East Asian Cinema series presents superb, iconic films
By Diane Carson
Too seldom East Asian films are not available for viewing on a big screen with excellent sound. A spring long, Tuesday evening series at Webster University is, therefore, a treat of monumental proportions, especially because the films are iconic treasures. First up, January 23, co-writer/director Yasujiro Ozu’s 1949 “Late Spring” immerses the viewer in Japanese life.
“Late Spring” is characteristic of the Japanese cinematic genre known as “shomin-geki,” stories focus on ordinary, middle-class people post-WWII. In this engrossing narrative, twenty-seven-year-old, unmarried Noriko cares for her widowed father while disparaging her father’s widower friend’s remarriage. Intent on remaining single, Noriko resists entreaties for her to marry, even when repeatedly encouraged to embrace a new life—all this post-war metaphoric advice. With his delicate touch and elegant, understated style, Ozu invites a restrained emotional response to poignant, loving relationships.
January 30, Japanese director Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1953 “Ugetsu” tackles the intriguing world of Japan’s civil war period, 1568 to 1600. In a rural setting, Genjūrō initiates the complex plot by deciding to sell his pottery in a more lucrative market, accompanied by his samurai-wannabe brother-in-law. Threats of upheaval, reports of attacks, murders, and ghosts propel a fantastical story composed, as Mizoguchi desired, like a scroll painting unfolding. Interpreted by music characteristic of Kabuki theater, “Ugetsu” is ranked among the most perfect of all Japanese movies.
The next Tuesday, February 3, one of my most admired, cherished films screens, Akira Kursosawa’s masterpiece, “Seven Samurai,” shown in its complete, magnificent three-and-a-half hours with nary an unimportant, wasted second. The story revolves around a farming village with peasants sick of being raided each fall by rogue bandits. Unable to defend themselves, they hire seven samurai (actually six and one hopeful) to protect them and preserve their harvest. The journey to the village, events with the farmers, multiple encounters, and the final confrontation with the bandits are all beautifully composed, brilliantly edited, and suffused with the values and behavioral choices of great and tragic circumstances. Kurosawa wanted to make a period piece, a “jidai-geki” as they are known in Japan. What he made in 1954 was one of the best films ever conceived and shot in the history of world cinema.
All the East Asian films have English subtitles and screen at Webster University’s Winifred Moore auditorium on Tuesday evenings only. For dates and times, you may visit the film series website.