Harakiri is part of "my canon," a totally arbitrary and subjective list of my 100 favorite movies. For reviews of other movies on this list, look for the Top 100 category on the right sidebar.
Edo, 1630: in the city that will become Tokyo, only three decades into the Tokugawa shogunate’s 250-year reign of Japan, a ronin appears at the House of Iyi. Disheveled, dour, compelled by a grim resolve, the ronin, Tsugumo Hanshiro (Tatsuya Nakadai), requests the use of the clan’s forecourt to commit harakiri, or ritual suicide by disembowelment. Though harakiri (or seppuku, to use its formal Japanese name) was perceived as an honorable action by samurai who had lost their masters and were forced to roam Japan during peacetime, there seems to be an ulterior motive in Hanshiro’s request; he speaks with the stoic dignity that defines the bushido code of honor, but his piercing glare simmers with rage. So begins one of the finest samurai films ever made: Harakiri (1962), a haunting, bitter allegory by Masaki Kobayashi that reflects Japan’s postwar “economic miracle” as much as it does the movie’s 17th-century feudal setting.
Pom Poko is part of "my canon," a totally arbitrary and subjective list of my 100 favorite movies. For reviews of other movies on this list, look for the Top 100 category on the right sidebar.
It’s hard to think of a more ceaselessly inventive, invigorating, lovely, and complex film than Pom Poko, Isao Takahata’s 1994 gem released by Studio Ghibli. That this masterwork comes in the form of a narrative about a gang of shapeshifting raccoons who rise up against the human developers that threaten to demolish their land makes the movie’s success even more astounding: silly on the surface but complicated at heart, Pom Poko is a seemingly inexhaustible nugget of riches and delights, visual and otherwise.
Though the Japanese director Sion Sono has released 30 features to date (with four more in the can already), I have to admit I have only seen one: 2008’s Love Exposure, a four-hour mindfuck involving upskirt photography, religious cults, kidnapping, crucifixion, and other perversions. It also happens to be one of the best movies of the 21st century, a jam-packed blitzkrieg on how faith, sex, love, and media intersect in the modern age. Needless to say, I was eager to see Sono’s Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, a bloodstained ode to cinema that has been bouncing around film festivals’ midnight programs for the last year and a half. While it doesn't have the same audacious insanity of Love Exposure (what does?), his latest offering is a deliriously entertaining movie about the allure of movies: perpetually cranked up to 11, reveling in its own outrageousness, Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is the perfect film for those who think Tarantino is too mild-mannered.
Most horror-movie monsters are unleashed from somewhere deep within our collective id—the repressed fears which linger in “the dark, inaccessible part of our personality,” as Freud described it. We’re taught early in life that ghosts, vampires, and demons don’t really exist, but horror movies lure such terrors out into the open, agonizing the audience with a horrifying “what if…?” The one and only Godzilla, on the other hand—progenitor of all kaiju beasties and a pervasive influence on Spielberg, George Lucas, Guillermo del Toro, et al.—is frightening and poignant because it represents the disturbingly real. A manifestation of nuclear holocaust and a warning against the self-destruction that humans can wage, Godzilla remains shocking in how boldly it visualizes Japan’s recent war trauma: less than a decade after Hiroshima and Nagasaki became the first cities to suffer a nuclear attack, Japanese audiences were ravaged by a beast awakened by atomic testing. The sins of humanity repeat themselves perpetually.