition judges – Christian Jeune, from Cannes, and Dorothee Wenner, from Berlin. Young filmmakers and festival guests (plus one homeless guy) listened as they described programs that both their festivals have instituted to help produce new work by new directors. I can only hope that someone listening to Jeune and Wenner today may become the subject of Tokyo Filmex’s 2057 director retrospective.

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Written by Nicholas Vroman

November 21, 2007 at 2:57 am

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