24 December 2006

White Christmas (ホワイト・クリスマス, 1954)

My Christmas holiday always includes a screening of the hit film of 1954: White Christmas. The New Yorker, the only repertory cinema (sadly demolished a few years ago) in my hometown of LondonOntario, had a screening of the film every December 23rd. My grandmother and I made it our Christmas ritual when I was a teenager.

Although I do embrace digital technology, home viewing will never replace the magic of the shared cinematic experience. Every year, that aging cinema with its uncomfortable, squeaky seats would be filled with small groups of people full of holiday cheer who would laugh at all the jokes they’d heard a dozen times before and sing along with every toe-tapping Irving Berlin tune. During the spectacular finale when the women wear those fabulous red gowns next to the giant Christmas tree and the doors open in the rear to reveal ‘real’ studio snow falling, everyone in the cinema would put their arms around those sitting next to them and sing “White Christmas” along with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney & Vera-Ellen.

The first year my grandmother and I went was the most magical. As we left the cinema, we discovered that it had truly begun snowing for us as well. Huge, fluffy wet flakes that covered the ground in a thick blanket.We drove home cautiously down the unplowed streets singing all the way.

I now live far from Canada and my grandmother has passed away, but I make it my ritual to watch White Christmas with people that I love every year. Sure, it has a hokey plot, but the jokes never get stale. Such as when Phil Davis (Kaye) pesters Bob Wallace (Crosby) about something and Bob interjects: “When I figure out what that means, I’ll give you a withering reply.” And, I defy anyone not to laugh when Bing & Danny do the ‘Sisters’ feathered blue fan routine in semi-drag, with their pants rolled up to reveal the suspenders holding up their socks. Danny Kaye’s over-the-top performance caused the crooner’s mask to slip and it’s such a hoot to watch Bing Crosby as he loses it and convulses in genuine laughter.

This was the first film Paramount shot in VistaVision, a process designed to compete with Cinemascope.The result on the DVD transfer is stunning. The images are clear and crisp and the colours are simply gorgeous. Paramount also went out of their way to assemble a stellar cast and crew for this picture. The renowned Edith Head (won 8 Oscars out of 34 nominations!!) designed the costumes, Robert Alton (Ziegfeld Follies, Easter Parade ) does choreography and makes a cameo appearance, Loyal Griggs (Shane) wears the DOP mantel and Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, Mildred Pierce) directs.

If you watch White Christmas on TV every year then you should spring for the DVD this year. They released the DVD back in 2000 and were able to get the last surviving lead Rosemary Clooney, who passed away in 2002, to give them a 16-minute retrospective interview and a commentary track for the film. Her anecdotes about her fellow stars and Michael Curtiz are full of humour and warmth.

Many reviewers at the time criticized the commentary track because they thought that Clooney does not talk enough, but I love it. Most commentary tracks, especially those of directors and producers, make me roll my eyes because they are so self-indulgent and bragging. This off-the-cuff commentary track makes you feel like Rosemary Clooney is sitting on the sofa with you, delightedly sharing her fond recollections of the production. She doesn’t talk the whole time, but chuckles along with the good jokes and even mentions at one point how farfetched the plot is in place.

I particularly enjoyed the anecdotes that she shares about Bing Crosby. She depicts him as a hard-working man with a sense of humour and someone you could rely on as a friend through thick and thin. It’s an interesting counter-balance to one-dimensional child-beater label he acquired after his son Gary’s explosively bitter memoir.

I love Clooney’s self-deprecatory humour when she talks about the fact that Vera-Ellen couldn’t sing (she was dubbed by Trudy Stevens) and that she herself couldn’t dance. It must have been quite the ordeal because almost 50 years later you can hear her on the commentary track counting the steps out loud to herself: “… and 5, 6, 7, 8!”. Hilarious! It brought back memories of ballet classes I took when I was a girl.
So this Christmas, put a fire in the fireplace, cuddle up with someone you love on the sofa with a cup of warm eggnog and sing and be merry with Rosemary, Bing & the gang!

© cmmhotes 2006

20 December 2006

Letters from Iwo Jima (硫黄島からの手紙, 2006)

Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima is a remarkable film on many levels. It is rare for a war film, whose focus is usually on the heroism and patriotism of a country’s soldiers, to consider the human face of the enemy. Such films are even rarer in the history of films about the conflict between the Japanese and Americans during World War II.

During the war, audiences in the English speaking world were trained to view the Japanese enemy as a monolithic entity with films that emphasized myths and stereotypes about the Japanese. For example, there’s a deliberate play on words in the way the marines in Wake Island (John Farrow, 1942) – the first combat film set in the Pacific - refer to the Japanese as “Those yellow Nips” – ‘yellow’ signifying both the colour of their skin and their perceived cowardice.

The 1944 film The Flying Sullivans – which inspired Spielberg to make Saving Private Ryan – turned the true story of five brothers who died together into wartime propaganda. Upon hearing the news about Pearl Harbor, one of the brothers says that the war will be over in a matter of weeks because the Japanese, “They can’t fight. They close their eyes when they fire off a gun.” Here cowardice is defined as the inability to face the enemy, to look them in the eye and have a true Hollywood showdown.

The Japanese enemy is rendered faceless sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically in the films of this period – particularly in the series of John Wayne Pacific War films. In John Ford’s They Were Expendable (1945), for example, the enemy is represented by the deadly technology they use, such as fighter planes and warships, in contrast to the close-ups of the faces of Americans and Filipinos during the attacks.

Technology does result in the facelessness of modern warfare but in the case of the Pacific War, this impression was created by domestic propaganda at the time and does not reflect the true circumstances on the ground. Veterans of the attack on Pearl Harbor have testified that the Japanese pilots were flying so low that they could see their faces. Films like the terribly dull Japanese-American co-production Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) and the stomach-turningly saccharine Pearl Harbor (2001) remedy the historical inaccuracies to a certain extent, but are difficult to sit through unless you are a history buff (Tora!) or a fan of souped up romances starring Ben Affleck (Pearl Harbor).

When the faces of the Japanese enemy can be seen, they are generally shown in one of two ways: as foolish-looking buck-toothed stereotypes or as taking pleasure in warfare and cruelty. Ironically the films that have done the most to understand the humanity of both the Japanese and the Allied Forces have been films about Japanese P.O.W. camps. Outside of the atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese forces against Asians during the war, the P.O.W. camps were the site of some of the most horrific war crimes imaginable. Yet, films like Three Came Home (1950), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), and Oshima Nagisa’s Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983) all made great strides in trying to understand the motivations of both the captors and their prisoners.

Clint Eastwood’s concern about the perspective of the Japanese in the battle of Iwo Jima haunted him throughout the preparation for Flags of Our Fathers (2006) so much that he encouraged one of his research assistants, Iris Yamashita, to dig deeper into their story. The result is a deeply moving film that follows the Japanese soldiers at Iwo Jima from their preparations for the American invasion up until their last heroic push at the end of the battle. In Letters from Iwo Jima, Eastwood dispenses with many stereotypes of both Japanese and American soldiers and tries to tell the Japanese side of the battle with dignity.

Inspired by the Picture Letters of Army General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, the story of the Japanese soldiers if told through the letters they wrote home to their loved ones. As almost all of the 20,000 plus Japanese on the island were killed, anecdotes from letters are really the only way their histories can be recounted.

Ken Watanabe, a face familiar to international audiences from his outings in The Last Samurai and Memoirs of a Geisha, plays General Kuribayashi. Kuribayashi and Baron Nishi (played by Tsuyoshi Ihara) add an element of poignancy to the film for both men had spent time in the United States and had many American friends. Kuribayashi knows that the Japanese are doomed to failure due to America’s industrial superiority. His understanding of the enemy and his unconventional leadership style lead to many interesting conflicts between officers in the film.

The Baron Nishi character is also based the historical figure Takeichi Nishi, who won a gold medal at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. One of the most moving moments in the film comes when he translates a dead American soldier’s letter from his mother to the soldiers in his unit. The young soldiers are deeply moved by the letter to the point that young Shimizu (Ryo Kase) says that his own mother could have written such a letter. This is just one moment of many in the film where Eastwood demonstrates that despite different belief systems and social customs, Japanese and American soldiers are actually not so different from each other in terms of their hopes and dreams for themselves and for their families.

The character that we are invited to identify with the most strongly is Saigo, played by Kazunari Ninomiya. Saigo is filled with doubts about the war, misses his wife so much that he writes her letters whenever he has a chance, and longs to survive the war so that he can meet his newborn daughter.

Ninomiya was a clever casting choice on the part of Eastwood. Not only does he play the role with the needed dignity and delicacy but Ninomiya has a large fan following from his career in the boy band Arashi. This means that a lot of young Japanese people will go out and see the film. In fact, on the opening weekend here in Japan, the film took the number one place over many hotly anticipated new releases. From what I understand, World War II (particularly Japan’s aggression in the early part of the twentieth century) does not get taught with much depth in schools in Japan and I think it is important for young people to learn about this difficult time in their nation’s past.

As the film progresses, the Japanese slowly but surely decrease in numbers, and knowing that very few Japanese survived Iwo Jima I wondered throughout the film how they were going to end the film without overwhelming the audience with despair. In the end, I think they did a good job of demonstrating the extent of the tragedy and futility of war but leaving us with one small ray of hope for the future (have no fear, no spoilers here!).

Perhaps the choice of colour for the film had a great deal to do with helping hold the viewer at a point of objectivity (though I do admit I had tears in my eyes on more than one occasion). The image is almost completely drained of colour, to the point that at the beginning I thought that it had been shot in black in white or sepia. It has the appearance of a faded old colour photograph. In the scenes with explosions going off, the orange is so bright in contrast to the dull colours of the surroundings that it has the quality of the hand-tinting that was done to silent films.

This is the first film I have ever seen in which American soldiers are actually shown to do unethical and unheroic things. Having watched countless John Wayne war films the shock was truly enormous, and marks for me an important shift in the war film genre. Letters from Iwo Jima reminded me of something Agnes Newton Keith wrote in the prologue to Three Came Home, her memoir of her years spent in gruelling conditions in a P.O.W. camp with her young son:

“The Japanese in this book are as war made them, not as God did, and the same is true for the rest of us. We are not pleasant people here, for the story of war is always the story of hate; it makes no difference with whom one fights. The hate destroys you spiritually as the fighting destroys you bodily.”

I highly recommend that everyone go out and see the film. It pulls down a lot of stereotypes (“warrior culture”, samurai spirit, uniformity of society, etc.) about the Japanese that have stood for much too long in Western culture.

2008/12/17 Update: a special edition with English subtitles now available on DVD in Japan:

Letters From Iwo Jima / Movie

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2006

12 December 2006

Nana, the movie

This film was one of the biggest movies of 2005 in Japan. The sequel just premiered in Tokyo on the weekend and I am hoping to see it sometime this week. In preparation for the big event, I decided to watch the first movie again to remind myself why I enjoyed it so much.

Like the anime of the same name, director Kentaro Otani (大谷健太郎) and screenwriter Taeko Asano (妙子浅野) have adapted the story from Ai Yazawa (矢沢あい)’s popular shoujo manga. It tells the story of two young women called Nana who are thrown together by fate when they meet on a train bound for Tokyo. Nana Komatsu (小松奈々) is the kawaii shoujo (cute girl) and Nana Osaki (大崎ナナ) is the kakkoii shoujo (cool girl). Both young women are 20, which is the age at which the Japanese celebrate a person’s ‘coming-of-age’.

Nana Osaki gives Nana Komatsu the nickname ‘Hachi’ quite early on in their relationship after the famous Shibuya dog: she’s cute, friendly, and obedient, but needs a lot of attention! The name Hachi is also humorous because ‘nana’(七)is one of the pronunciations for the number 7 in Japanese and ‘hachi’ (八) means 8. Hachi, like many Japanese, is a very superstitious person and because of her given name, the number 7 resonates very strongly with her. For example, the girls find an apartment that costs 7万 (70,000 yen) in room 707.

Many viewers may find Hachi’s obsession with numerology and superstition wacky, but it is not so strange in Japan. For example, the number 4 (pronounced yon or shi) is considered unlucky in Japan because the word ‘shi’ can also mean ‘death.’ This superstition is so strongly believed that stores never package things in groups of four. In the West it is not unusual to buy dinnerware sets for four people, but in Japan one would buy 5.

In a way, Nana is a coming of age story. Both young women come to Tokyo for different reasons and find out a lot of things about themselves and each other along the way. It is also a story about love and intimacy between female friends. With a male director helming the film I was worried that the subtleties of the female characters and their relationship with each other, which Yazawa captures with poignancy and humour, might be lost. Overall though, I think that the film did a pretty good job of capturing the attraction and affection that develops between the two Nanas.

As with any adaptation, a great deal of story had to be excised from the original manga in order for it to succeed as a movie. This meant that some of my favourite secondary characters like Junko and Kyosuke, whose wry wit and sarcasm give a good balance to the sugary sweetness of characters like Hachi and Nobu, have been reduced to a mere handful of lines. I think the filmmakers made the right decision. The Nana manga has a rather large cast of characters, which works in the anime adaptation, but would have been impossible to squeeze into a movie without the running time going over two hours. Only a director with incredible talent (like the late, great Robert Altman) should ever try to pull such a feat off.

Hachi’s character benefited the most from the excising of story material from the original manga. With the sad tale of her teenaged affair with a married man and her numerous crushes on passing acquaintances left on the cutting room floor, Hachi’s personality is rendered much more innocently sweet and endearing. Aoi Miyazaki (宮崎あおい), with her great big puppy dog eyes, is perfect in the role, playing the role with sweetness and warmth in a very natural manner.

Two of the biggest reasons for the huge success of this film in Japan last year are the fashion and the music. Ai Yazawa’s manga are all heavily influenced by Vivienne Westwood as well as a retro punk aesthetic. Nana Osaki and her boyfriend Ren Honjo belong to competing punk-influenced bands and take their inspiration from the Sex Pistols and of course the legend of Sid & Nancy. As a symbol of her love for him, Nana gives Ren a lock and chain necklace similar to the one worn by Sid Vicious.

Nana Osaki is played by Mika Nakashima (中島美嘉), a popular musician in Japan whose large fan base surely helped with the movies success. Her hit single from the film “Glorious Sky” had lyrics written by Ai Yazawa herself and has played constantly in shops throughout Japan ever since the film debuted. Nakashima also demonstrates that she has great acting ability. Nana is perhaps the most complex character of the story. She has a lot of rough edges due to her difficult childhood (never knew her father, abandoned by her mother, raised by a strict grandmother) and has a lot of ambition for herself as a singer, but Nakashima was also able to subtly demonstrate that Nana has a lot of capacity for love and compassion. Nakashima and Aoi Miyazaki had great capacity between the two of them and like many fans of the series I was sorry to hear that Miyazaki wasn’t signed on for the sequel.

The other big hit from the film was “Endless Story” sung by a young American woman of Japanese and Korean heritage, Yuna Ito (伊藤由奈). Ito plays Reira (Japanese version of the name Layla), the lead singer of Ren’s band, TrapNest. The film was the professional debut for Ito and the producers built up a great deal of publicity surrounding the mystery identity of Reira prior to the film’s release. I can’t really comment on Ito’s acting ability because she only got one line in the film, but she certainly is beautiful and can sing well. I have heard that she gets more lines in the sequel. Certainly, her look and her mixed background work for the part as in the manga, Reira is hiding the fact that she comes from a mixed Japanese-American background because her producers want to market her as a good “Japanese” girl.

I think the reason that I enjoyed this film was that the story has a good mix of fantasy and reality. It hearkened back to the films of John Hughes that I loved as an adolescent – Sixteen Candles (1984) The Breakfast Club (1985), Pretty in Pink (1986), Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) – which all had strong female protagonists, dealt with the real difficulties that young people without condescension, and featured great pop-rock music and cool fashions.

On the fantasy side, Nana appeals to the dreams of young women who want to wear cool clothes and then of course there is the appeal of the sexiness and glamour of punk-inspired pop music. On the realism side, this story does not give us the usual boy meets girl schlock. Sure we follow the ups and downs of Hachi’s relationship with her boyfriend Shoji (a disappointingly wooden performance by Yuta Hiraoka) and the will-they-won’t-they get back together drama of Nana and Ren, but the centerpiece of the film is the burgeoning friendship between the two female leads and the coming-of-age dilemmas that both women are working through.

The story of the two Nanas keeps us hooked because it doesn’t answer all our questions. Although there is a resolution of a kind at the end of the movie, there are many ongoing questions that keep us wanting more: What is the true nature of Hachi and Nana’s feelings for each other? Are Ren and Nana truly right for each other? What has happened between Reira and Yasu? [Or Reira and Shin? -- if you’re reading the manga/watching the anime.] Will Hachi ever develop any confidence in herself and ambition for her future? And of course, we are all rooting for Nana and her band Blast (short for ‘Black Stones’) to make it big!

To purchase the standard edition DVD click here:

Nana / Japanese Movie

To purchase the special edition DVD click here:

Nana / Japanese Movie

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2006

30 November 2006

Indigo Road (藍の路, 2006)

This 13 minute puppet animation belongs to the Michi (Road) Series directed by Tomoyasu Murata (村田朋泰). As with all of the short animations by Murata that I have seen, the film is without dialogue. It relies on elements of “pure cinema”, visuals combined with sound effects and music, to relate the melancholy story of a pianist who has lost someone that he loves.

The fact that the main protagonist is a pianist is only hinted at in Indigo Road (藍の路) by a pan shot that connects the man to an empty piano in the scene in the empty bar. The piano is also featured strongly in the soundtrack. This is a film that needs to be seen more than once in order to understand everything that is going on.

The film moves, almost seamlessly between the past and the present. The past, which is inhabited by the woman, is imbued with warm shades of ochre, orange, and red. Many of the scenes have also been shot in such a way as to give the impression of real daylight coming in through the windows. In the present the woman’s absence is highlighted through the use of greys, indigo blues, and lots of shadows.

The man and the woman are also connected through the act of sweeping. The man is shown sweeping an empty corridor that is cluttered with litter, and the woman is shown sweeping the apartment. The motif of emptiness is everywhere, from the hollow sound of the wind ruffling the man’s coat to the empty streets, empty chairs, and empty corridors of the setting. The whole ambiance of the film reminded me of the Don McLean song “Empty Chairs” in which he sings:

Morning comes and morning goes with no regret

And evening brings the memories that I can’t forget

Empty rooms that echo as I climb the stairs

And empty clothes that drape and fall on empty chairs.

As in the Don McLean song, we don’t understand why the woman has left, only that she is gone. The music emphasizes this with its dramatic crescendo in one scene when we think the man and the woman will meet only to stop suddenly when the man opens the door and she is not there. The only sign that remains of her presence is the lone red flower blooming on the windowsill, but the brilliantly coloured blue butterfly that once hovered by the flower is now dead and broken on the floor when he sweeps the corridor.

In 2002, Murata won the Prize in Excellence for his early puppet animation Nostalgia that he made during his student years at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. The Japan Times has described his puppet animation as resembling “fine paintings in every frame” that “feature heart-warming stories with humble characters.” Indeed, the combination of the sets and the way that they are lit in Indigo Road do have a painterly feeling about them, but they are not static. Murata enjoys a moving camera and there are several dramatic tracking and panning shots in the film that emphasis the emptiness of the space.

Towards the end there is an interesting moment where the pianist is split in two and we see him watching himself cleaning the toilet. In the next scene, as he walks past a bathroom mirror, he pauses and then splits into two people, with one image of himself walking off-screen and the other image remaining standing still. I wasn’t sure what to make of this part of the film at first, but upon further reflection it seemed to me that this scene visually represented the feeling a person has that they have lost a part of themselves when someone they love dearly leaves them. The wonderful thing about this film is that it is open to multiple interpretations.

Indigo Road can be ordered from tomoyasu.net

Tomoyasu Murata Sakuhinshu - Ore no Michi / Animation

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2006

27 November 2006

Tomoyasu Murata 村田朋泰

Last week, I discovered the work of Tomoyasu Murata (村田朋泰) at a small gallery on Hongo Dori, just across the street from Tokyo University. The display window featured a tongue-in-cheek Japan-themed installation which caused many passersby to pause for a moment’s reflection. Small figures of men in army uniforms swam, their feet fluttering and their arms swirling through the sea under an iconic hinomaru-themed background. In the foreground, next to a figure of Ultraman, were two old-fashioned portable televisions, one on top of the other, playing animated shorts. Another amusing touch was an old coin-operated candy machine. For 100 yen you would receive a numbered ball that you could turn in at the desk for a Murata souvenir. The artist himself was there and autographed our souvenir with his name and one of the stars of his animated shorts: handstand boy.

There was a nostalgic feel to the installation inside the gallery. On an old bookshelf, several old-fashioned small televisions were tucked side-by-side with books on the shelves. Each little screen was playing a different image. Two old church pews sat in front of the bookshelf, their backs to the televisions. On the floor in front of them was an unusual piece of art involving model houses and a huge tongue lolling out onto the floor.

The walls of the gallery featured photographs on one side and paintings and illustrations on the other. The photographs were all old black and white snapshots that had a cut-out of a white cloud-like object that came down from the top of the photos, like slime in a B-Horror movie, and obscured the faces of the figures in the photos. Large, pillow-like versions of these clouds were also liberally placed about the room, most hanging from the point where the wall meets the ceiling like snow hanging over the eaves of a roof.Upstairs, one could view a selection of short animated films directed by Murata. As in the gallery downstairs, the animated shorts demonstrated a wide range of methods. Murata has done a series of stop-motion puppet animation shorts called the My Road Series. There is a European feel to these shorts, particularly in the style of the main protagonist’s apartment. The main protagonist, a pianist, is suffering from some kind of a loss, possibly his partner, and emotion and mood is conveyed through character movement, music, sets, lighting, and other special effects such as winds blowing and sound effects. Murata’s films have no dialogue, but he seems to work in collaboration with musicians and composers.

Murata also dabbles in cel animation and computer animation among other techniques. Tokyo Montage, for example, combines a wide range of techniques in a style that reminded me of the experimental work of Norman McLaren. Although the My Road Series has a melancholic feeling to it, most of his films do not take themselves too suriously. One motif found in almost all his films is the butterfly, a creature that I feel captures the beauty and playfulness of Murata’s work.

Tomoyasu Murata Sakuhinshu - Ore no Michi / Animation

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2006

21 November 2006

My Neighbour Totoro (となりのトトロ, 1988)

If you’re a parent and the studios have got you down with the current vogue for high-paced, action-packed animated films that lack the innocent charm of early Disney films, then I highly recommend that you introduce your child to the world of Hayao Miyazaki. For the very young, you can do no better than Tonari no Totoro (となりのトトロ、My Neighbour Totoro, 1988).

Set in an idealized 1950s Japan, the film is told from the perspective of two young sisters, Satsuki and Mei Kusakabe, aged 11 and 4 respectively. Their mother has taken ill and is in the hospital indefinitely and their father, a university professor in Tokyo, moves them to a new home in the countryside to be closer to the mother’s hospital. As the girls explore their new home, a traditional Japanese house, they discover that it is inhabited by little black balls with google eyes called kurokurosuke, a term which has been translated variously as dust bunnies or soot sprites. When the children tell their father and the obaasan (grandmother) from next-door, the adults do not accuse the children of seeing things. In fact, the obaasan says that she, too, could see sprites/fairies when she was a young girl. I love that the adult figures in this film encourage the children to use their imaginations and to believe in things that they can see that perhaps not everyone can.

While Satsuki is at school one day, Mei is playing alone in the garden when she discovers a giant Totoro living at the foot of the giant camphor laurel tree near their home. Totoro seems to be a kind of spirit or fairy related to the camphor tree. Although Miyazaki himself has denied any connection to religion, the tree does have a rope around it that in Shinto indicates that the tree is a kami, or sacred spirit. The giant Totoro and the two smaller Totoros have a playful relationship with the girls at first: flying in the sky and playing ocarinas together, but later in the film when Mei runs away and gets lost, Totoro and a Catbus help Satsuki find her again.

The thing that makes this such a wonderful film for children is its simplicity. Unlike a typical American animated feature, there are no bad guys, no violence, and no chase scene at the end. Instead, the film shows the children experiencing joy, fear, anger, and other emotions as they deal with the trials of growing up as well as their underlying fear that their mother may die of her illness. The imaginary creatures act as helpmates on the children’s journey of discovery, but they never speak (there is no condescending adult moral imposed on the film), rather the children intuit what Totoro wants to show them.

My children have fallen in love with the theme song and Totoro. Even my one and a half year old sings the song to herself when she plays. That said, I want to emphasize that this is a film that can be enjoyed by people of any age and I highly recommend it as an antidote to over-the-top CGI features.

STUDIO GHIBLI / Animation Soundtrack

Ghibli no E Shokunin kazuo Oka Ten Totoro no Mori wo Kaita Hito. (English Subtitles) / Special Interest

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2006

11 November 2006

Love Affair (邂逅, 1939)

I was prepared to fall in love with Leo McCarey’s 1939 Oscar-nominated romance but in the end found myself disappointed. Charles Boyer has a lot of charm (who can forget his chilling performance in the 1944 George Cukor version of Gaslight when he does his best to make Ingrid Bergman believe she’s insane!) and finesse as an actor. Boyer was one of the few actors of his generation in Hollywood with a pronounced accent who demonstrated great versatility in his performances. He’s terrific in Hold Back the Dawn (Litchel Liesen, 1941) opposite Olivia de Havilland and Paulette Goddard and he has a fascinating chemistry with Bette Davis in All This and Heaven Too (Anatole Litvak, 1940).

Irene Dunne is simply lovely in her 1930s films like Roberta (William A. Seiter, 1935) and The Awful Truth (Leo McCarey, 1937). Despite her major star status in the 1930s, Dunne hasn’t remained an icon like many of her peers (Garbo, Dietrich, Crawford et al.). This is partly because of her early retirement from Hollywood in 1952, but it also due to the fact that so many of her films were remade into even bigger box office successes that get shown on TV much more often than the original films. For example, everyone’s heard of the Walter Lang musical The King and I (1956) with Yul Brynner, but hardly anyone goes out of their way to see Anna and the King of Siam (John Cromwell, 1946). Dunne also stars in James Whale’s 1936 version of Show Boat (1936) which features amazing performances, including Paul Robeson’s show-stopping rendition of “Ol’ Man River” but it often gets overshadowed by George Sidney’s 1951 Techinicolor remake starring Ava Gardner.

It didn’t take me long to realize that I’d seen one of the many remakes of this particular movie – An Affair to Remember (1957) starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. An Affair to Remember was then memorably referenced in the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan vehicle Sleepless in Seattle (Nora Ephron, 1993) which in turn seems to have inspired to the abominable Love Affair (Glenn Gordon Caron, 1994) starring Warren Beatty and Annette Benning. This latter film is only worth viewing if you’re interested in seeing Katherine Hepburn’s final appearance in a movie.

The realization that this film had been remade led to me making the inevitable comparisons between the two, which may have detracted from my enjoyment Love Affair. I usually watch Classical Hollywood films twice -- once just to immerse myself in the pleasures of the experience and then during the second screening I turn on the analytic mode and take notes. This film didn’t merit an immediate second screening, but it does have some really good moments. At first, my constant comparisons with An Affair to Remember didn’t affect my enjoyment of the film. Dunne plays an American woman called Terry McKay who meets French playboy Michel Marnet (Boyer) on board a ship bound for New York from Europe. During the course of their journey they fall in love and arrange to meet in six months at the top of the Empire State Building, but fate intervenes and delays their reunion. The witty repartee between Dunne and Boyer during the shipboard romance is superb. The set-up for the gags is convincing: everyone on the ship is interested in Michel Marnet’s love-life and the couple have to try to hide their growing fondness for each other from their nosy fellow passengers. I laughed out loud at a number of the jokes and gags. Sadly, the will-they-won’t-they sequences at the end of the movie is less compelling. Boyer had some moments where I really saw the emotion in his eyes but Dunne was a real limp fish in those final scenes. I kept having flashbacks to Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember, who had me holding back the tears during those final scenes, not because of what they were saying but because you could really feel the emotion on their faces and in their eyes. 

The original Love Affair is certainly worth viewing for all you fans of Classical Hollywood romances, but I wouldn’t recommend it as an introduction to someone unfamiliar with movies from this period.

© cmmhotes 2006

10 November 2006

Nana (ナナ, Episode 3)

Episode 3

奈々と章司、恋の行方 Nana & Shoji, Love’s Whereabouts

This episode continues the first chapter of the manga with Nana Komatsu (she hasn’t acquired the Hachi nickname yet as the two Nanas have not yet met) determined not to fall in love with Shouji. The group of four friends (Junko & Kyosuke, Nana-chan/Hachi & Shoji) go on a holiday to the sea together and Shoji can barely keep his frustration under wraps. Rather than just tell Nana-chan that he fancies her, he berates her with lectures about her naivety about men. Any enjoyment Nana-chan was having on the trip is cut short when she finds out that all her friends are planning to move to Tokyo to continue studying art. When Shoji suggests that Nana-chan apply to colleges in Tokyo as well, she hits the books with a determination to get herself to Tokyo no matter what. It is difficult to sympathize with her because she has no passion for the study of art, she concerns herself only with keeping her circle of friends intact. Nana-chan and Shoji’s state of denial about their lust for each other comes to a boiling point when the friends are in Tokyo checking out schools and places to live.

Shoji walks off in a huff in what looks like the Ginza area, leaving the clueless Nana-chan to find her way back to the hotel on her own. Nana-chan runs into her former lover Asano and he takes her out to dinner to a restaurant with an amazing view of Tokyo at night. This turns out to be a positive experience for Nana-chan because she finally realizes that she is ready to put their relationship behind her and move on. Nana-chan parts ways with Asano and he points her in the direction of her hotel. While this is going on Junko and Shoji have an argument in which Junko reprimands Shoji for abandoning Nana-chan and points out the obvious to him: that Nana has fallen for him. As the two rush out Kyosuke notices that they have both left their keitei phones behind. He calls Nana on her keitei and tells her about Junko and Shoji’s fight. The episode ends with Nana realizing her affection for Shoji and running off in search of him.

In this episode, the theme of fashion starts to become foregrounded a bit more as the location moves to Tokyo. As Nana-chan is running about Ginza, for example, close-ups draw attention to her fabulous platform shoes with a funky flower design (taken directly from the manga). Nana Komatsu’s style, even though it originates in a manga that came out a few years back, is very common here in Tokyo: girly but with funky touches. The fashion theme really revs up a notch when Nana Osaki and the two bands make it to Tokyo as well so I’ll write more on that in a later review.

The transitions between scenes in this anime are beautifully rendered and are what make it such riveting viewing. When Kyosuke tells Shoji about his and Junko’s plans to move to Tokyo, the two young men are sitting on the beach facing away from the camera and between them in the background we see Junko and Hachi frolicking delightedly in the water. The animators then cut to an extreme close-up of Hachi balling and we know without being told that the news has now been broken to our over-emotional leading lady.

Perhaps the best transition in this episode comes when Hachi is dedicatedly studying for entrance exams to the Tokyo colleges. As the camera pulls away from her back as she sits at the desk, the screen goes dark except for a spotlight on Hachi. Sitting at her square desk in the triangle of the spotlight the scene resembles an onigiri (rice balls eaten for lunch or a snack in Japan). Against the black seasonal yellow ginko leaves begin to fall and then are replaced by the gently falling snowflakes that are a motif in this series. They seem to symbolize nostalgia and sentimentality. Another major motif is the iconic Tokyo tower, which is used to remind us about the location. Music is also used as a motif and also for transitions, but I will write more about that in a later review.

In closing I will say that this episode still does not completely endear me to Nana/Hachi. Her neediness is still annoying but fortunately it is offset by Junko’s sarcasm and Kyosuke’s dry wit. Although Shoji is cute and clearly cares about Hachi, his weakness in not being able to tell Hachi that he’s interested in her does not bode well. Hachi shows some potential for growing into a really lovable character as she does show some spunk when parting with Asano. Rather than cry (as she does all too often!) she jabs him in the chest with her finger and warns him not to cheat on his wife anymore. I will be watching episodes 4 & 5 next week as they are both concern Nana Osaki’s backstory.

Nana / Animation

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2006

09 November 2006

Anne of Green Gables (赤毛のアン, 1979)

Episode 1
Matthew Cuthbert is Surprised

I started watching 赤毛のアン (Akage no An: literally “Red-Haired Anne”) this week partly out of my ongoing curiosity about the Japanese fascination with Anne. I have been a fan of Lucy Maud Montgomery novels ever since I first learned how to read and have a collection of all her writing (I haven’t been able to get a hold of all of her published journals yet though) in storage in Canada so I can certainly understand the universal appeal of the character of Anne. People all over the world have fallen in love with this spunky orphan girl who is adopted by an elderly pair of siblings.

My first encounter with this 1979 anime was on German television where it had been dubbed into German. Yet no other country in the world has taken their love for Anne to the level that the Japanese have. Growing up in Canada, I had heard about the hoards of Japanese tourists that flock to Prince Edward Island every year to visit Green Gables in Cavendish. I myself took the same pilgrimage with my family when I was a girl. The extent of the obsession in Japan impressed itself upon me in 2001 when I was on a driving tour of Hokkaido with my husband and his parents. As we headed through the countryside towards the town of Ashibetsu we were startled by a large Pizza-Hut-style sign with an arrow pointing left that read ‘Canadian World’. Unable to resist, we followed the arrows until we found the theme park which had been abandoned in 1998 due to lack of profits. The park gates were open and the buildings were all still there so we could take a look around and get an idea what it had been like during its ‘glory days’. Some locals had set up stalls nearby where they were trying to sell their wares to any unwary tourists like us who had happened upon the site. Apparently the Anne-inspired theme park had opened in 1990 with the idea of bringing jobs and tourist dollars into Ashibetsu. According to an interesting article by Yuka Kajihara on the Anne phenomenon in Japan, they even imported Canadian staff to teach skills such as log-house construction and quilting and, of course, even had a ‘red-haired Anne’ brought in from P.E.I. to delight the tourists. It was not particularly surprising that the venture should have failed. Big-spending tourists from the main island of Honshu would have had to be flown in to Hokkaido then bussed in. Sure, it would have been closer than flying all the way to P.E.I., but their miniature Avonlea was pretty tacky and lacked the simple beauty of small-town P.E.I. I wondered if the cartoonishness of these overly-painted models came from the manga and anime versions of Anne in Japanese culture.

This Nippon Animation series also interests me because of its director Isao Takahata (高畑勲). Takahata is the director of the most powerful anti-war film I have ever seen, Grave of the Fireflies (火垂るの墓、1988). He was also Hayao Miyazaki’s creative partner in the creation of Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki (宮崎 駿) worked on layout designs for Akage no An for the first 15 episodes of the series before leaving Nippon Animation altogether. Another major creative force on this series is the animation director Yoshifumi Kondo (近藤喜文), who also moved to Studio Ghibli and worked on some of their greatest films including his directorial debut Whisper of the Heart (耳をすませば,, 1995), but whose career was cut short by his untimely death in 1998. These three animators are all known for their sympathetic portrayal of strong shojo protagonists, so it is not surprising that they were all involved in the adaptation of Anne of Green Gables to an animated television series.

The animation series runs for 50 episodes, which means more than one episode for each of the 38 chapters in the original novel. They skip the title for the first chapter “Mrs. Rachel Lynde is Surprised” and use the title of the second chapter “Matthew Cuthbert is Surprised” for the first episode, though we do get to see Mrs. Lynde receiving her big surprise quite early on in the episode. The opening credit sequence demonstrates one of the reasons Anne is such a hit in Japan: they share Lucy Maud Montgomery’s romanticisation of nature. As the opening credits roll, Ann flies a horse drawn buggy through a dream sequence of the apple blossoms of the White Way of Delight which transforms into autumn leaves and then into a snowy scene, emphasizing the Japanese love of seasonal imagery. Sonja Arntzen has argued convincingly that part of the reason Anne became such a big hit when it was first published in English in 1951 was due to this tradition of seasonal imagery in Japanese literature. I am pretty sure many Japanese readers have delighted in Anne’s naming of the cherry tree at Green Gables the Snow Queen.

I found the realistic style of Akage no an quite refreshing as most of the fare on TV these days is so stylized. They haven’t made Anne into a round-faced cherub, but have kept her awkward skinniness. She is, after all, coming to the Island from a life of deprivation. I would not be surprised if by the end of the series she has, like she did in the book, become more soft and rounded in appearance. I can only hope that they don’t make her as fat as Mrs. Lynde (who I believe is depicted as bit chubby in the novels), Matthew, and even Marilla (though the latter not as much so). Matthew’s huge moustache is a bit comical – I don’t think it would have been proper to have such a very shaggy moustache in those days on the Island. I’m not convinced by Anne having blue eyes either – weren’t they green or hazel? I must dig up the dog-eared copy of the novel that is with me here in Japan and check some of the finer points. In terms of character and costume, however, everything seems to be spot-on. They must have done quite a lot of research in order to render the locations which such accuracy. The only real jarring point for me so far is the male narrator. Now I know that Japan has a tradition of benshi narration, but as the novel was so well known in Japan by the 1970s (it was even on school reading lists!), I don’t think that the narration was necessary. To be true to the novels, it would have suited much more to have a female voice as a narrator. LMM’s voice as narrator is present in all her novels adding humour and wit to her stories. As the story has been transferred to a visual medium, they should have dispensed with the narrator’s voice altogether though. Will have to check out more episodes to see if it continues in the same way throughout the series.

Anne of Green Gables / Animation

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2006

29 October 2006

Nana (ナナ, Episode 2. 2006)

恋?友情?奈々と章司 Love? Friendship? Nana and Shouji

The second episode of NTV’s adaptation of Ai Yazawa’s manga Nana takes us back to the very beginning of the story. Episode 1 was clearly designed as a teaser for the series of 50 episodes to come. From what I can tell this episode covers all the story information of the first half of Chapter 1. This chapter focuses on the character of Nana Komatsu, or Hachi, in the years leading up to the two Nanas meeting. Our first impressions of Hachi are guided by her as her voice-over narration leads us through her story of growing up in small-town northern Honshu. The setting is romanticized by the mountains that surround the town and by the lightly falling slow that seems to be a metaphor for lost love.

After a romanticized image of Hachi’s hometown, shown in a shot that tilts down from a clear clue sky, we are thrown into the darkness of her affair with a married man (emphasized by close-ups on his hand holding a cigarette and sporting a wedding band against a black background) in the spring of 1999 when she was a high school senior. She outlines how unlucky she had been in love prior to that fateful moment she met Asano Takashi at the cinema. During her high school years she dropped in and out of crushes very quickly: her art teacher, a guy who works at the video store, a cook at the family restaurant she works at, and even the pizza delivery boy. She even alters her appearance to try to suit the style of her crush of the moment. These past crushes are shown in manga form, with the camera panning slowly over the still images, complete with speech bubbles, as Hachi does a voice-over narration. I’ve noticed that some bloggers have objected to this format as a way of short-cutting story information, but in actual fact these scenes do not speed up or omit story detail that was in the original manga. In fact, it’s quite impressive how closely the anime adaptation is staying to the original text in this episode. I know that fans of Yazawa objected to how much cutting occurred when her manga Paradise Kiss (パラキス, 2000-4) was adapted by Fuji TV in 2005. The Nana animators have clearly decided to stick with the original story by fleshing out the character detail in much the same manner as Yazawa.

As I watched Hachi bawling in the bathroom of her high school to her best friend Junko I was worried that I would quickly lose interest in the story if the main protagonist were to turn out to be such a hysterical flake, but Hachi’s over-emotionalism is balanced out by Junko’s level-headedness. In the next scene, Junko has transformed from a typical high school girl (white slouch socks – I have never understood why Japanese high school girls wear them!! – and a school uniform complete with overly short kilt) into an elegant young woman with permed hair which she usually wears up. Hachi has cut her hair shorter but she is still going for the cutsie look. Hachi has now transfered to the local art college where Junko is also studying. Junko is suspicious of Hachi’s motives and upbraids her for coming to the school only to pick up guys. Hachi does a lousy job of disagreeing. That is clearly exactly why she has come to the school in contrast to Junko who actually has career ambitions for herself. Junko makes Hachi see that she doesn’t judge the male sex as human beings, only as potential partners, and has therefore never even had a male friend. In response to this revelation, Hachi determines that her new goal is to make first male friend. Cue the arrival of Shouji Endou, cute guy who is perfect for Hachi (also talkative, sensitive, and wears his heart on the scene).

Thus begins the will they/won’t they storyline suggested by the title of this episode. In this scene we are also introduced to Takakura Kyousuke, the deep-voiced, dreadlocked artist who quickly becomes Junko’s boyfriend. The most amusing scene in this episode is the drinking party they have a Junko’s place. Nana, determined to become pals with Shouji, drinks too much and narrates the entire sordid history of her loves and crushes to her new friends. Shouji and Kyousuke find it amusing, and encourage her to continue, but the party ends on a sour note as Nana breaks down into tears when she gets to her affair with Asano. The episode leaves us on a cliffhanger on the Shouji-Nana question but it is pretty clear that they are similar characters: they both wear their hearts on their sleeves and are vivacious, open personalities.

The author of this manga is a woman and she certainly knows how to draw female protagonists and situations that young women can identify with. Although Hachi can be a bit annoying, I think that young women can identify with her dreams of finding romance and true love. I am glad that Yazawa included the Junko character. Even though Junko can be bitchy and condescending at times, she at least is a strong female presence who has ambitions outside of romance. Her relationship with Kyousuke seems to happen upon her without her looking for it. I am curious to see how the Nana Oosaki character counterbalances Nana Komatsu. In the prologue, as well as in this episode, there have been hints that Nana will also deal with the topic of female friendship and affection between women. In the prologue, Hachi clearly felt an attraction to Nana. In this episode, she spontaneously hugs Junko in one scene, but Junko is uncomfortable with this display of affection.

Another interesting thread running through the story is the theme of superstition. The most common meaning of ‘Nana’ in Japanese is the number 7 and Hachi seems to believe that a lot of bad luck coming her way has to do with the number 7. At one point she speaks of her fear that Nostradamus’s predictions are coming true. She also often mentions daimarou (literally ‘great devil’ but often also translated at ‘demon lord’), whom she seems to think has it in for her. I am unfamiliar with the term daimarou but am curious about the colloquial history of such a figure in Japanese folklore. A cursory glance of the internet reveals that a number of anime and manga have had a character with the same name. I will look into it as I watch future episodes.

The DVD is available (no subtitles) for purchase here:

Nana / Animation

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2006

27 October 2006

Holiday Inn (スイング・ホテル, 1942)

I picked this up on a whim at the video store even though most classic Hollywood films on DVD in Japanese rental shops are pretty bad pan & scan versions. In fact, they have often been put together so cheaply that you can’t remove the Japanese subtitles. This film is an old guilty pleasure of mine, despite some of the more disturbing scenes such as Louise Beavers being typecast as Mamie, and Bing doing a black-faced Lincoln routine.

The film was directed by musical veteran Mark Sandrich, who helmed at least half of the Ginger Rogers/Fred Astaire films including The Gay Divorcee (1931), Top Hat (1935), Follow the Fleet (1936), Shall We Dance (1937), and Carefree (1938). It features Irving Berlin’s songs and it is famous for debuting the song ‘White Christmas’. The plot consists of typical nonsensical musical fare: Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire star as Jim Hardy and Ted Hanover. Along with Lila Dixon (Marjorie Reynolds), they form a song and dance team whose running gag (on- and off-stage) is that Jim can sing but he can’t dance and Ted can dance but he can’t sing and Lila has trouble deciding which man she loves more. To swallow this rivalry you of course have to forget that Fred Astaire was actually a terrific singer. Some of my favourite renditions of Gershwin tunes were done by him (Imagining that Bing can’t dance is a pretty easy feat though). The Jim/Ted (Bing/Fred) rivalry is captured eloquently by the number “I’ll Capture Your Heart” in which each man claims that he will be successful in love because of his talents. In the end, Lila chooses Ted, and Jim sets off, tail between his legs to live as a bachelor farmer in Connecticut. He then comes up with the brilliant, if unlikely, plan to turn the farm into an inn that is open only on national holidays (hence the title).

But this is a musical, and no one cares about logistics in a musical. Jim ends up hiring aspiring actress and singer Linda Mason (played beautifully by the under-rated Marjorie Reynolds, who apart from this film is only remembered for her role on the 1950s television series ‘Life of Riley’) whom he of course falls in love with and steadily wins over with his swoon-some crooning (it is Bing Crosby after all). Ted turns up drunk on Christmas Eve because Lila has ditched him for a Texas millionaire and proceeds to dance a spectacular number with Linda. Hollywood legend has it that Fred Astaire really did get drunk on bourbon for this number. The crowd at the Inn is wowed but Ted was so drunk he doesn’t remember what the girl looked like (and Jim’s not about to help him for fear of losing Linda). Ted’s manager Danny Reed, played by the talented character actor Walter Abel, came to the party late and only saw what the young woman looked like from behind. This sets up a great gag for the New Year’s party at the Inn where Ted dances with girls while Danny checks them out from behind and they get themselves in a whole passel full of trouble including this amusing exchange:
Man: “Say, what is this? A Daisy Chain?”
Ted: “We’re just looking for the back of a girl we don’t know.”

In spite of a few flubs along the way, including the aforementioned racism which was sadly par for the course in films of this era as well as pretty dire musical numbers for Lincoln’s birthday (poor Lousie Beavers had to sing the cringe-worthy line: “Who was it set the darkie free? Abraham!”) and Washington’s birthday (which will in all honestly leave you squirming in your seat), the film is a fun viewing overall. I love the numbers “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” (despite a few obviously bad lines like “it’s not a watch you’re wearing it’s my heart” WTF??? it is accompanied by a beautiful dance number), ‘Lazy’, my personal favourite ‘You’re Easy to Dance With’, and of course the Oscar-winning song ‘White Christmas.’ Fred Astaire’s Fourth of July number, ‘Say It with Fire Crackers’ is pretty enjoyable viewing. It’s a wonder Fred didn’t lose a leg during the filming of it though. It looks like they used real firecrackers. 

The rapport between Bing and Fred is great and it’s a shame that they didn’t make more films together.Their only other film together was another Sandburg film, Blue Skies (1946), which was pretty forgettable apart from the title song and Fred performing ‘Putting on the Ritz.’ It’s not particularly surprising that Bing and Fred didn’t make more films together though as this film is the first time since Roberta (1935) that Fred has had to take second billing (and in that case it was to a woman – the lovely Irene Dunne). I have read that Fred Astaire was offered the Danny Kaye part in White Christmas (1954) but that he turned it down. A wise decision, as I don’t think that role would have suited Astaire. On the topic of White Christmas, I must mention that I have always thought that they recycled the sets from Holiday Inn when they made White Christmas, even though it was made 12 years later because the similarities are striking. Someone on the Internet Movie Database seems to agree with me, I really must look it up in a more reliable source at some point as this is a point that bothers me everytime I watch those two movies.
This film is fun viewing not just for the musical numbers but because of the snappy dialogue and terrific gags.  Some of my favourite lines include:

Lila breaking off her engagement to Jim: 
“It isn’t that I don’t love you, Jim, I do. I love everybody!”
Jim: “You in show business?”
Linda: “I’m Linda Mason.” (she’s pretending she’s a celebrity)
Jim: “Oh….. Linda Mason.” (he’s pretending to recognize the name)

Apart from the condescending portrayal of African Americans in this film, the only other thing I would have changed as a director would have been to give the two leading ladies more chances to shine. It might have been just the thing to turn Marjorie Reynolds and Virginia Dale into stars instead of supporting players.Fortunately that mistake was remedied in White Christmas, but I’ll save singing the praises of Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen until December.

And yes, if you’re wondering, the Holiday Inn chain in North America did name itself after this popular movie.

[if you click on the title of this blog you will be linked to Alan Vanneman’s article “Too Much Bing, Not Enough Fred” at Bright Lights Film and from whom I have borrowed the images for this blog entry. I enjoyed the article, though I must respond that one can never have too much Bing or Fred.]

26 October 2006

Takenaka & Marlene Dietrich

I saw an exhibition this week at the Yayoi Art Museum of the work of Eitaro Takanaka (竹中英太郎, 1906-1988). The Yayoi Museum specializes in magazine illustrations - particular pre-war illustrations. I have seen amazing exhibitions there of art from children's magazines of teh 1920s and 1930s where you could see the influence of style on animation that developed after the war.

Takanaka specialized in illustrations for thrillers, horror, and detective stories. In the 1960s and 1970s, he did some amazing, vibrantly coloured surreal paintings. He also did a series of paintings inspired by Marlene Dietrich, such as the one above. The poster below advertises a performance by Dietrich in Tokyo in 1974 (昭和49). I love the placement of the moth (detail follows at bottom). It says so much about Dietrich as a sensual, transformative creature. I would love to have it as a poster to frame on the wall! She would have been in her seventies, but Takanaka clearly sees her as still being at the peak of her powers of seduction.

Der Blaue Engel is available on DVD in Japan with commentary footage from Nagaharu Yodogawa:

Der Blaue Engel / Movie

© Catherine Munroe Hotes 2006


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