Friday, May 25, 2007

Yoshiko Kuga

This is a photograph of the divine Yoshiko Kuga, taken by Shotaro Akiyama. Ms. Kuga is noteworthy for having appeared in films by all three of The Big Three. I recently enjoyed her performances in The Idiot (1951, Akira Kurosawa), New Tales of the Taira Clan (1955, Kenji Mizoguchi) and Good Morning (1959, Yasujiro Ozu). Her striking beauty and natural talent make her memorable in any part, large or small. Even in the Mizoguchi film, where her lines are few and the camera never gets closer than a two-shot, her poised grace and strong, feminine presence create a fully three-dimensional character.

She was married to actor Akihiko Hirata, himself a Japanese film veteran who starred in kaiju eiga (Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan) as well as samurai films (Musashi Miyamoto II, Samurai Saga, Sanjuro), until his untimely death in 1984. Hirata and Kuga both appeared in Hiroshi Inagaki's Whirlwind (1964) and Samurai Banners (1969).

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Capsule Reviews from SFIFF

Here's the piece I wrote on the 50th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival for the Asian Reporter:

SFIFF shows vitality, variety of Asian film

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Ceiling at Utsunomiya

If you're into Japanese horror, or if you've read Asia Shock (or, hopefully, both), you may have an awareness of Nobuo Nakagawa, Japan's first master of horror (Jigoku, Ghost of Yotsuya, Mansion of the Ghost Cat). I recently enjoyed one of his lesser-known films, The Ceiling at Utsunomiya (1956), a supernatural samurai film that stands as perhaps the first serious entry in Nakagawa's 50's horror ouvre. Great flick, with lots of sword work, plenty of engaging characters, a plot to assassinate the shogun, a bit of foul murder, a vengeful ghost, and the inevitable Tetsuro Tamba. You can get a copy at Super Happy Fun (along with a bunch of other great Nakagawa films).

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

50th Annual SFIFF

I could only stay for the first week of the San Francisco International Film Festival, but I was determined to see as many Asian films as possible. Here are the films I saw:

Ad Lib Night
After This Our Exile
Ghost Train
The Heavenly Kings
The Old Garden
Pather Panjali
Singapore Dreaming
Stories from the North

I encourage you to follow the links above and check out the trailers. Most of these films were fantastic, a few fairly snoozable. I wrote a piece for the Portland-based Asian Reporter, showcasing what I felt were the standout films. I'll put a link here once that article is online. (BTW, I also caught All in This Tea, a likable Les Blank doc about Chinese tea, and Black Sheep, kind of a remake of Peter Jackson's Dead Alive, only with sheep.)

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Ghost Train

I'm currently attending the 50th Annual San Francisco International Film Festival, seeing a lot of Asian films, and since this blog is called Asia Shock, I really must say a few words about Ghost Train. The film was directed by Takeshi Furusawa, former assistant director to existential horror auteur Kiyoshi Kurosawa. This innovative shocker concerning a haunted subway station in Tokyo and the vortex of evil that lies down one of its connecting tunnels, utilizes a combination of unnerving sound design, memorable facial prosthetics, and a subtle yet definite (for those hip to such things) H.P. Lovecraft influence. The cumulative effect is one of amped-up J-horror that pushes the fright factor to the next level. Released in 2006, Ghost Train is already available on DVD in Asia; since ADV Films is releasing it to the SFIFF, a domestic ADV DVD release should follow soon. Don't miss it!