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  • 20 May 2017 at 8:10 pm #9468

    Richard L.
    Member

    A belated thanks for that, Ken. We need something worth watching.

    ——-

    Tonight we went to the movies without reading the reviews first.

    We chose SNATCHED, only because it was supposed to be a comedy and had Goldie Hawn in it. Unfortunately, despite Goldie, 71 and still magnetic on the screen, the movie is a bomb.

    Goldie’s “co-star” here is Amy Schumer. Not only is she not funny here, she has no presence at all other than one that is pro-stereotypical; she drags Goldie Hawn down again and again. Does the stereotypical airhead blonde exist? Of course there are always some around, but they are not the rule. This movie tries hard to reinforce the stereotype thru Schumer. If you think she is funny, you have my sympathy.

    This is Goldie’s first starring role in fifteen years. I’m appalled that she should agree to appear in a movie with Schumer and this inane script, which would make you think it is a children’s movie, but the farting jokes, “mf-ing” language and off-timed remarks make you think of twelve-year-old boys and their opinions of what constitutes adult humor. A romantic comedy for adults, it is not. Not for mature adults at all. Schumer shows one of her breasts, a tits-out joke, but no one who was in the theater with us laughed.

    The comments we overheard when walking out matched our own thoughts. The previews that accompanied the movie were no better, but at least they didn’t pretend to be comedies.


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    02 Jun 2017 at 8:22 pm #9512

    From Insights into Noted Films, American and Foreign a work in UF and UT Library Special Collections. The following article is enhanced by pictures but I don’t know how to post them here. How about some help? Webmaster? Candy? Wes?

    Multiple Meanings in Akiro Kurosawa’s Dreams

    At age 80 Kurosawa was in top form when he wrote and directed this great film. It consists of eight episodes in which the director himself is the dream traveler. Significantly, Kurosawa embellishes the work with legends and myths known to most Japanese and to some Westerners. He started his career as a painter and the visual skills that he had acquired greatly enhanced this film and others he created.

    Dreams has not received the critical acceptance of the director’s more noted films, like Rashomon and Ikiru. But I believe its profound artistry will get much more reputable with time. In places, I have taken the liberty to compare the film to Western works which might have influenced Kurosawa. I have also italicized Japanese terms.

    Sunshine Through the Rain

    A boy (Mitsunori Isaki) in pajamas and a woman (Mitsuko Baisho) appear at the entrance of a modest house during a sunshower. She tells the boy not to go out in this weather, for it is the time when foxes have their weddings. ”They don’t like to be seen by people,” she says and goes back in the house. The woman and house, presumably the boy’s mother and their home, are not identified as such because they are vague dream stuff. Here Kurosawa uses a legend which Japanese know well. Moreover, the sunshower “has a wide range of sometimes remarkably similar folkloric names in cultures around the world. A common theme is that of clever animals and tricksters getting married or related to the devil, although many variations of this theme are in existence.” For example, “the devil is beating his wife” (Southern United States and Hungary); 1 “the devil is beating his wife and marrying his daughter” (France); 2 “Sun shining, Rain falling, Monkey marrying” (Trinidad and Tobago). 3

    Solemn and curious, the boy defies the woman’s command and enters a nearby forest of huge trees and ferns taller than he is. Rain glistens through shafts of sunlight as he proceeds with caution, even dread, aware that he is in a forbidden place. Suddenly smoke billows and he hides behind a large tree. Out of the clearing smoke a slow wedding procession of foxes (kitsune) marches in unison: priests in front, followed by the bridal pair, their attendants, their families, their friends and their retainers accompanied by the plaintive flute sounds and clicking of ancient instruments.

    The age-old technique of anthropomorphism informs this stylized scene that looks more funerary than marital. The foxes are colorfully robed and walk on two feet like haughty humans, but their orangey whiskers and powder-white faces clearly mark them as foxes. Every few steps they abruptly pause, cock their heads to the side and listen. Do they sense an intruder? They move on, but soon spot the boy. He runs home in fright only to learn that a fox has already been there and left behind a tanto knife. 4 The woman gives him the knife and suggests that he commit suicide or beg forgiveness from the foxes, although they are usually not forgiving. She won’t let him back in the house unless he is forgiven.

    Here is the concept of Face (mentsu), deeply ingrained in Japanese culture. 5 The boy has violated the foxes’ sacred ritual by spying on them. He must do the honorable thing: save Face through suicide or by their forgiveness. The dream ends with the boy carrying the knife through a multi-colored field of flowers in full bloom toward a rainbow under which the foxes are said to live. We last see him, back to us, standing still and small under the rainbow that spans like a dome over the mountains and field. Has he been forgiven, or is this an afterlife scene in which he has achieved honor by hara-kiri? In life or in death, he has realized that life has boundaries that one must heed or there will be consequences.

    The Peach Orchard

    It’s Girls Day in Japan, peach trees are in full bloom, and Kurosawa’s older sister and her friends are celebrating the Doll Festival (Hina Matsuri) by displaying dolls representing Japanese royalty. Young Kurosawa attends the girls by placing a platter of items, presumably offerings, before the doll collection. He believes that one of his sister’s guests is absent, but his sister haughtily insists that all her guests are present and dismisses him. A mysterious girl appears and he follows her into the now-treeless orchard. The girl disappears, and the doll collection comes to life as spirits of the trees and present themselves to young Kurosawa.

    The head spirit berates the boy as a member of the family that chopped down the trees. However, the spirit’s consort reminds him that the boy cried when the trees were cut down, and he is crying now because he misses the beauty of the trees. His sadness over man-made destruction of one of nature’s beauties prefigures adult horror at much greater destruction in apocalyptic dreams 6 and 7 (“Mount Fuji in Red” and “The Weeping Demon”). After realizing how much he loved the blossoms, the spirits give the boy one last glance at the peach trees.

    Then they honor the boy with Etenraku, imperial court music that consists of a gagaku melody and a beautiful dance illuminated by classical flute tones, the spirits’ colorful regalia and their slow, precise movements. 6 As in the first dream, a boy character appears even smaller against a landscape’s monumental beauty. In these films Kurosawa is influenced by the classical tradition of Chinese and Japanese paintings in which nature often dwarfs humans.

    The mystery girl appears among the blossoms and the boy tries to follow her, but she vanishes as do the flowering trees and the tree spirits, leaving stumps on the slopes except for one small peach tree in full bloom. The girl is no longer a mystery; she is one with the tree. The dream ends with the boy pondering the tree. It, the boy, and the girl have become a sublime expression of beauty.

    The Blizzard

    Four mountain climbers struggle to find their camp in a heavy snowstorm. Strong winds and blowing snow, visibility poor in a stark, blue-gray scene–the men bent, grunting, exhausted, connected by clanking chains like prisoners in one of nature’s most dangerous occurrences.

    Despite their leader’s harsh commands and insistent pleas, one by one the men stop walking, lie down in the snow to sleep and invite sure death. The leader plods on a few more feet. Then he, too, succumbs to the snow. A snow fairy (the Yuki-onna of Japanese myth) (played by Mieko Harada) appears out of the blue, lulls the leader into a stupor with her siren song, and tries to cover his head with spangled netting, the stuff of death. But he reaches deep within for spiritual strength, shakes off his stupor and her seductions, and she blows away in the wind. The blizzard lets up and the leader manages to rouse the other men. The four resume the hike and soon find their camp a short distance from where they stopped. 7

    “The Blizzard” reminds me of Jack London’s short story “To Build a Fire.” (1908) Both develop the theme of man versus nature and have unnamed protagonists who underestimate the power and danger of freezing weather. The London character, however, is inexperienced in the harsh ways of the Yukon, his extremities freeze, he cannot build a fire to warm himself, and he eventually dies. Only his wolf dog survives. This is pure naturalism unlike Kurosawa’s mythological portrayal of death which the leader resists by sheer force of will that enables him to rouse the others.

    The Tunnel

    Late afternoon in a mountainous area of Japan. Returning from World War 2, a soldier is
    walking down a road toward a tunnel. Overhead near the entrance is a red light. As the
    soldier approaches it, a dog rushes out snarling and snapping at him. It’s strapped
    with explosives; in the glare of the red light it looks hellish; it is so menacing that it herds the soldier into the tunnel. The dog disappears leaving the man uneasy as his clacking boots echo up the tunnel walls increasing the tension. He comes out the other end where another red light glows near the tunnel’s opening. It is now early evening.

    At the sound of footsteps, he turns around and looks into the dark tunnel, a symbol of death.
    Private Noguchi (Yoshitaka Zushi) marches out of the tunnel, stands at attention, and
    respectfully presents his rifle to the soldier now shown as Noguchi’s commander. The private’s
    blue skin and blackened eyes suggest that he is dead, but he believes he’s alive, has visited
    his parents, and will see them again soon. Noguchi points to light on the mountain as evidence
    his parents are waiting for him. The commander says that he only dreamed of being with his
    parents just before he died in the officer’s arms. One of the saddest scenes that I’ve ever
    seen in a film is that of Private Noguchi grimly accepting his fate, tottering, utterly dejected, sadly aware that he won’t reunite with his parents.

    But ever the soldier, he snaps to attention, presents the rifle to his commander and retreats
    back into the tunnel of death.

    Then the entire 3rd Platoon marches out of the tunnel, snaps to attention, and presents arms to
    the commander. Like Noguchi, their faces are blue and eyes blackened. They too are dead, but
    believe they are alive and reporting for duty.

    However, the commander tells them:

    “I sent you out to die. I was to blame. I could place all the responsibility on the stupidity of war, but I can’t blame that. I can’t deny my thoughtlessness. My misconduct…I was taken prisoner. I suffered so much in the camp I felt dying was easier. And now as I look at you, I feel the same pain. I know that your suffering and torture were much greater. But honestly I would have wanted to die with you….Believe me, I feel your bitterness. They call you heroes. But you died like dogs. However, returning to the world like this proves nothing. Please, go back! Go back and rest in peace! Third Platoon, about face! Forward march!”

    As the platoon marches back into the tunnel of death, the commander salutes them. Then he
    falls to his knees crestfallen with grief. The attack dog rushes out again, growling and
    threatening the commander who jumps up and backs away in fright. In the light the dog and the
    officer look fiery red, all symbolic of the bloody death the man’s bad leadership caused and of
    the guilt he must bear until the end of his life. Through the commander Kurosawa may have
    dreamt of his own guilt for complicity with the Japanese war regime in World War 2.

    The film recalls to me passages from British poet Wilfred Owen’s “Strange Meeting,” a poetic
    foreshadowing of Owen’s own death in World War I, a week before the Armistice was declared.

    “It seemed that out of the battle I escaped
    Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
    Through granites which Titanic wars had groined.
    Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
    Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
    Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
    With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
    Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.
    And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall;
    With a thousand fears that vision’s face was grained….
    I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
    I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned
    Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
    I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
    Let us sleep now.”

    Crows

    In this dream Kurosawa is a young art student (Akira Terao) who first visits a museum
    featuring some of Vincent van Gogh’s most important works. He soon finds himself inside other noted paintings created by the artist at Arles and Auvers, France. After asking French villagers where he can find van Gogh and hearing from one that the artist is a lunatic, the student finds him in a field studying a sun-bathed scene. Under the artist’s straw hat his head is bandaged. Both van Gogh and the student speak English. The artist’s comments to the student contain ideas that closely relate the painter to Kurosawa, the filmmaker:

    “Why aren’t you painting? To me this scene is beyond belief. A scene that looks like a painting
    does not make a painting. If you take the time to look closely, all of nature has its own beauty. And when natural beauty is there, I just lose myself in it. And then as in a dream, it just paints itself for me. Yes, I just consume this nature. I devour it completely and wholly. The picture before me is complete. But it is so difficult to hold it. I work. I slave like a locomotive”[quick shot and sound of a rumbling train]….

    The student asks about the bandage. Van Gogh replies:

    “Yesterday I was trying to do a self-portrait. I just couldn’t get the ear right so I cut it off and threw it away. The sun! It compels me to paint. I can’t stand here wasting my time.”

    Then van Gogh rushes up a path between golden wheat fields and over a hill. The student loses track of the artist, and travels through other works trying to find him, concluding with van Gogh’s Wheat Field with Crows.

    Suddenly an explosion of crows flapping across the countryside (they look helter-skelter, but they know exactly where they’re going). Kurosawa’s film captures the dynamic energy of the birds as does van Gogh’s painting. Whereas Kurosawa filmed the scene in full sun, van Gogh creates a dark turbulent sky over windy wheat and a path that seems to curve off to nowhere, all indicative of his loneliness and troubled psyche. One of the last of the painter’s works, Wheat Field with Crows proves that under certain conditions, a disturbed mind does not thwart creativity but enhances it.

    Kurosawa adds to the dream’s artistry with Prelude No.15 in D-flat major (“Raindrop”) by Chopin and visual effects provided by George Lucas and his group, Industrial Light & Magic.

    Unfortunately, Martin Scorsese as Vincent van Gogh is badly miscast. His heavy New York accent and the English-speaking student jar with the segment’s most important scene. What could have been Kurosawa’s most incisive dream falls far short because of his obvious attempt to appeal to American audiences.

    Mount Fuji in Red

    This dream is an apocalyptic horror show that begins with a large nuclear power plant near Mt. Fuji melting down. Its six reactors explode one by one, throwing hellish red fumes over the mountain and into the area, causing millions of Japanese to flee in terror toward the ocean.

    After an unspecified time, two men, a woman, and her two small children, appear alone on the shore in broad daylight. One man is the dreamer, young Kurosawa dressed casually and wearing his trademark floppy hat; the other is an older man (Hisashi Igawa) dressed in a business suit. The latter explains that the multitude drowned themselves in the ocean. He then elaborates on the composition of the multicolored clouds billowing toward them: red signifies plutonium-239, a tenth of a microgram of this element can cause cancer, and other released isotopes cause leukemia (strontium-90) and birth defects (cesium-137). Thus, the filmmaker ridicules the suited man’s calm science in the face of certain doom; then he gives the character a touch of common sense and has him wonder at the foolish futility of color-coding lethal radioactive gases.

    The woman (Toshie Negishi), hearing these descriptions, rages against the business and scientific interests that produced nuclear power and promised that it was completely safe. Turning contrite, the suited man confesses that he is partly responsible for the disaster and commits hara-kiri in the sea.

    The dream ends with the young man trying to shield the weeping mother and terrified children by using his jacket to feebly fan away the omnipresent radioactive billows. This segment is similar to some well-known doomsday works, like Nevil Shute’s novel On the Beach (1957) and Stanley Kramer’s film adaptation of the book (1959), the latter of which may have influenced Kurosawa. In the novel World War III has caused a nuclear holocaust, whereas in the film war or a nuclear accident may have brought the disaster. In both works Australia is the only remaining haven for humankind, but not for long as wind currents carry deadly radiation toward Aussie and American survivors.

    The Weeping Demon

    In this post-apocalyptic dream, young Kurosawa is wandering in misty, bleak, mountainous terrain when he comes upon a strange oni-like creature (Chosuke Ikariya) with one horn. The demon explains that the land had been devastated by a nuclear holocaust that wiped out much of nature and caused dandelions to mutate to enormous size and humans to sprout horns.

    The demon identifies himself as a former farmer who had “dumped tank trunks of milk into the river to keep prices up.” The other horned people, he says, are former millionaires and government officials. They cannot die, the creature laments, and must suffer eternal agony for their sins. At the howling of the suffering mutants the demon weeps and the young man is terrified. Suddenly the demon becomes enraged and chases the man down the mountain.

    The segment shows the influence of both the Buddhist and Christian concepts of hell on Kurosawa. In Buddhism, hell is a temporary state in the afterlife that one can work him/herself out of by using the merit they acquired in life, but in Christianity hell is eternal. The dream gives no hint that the sinners can escape hell. I have to wonder if the filmmaker might be leaning here (at least aesthetically) toward the Christian idea in his anger at corporate and scientific policies which he believes are endangering the security of Japan and the rest of the world.

    Village of the Water Mills

    Young Kurosawa finds himself in an idyllic village of clear streams and rustic buildings. Underwater grasses sway in the flowing waters that turn large waterwheels. Near the main thoroughfare, children pass by him and place freshly cut flowers on a huge stone. Intrigued by the area’s ease and serenity, the youth comes upon an old man (Chishū Ryū) repairing a broken water wheel and asks him the name of the village. The elder says that it has always been called just “The Village.” He then explains its characteristics, which I paraphrase:
    * Our people long ago decided to forsake the polluting effects of modern technology and live close to nature.

    * Waterwheels supply all the power we need.

    * Dead trees provide our fuel.

    * Electric lights are unnecessary. They would keep us from seeing the stars.

    * Unlike people in other areas who are poisoning themselves with foul air and water, we live healthily in body and spirit to ripe old ages.

    Young Man: Why do children put flowers on the stone?

    Old Man: A hundred years ago someone died at that spot. The villagers felt sorry for him, buried him there, put the stone over the grave, and laid flowers on it. The flowers became a custom of the village which the children have maintained, but they don’t know why.

    Toward the end of the film the old man dons a bright orange apron, reveals he’s 103, and leads a funeral procession for a 99-year-old woman whom he had loved deeply but lost to another man. The procession is lively and joyful: attendants shaking colorful rattles, dancers leaping on cue, horns blaring happy dissonances, a tuba comically farting. Like the wedding procession in the first dream, this one shows the influences of Japanese Noh drama and Kabuki theater.
    The dream ends with the young man placing flowers on the stone grave. We hear an excerpt from “In the Village”, part of the Caucasian Sketches, Suite No. 1 by the Russian composer Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov. The music’s haunting melancholy suggests the finality of death and tempers the joy of the funeral procession that has passed on, barely heard now.

    The Question of Didacticism in Dreams

    Some critics, like Chris Tookey, think this film is irritatingly didactic, preachy to a fault. According to Tookey,

    “The Peach Orchard, in which a small boy weeps for some peach trees which have been cut down, is so didactic that it might more accurately be entitled The Preach Orchard. The most embarrassing of the episodes is the final one, Village of the Watermills, where a 103 year-old man (who looks as if he might be related to Yoda of The Empire Strikes Back) Shangri-laboriously sermonizes about a “natural” way of life. Kurosawa here turns his back on civilization: inventors “only invent things that in the end make people unhappy.…” Trees obligingly fall down in order to provide fuel. The villagers are all good….” 7 (italics mine)

    Perhaps Tookey and his ilk need to be reminded that a number of noted works and the films based on them are didactic, like Shakespeare’s Richard III and Henry V and Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol. In these, didacticism does not overwhelm more aesthetic elements; it complements them. So it is in Kurosawa’s Dreams. The boy in The Peach Orchard represents both the child and the adult Kurosawa showing genuine concern at the destruction of one of nature’s most precious gifts. The rage expressed by the woman in Mount Fuji in Red and by the demon in The Weeping Demon is Kurosawa’s own sense of righteous indignation at the forces in business and science that have contributed much to the precariousness of the world. As for Village of the Watermills, it should not be dismissed as mere didacticism. The film combines a utopian vision and a realistic plea for us to simplify our lives in harmony with nature.

    To Tookey, Kurosawa has turned his back on civilization. Perhaps so. But civilization per se should always be subject to critical questioning. Has nuclear power made us more secure? Has the computer industry helped us become calmer and more democratic? Has technological progress brought more just and equitable societies? Science and technology have made war more dangerous and devastating. But how much have they really contributed to world peace?

    Sources Consulted

    1 “Sunshower”. word-detective.com. Retrieved 13 September 2014.

    2 Samson, D. N. (1920). English into French: Five Thousand English Locutions Rendered into Idiomatic French. London: Humphrey Milford at Oxford University Press. p. 102.

    3 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunshower#cite_ref-9.

    4 A short sword used by the Samurai in feudal Japan.

    5 Kopp, Rochelle. “Saving Face: a Little Discretion Can Go a Long Way in Japan.” Asahi Weekly, March 23, 2010.

    6 Schuller, Gunther Musings: The Musical Worlds of Gunther Schuller. Oxford University Press,
    1989.

    7 Kurosawa was fond of mountain climbing. I can’t tell which of the hikers is meant to be him.

    8 “Dreams/ Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams,” a review by Chris Tookey. http://www.movie-film-review.com/devFilm.asp?ID=3853.


      Quote
    04 Jun 2017 at 12:19 am #9515

    Richard L.
    Member

    Watched, or rather rewatched, two great movies, Descendants and Up In The Air. These movies are great because they are written for mature adults, explore relevant issues, carry great artistic nuances, yet are nicely paced and sparking with humor.

    Some time back I read a critic who said that we only remember two or three scenes from a book or a movie, and that those have to be good enough to carry the whole. I don’t agree. These movies bring something in every scene.


      Quote
    04 Jun 2017 at 5:49 pm #9516

    Richard L.
    Member

    Hey, here’s one to watch for.

    SUBURBICON directed by George Clooney. Written by Ethan Coen shortly after BLOOD SIMPLE, it was originally supposed to star Cooney, but the picture never got made. Woody Harrelson signed on for a while but dropped out to be in THE DETECTIVES. The guy who played the Yellow King is signed on still, and apparently the picture is made, starring McCarthy’s other buddies, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin, with Julianne Moore.

    Wow. A black comedy, it says.

    The wiki link is here:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suburbicon


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