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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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Four Frames: The Warriors (Walter Hill, 1979)

Let me flow into the oceanLet me get back to the seaLet me be stormy and let me be calmLet the tide in, and set me free … – Pete Townshend, “Drowned,” from The Who’s Quadrophenia (1973) The conflict at the heart of The Warriors (1979) isn’t as simple or straightforward as Mods versus Rockers. […]

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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 […]

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Four Frames: Mandy (Panos Cosmatos, 2018)

There are those convinced George Lucas only ever dreamed up Star Wars so he could sell spin-off toys to kids. And now, nine episodes in (is it nine? you tell me!), movie merchandise helps keep the commercial world a-spinning. Merch can be cool, though – the more unlikely it is, the more “cultish”, the cooler […]