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On the threshold to adulthood: Yusuke Iseya’s Kakuto

At the age of 26, the Japanese actor and model Yusuke Iseya made his directorial debut: Kakuto (2002), produced by Hirokazu Kore-Eda, in whose films After Life (Wandafaru raifu, 1998) and Distance (2001) Iseya had previously been cast. He stars in Kakuto, and he also wrote the script together with Takamasa Kameishi. The title “kakuto” […]

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Realism and miracles: Satoshi Kon’s Tokyo Godfathers

The anime film Tokyo Godfathers (Tokyo Goddofazazu, Japan, 2003) starts with children performing the nativity scene on Christmas eve and singing “Silent Night”. It is only after these comforting and delightful first shots that the whole setting is revealed – the interior of a church crowded with shabbily dressed men and women. The dark colours […]

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Manhood and political nostalgia in Yukio Mishima’s Yukoku

On 25 November 1970, the Japanese writer Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) committed seppuku (ritual suicide by disembowelment; in the Western world better known as hara-kiri) after a failed coup d’état. Together with four young members of the Tatenokai (Shield Society), the private militia he had founded in 1968, Mishima had entered and occupied the headquarters of […]

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Hell is in Oneself: Nobuo Nakagawa’s Jigoku

Nobuo Nakagawa’s Jigoku (Japan, 1960) starts with shots of a coffin in a crematorium and of flames filling the whole screen while horrifying screams are heard from the off. The title in blood-red kanji is followed by the credits next to images of half-naked women in lascivious poses accompanied by a melodious jazz tune. This […]

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Youth in crisis: Akihiko Shiota’s Harmful Insect

White feathers falling from the ceiling like snowflakes, the camera revealing a heap of them on the furniture and, after a lateral movement, a woman who starts cutting her wrist with a small knife – this is the opening sequence of Harmful Insect (Gaichu, Japan, 2002). Filmed in total silence, the sequence combines lyricism and […]

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Desire and Moral Boundaries: Keisuke Kinoshita’s Wedding Ring

In Keisuke Kinoshita’s Wedding Ring (Konyaku yubiwa, Japan, 1950), Noriko Kuki (Kinuyo Tanaka) finds herself on the threshold of adultery when she falls in love with the young medical intern Ema (Toshiro Mifune), who has been assigned to her husband Michio (Jukichi Uno), suffering from tuberculosis. The first encounter between Noriko and Ema takes place […]

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Heat as a psychological and aesthetic motif: Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog

Right from his directorial debut Sanshiro Sugata (Sugata Sanshiro, 1943), climate phenomena played an essential role in the films of Akira Kurosawa. In Sanshiro Sugata, for example, it is the wind blowing through the pampas grass, reinforcing the tension in the climactic fight scene between Sanshiro and his rival Higaki. In Kurosawa’s films, human drama […]

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A Late Awakening: Isshin Inudo’s Across a Gold Prairie

One morning, 80-year-old Ayumu Nippori wakes up believing he is 20 years old. Seemingly disoriented, he walks around his house, calling for his mother. Two clearly very old black-and-white photographs of Nippori’s parents on a chest of drawers that are visible briefly in one of the shots are a first clue that something is wrong. […]

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Relationships Between Humans and Nature in The Land of Hope

Shot a few months after the triple disaster that hit Japan’s Eastern Pacific Coast in March 2011 – an earthquake followed by a tsunami and core meltdowns in three reactors at the nuclear power plant in the Fukushima Prefecture – Sion Sono’s The Land of Hope (Kibo no kuni, Japan, 2012) addresses a great variety […]