Video roundup: Japan (plus one from China)

by Dave Maier

I am a big fan of Japanese cinema, and in the past year I've seen some really great stuff. These are neither the most famous nor the most obscure films out there, just some I saw and liked. I generally try to avoid spoilers, plus my memory of a couple of these films is a ltttle foggy, so I will be light on plot details here. Many of these films are available through the Criterion Collection, and there are trailers there, so check 'em out.

House Jigoku Kuronekobox

Let's start with the horror. Not “J-Horror”, exactly, which term I associate more with films like Ringu (Ring) and Ju-on (The Grudge) and their descendants. First we have:

House (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977)

I expected this one to be weird, and it certainly is, but not in the way I thought. According to Chuck Stephens,

What Toho Studios was hoping for when it hired Obayashi [who had been in advertising for several years at the time] was a homegrown Jaws: a locally produced summer movie roller coaster sufficiently thrill-chocked to at least partially deflect the ongoing onslaught of Tokyo-box-office-topping New Hollywood hits from Messrs. Spielberg and Lucas—something fast and loud, with tons of fun packed between screams.

What they got was “a modern masterpiece of le cinéma du WTF?! […] a film that must be seen to be believed, and then seen again to believe that you really did see what you think you saw.” It's too dizzying to be as fun as it relentlessly presents itself as being, but for some of you (you know who you are), a must-see, if only for the scene where Melody, the musician among the seven appropriately named teen houseguests, is devoured by a grand piano.

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Tokyo, Almost-Encounters, and “Passing By”

After a long day of walking Tokyo_red around Tokyo I often catch myself thinking, “Well, I guess today wasn't to be the day that I bump into her.” Is it really so ridiculous to think that I might? Sure, it may be a city of nearly twelve million, but the odds of meeting my ex-girlfriend on the train or passing her on the street can't really be that low, can they? By my calculations, it’s an even fifty-fifty: either I see her or I don't. At least that's how it feels.

To Pass By
Once while browsing at the library, I came across a book that began with a dentist and a patient chatting during a minor medical procedure. The patient, if memory serves, was a professor of Chinese history. So where ya from, asks the doctor? China. What Province? Szechuan. Ya know, the doctor chuckles, I only know one Chinese guy, a dentist from Szechuan. His name is X. D’ya _MG_0504 happen to know him? Actually, says the astonished patient, that's my uncle!

The author’s point was not that it’s a small world after all, but rather, that docs and profs really only move within the smallest slices of a rather large world. Nor is this phenomenon limited to cosmopolitan elites. When I used to drift around New York City, I would often see folks in MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) uniforms, far from any train station or bus stop, greeting each other by first name: Hi Derrick. How’s it going there, Carroll? It’s true that for the MTA, city-streets behave as the office hallway, food trucks as the cafeteria, stations as cubicles; but still, shouldn’t these folks feel just the littlest surprise when running into each other inside this impossibly large office building? It would seem that city-space just operates differently for the transit authority than it does for those of us who merely pass through the city’s streets in transit. How it all works I can't presume to know.

Passing By in Tokyo
If chance encounters happen at all in Tokyo, they happen in the small slices; at the bike-shop, the record-store, a favorite watering hole. But for most of us, most of the time, Tokyo is a city of almost-encounters and near-misses, a city of shared space – shared not simultaneously, but by turns. It is a city defined by 'passing by.’

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