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Flowers of evil in Cold War Japan: Masahiro Shinoda’s Pale Flower

Pale Flower (Kawaita hana, 1964), set in the yakuza milieu, questions the codes of Japanese gangsters and subverts the gangster codes of the films that flooded the Japanese film market in the early 1960s. It deals with obsessive love but replaces the carnal element with gambling. Shinoda’s film harks back to Charles Baudelaire’s volume of poetry, Les Fleurs du Mal (The […]

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The she-panther and the yakuza in Drunken Angel

Drunken Angel (Yoidore tenshi, 1948) is Akira Kurosawa’s first film in which music, used at both a diegetic and non-diegetic level, plays an eminent structural role. One key scene is set in “Club Number 1,” a dance hall in the slum in which the action takes place. In this scene, the jazz song “Jungle Boogie” […]

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Discover this moody Japanese film about compassion within a marginalised society

Easy Tavern is an infamous inn on the edge of town, in the wetlands of the Fukagawa. The inn’s regulars are petty crooks and smugglers. Sadashichi, one of the smugglers, not only looks dangerous: he demonstrates his ferocity by killing a police officer. Yet it’s clear from the beginning that the director’s sympathies lie with […]

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Features Lost Classics Thousand Words

How Black River perfectly captures the cultural corruption of post-war Japan

Kobayashi’s vitriolic portrayal of a society dominated by crime and corruption.

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Thousand Words: Evil Behind the Mask of Respectability (The Bad Sleep Well, 1960)

The Bad Sleep Well (Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru), a critical portrayal of postwar corporate Japan as a breeding ground for corruption, targets the strong connections between the economy, politics and crime. As a tale of revenge, it recalls Hamlet, but it also echoes the Japanese penchant for vengeance as a dramatic motif. The famous […]

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Thousand Words: How to be a Human Being (Ikiru, 1952)

The first shot in Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru shows an X-ray. A voiceover reveals that this is the stomach of Watanabe, the film’s central figure, who is terminally ill with stomach cancer. An ordinary man suddenly confronted with death and the futility of his existence, he is desperately trying to find a meaning in life. Kurosawa […]