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Rebirth and reconciliation in Kon Ichikawa’s The Burmese Harp

After the capitulation of the Empire of Japan on 15 August 1945, Private Mizushima (Shoji Yasui) does not join the rest of his former unit in a British prisoner-of-war-camp in the Burmese countryside but becomes a Buddhist monk. The story of the young soldier who decides to stay in Burma after the war in order […]

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Journey Into the Human Heart: Takeshi Kitano’s Kikujiro

Kikujiro (Kikujiro no natsu, Japan, 1999) is a film about a boy – 9-year-old Masao (Yusuke Sekiguchi) – who leaves Tokyo in the summer holidays to go in search of his mother, who abandoned him years ago. Kikujiro (Takeshi Kitano), the husband of one of his grandmother’s friends, agrees to accompany him on the journey […]

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Iconic Acting and Innovative Filmmaking in Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo

To Mifune Rikiya 11 June 2021, 6.30 p.m. – the opening of a small retrospective of ten films dedicated to the great Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune at the Japanese Cultural Institute in Cologne, Germany. It may not look like a big event, but for me it is the culmination of a long and highly emotional […]

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Sacrifice and Responsibility in Akira Kurosawa’s High and Low

In Akira Kurosawa’s High and Low (Tengoku to jigoku, Japan, 1963), a bungled kidnapping leads to the protagonist’s deep crisis of conscience. Wealthy Kingo Gondo (Toshiro Mifune) has to decide whether or not to pay the ransom demanded by a kidnapper who intended to abduct Gondo’s son but has taken his chauffeur’s son by mistake. […]

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Duplicitous Games in Donald Siegel’s The Beguiled

In 1971, three films with Clint Eastwood were released within eight months: the actor’s directorial début Play Misty for Me and two films directed by Don Siegel – The Beguiled and Dirty Harry. The last confirmed Eastwood’s screen persona as the violent loner and law enforcer whereas the two other films challenged it as Siegel’s […]

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The portrayal of women in Kinuyo Tanaka’s Love Under the Crucifix and Girls of the Night

“It is sad to be a woman,” says the protagonist Ogin (Ineko Arima) in Kinuyo Tanaka’s Love Under the Crucifix (Ogin-sama, Japan, 1962) while watching a woman on her way to the execution site. The woman has refused to be the concubine of Hideyoshi, Japan’s ruler in the late sixteenth century, which is the historical […]

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Satire as social criticism: Nagisa Oshima’s Three Resurrected Drunkards

Three Resurrected Drunkards (Kaette kita yopparai, 1968) starts with a long sequence showing three young men enjoying themselves on a deserted sandy beach one sunny day. Their haircuts and clothes indicate that they belong to the beat generation, and their beige jackets are reminiscent of those worn by The Beatles for their concert at Shea […]

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A manhunt in a period film: Hideo Gosha’s Bandits vs. Samurai Squadron

The recent discovery of Bandits vs. Samurai Squadron (Kumokiri Nizaemon, 1978), a film that I had never seen before, has added a new work to my stock of movies for my research on Japanese film in general and on Gosha’s oeuvre in particular. Not as well known as Goyokin (1969) or Hitokiri (1969), Bandits vs. […]

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A family with a dinner table: Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s Still Walking

Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s Still Walking (Aruitemi aruitemo, 2008) starts with two women preparing a meal, the older woman giving advice to the younger one. This first long sequence sets the tone of the film and signals the filmmaker’s emphasis on everyday life, which is supported by the narrative and by other aesthetic means. Depicting twenty-four hours […]