21 May 2020
Filmed on the virtually deserted Setonaikai archipelago in south-east Japan, Naked Island was made in the words of its director "as a 'cinematic poem' to try and capture the life of human beings struggling like ants against the forces of nature". Kaneto Shindo, director of Onibaba (MoC #13) and Kuroneko (MoC #14), made the film with his own production company, Kindaï Eiga Kyokai, who were facing financial ruin at the time. Using one-tenth of the average budget, Shindo took one last impassioned risk to make this film. With his small crew, they relocated to an inn on the island of Mihari where, for two months in early 1964, they would make what they considered to be their last film.
Naked Island tells the story of a small family unit and their subsistence as the only inhabitants of an arid, sun-baked island. Daily chores, captured as a series of cyclical events, result in a hypnotizing, moving, and beautiful film harkening back to the silent era. With hardly any dialogue, Shindo combines the stark 'Scope cinematography of Kiyoshi Kuroda with the memorable score of his constant collaborator Hikaru Hayashi, to make a unique cinematic document.
Shindo, who had worked with both Kenji Mizoguchi and Kon Ichikawa, shot to international fame with the astounding Children of Hiroshima (1952). Eight years later, the BAFTA-nominated Naked Island won the Grand Prix at Moscow International Film Festival (where Luchino Visconti was a jury member). It is now considered to be one of Shindo's major works, and its success saved his film company from bankruptcy. The experience of making Naked Island led Shindo to appreciate 'collective film production', and has been his preferred method of making films ever since. The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to release Naked Island for the first time on home video in the UK.
A strange film in many ways: itis not a silent movie but all you hear is background noises and the desperate cry of a woman when she loses her son. Few other words are uttered in the film. The story of a couple and their two sons on an island off the coast of Japan in the immediate post-war years. They have to row their way to the mainland several times a day to fetch fresh water, take the kids to school, buy necessities.
It is a very repetitive film, with scenes of rowing and carrying buckets of water displayed over and over again, but in a way I think it has to be to depict such a lifestyle. Imagine how repetitive it must have been for real people who had to suffer through this. Having said that, it is perhaps a bit too repetitive!
Beautiful photography in black and white.
02 May 2020
In this groundbreaking biography, Jung Chang vividly describes how Empress Dowager Cixi - the most important woman in Chinese history - brought a medieval empire into the modern age. Under her, the ancient country attained virtually all the attributes of a modern state and it was she who abolished gruesome punishments like 'death by a thousand cuts' and put an end to foot-binding. Jung Chang comprehensively overturns the conventional view of Cixi as a diehard conservative and cruel despot and also takes the reader into the depths of her splendid Summer Palace and the harem of Beijing's Forbidden City, where she lived surrounded by eunuchs - with one of whom she fell in love, with tragic consequences.
Packed with drama, fast-paced and gripping, it is both a panoramic depiction of the birth of modern China and an intimate portrait of a woman: as the concubine to a monarch, as the absolute ruler of a third of the world's population, and as a unique stateswoman. (inside flap of the book)
Lots of information here, as usual for Chang. She digs deeper than anyone in Chinese sources and is very meticulous in her writing. One learns not only about Cixi but also about much of the troubled history that surrounded her long reign. Often the reader is led by the hand through the lives of the many characters depicted, and one has the impression of living in the Forbidden City or the Summer Palace. A real light on the life of late imperial China.
The major problem of the book is that the author is in love with her protagonist. This produces a hagiography rather than a biography. Cixi is praised for much, too much, and hardly ever criticized. When she is criticized, then immediately follows an excuse for her mistakes (of which there were many) or her shortsightedness.
Cixi did a lot of good, but also a lot of evil, and only the former is described in this book. Perhaps this is because Chang seems to be in love with female figures of Chinese history. Her Wild Swans remains my favorite and I am looking forward to reading her new book on the Soong sisters, hoping that it will be more impartial than this one.
Have a look at my list of books on China reviewed in this blog.
01 March 2020
Scott Hicks' screen adaptation of David Guterson's best-selling novel. On San Pietro Island, shortly after the end of World War Two, local fisherman Kazuo (Rick Yune) is on trial for the murder of another fisherman. The hearings are attended by Ishmael (Ethan Hawke), a local reporter who was also the childhood sweetheart of Kazuo's wife, Hatsue. As the hearings progress, Ishmael gradually begins to realize the extent of anti-Japanese feelings which still remains, and suspects that it could affect the course of the trial.
A gripping historical novel about a lesser-known (unless you are a Japanese-American) aspect of domestic politics in the USA during and after World War II. A dark page in American democracy but a message of hope at the end. Also, it shows how immigrants in the American melting pot do not always, well, melt in the pot but keep cultural, if not political, affiliations to their country of origin.
You can buy the book here
Compra la versione italiana qui
04 February 2019
29 January 2019
The "Iro" was not a "maru", like most wrecks in the Chuuk lagoon, ie it was not a merchant transport converted to military uses. It was an oil tanker built in 1921-22 expressly for the imperial Japanese navy. Funny she was powered by coal, was a steamer, even though she carried oil for the engines of other ships. One of only 9 oilers in the Japanese navy in WWII, a major weakness.
It participated in most major WWII operations, except Pearl Harbor. During the course of the war, it was hit many times but survived.
It was finally hit by a torpedo in her bow near the Philippines which chopped off a whole bite of the hull at the very front edge. In March 1944 it was limping on her way to Chuuk to be repaired when she learned of operation Desecrate, the American attack on Palau, and she was ordered to Palau, the next maritime line of defense for the imperial navy.
There she was again attacked and finally sunk.
It was salvaged in the 1950s, the Japanese recuperated the bodies and valuable metals but... the boat bringing the remains of the Iro's sailors and any valuables back to Japan sink en route!
The Iro now rests upright, stern sank first and is deep under the sand with prop and rudder clearly visible. A most interesting set of dives.
21 August 2018
The most memorable thing from this easy day of work in my hotel (it was mostly raining) is dinner at YAKINIQUEST, a Japanese restaurant on Clarck's Quai that specializes in wagyu beef from Japan.
Two floors: upstairs it is totally empty today, for now at least. I choose to stay downstairs, with the fridge of beef in good view and I am the only patron anyway but at least there are staff to see and talk to.
We are welcomed by a sweet Philipino girl who speaks with a very low voice but works fast and efficiently to set up my table.
The boss tells me he receives about 400-500 kg of meat every month from southern Japan.
He nods repeatedly with conviction: it is true that some farmers massage and give beer to cows to make them relax and eat more and produce better beef.
The sequence went from raw to grilled to marinated and ended up with ice cream. Dessert was a Japanese curry, oddly enough if you are not Japanese.
18 November 2016
It is a film that took me some time to appreciate. At first it was actually boring. At the end it was riveting! You can see a traditional male-dominated Japanese family where the father is actually more concerned with preserving his wobbling authority, and face, than with the well being of his wife and sons. He loses his job to outsourcing to China, and can not pick himself up again. His elder son is a bit naive and wants to find purpose by joining the US military, only to be sent to the Middle East and change is view of the world after seeing the horrors of war. His house wife tried to make things work in the family but is constantly sidelined by the father.
The only member of the family who turns out to have a clue is the youngest son, who dreams of becoming a pianist and takes lessons in secret when he is forbidden to do so. In the end, his dreams are the only realistic prospects for the family and his success helps the father find his way once again.
The moral: follow your dream with passion and determination and be humble, true and honest to yourself.
04 October 2015
Associazione Italiana Sommelier a Londra con un misto di curiosità e scetticismo. Come la maggior parte dei colleghi sommelier presenti, avevo bevuto sake in numerose occasioni. Ma questo era avvenuto esclusivamente presso ristoranti giapponesi, abbinandolo con soddisfazione a sushi o tempura, ma senza un criterio sistematico. Come se per il sake non valessero i parametri di abbinamento - concordanza e contrasto - che abbiamo imparato ad applicare quando sposiamo un vino ad una pietanza occidentale. Sake dolce o secco, aromatico o fruttato, più fresco o più morbido, servito a quale temperatura? Ci mancavano gli strumenti per prendere le decisioni migliori.
|With colleagues during the master class|
La frizzante presentazione di Jonathan è stata intervallata dagli assaggi di sake, che a mano a mano ci venivano versati nei bicchieri. La degustazione è molto diversa da quella del vino. In primo luogo non c’è l’analisi visiva: il sake è trasparente. Se non lo è vuol dire che il tempo lo ha leggermente scurito durante un affinamento in bottiglia magari non perfettamente conservata. Ma il sake non deve mai aspettare, è concepito per essere bevuto appena imbottigliato, pochi mesi dopo la produzione. Infatti la data indicata sulle bottiglie è quella dell’imbottigliamento e non del raccolto.
Come il vino, il sake ha una storia plurimillenaria alle spalle ed un futuro radioso davanti, e per entrambi i rispettivi produttori tendono a provilegiare la qualità rispetto alla quantità. Sconosciuto in Occidente fino a poco tempo fa, oggi viene scoperto dai sommelier di tutto il mondo per la sua grande flessibilità negli abbinamenti con il cibo della cucina internazionale. Durante la manifestazione di Londra siamo persino stati stupiti dal felice abbinamento del sake con la bestia nera del vino: il carciofo!
|Federica e Andrea della UKSA|
Buy your sake sets here.
Grazie ad Armando Pereira per le fotografie.
12 August 2015
A powerful hymn to the human spirit, Alone Across the Pacific by renowned Japanese director Kon Ichikawa (An Actor's Revenge, The Burmese Harp, Tokyo Olympiad) tells the extraordinary real-life story of one man's obsessive quest to break free from the strictures of society. In 1962, Kenichi Horie (Yujiro Ishihara) embarks on a heroic attempt to sail single-handed across the Pacific Ocean.
Leaving Osaka in an ill-prepared vessel, the Mermaid, the young adventurer must overcome the most savage of seas, the psychological torment of cabin fever, and his mental and physical breaking point, if he is ever to reach the fabled destination of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. Using Horie's best-selling logbook as his source, Ichikawa portrays the epic struggle of man against nature.
'Scope cinematography with Horie isolated in the oceanic expanse of the frame and a score by celebrated composer Toru Takemitsu, add to the drama of a film for which Ichikawa received a Golden Globe nomination, among other accolades.
New high definition digital transfer, anamorphically encoded, original 2.35:1 aspect ratio
New and improved optional English subtitles
Original Japanese trailer and two teasers newly subtitled
A lavish 24-page booklet featuring a colour reproduction of the original Japanese poster, archival publicity stills, and an essay by Brent Kliewer (professor at the College of Santa Fe)
This is Traveling with a capital T. Traveling for the sake of traveling. The real story of Kenichi Horie's first of many sailing challenges he set for himself. In 1962 he was a young ambitious man in Japan, a country still recuperating from a devastating defeat in WW II. He felt for his country, and said that for a nation with a long maritime tradition it was a shame no one had yet sailed solo across the Pacific. He wanted to do it for Japan.
And yet he wanted to leave Japan, where he suffered because of the cultural and social restrictions that hampered his wandering spirit. He wanted to be free of Japan as much as of his own family, whom he loved but whose interference with his dreams he could no longer put up with. He was fascinated by America, the power that defeated the Japanese Empire and established such a pervasive presence on the islands. He wanted to sail under the Golden Gate bridge of San Francisco. And he did, after ninety-four days of excruciating adventure and hardship.
He did it in a Japanese way: carefully preparing everything, meticulously executing the plan he had drawn, even trying to apply for a passport (he did not manage to get one in time) because he wanted to follow the rules. It is ironic that when he completed his feat his father, instead of being proud, promised to the media that upon return the son would apologize to the nation for having contravened the rules. (It was not allowed at the time for small boats to leave Japan.)
Buy the book here
In the US buy it here
11 August 2015
Un film diviso in tre episodi in cui si riflette sulla impossibilita' dell'amore.
1911, Dadaocheng. il tempo della liberta'. il padrone di una piantagione di tè e suo figlio vogliono riscattare il contratto di una giovane cortigiana. avendo capito che la ragazza aspetta un bambino dal figlio, m. chang cerca di accelerare le trattative. la ragazza intanto diventa la concubina del padre e m. chang va in Giappone a raggiungere un rivoluzionario cinese in esilio.
1966, Kaohsiung. il tempo dell'amore. chen incontra may, che lavora in una sala da biliardo che lui frequenta con regolarita'. i due giovani giocano una partita insieme poco prima che lui parta per il servizio militare. durante un permesso, chen torna a trovarla ma lei sembra essere scomparsa.
2005, Taipei. il tempo della giovinezza. Jing e' epilettica e sta perdendo progressivamente la vista dall'occhio destro. abita con la madre e la nonna ed ha un'avventura con una donna, michy. Zhen lavora in un negozio di foto digitali ed abita con blue, la sua ragazza. quando lei scopre che lui la tradisce con Jing, diventa folle di rabbia. che futuro avranno questi quattro giovani? Almeno uno di loro potra' avere una vita serena?
|Taipen night market|
Non il miglior film del regista di Taiwan Hou Hsiao-Hsien a mio parere. Parte con un ritmo difficile e stenta a decollare. È interessante la sequenza storica: la "prima volta" è il 1966, la seconda è il 1911 (si parla dialetto Hokkien sotto occupazione coloniale giapponese) e la terza nella moderna Taiwan degli anni sessanta del XX secolo (si parla mandarino).
Ho trovato difficile entrare nel film, ma penso sia comunque utile a capire alcuni aspetti della storia di Taiwan, questa isola cinese che da oltre un secolo è separata dalla madrepatria.
04 August 2013
Book review: Ah ku and Karayuki San: Prostitution in Singapore, 1870-1940 (1993), by James Francis Warren, *****
Among the many groups of foreign workers whose labor built Singapore in the 20th century, there may be none as marginalized in memory as the women who travelled from China and Japan to work in Singapore as prostitutes.
This definitive study sketches in the trade in women and children in Asia, and -- making innovative use of Coroner's Inquests and other records -- hones in on the details of the prostitutes' lives in the colonial city: the daily brothel routine, crises and violence, social relations, leisure, social mobility for the luckier ones, disease and death.
The result is a powerful historical account of human nature, of human relationships, of pride, prejudice, struggle and spirit. Ordinary people tumble from the pages of the records: they talk about choice of partners, love and betrayal, desperation and alienation, drawing us into their lives.
This social history is a powerful corrective to the romantic image of colonial Singapore as a city of excitement, sophistication, exotic charm and easy sex.
In the years since its original publication in 1992, this book, and its companion Rickshaw Coolie, have become an inspiration to those seeking to come to grips with Singapore's past.
12 June 2013
The film is about a photograph by James Rosenthal, one of the most famous war pictures of all times. Thematically ambitious and emotionally complex, Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers is an intimate epic with much to say about war and the nature of heroism in America. Based on the non-fiction bestseller by James Bradley (with Ron Powers), and adapted by Million Dollar Baby screenwriter Paul Haggis (Jarhead screenwriter William Broyles Jr. wrote an earlier draft that was abandoned when Eastwood signed on to direct), this isn't so much a conventional war movie as it is a thought-provoking meditation on our collective need for heroes, even at the expense of those we deem heroic.
In telling the story of the six men (five Marines, one Navy medic) who raised the American flag of victory on the battle-ravaged Japanese island of Iwo Jima on February 23rd, 1945, Eastwood takes us deep into the horror of war (in painstakingly authentic Iwo Jima battle scenes) while emphasizing how three of the surviving flag-raisers (played by Adam Beach, Ryan Phillippe, and Jesse Bradford) became reluctant celebrities – and resentful pawns in a wartime publicity campaign – after their flag-raising was immortalized by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal in the most famous photograph in military history.
A typically Eastwood approach. He takes a highly unusual point of view to reveal the lesser known aspects of a very well known subject matter, in this case the flag raising photograph of the battle of Iwo Jima. Of the six men, three were killed in action a few days later. This is not a film meant to show bravery, though there is plenty of it. It is a cynical film to show how the American war propaganda machine manipulated the three survivors of the flag raising to ... raise money for war bonds. We learn how the flag itself was a coveted object of contention among politicians and military leaders. And how in the end those who were less interested in the iconic photograph were the people in it. They were there to do a job, and being in a photograph was not part of it.
Pretty amazing CGI. For example, technicians artificially reproduce the Pacific theather as a background for the rugged terrain in Iceland where the film was actually shot! You can see it's not real, but it's pretty close to look real.
Watch this film together with "Letters from Iwo Jima", also by Clint Eastwood, that tells the story of the battle from a Japanese point of view. I will review this most interesting film soon in this blog.
Region free BD
Buy the book here
Approccio tipicamente Eastwoodiano. Clint affronta l'argomento da un punto di vista molto inusuale per rivelare gli aspetti più nascosti di una vicenda ultranota, in questo caso la celebre foto della bandiera di Iwo Jima. Dei sei uomini nella foto, tre sono morti in combattimento nei giorni successivi. La macchina della propaganda bellica americana ha manipolato gli altri tre allo scopo di raccogliere fondi per finanziare il prosieguo della guerra. (Siamo a Febbraio 1945 ed il Giappone non ha ancora nessuna intenzione di arrendersi.)
Alla fine si capisce come i sei personaggi nella foto erano i meno interessati alla foto stessa: erano a Iwo per uno scopo ben preciso, e posare in una fotografia non rientrava nei loro compiti.
Buoni effetti speciali: i tecnici hanno ricreato lo sfondo dello sbarco e lo hanno inserito dietro le montagne islandesi dove si sono svolte le riprese. Sembra quasi vero.
Consiglio di vedere questo film con "Lettere da Iwo Jima", sempre di Clint Eastwood, che racconta come quella drammatica battaglia fu vissuta dai giapponesi.
BD in italiano
Compra il libro in italiano qui
16 March 2013
A rhapsodic celebration of song, a brutal condemnation of wartime mentality, and a lyrical statement of hope within darkness; even amongst the riches of 1950s' Japanese cinema, The Burmese Harp, directed by Kon Ichikawa (Alone Across the Pacific, Tokyo Olympiad), stands as one of the finest achievements of its era.
|Mizushima taught a Burmese boy to play his harp|
A visually extraordinary and deeply moving vision of horror, necessity, and redemption in the aftermath of war, Ichikawa's breakthrough film is one of the great humanitarian affirmations of the cinema.
Nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar and honoured at the Venice Film Festival. You can watch a trailer here.
19 February 2013
An adaptation of Arthur Golden's best-selling novel by the director of Chicago, Rob Marshall, transports us into a mysterious and exotic world that casts a potent spell. A Cinderella story like no other, Memoirs of a Geisha stars Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe, Michelle Yeoh and Gong Li.
The director of Chicago, Rob Marshall, transports us into a mysterious and exotic world that casts a potent spell. A Cinderella story like no other, this film takes the viewer to Japan in the late 1930s to discover what role geishas played in high society. We can follow the life of a young girl whose family sells to be a maiko (apprentice geisha) in an okiya, a geisha house. She has to put up with a lot (jealousy, competition, envy) before finally becoming a full geisha.
Wonderful photography in this film, not hard to guess it won Dion Beebe a cinematography Oscar. Ditto for the costumes by Colleen Atwood. It is a long film, but it flows fast and you are left at the end wanting for more.
The film has been banned in China as too sensitive, probably because of Chinese actresses being employed in the role of geishas, seen as degrading in China.
Memorable quote, the Chairman to Sayuri: «We must not expect happiness, Sayuri. It is not something we deserve. When life goes well, it is a sudden gift; it cannot last forever!»
Bonus contents are also very well made and add a lot of value to this BD:
-Geisha Bootcamp (See how the actresses became geishas),
-Building the Hanamachi (Behind-the-scene documentary),
-The Look of a Geisha (Inside the wardrobe and make-up),
-The music (composer John Williams take you through his approach to the score),
-and other background material on Japan and "making of" the film.
Buy your European BD here.
Buy your US BD here
You can buy the book on which this film is based here
07 February 2013
After directing two of the most extraordinary movies of the 1970s, Badlands and Days of Heaven, American artist Terrence Malick disappeared from the film world for twenty years, only to resurface in 1998 with this visionary adaptation of James Jones’s 1962 novel about the World War II battle for Guadalcanal. A big-budget, spectacularly mounted epic, The Thin Red Line is also one of the most deeply philosophical films ever released by a major Hollywood studio, a thought-provoking meditation on man, nature, and violence. Featuring a cast of contemporary cinema’s finest actors—Sean Penn (Dead Man Walking, Milk), Nick Nolte (The Prince of Tides, Affliction), Elias Koteas (Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), and Woody Harrelson (Natural Born Killers, The People vs. Larry Flynt) among them—The Thin Red Line is a kaleidoscopic evocation of the experience of combat that ranks as one of cinema’s greatest war films.
16 January 2013
Lo scopo di questo scritto è dimostrare che il sistema giapponese, applicato alla vita quotidiana ed alle relazioni umane, genera una realtà tragicomica, inimmaginabile per chiunque, popolazione locale inclusa. Lo stile di vita nipponico rappresenta una ideale ricetta della infelicità, per le persone che nascono, crescono, studiano, lavorano e vivono al suo interno.
Lio Giallini vive e lavora in Giappone dal 1995, dove ha anche svolto una approfondita indagine sulla mentalità nipponica e sugli effetti che produce, nella società e nella vita delle persone. Ha pubblicato “Soumei nanoni, nazeka koufuku ni narenai nihonjin” (Fusosha Publishing Inc. Tokyo – Giugno 2010).
14 January 2013
|Foto di un uomo saggio, Tokyo|
Questo libro racconta il lato nascosto del Giappone, quello che di solito non si legge nelle guide. In 101 punti vengono elencate le magagne che l'autore ha incontrato nella vita quotidiana, durante i due anni che ha passato in Giappone. Tutte quelle cose che non vivi da turista e con cui ti scontri quando in Giappone ci vivi e lavori. Un lungo viaggio nel Giappone tra il serio e lo scherzoso alla scoperta di quello che i Jappo-fan non vi diranno mai.
17 July 2012
|English prisoners freed in Japan, September 1945 (AP Photo)|
On 15 February 1942, the Japanese captured Singapore and took 130,000 Allied prisoners of war. One of those prisoners was British Lieutenant Tom Wade. For the next three and a half years he was to suffer the indignity and hardships of captivity and the torture and brutality of his captors, first in Changi, then in Korea and finally in Tokyo.
This book is the story of those years in captivity. They were years of horror and despair, characterised by harsh treatment at the hands of sadistic guards who believed that a soldier who has surrendered has lost all humanity. At Tokyo Headquarters Camp in particular, Wade and his fellow POWs had to suffer the paranoid beatings and victimisation of Sergeant Matsuhiro Watanabe, who successfully avoided prosecution by the War Crimes Commission at the war's end.
Wade's moving account of his period of captivity is characterised by the sense of determination, hope and endurance which sustained all those who shared his experience.
15 March 2012
This limited collector's Blu-ray edition includes a bonus 7th disc entitled "Inside the Battle: Peleliu."
The Pacific is an epic 10-part miniseries that delivers a portrait of WWII's Pacific Theatre as seen through the intertwined odysseys of three U.S. Marines - Robert Leckie, John Basilone and Eugene Sledge. The extraordinary experiences of these men and their fellow Marines take them from the first clash with the Japanese in the haunted jungles of Guadalcanal, through the impenetrable rain firests of Cape Gloucester, across the blasted coral strongholds of Peleliu, up the black sand terraces of Iwo Jima, through the killing fields of Okinawa, to the triumphant, yet uneasy, return home after V-J Day. The viewer will be immersed in combat through the intimate perspective of this diverse, relatable group of men pushed to the limit in battle both physically and psychologically against a relentless enemy unlike any encountered before
Inside the Battle: Peleliu: An exclusive look into the battle of Peleliu. Combining exclusive historian and veteran interviews with real footage from the battle of Peleliu, this featurette illustrates the massive undertaking of the battle for Peleliu in the Pacific theater of World War II.
05 January 2012
US Marine Nicolas Cage--with a scarred ear and a fed-up look--is given the job of looking after Navajo Adam Beach, whose complex language is the basis of a code being used to fool the Japanese in the Pacific during World War II. His orders are to protect not Beach but the code, (including orders to kill Beach if it looks like capture is imminent) which makes for an uneasy progress from hatred-at-first-sight through growing respect to agonised male bonding.