Two men and a tot make a half-decent film

Oct 15, 2014

Two men and a tot make a half-decent film

by Mark Schilling

When indie directors take a more commercial turn, the usual explanation is the bigger paycheck, but it’s not always so simple. Yuya Ishii’s shift from the raucous films of his early career to the more genteel, mainstream 2013 film “Fune wo Amu (The Great ...

Harmonic slips in time, identity and language

Oct 8, 2014

Harmonic slips in time, identity and language

by Mark Schilling

World War II-themed films by elderly Japanese directors with direct experience of the war are not only becoming scarcer, but are also distinctly different from those of younger filmmakers trying to appeal to a mass audience. Kazuo Kuroki’s 2006 film “Kamiya Etsuko no Seishun ...

Death-row samurai spills ink, not blood

Oct 1, 2014

Death-row samurai spills ink, not blood

by Mark Schilling

Why have samurai movies become so middle-aged and sedate? Starting in the silent days and continuing through their 1950s peak, period films with top-knotted heroes typically featured a big one-against-many finale with flashing swords and the occasional firearm. Especially in the early days, both ...

'My Fair Lady' wrapped in a geisha's kimono

Sep 17, 2014

'My Fair Lady' wrapped in a geisha's kimono

by Mark Schilling

The musical used to be among the rarest of Japanese film genres. Plenty of films here — going back to the early talkies — featured singing and dancing, but Broadway-style musicals, which integrate the songs into the story, never really caught on. Is a ...

A quarter century of Japanese films in review

Sep 3, 2014

A quarter century of Japanese films in review

by Mark Schilling

In 25 years of reviewing Japanese films and interviewing Japanese filmmakers for this newspaper, I’ve written 1 million words, give or take a few. This is clearly something no normal person would do, but for me it beats working. The idea that writing about ...

Bloody hip-hop war set in technicolored Tokyo

Aug 27, 2014

Bloody hip-hop war set in technicolored Tokyo

by Mark Schilling

A Japanese hip-hop musical? How about a samurai swashbuckler set on the streets of Compton, California? But Sion Sono makes his new film, “Tokyo Tribe,” more than an oddity of cultural appropriation. Truth be told, I felt queasy as the story, based on a ...

Lost in a dingy maze of booze, sex and crime

Jul 30, 2014

Lost in a dingy maze of booze, sex and crime

by Mark Schilling

Golden-gai, a warren of tiny bars near Shinjuku’s Kabukicho entertainment district, has long been a refuge for writers, musicians, filmmakers and other artistic types, who congregate at drinking establishments with like-minded patrons. The area also has a seedier, less reputable side, which is graphically ...

R-18 to G: Are pink films losing their potency?

Jul 30, 2014

R-18 to G: Are pink films losing their potency?

by Mark Schilling

Yuji Tajiri and Shinji Imaoka were two of the “Seven Lucky Gods of Pink” — a group of young pinku eiga (erotic film) directors who were hailed as the genre’s hope after they rose to prominence in the 1990s and early 2000s. That hope ...

Love beyond the realms of erotic cinema

Jul 23, 2014

Love beyond the realms of erotic cinema

by Mark Schilling

The varieties of love are many: From the chaste and platonic, to the sexually uninhibited and emotionally obsessed. In a long career as a pinku eiga (pink film) director Yuji Tajiri has concentrated on the latter end of the scale, but in his latest ...

Reflections on the dark side of a tropical island

Jul 16, 2014

Reflections on the dark side of a tropical island

by Mark Schilling

Naomi Kawase was once Japan’s best-known female director abroad; now she is one of its most internationally prominent directors, regardless of gender. This change is largely due to her long association with the Cannes film festival, where her first fiction feature, “Moe no Suzaku ...

Godfather of J-horror escapes from genre's grip

May 28, 2014

Godfather of J-horror escapes from genre's grip

by Mark Schilling

Hideo Nakata could be called the godfather of contemporary Japanese horror, but he would probably hate the label. Regardless, this 52-year-old director of such genre classics as “Ring,” “Ring 2″ and “Honogurai Mizu no Soko kara (Dark Water)” has made J-horror — a combination ...