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 So...what have you been watching lately?, ACDBer lists (and de facto roll-call?)
Bob Cashill
Posted: Jan 12 2011, 08:59 PM


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The Blu-ray of SHOGUN ASSASSIN is dazzling, a real boost from the DVD.


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Marty McKee
Posted: Jan 15 2011, 09:45 PM


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DARNA VS THE PLANET WOMEN (1975)—Directed by Armando Garces. Stars Vilma Santos, Rosanna Ortiz, Bentot Jr., Zandro Zamora. The costumed superheroine Darna had been popular in comic books and movies for 25 years before this colorful chapter featuring scantily clad space aliens. This was the third go-round as Darna for the beautiful Santos, who went on to become one of the Philippines’ most venerable actresses and the governor of Batangas. To put Santos into an American perspective, it would be like Katherine Hepburn playing Wonder Woman.

Darna’s regular identity is Narda, a sweet villager with a bum leg who prays to God for the betterment of mankind. Despite her infirmity, she’s quite happy and spends time with her boyfriend Ramon (Zamora) and her little brother Ding (Bentot Jr.), a husky wiseass in a hilarious striped tanktop. We witness the origin of Darna after a flying saucer appears and zaps Ramon with a paralysis ray. Narda prays for his safe return and is rewarded by a voice from above who sends her a white stone and tells her she need only say the word “Darna” to be transformed into a bikini-clad warrior with superpowers.

After rescuing Ramon (and concealing her new identity from him), Darna moves against the inhabitants of the UFO—five sexy alien babes who have come to Earth to steal our scientists. Each alien has skin of a different color and wears very little clothing, so the body makeup budget must have been spectacular.

Way too long and stuffed with padding, such as Ramon’s comic-relief serenading of Narda (who isn’t even around to hear it), DARNA VS THE PLANET WOMEN has enough moments of campy fun to elicit smiles. Santos is a chipper heroine who comes across as sweet and earnest and someone to root for. Ortiz as the main villainess, Electra (she wears an E on her belt buckle), is a worth adversary who even seduces Ramon to get Darna to let down her guard. Darna continued to be popular in the Philippines well into the 21st century in films and television.


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Bob Lindstrom
Posted: Jan 17 2011, 06:38 PM


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Just watched the astonishing "I Saw the Devil." Can't believe we don't have a thread about this film.
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Steve Erickson
Posted: Jan 17 2011, 08:21 PM


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Start one, Bob!
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Alex Ross
Posted: Jan 19 2011, 08:09 AM


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I saw I SAW THE DEVIL. It's brilliant.

I wonder where I might buy one of those nice brown jackets Lee was wearing.

Cheers,
Alex.
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Doug Bassett
Posted: Feb 5 2011, 09:11 PM


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ZATOICHI IN DESPERATION (1972) – I needed a break from ol' Ichi for awhile, but hopefully I'm on a schedule –yeah, there's so many of these you really need a schedule to finish up. There's one more movie, a bunch of tv shows, and then the remakes, unofficial sequels, etc.

Anyhow, this is really good, one of the better Zatoichi movies generally and unless the last one really surprises me, probably the best of the latter ones. It has pretty much the same plot as 85% of the others, which is [clears throat]

SPOILERS

“Zatoichi, wandering around aimlessly, stumbles across somebody going somewhere to help somebody close to him/her. Through some sort of mishap, this person ends up dying, and because Zatoichi feels responsible for the death he decides to take the person's place and do whatever it is they wanted done. He goes into a town that's corrupted by Yakuza and brothels and does whatever the recently deceased wanted done. Usually this involves a need for money, which Ichi gets by gambling and sort-of cheating. There are a bunch of hapless goons that Ichi will end up killing. Somehow in the midst of all of this, Ichi incurs the wrath of the local Yakuza boss, who's always a power-mad psychopath armed with a crew of like-minded henchmen. Look for (1) children in need of a father figure, (2) whores who need redeemed, (3) weak men helpless in the face of their gambling, (4) an ambiguous figure, sometimes allied with Ichi, sometimes allied with the bad guy, who's usually a ronin.”

but what makes it great is that Katsu directed this himself. And like a lot of action stars who get a chance to direct, he does a pretty good job with it. It's the traditional Zatoichi story but Katsu gives it a ton of visual flair, with busy camera work, interesting staging and framing, a fairly unique location (a beach setting), etc. He's basically dressing up the routine story, but does a good job with it.

Also, there's just enough darker twists to the routine story to make me, a long-time Zatoichi follower, pleased. I prefer Zatoichi when he's most clearly rolling around in the gutter with the scum of his society, and he's basically doing that here. Certain devices that are usually played up – the big confrontation between Ichi and ambiguous Samurai figure – are handled very briefly. Others are played around with: the whore who is redeemed is very much a whore, to be blunt about it, and her redemption, if it exists at the end, is a fragile thing at best. There's a subplot involving a teenage girl more directly trapped in a life of prostitution that suggests the limits of what Ichi can do. They also begin to back away from “Ichi as Jesus”, too: there's a suggestion here that Ichi helps all of these people basically to assuage his constant guilt, that's been an implication pretty much throughout the series but it's interesting to see it stated so directly. They get away from the sometimes sappy “lonely Zatoichi walking alone in the rain while music swells” ending, too. What we get instead is quite evocative.

Highly recommended. I think after the next one I'll take a pause and tick off the half-dozen or so Zatoichi movies I really recommend, I'll put this one on the list.

This post has been edited by Doug Bassett on Feb 5 2011, 09:11 PM
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Bob Lindstrom
Posted: Feb 6 2011, 01:24 PM


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Well, I could start a thread about "I Saw the Devil," Steve, but all the time I would spend doing it would take away from my viewing time. wink.gif Seriously, with my wife away for a month visiting her family in Malaysia, I'm getting some SERIOUS catching up done in the home theater. Double Features almost every night.

Except last night.

Watched "Bedeviled," a Korean revenge film from last year. (Will some culturally informed individual please explain to me why Korea seems to love revenge movies? Thanks in advance.) When it was over, I just didn't have the stamina to see anything else.

This is, in many ways, a Korean spin on "I Spit on Your Grave." Not too many surprises in the plot but a wealth of harrowing viewer crisis moments including "Dammit. That bastard must die!," "That's it! I'm turning this shit off! Right. Now.," "Jesus, I should have had tequila shooters instead of this Red Bull," and "OK, I'm throwing my Guinness bottle at the frickin' screen." Broad, obvious, manipulative, and infuriating -- "Bedeviled"'s tale of Country Girl Done Wrong is hitting on all exploitation cylinders.

This post has been edited by Bob Lindstrom on Feb 6 2011, 01:30 PM
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Steve Erickson
Posted: Feb 6 2011, 02:19 PM


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I'm glad that I SAW THE DEVIL will be opening commercially in New York in early March so I'll have the chance to judge for myself.
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Bob Lindstrom
Posted: Feb 8 2011, 02:53 AM


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Ouch. I watched Zhang Yimou's "A Woman, A Gun, and a Noodle Shop" this evening. It's an adaptation of the Coen Bros' "Blood Simple." I generally have liked this director's films, but for me it was a disaster. An uneasy mix of broad comedy and period noir, everything just felt labored and overdone, not to mention poorly paced. A huge disappointment because I had been highly anticipating the film. This "reimagining" seemed to have no understanding of what made the original such a brilliant thriller.
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Doug Bassett
Posted: Feb 20 2011, 05:41 PM


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SAMURAI PRINCESS (2009) – A girl gets raped, murdered, then brought back to life as a “mecha” by a crazy scientist. I'm not sure I know what that means, although it's apparently a human/robot hybrid? Am I right?

You kids today with your crazy lingo.

As with a lot of these kind of movies (MACHINE GIRL, TOKYO GORE POLICE), this is pretty whacked-out exploitation fare that makes absolutely no (as in zero, as in nada, as in zip, as in zilch) sense, but is pretty fun for all that. It's pretty gloppy and the blood and gore fly so extremely it's just pure comic book. But thou hast been warned. This is the kind of movie where everyone needs to take a shower after every scene. It moves very fast and keeps shoving stuff at the viewer, which is all you really need to make a good exploitation movie. Although surprisingly a lot of people lose the thread.

Doesn't rise to the heights of TOKYO GORE POLICE, which I thought actually managed to get Cronenbergian in it's biological, uh, “transformations”. That particular film has a real vision behind it, crazy, yeah, but a vision, and is the best movie of this type I've seen. This seems more like just a silly comic book story. On that level, fun. I'm given to understand that star Aino Kishi is an adult film star in Japan; she's quite lovely and yeah, there's a softcore sex scene that even kinda/sorta makes sense. There's also a guy who plays rock guitar. Dude!
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Marty McKee
Posted: Mar 4 2011, 11:41 PM


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THUNDER OF GIGANTIC SERPENT (1988)—Directed by Godfrey Ho. This ridiculous Hong Kong movie may have been assembled as early as 1980, but wasn’t wheeled out on home video until later in the decade, when video stores were starving for product to fill their shelves. Like many of the Ho abominations made during the 1980s, THUNDER OF GIGANTIC SERPENT appears to be two unrelated features spliced together in desperate hopes of creating a loose plot that hangs creakily together for 86 minutes.

A megalomaniacal terrorist named Solomon who laughs like a cartoon villain sends his machine-gunning goons to a lab, so they can steal a formula that can increase the size of plants and animals by 300 times. It doesn’t look like a formula to me—just a Plexiglas fish tank that zaps its inhabitant with electricity. All of the scientists and the soldiers protecting them are killed, except for one female lab assistant who fakes her own death by jumping out of a car just before it explodes. She tosses the tank off the side of the road, where it’s found by a little girl named Tingting. She puts her pet snake Mozlat (?) inside of it and—ZAP!—a bigass snake (aka Gigantic Serpent) starts roaming around and destroying property Godzilla-style.

Even when Mozlat is small, it’s played by a rubber snake with a string around it that allows it to nod its head to answer Tingting’s questions. The larger the serpent gets, the more hilariously fake it looks, leading to some truly bizarre stuff. When Tingting is losing a race against two male friends down a grassy hill in a contest involving skis wrapped with tank treads (?), Mozlet, hiding behind a hill, snaps its tail to give her an extra push that helps her win the race.

Oh, yeah, some superagent named Ted Fast, who works alone (“He must be pretty good then. Kill him.”), comes looking for the formula too, which makes him a target of Solomon’s goons, who chase him around, shooting at him. The parallel plots never really intersect, except occasionally through dubbing, so Ho cuts back and forth between Ted Fast laying some Lanky White Guy Fu moves on Solomon’s boys and the titular serpent, which grows so large that not even a laser-shooting Cessna (!) can stop it, smashing bridges and blowing up buildings.

I don’t know why Ho went to the (very small) expense of shooting the Ted Fast/Solomon storyline, because the rest of the film probably would have held together on its own. I’m glad he did, because more bonkers dialogue and karate fights are always a good thing.


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Kim Greene
Posted: Mar 6 2011, 09:12 PM


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THE CHASER (2008)---I've been wanting to see this Korean crime thriller ever since I saw the trailer on YouTube some months ago. Since it never to have gotten a release here in the U.S., and it wasn't on YouTube to watch, I figured the only way I'd see it would be to order a DVD of it, which I'm still waiting on.

Then I'm looking in last week's issue of the Metro Times, and to my surprise THE CHASER was going to be this weekend's main feature at the Burton Theatre along with an anime callled EVANGELION 2.0. Naturally, I was geeked up about that, and asked a colleague of mine who likes out-of-the-way films if he wanted to see it. We both wound up there on time for a change to see the film and nothing but the whole film.

The plot concerns a shady disgraced excop/detective-turned-pimp named Jung-ho (Kim Yun-Seok,who brings a genuine streetwise world-weariness to his role) who's finding it hard to run his business since 2 of his escorts vanished, so things aren't looking good. It's not until after he sends his remaining employee Min-Jin (Seo Yeong-Hie) off on a job that Jung realizes his 2 former employees were sent to a place with the same phone number he sent her to. His detective skills kick in and he ends up having to do some serious investigating, especially after Min-jin quickly becomes the latest escort to turn up missing.

It turns out that Min-jin has in fact, become a hostage of a crazed psychotic killer, and once Jung-ho figures that out, he embarks on a desperate search for her, made even more difficult by the fact that he still doesn't know where the hell she is. When he does finally find the killer, things get even more complicated, and it becomes a race against time to try and prove the killer's guilt as well as finding Min-jin. The film itself is dark, gritty and with a completely downbeat ending that's definitely not going to be in the rumored Hollywood remake of this. I enjoyed it somewhat, since I love police thrillers, but it does have a lot of gruesome and disturbing gore scenes not for the fainthearted. It was a huge box office hit in Korea, despite all that. This was the debut film of director/co-writer Hong Jin-Na, who currently has out a drama titled THE YELLOW SEA featuring the stars of THE CHASER.

This post has been edited by Kim Greene on Mar 6 2011, 09:16 PM
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Kim Greene
Posted: Mar 6 2011, 09:54 PM


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Also just rented out and saw THE GOOD,THE BAD, AND THE WEIRD (2008) A Korean take on the American Western by the director of A TALE OF TWO SISTERS & A BITTERSWEET LIFE (Kim Jee-Won). It's funny as hell, it's exciting as hell, so if you like Westerns and want to see one with an Asian twist, you most definitely have to see this one----it's action-packed to the tilt with incredible stunts and it kicks ass, most def!
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Doug Bassett
Posted: Apr 2 2011, 08:32 AM


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MAP OF THE SOUNDS OF TOKYO (2009) – Actually a “Japanese Language” movie more than a “Japanese” movie, if I'm following this all right it's a European production set in Japan with a mostly Japanese cast and mostly in the Japanese language. Though there's this Spanish guy selling wine, too. Anyway, a tiresome compendium of modern cliches – city life is lonely and atomizing, sex as liberation, tough girls and the namby-pamby men who wait on them, etc., interesting only in that if you thought that, say, James Cameron was the main force in overemphasizing the visuals over story concerns, well, here's the arthouse equivalent, it's visually pretty amazing to look at but hollow for a'that. With some fairly explicit sex scenes, I won't say I objected because I, ah, didn't, but it certainly doesn't save this silly flick.

HARD REVENGE MILLY (2008) and HARD REVENGE MILLY: BLOODY BATTLE (2009) – I suppose you could class these (roughly) in the same pile as some of the other comic-booky movies Japan seems to turn out nowadays (MACHINE GIRL, TOKYO GORE POLICE, SAMURAI PRINCESS), but MILLY has a different tone, the first one in particular is an admirably lean and direct revenge tale (clocking in at 45 minutes!), as spare as a folk tale people tell each other on long winter evenings. Did you hear the one about the woman who's family was killed and she was left for dead? Well, they should've killed her, because she came back.... The obvious influence here is KILL BILL VOLUME ONE, these two movies are really probably best thought of as a simpler retelling of the Kill Bill saga, but with all that weird mecha stuff thrown in. And explicit gore effects. And less self-conscious nods to other movies. Except KILL BILL VOL ONE itself, of course.

The second one tries to actually flesh this out as more of a story, I'm not sure that was really wise, this whole thing works best as iconography and really 45 minutes is about the perfect length for something like this. Not that the sequel's bad, just not as good as the first one. Some MATRIX and MAD MAX influences in here, as well. I didn't find our heroine all that convincing in the action sequences, she seemed to me to actually be setting her jaw muscles every time she swung a sword (like she can't really believe she's actually doing this), but she is charismatic in the quieter scenes, and as these sorts of things go she's not too bad.

9 SOULS (2003) – Rather overlooked arthouse flick. Nine prisoners escape, try to find a cache of money, when things go wrong there they just try to find their happiness as best as they can. Starts out very absurdist, as it goes on becomes increasing dramatic and somber, until at the end it's fairly bleak. I suppose the point is something like “the importance of spiritual concerns over material ones”, these men have left their physical prison but are still chained by their former choices, ie haven't really escaped at all. (Well, a few sorta kinda do, I'll leave it at that.) Movie is very good at identifying the humanity in men who frankly are monsters – it manages to do this without ever letting us forget who they really are and what they did, a nice touch. The early humor is very funny, and it very nicely sets up the sadder scenes, this is a very well put together film. Only real fault is that we're probably three souls too many here: some of them stick in the mind more than others and you probably could've gotten away with 6 SOULS, Mr. Movie Director. Anyway, hunt it down. With one of the classic opening title sequences of the decade, and no, I'm not kidding about that.

LUPIN THE 3RD: THE CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO (1979) – I don't really know much about anime, but as part of my Japan-watching project it was obviously a genre I was going to have to explore. I picked this partly because Netflix had it streaming, partly because I've read some of the Lupin stories (by Maurice LeBlanc) and like them very much. Like apparently a lot of Frenchmen, I much prefer Arsene Lupin to Sherlock Holmes.

I'm generally aware that there's a whole series of Lupin adventures popular in Japan, and I may check them out at some point, as I really liked this. There actually is a LeBlanc story called The Countess Cagliostro, I don't know how faithful (if at all) this movie is to that, but Miyazaki really did capture here a lot of what makes the Lupin stories so special. I read somewhere that this is a less over-the-top Lupin than you find in other Japanese movies, but this is pretty close to the Lupin of the stories: basically a romantic thief who does “bad” usually in the way of doing good. There's a lot of chivalry, damsels in distress, ancient secrets, ancient evil plots, disguises, swashbuckling, etc. Great stuff. For somebody new to the Japanese Lupin the idea of, er, a Japanese Lupin does take some getting used to (they manage to throw in a samurai and kind-of ninjas, too), but strongly recommended. The kind of movie Hollywood should really try to remake, if they must remake things. Let's put all that CGI to good use for once, eh?
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Brian Camp
Posted: Apr 3 2011, 06:38 AM


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I covered the entire Lupin series in my book. CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO was the only Lupin movie directed by Miyazaki, but he did direct two episodes of the TV series around the same time, both of which are worth catching. They were released on VHS many years ago under the title, "Lupin III's Greatest Capers," but that tape is probably out of print by now.

Other Lupin movies I'd recommend:

THE FUMA CONSPIRACY (1987) - which involves the wedding of Lupin's samurai sidekick Goemon, but set against a backdrop of warfare between two rival clans in a remote mountainous region of Japan.

FAREWELL TO NOSTRADAMUS (1995), which is set in Atlanta and involves the search for Nostradamus' original book of predictions in a well-guarded 200-story skyscraper.

DRAGON OF DOOM, aka ZANTETSU SWORD IS ON FIRE (1994), which includes a trip by Lupin to the wreck of the Titanic!

This post has been edited by Brian Camp on Apr 3 2011, 07:00 AM


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Doug Bassett
Posted: Apr 3 2011, 08:10 AM


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Thanks, Mr. Camp! Added them to my Netflix queue, although right now only FUMA looks to be "available".

The world of Netflix availability is passing strange.
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Brian Camp
Posted: Apr 5 2011, 06:45 AM


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QUOTE (Doug Bassett @ Apr 3 2011, 08:10 AM)
Thanks, Mr. Camp! Added them to my Netflix queue, although right now only FUMA looks to be "available".

The world of Netflix availability is passing strange.

I remembered two more Lupin movies I'd recommend:

DEAD OR ALIVE (1996)
ISLAND OF ASSASSINS (1997)

Some of the movies are actually TV specials. But they're all standalone pieces.


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Brian Camp
Posted: Apr 16 2011, 08:08 AM


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FLOATING CLOUDS (1955/Japan/onscreen title: “A FLOATING CLOUD”)
Dir.: Mikio Naruse.
Stars: Hideko Takamine, Masayuki Mori, Mariko Okada, Daisuke Kato.

I saw this at the Film Forum last night, the only film I’ve managed to see so far in the Japanese Divas series. It’s the third Naruse film I’ve seen since last September. All three star Hideko Takamine, who died on Dec. 28, 2010.

This one was a lot more demanding than both WHEN A WOMAN ASCENDS THE STAIRS (1960) and YEARNING (1964). Both of those were more satisfying, but they were also much easier. The central character played by Takamine in both remained admirable in the face of various obstacles. Here the character, named Yukiko, faces worse obstacles in the immediate aftermath of WWII, but complicates things by making repeated questionable and even bad decisions. The worst is her continued attachment to her married lover, Tomioka (Masayuki Mori), whom she’d served with in Indochina during the war (seen in flashbacks). She goes to Tokyo after repatriation in the hopes that he meant what he said when he promised to divorce his wife and marry her. Instead he continually disappoints and betrays her. At one point, the two stay at a resort for the New Year’s holiday and Tomioka has a fling with the owner’s very young wife. Yukiko breaks off with him from time to time and says “I despise you” at one point and calls him a “monster” at another. But she always goes back to him.

Yukiko makes it hard for us to care about her, but Takamine’s way of alternating seeming strength and pitiable vulnerability keeps us on board throughout. She keeps hoping things will turn out the way she wants, esp. after Tomioka’s wife dies. But they never do. Still, that smile she wears in her more hopeful moments makes us root for her and love her. One of her better decisions is to take an American G.I. as a lover during his stay in the country, glimpsed briefly in two scenes. (He speaks halting Japanese.) Interestingly, he’s the only man she has anything nice to say about and the only one she greets with casual, unguarded affection. It’s a sad, tragic, difficult film and I don’t believe I’ve ever seen another one like it. A major classic of Japanese cinema.

The three other major cast members are all people I’ve seen recently in other films. The resort owner is played by Daisuke Kato and his young wife is played by Mariko Okada. Both were in the SAMURAI TRILOGY. Yukiko’s duplicitous brother-in-law, Iba, is played by Isao Yamagata, who played the hapless husband in GATE OF HELL. (In America, Iba wouldn't be considered Yukiko's brother-in-law. Her sister was married to his brother. Here we don’t call our sister’s husband’s brother a “brother-in-law.”)

I don’t get the discrepancy between the title this film is known by (plural) and the onscreen title (singular). There's a big difference. The Japanese title (per IMDB) is UKIGUMO.

I had planned to take vacation days just so I could attend more films in the Japanese Divas series. But an ailment that left me sidelined for 11 days, starting at the end of March, prevented that from happening, so I missed some key films already. I have a number of the films being screened on tape or disc, so it looks like I’ll have to watch them that way. I find the Film Forum to be such a small, cramped, uncomfortable theater that I’d rather watch what I can at home anyway. (The revivals are always shown in Theater 3, never in the bigger, marginally more comfortable Theater 1.)

This post has been edited by Brian Camp on Apr 16 2011, 08:17 AM


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Kim Greene
Posted: Apr 25 2011, 10:53 PM


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Hey, check this out---a former cast member of THE WIRE not only gets his first significant role in a new Bollywood film titled APNE---he had to do some heavy-duty training to play a boxer to fight both Deol brothers in the film (Bobby and Sunny) and even gets props from their pop Dharmendra! He has some interesting things to say about working in Bollywood and the differences in how U.S. & Bollywood flims are made:

http://www.racialicious.com/2011/04/25/jon...culturelicious/

This post has been edited by Kim Greene on Apr 25 2011, 10:54 PM
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Lenny Moore
Posted: Apr 26 2011, 09:34 PM


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Good article, Kim. Thanks.
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