Tuesday, May 31, 2005

What the GOP has done to destroy America, according the the most popular liberal blog

I’m not sure why I leave Daily Kos on the sidebar of this site…lack of quality standards, I guess. But the following post is an indicator of his silliness (though this particular post is moderate by his standards). Notice how many times he lists “Destroy Social Security” on his list of what the GOP has done with its mandate. Question: what has anyone done to social security this session that has destroyed it? Answer, no action at all has been taken on it. However, I guess bringing up possible reformation of Social Security for debate is equal to destroying it so far as Kos is concerned.

To further nitpick on his misguided rage:

The GOP led House passed the expansion of government funded stem cell research. If Bush is going to veto that measure, then he still isn’t preventing stem cell research, just preventing the expansion of government funding for embryonic stem cell research. It seems that the slightest complexity to Bush’s policies confuses Kos, no end. No doubt he would have been hopelessly lost in the vortex of Kerry’s nuanced spin (assuming there was a center to Kerry's rhetoric).

The GOP tried to interfere in the Schiavo case, but the courts ignored them. No meddling actually took place and Schiavo was starved to death, so Kos should be satisfied.

“Violate Senate rules to destroy historical protections for minority rights” – hmm, maybe I don’t know what he’s referring to, but the GOP did nothing (so far) with the filibuster stand off.

"Change ethics rules so DeLay can be as corrupt as he wants." And what changes were made to the Ethics Committee? The GOP gave in there, too. Besides, the way Kos has talked about DeLay, wouldn't he believe that DeLay would want to be far more corrupt than the law would ever allow?

Finally, where is Kos comprehension of what separation of powers actually means? He doesn’t seem to have a clue - which, judging by his rhetoric.

If Kos believes that the DNC is headed for majority status in 2006, then so be it. I guess it will take multiple pricks to bust his reality bubble.

All the manure that the GTMO detainees have been spreading

has generated a stench that is attracting lawyers, who are landing on the base as if it were a giant potato salad.

Krauthammer has a good column on "certainty"

Monday, May 30, 2005

Michael Barone ponders over Bush and N. Korea

Ronald Reagan and the spread of democracy in Asia

America, a Symbol of . . .

"Locking people up without explaining why, and without giving them a chance to prove their innocence, seems a peculiar way to advance the cause of freedom in the world."

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Japan-Austrailia-U.S.

feel the love.

Tom Friedman is back to being squishy

In an open letter of sorts to the President, Friedman says we should shut down Guantanamo because it’s an embarrassment and it’s hurting us:

I am convinced that more Americans are dying and will die if we keep the Gitmo
prison open than if we shut it down. So, please, Mr. President, just shut it
down.
I’m not sure how he comes to the conclusion that more Americans are dying. Has he done an accurate cost/benefit assessment between the negative perception of the abuse allegations and the intelligence we have been able to get? It’s doubtful. Friedman seems more worried about our reputation:

If you want to appreciate how corrosive Guantánamo has become for America's
standing abroad, don't read the Arab press. Don't read the Pakistani press.
Don't read the Afghan press. Hop over here to London or go online and just read
the British press! See what our closest allies are saying about Gitmo. And when
you get done with that, read the Australian press and the Canadian press and the
German press.
Don’t forget the NY Times, Tom.

Google the words "Guantánamo Bay and Australia" and what comes up is an Australian ABC radio report that begins: "New claims have emerged that prisoners at Guantánamo Bay are being tortured by their American captors, and the claims say that Australians David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib are among the victims."
Sure, and Google the word Halliburton and you’ll get a smorgasbord of Mother Jones grade vitriol about corruption and conspiracy. Should we quit using Halliburton to do valuable work for us because of mostly baseless allegations?

Friedman says that Guantánamo is serving as a recruitment tool for the terrorists, and he’s certainly right, but as we’ve seen with the Koran flushing story, anything will be used as a recruitment tool against us, whether its truth or fiction, major or minute. In that sense, the only way to take away those recruitment talking points is to withdraw from the war on terror completely – but then the terrorists would be flushed with victory and emboldened to take even more aggressive action everywhere, including the U.S. Also, showing such weakness would provide a recruitment tool more valuable than all that negative press rolled together. No, better to let them scream jihad as much as they want while we keep methodically plowing away at the al Qaeda leadership and keep rebuilding Iraq.
Why care? It's not because I am queasy about the war on terrorism. It is because
I want to win the war on terrorism.
I’m sure he does want to win the war, but war is a nasty business and I’m afraid he is quite queasy to that fact. Surely perception is as major element in this war, and if the U.S. is perceived as resolute despite shrill cries of prisoner abuse, shrieks of jihad and car bombs, it will completely go against what the terrorists are trying to do.

Boy howdy, China's going to blow a gasket when they catch wind of this

There's been some rumors that a pair of ex WWII Japanese soldiers may still be in the southern Phillippines. What's bound to anger the People's Government is that Japan sent an official from the Health Ministry, which keeps records of soldiers from that era, to investigate. This is just further proof to China's charge that Japan is so audacious it actually cares for its veterans, dead, living or missing. What a slap in the face.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Suzuki

The Pampers are in the diaper genie and the empties in the recycle bin - eight films total watched (oddly enough, none with a Quentin Tarantino introduction)…in short, my Seijun Suzuki marathon is over. I recalled seeing Tokyo Drifter and another Suzuki film years ago, and, for the most part, I was nonplused. The assessment at that time: all style, no substance. So I was not expecting terribly much from of these films except that they might be fun, if ultimately hollow. Yet, I wanted to dive into the yakuza films of the 60s and 70s, and Suzuki is the big name. The line-up:

Underworld Beauty (1958)
Youth of the Beast (1963)
Kanto Wanderer (1963)
Tattooed Life (1965)
Tokyo Drifter (1966)
Fighting Elegy (1966)
Branded to Kill (1967)
Pistol Opera (2001)

With the exception of Tattooed Life, the earlier films tended to be better than the subsequent movies in an almost linear fashion, though each film was briskly paced and entertaining up until Pistol Opera. The story lines fell into one or two of the following categories: 1) an ex-con gets out of jail and has a score to settle before there’s redemption (funny how serving a jail sentence never settles anything in a movie); 2) a yakuza hit man tries to go straight but his past won’t let him (plot 27A, make it glossy….not much for the message boys); 3) hit men compete for the number one spot (who’s the best hit man you ever saw?); 4) the main character tries to do right unto his a) ex-partner or b) younger brother. Mix and match these, shake and bake, serve over rice and you’ve got the gist of the each movie.

Yet, despite this environmentally friendly recycling, Suzuki displays an admirably wide range. He is an inventive and playful director. Here’s a period piece, over there is a starkly shot black and white feature, and just beyond that is a vibrantly colorful film and in between is a mixture of both. He’s not afraid to make awkward cuts or unconventional time lapses, and he tends to be a wise guy with the double exposure. If I was nonplused before, I was very much plused this time around, even with a soiled diaper.

Underworld Beauty is straight noir and is considered to be before Suzuki hit his stride. Though it isn’t quite as stylistically thick as his later efforts, it is a solid movie and it’s hard think Suzuki wasn’t already hitting on all cylinders. I’m guessing that his studio was not yet offering him free reign by 1958 and Underworld Beauty is thus tempered. To me, this film is evidence that some restrictions on artistic freedom can actually benefit the final product. Underworld Beauty draws from the noir well and is a pure representation of the genre. Storylines 1 & 4 are used.

Youth of the Beast is Suzuki’s first collaboration with Jo Shoshido, a popular actor with remarkably big jawbones. I’m thinking this movie launched his popularity and he did countless other Suzuki pictures. By 1963, Suzuki’s style was pretty well defined and this film sports some impressive set designs that approach a James Bond level originality, if not budget. Look for storyline 4.

Kanto Wanderer chronicles the rivalry between two yakuza families who deal in gambling and the slave trade. The latter element is unnerving because the film treats the sex trade amorally and we witness the ruin of a pretty young and innocent girl without any narrative remorse. However, the movie as a whole is no downer.

Tattooed Life impressed me a great deal and is somewhat of a departure for Suzuki being set in the 20’s and in a village instead of Tokyo, though it’s still about the yakuza world (thus the title). Storylines 2 and 4 are in evidence here. Suzuki wisely resists over stylizing the period, but has enough details to make the feeling of the movie authentic. If Japanese textbooks shy away from Japan’s imperialist past, its art does not, as this movie proves with various allusions to Manchuria and the grand Japanese liberation of Asia. But this is hardly the focus of the picture, its merely some texture and the film deals more with yakuza rivalries than Japanese nationalism. This picture also has the hottest kimono clad girls in it as well (what a Hawks girl is doing behind the bar of the Sea of Japan, I don’t know).

Tokyo Drifter turned out to be better than what I had remembered. Though it is not as tight as the previous films, it’s repeating title song (still stuck in my head) helped maintain a common thread. By this time, Suzuki’s stylistic flourishes had taken over and outstripped his stories and the movies have less depth as a result. Still, the sets are good, the location shots are rich and the pace is fast enough to keep everything interesting. There are two main characters in Tokyo Drifter…the drifter and his fabulously baby blue suit! Storyline 2.

I’m at a loss to say anything about Fighting Elegy. It’s more story driven than Tokyo Drifter before it or Branded to Kill after it, and it doesn’t fit neatly into the Suzuki repertoire. It’s about a teenager in the 30s caught between his love for a girl and the fighting “code” he’s committed himself to. There’s some awkwardness in that all the high school aged kids are Suzuki regulars and look closer to their mid 30’s than they do to adolescence. I must admit that I watched most of the movie with my head cocked like a puppy trying to make sense of it all (something about the masturbation humor wasn’t quite clicking for me). Storyline 3 is used loosely (young man trying to prove himself).

Branded to Kill continues the evolution of Suzuki from evenly balance story teller to over-stylized director. Whereas certain elements in Tokyo Drifter made that movie cohesive, this film was pretty scattered using storyline 3. Shishido is back in this one as an ace killer that likes the smell of rice a little too much (really). Will he become the #1 killer? Will it matter? Not really. There’s enough in the movie to make it interesting, but that doesn’t include the story itself. The spirit of the film reminded me of Tarantino in that it is often clever, but when you boil it all down it is reduced to mere vapors. Also of note were a few specific instances that Jim Jarmusch lifted and used in Ghost Dog, namely, a butterfly thwarting an assassination attempt (I think it was a bird in Ghost Dog) and a scene where Jo Shishido shoots a man through a sink drain. This film is also generous with the nudity. Incidentally, something about this movie and Tokyo Drifter made the Japanese film industry blackball Suzuki for about ten years or so – though I’m sketchy on the details.

Jump to 2001 with Pistol Opera – actually, you jump ahead, I'll hang out in the mid sixties for awhile more. Pistol Opera.....great title, nice credit sequence, but the rest of it was a mess. It’s a sorta loose remake of Branded to Kill, but it’s longer and lacks virtually anything interesting. The film is boldly colorful at points, yet the direction is so contrived that it is awkward and almost unwatchable. What little story exists (storyline 3) is hare-brained at best and makes little sense when scrutinized. As adventurous as Suzuki is through all of his movies, he’s generally straightforward in his narrative, but this movie jumps around so much and holds some scenes to the point where I, the viewer, felt like I was being jerked around. Strangely enough, this film was shot in 4:3 ratio (it may have been made for television, though I’m not sure). I'm simply at a loss at what Suzuki was thinking. But who knows, I may think this film was worthless now, but bury it for a few thousand years and it will become priceless.

All in all I was overjoyed with these movies and I'm glad that I took the time to get to know Suzuki a little better. Of course, what I covered was only a fraction of his body of work.

Next on the agenda, other yakuza films, including: Afraid to Die (staring the famously dead novelist, Yukio Mishima), Blind Beast, Blackmail Is My Life, Street Mobster, Black Tight Killers and Bloody Territories. Down the pike is a mysterious 6 DVD set called the Yakuza Papers. Will this be the Godfather of yakuza entertainment? Doubtful, but it should be fun nonetheless.

Remember when Bush's budget was going to starve the states to death?

It didn't happen. States managed to solve their budget problems.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Guard sees detainee's Koran out of the corner of eye, detainee screams bloody murder

Well not quite, but Isikoff's second look at the alleged abuses makes me think that if I were a Koran bent on keeping my pages intact, I'd fare better with the Christian guard. And apparently you can't touch a Koran without eliciting some Gollum-like cries from the detainee. Would it be against the Geneva Convention if the guards announced on the PA that each Koran resting in each surgical mask hammock was purchased by evil American dollars?

Speaking of Newsweek: Riding Sun has a interesting post about their covers overseas (via Instapundit). Two different markets, I guess. One of the things that surprised me was how many American celebrities, that would never do a advertisement in the states, were doing them in Japan. I wonder what Jodie Foster knows about Japanese temp agencies, yet, there she was, a life size cuttout, promoting one.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Kofi warns US not to stop paying our dues

Somehow he thinks the U.N. would be better off with more money at its disposal. Mark Malloch Brown, Kofi's secretary, plays the unilateral canard card: "It [withholding our dues] would be seen as the United States once again acting alone..." Sadly, acting alone (according to his terms) is about the only way one can do the decent thing these days. Cutting back our dues is just the thing we should be doing.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Double Nutter Wednesday!

From Planet Zinn: Howard thinks the border vigilantes intended to apprehend or kill anyone coming across the Arizona border. He also demonizes Cotton Mather and thinks that dropping atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was simply to avenge Pearl Harbor. And I doubt he knows the difference between patriotism and nationalism. Woe is the kid who studies history under Zinn.

From the Mailer skull bubble: Norman Mailer is the first loony leftie to suggest the Newsweek story is the product of the Bush Administration. He took Intelligence 101A, you know. I'm sure he could get a job writing the next Oliver Stone screenplay.

Obviously, tsunami aid didn't play a part in Indonesia's decision

to develop missiles with China.

Another agreeable Tom Friedman article?

Pinch me.

The Newsweek Koran story is not another Memogate

Forgive me for a moment as I add yet more to the over-saturated Newsweek story. I’ve never particularly cared for Isikoff or for Newsweek, and I can’t remember the last time I actually paid for the magazine, though I’d guess it’s been over a decade. It’s always seemed to me a glossy, professional, well-researched left-of-center publication pretending to be objective with often-ridiculous eye-rolling covers (like the soldier in Iraq asking his sarge what plan B was some months ago). But, whatever my distaste for the magazine is, the Koran flushing story was no Memogate. It was certainly the result of flimsy research, anti-military bias, the search to break a story and create interest in the publication and a teaspoon of deceit (citing “sources” instead of a single anonymous source). And I was annoyed with Isikoff’s initial response, which basically said nothing except that Newsweek was investigating it – but, to his credit, he quickly offered his resignation to the magazine. That was a noble act and I think Newsweek was right to deny his resignation. And Newsweek has since retracted the story. While it would be nice for the publication to take further efforts to repair the damage, they’ve already shown themselves to be more responsible than CBS – which chose the path of obfuscation and deceit. Regardless of whether the Memogate story was intentionally untruthful or just an honest mistake (I tend to believe the former) the real embarrassment was how CBS covered it up and tried to stick by it weeks after it was known to be false. I almost hurt myself slapping my forehead when Dan Rather said – after everyone knew about the scandal – that he wanted to be the one to break that story. To this day he believes in the authenticity of the memos. Newsweek’s credibility will rightly take a hit, but their response has been far better (even if still lacking) than the egregious response of CBS.

Also, I don't think the lesson should have much to do with the accuracy of the story or the use of anonymous sources. While it's a good idea to describe the nature of a source (is it a single source, is it reliable or just part of the rumor mill - all of that is fit for print with the proper disclaimers), the troubling thing for me is that Isikoff chose to cite details of the flushing at all. Even if the story was true, why report it? What good will it do? How is it newsworthy? If the aim is to simply chisel away at the military's creditbility and make its job a harder, then that is clear enough. If the aim is to inform the public that an investigation or report on alleged abuses is in process or due to release, why mention specifics about treatment to the Koran? Especially when there's an online terror manual floating around which says point blank that such information is to be exploited? I certainly don't feel that I have a better understanding of the situation with petty details like that.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Apparently the body count over the Newsweek story is not high enough for Mr. Isikoff

"Obviously we all feel horrible about what flowed from this, but it's important
to remember there was absolutely no lapse in journalistic standards here,"
[Isikoff] said. "We relied on sources we had every reason to trust and gave the
Pentagon ample opportunity to comment...We're going to continue to investigate
what remains a very murky situation."

And so, with the "murky situation" not fully investigated, Newsweek chose to apologize for it by working in other baseless allegations about abuse to the Koran. Here's an idea, if Newsweek can't simply run a retraction/apology (they haven't retracted anything yet) without stirring up more Islamic hatred, then perhaps they could at least keep their trap shut while the US government cleans up the mess Isikoff made.

The initial report was irresponsible even if the source was not anonymous or the allegations true, given the negative repercussions that should have been predictable after the murder of Theo van Gogh and the shrill cries of jihad at the drop of a Koran. Also predictable, is that the retraction has been rejected by the muslim community. So there's no way Newsweek can undo the damage done.

All that said, the lion's share of outrage should be reserved towards the muslims that are so bent out of shape by Koran desecration, in the first place. Isikoff may have been ignorant in what he was doing, but regardless of his error, he didn't kill 16 people. Not that it matters, but I wonder how many Korans would have to be incinerated to match the number of American flags that have been burned, if each page was equal to each flag. Toss in the beheaded aid workers and no doubt that plume of smoke could be seen for miles and miles.

In trying to understand Islamic intolerance over abuse to the Koran, I was reminded of a recent Lee Harris article in which he talked about the nature of the Koran:

The Koran, however, differed radically from other sacred books. They were
inspired by God, but the Koran was the very word of God, and in the language
that God clearly spoke when he was by himself, namely, Arabic. Islam would never
have been such a challenge to the earlier faiths if it had claimed to have
discovered a new god; but it didn't. It claimed to be centered on the same god
of the Jews and Christians -- only the Koran represented this god correctly.

....

Nor was this the only stumbling block posed by the Koran. For the Koran does
not claim simply to have been inspired by God, the way that Jews and Christians
have traditionally interpreted their scripture; rather it is understood as
having been quite literally dictated by God, word by word. Or, more precisely,
Arabic word by Arabic word.

By this I don't mean that Allah
reveals his Word and that this Word is then encoded into Arabic, as it might
have been encoded into any other language; I mean that, according to Islam,
Allah's Word is itself Arabic. The Koran is co-eternal with Allah; it always
existed, and always will exist; and it has always been in Arabic.

This stands in profound contrast to the Christian concept of
inspiration as symbolized by the Feast of the Pentecost in The Book of Acts.
Here we find an explicit recognition of a God whose Word may be equally well
expressed in a multitude of tongues, so that no particular language can be
singled out as the language of God Himself. Divine thought transcends all human
language, and yet can be articulated in all human languages.

Austin Bay also had a good post on the issue.

Koizumi intends to pay tribute at Yasukuni Shrine again, this year

As well he should.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Darth Vader's blog

A truly great blog! Makes Darth human. Read from bottom up, as it's like a journal.

In search of Arafat's money

I'm picturing an epic chase comedy like Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World - after the key to Arafat's hidden loot.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

If a neocon applauded a Tom Friedman article and nobody heard him, would he make a sound?

Regardless, I heartily agree with the sentiment in this column.

Jonah on Conservatism

A fairly lite article, but I agree with the following description of what defines a conservative:

Comfort with contradiction
I mean this in the broadest
metaphysical sense and the narrowest practical way. Think of any leftish
ideology and at its core you will find a faith that circles can be closed,
conflicts resolved. Marxism held that in a truly socialist society,
contradictions would be destroyed. Freudianism led the Left to the idea that the
conflicts between the inner and outer self were the cause of unnecessary
repressions. Dewey believed that society could be made whole if we jettisoned
dogma and embraced a natural, organic understanding of the society where
everyone worked together. This was an Americanized version of a Germany idea,
where concepts of the Volkgeist — spirit of the people — had been elevated to
the point where society was seen to have its own separate spirit. All of this
comes in big bunches from Hegel who, after all, had his conflicting thesis and
antithesis merging into a glorious thesis. (It’s worth noting that Whittaker
Chambers said he could not qualify as a conservative — he called himself a “man
of the right” — because he could never jettison his faith in the dialectical
nature of history.)

But move away from philosophy and down to earth. Liberals and leftists are
constantly denouncing “false choices” of one kind or another. In our
debate, Jonathan Chait kept hinting, hoping, and haranguing that — one day — we
could have a socialized healthcare system without any tradeoffs of any kind.
Environmentalists loathe the introduction of free-market principles into the
policy-making debate because, as Steven Landsburg puts
it
, economics is the science of competing preferences. Pursuing some good
things might cost us other good things. But environmentalists reject the very
idea. They believe that all good things can go together and that anything
suggesting otherwise is a false choice.

Listen to Democratic politicians when they wax righteous about social policy. Invariably it goes something like this: “I simply reject the notion that in a good society X should have to come at the expense of Y.” X can be security and Y can be civil liberties. Or X can be food safety and Y can be the cost to the pocketbook of poor people. Whatever X and Y are, the underlying premise is that in a healthy society we do not have tradeoffs between good things. In healthy societies all good things join hands and walk up the hillside singing I’d like to buy the world a coke.


Think about why the Left is obsessed with hypocrisy and authenticity. The former is the great evil, the latter the closest we can get to saintliness. Hypocrisy implies a contradiction between the inner and outer selves. That’s a Freudian no-no in and of itself. But even worse, hypocrisy suggests that others are wrong for behaving the way they do. Hypocrites act one way and behave another. Whenever a conservative is exposed as a “hypocrite” the behavior — Limbaugh’s drug use, Bennett’s gambling, whatever — never offends the Left as much as the fact that they were telling other people how to live. This, I think, is in part because of the general hostility the Left has to the idea that we should live in any way that doesn’t “feel” natural. We must all listen to our inner children.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

What's wrong with this statement?

Matthew Yglesias and other leftward bloggers have criticized Bush's recent comments over Yalta that he made in Latvia, but I'm not sure what the argument is. The argument seems to imply that Bush was attacking FDR for agreeing to Yalta, but I don't think he is:
As we mark a victory of six days ago -- six decades ago, we are mindful of a
paradox. For much of Germany, defeat led to freedom. For much of Eastern and
Central Europe, victory brought the iron rule of another empire. V-E Day marked
the end of fascism, but it did not end oppression. The agreement at Yalta
followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Once
again, when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was
somehow expendable. Yet this attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of
stability left a continent divided and unstable. The captivity of millions in
Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the greatest wrongs of
history.

Bush seems to be lamenting the agreement and using its results as a warning against similar agreements in the future. I've noticed that when Yglesias tries to defend FDR by saying that there was no alternative, he admits that Yalta was not an ideal agreement for postwar Europe. The latter is pretty much what Bush said. Just because Soviet occupation over Eastern Europe may've been unavoidable does not mean Yalta was not a Faustian deal that, instead of liberating Eastern Europe, put it under the Soviet yoke. So where's the revisionism?

Monday, May 09, 2005

Japanese trains offering women-only cars

Groping women in crowded passenger cars is a pretty common problem, according to Lady T____. She seems to resort to punching and kicking perverts on a routine basis (a rare reaction coming from Japanese women). Perhaps the men upset at how women only cars add to the congestion of busy trains should focus their annoyance on the perverts, not the train line.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Upon seeing several Ozu movies recently

As a testament to Yasujiro Ozu, I would say it’s been over 5 years since I’d first seen one of his pictures, Late Spring, and aside from confusing the title with some of his others (Early Spring, Early Autumn, Early Summer, etc.) it is still clear as bell in my mind, though I'd only watched it once. I’m not sure why that would be since his movies are invariably slow paced, have little-to-no plot or action and define the very essence of subtlety. Actually, that’s exactly why his movies are so memorable. I remember thinking at the time that I’d never seen a film quite like it and ever since I’d looked forward to seeing more of his films, particularly Tokyo Story, being his most highly acclaimed movie. Sadly, there aren’t many rental stores in OKC offering a selection of Ozu pictures and it would be several years before I’d see another one. While in Japan, I picked up a copy of Donald Richie’s book, Ozu, and read about all the great works that I couldn’t see. The torture was immense.

Well, that’s changed somewhat, thanks to Netflix, and I’ve been able to rent pretty much everything that is available on DVD (in the US, anyway) – though that only represents a fraction of the 30 or so films of his that have survived out of the 50 or so he made.

It doesn’t take much exposure to Ozu to realize the basics: his camera is always at eye level to someone sitting on a tatami floor, the camera rarely moves, the opening credits are always over a burlap background, the story centers around the Japanese family (or, as described by Richie, the extended familial relationships one has at work or school), and he revisits the same handful of themes time and again (generational differences, the single daughter that needs to get married off, etc.). He's often called the most Japanese of Japan’s directors because he’s a such a traditionalist. The latter is peculiar when you consider the modern nature of his medium.

Despite his moniker as the most Japanese of all directors, and despite his obsession with depicting the Japanese family, his movies are most universal.

In Ozu’s world, the younger generations rarely appreciate or understand the sacrifice and love of their elder generation. Meanwhile, the older generation finds some level of meaning and solace through their offspring, even if they may recognize that their offspring is oblivious to their presence or has grown up to be selfish and mean. This theme permeates Tokyo Story. There’s particularly vivid scene where the grandmother is taking her youngest grandchild on a walk on top of a grassy hill. The child seems unaware of his grandmother nearby and is busy picking grass, while the grandmother watches the child in amazement, wondering aloud to herself (since the child isn’t paying attention) what his future may hold. Other scenes in Tokyo Story show how the grandmother’s children feel that their obligation to their parents during the parents trip to Tokyo is a nuisance. Yet, these middle-aged children don’t come across as bad or even unlikable mainly, I think, because they take their obligations seriously enough to fulfill them. In essence, they are so real that they don’t succumb to character types you see in most movies.

Part of the reason Ozu is able to create such realistic characters (or the main reason, according to Donald Richie’s book) is that their development is not driven by plot. This freedom allows the characters to develop in ways that would be impossible or even incoherent if the action of the film had to support a plot. And the characters in Ozu's films are never defined in terms of good or bad or antagonist and protagonists. They aren't created to represent one thing or another. They simply exist.

However, as seen in Tokyo Story and several of Ozu’s post war films, the actress Setsuko Hara consistently plays wholesome, overly loyal daughter (always named Noriko). In the films where there’s a daughter that needs to be married off, it is usually her. Of all the Ozu characters, Noriko comes the closest to being artificial. She’s usually so selflessly devoted to her family that she does not care to marry (a particularly untraditional situation in mid twentieth century Japan). In Early Summer, she’s the single daughter that is more or less the glue that keeps the extended family together, though they all know she needs to marry for the sake of her own future and they all try to get her to so throughout the story. When she finally decides to marry and move to the country, the audience knows that the large family living in the house will subsequently dissipate. Such is life. In Late Spring, Noriko lives with her widowed father who, in an effort to get her to marry, pretends that he, himself, plans to remarry. In Tokyo Story, she’s the widowed daughter-in-law (her husband having been killed during the war) who, ironically, is the only person that genuinely appreciates the company of her in-law parents. I’m guessing that Ozu was infatuated with the idea of a character like Noriko (his version of a Hawks woman) . Setsuko Hara became a sort of icon and mentor for young Japanese girls at the time and was immensely popular. Yet, iconic as her Noriko characters was, selfless people like her exist, if only rarely, so it’s not entirely accurate to think of her as artificial.

Another reoccurring theme in Ozu’s pictures that is universal is the relationship between tradition and modernity. This relationship is particularly evident in Japan’s quick modernization, but exists throughout the rest of the world, too. Ozu has a way of including shots of trains and power lines and other forms of technology on a frequent basis – usually to contrast the traditional things in Japan. Tokyo Story draws this relationship by showing the rural grandparents marveling at the size of Tokyo. The film, Good Morning, shows the influence of television on traditional family life. The two main children in Good Morning spend most of the film trying to get their parents to buy a TV and, in interim, frequently go to the one house in the neighborhood that has one so they can watch sumo (along with all the other kids in the neighborhood). Good Morning is a loose remake of Ozu’s silent I Was Born But...which uses radio instead of television. Anyone who can remember the first Atari on their block or the first VCR can relate to the living room full of kids. Ozu does not betray a preference for either tradition or modernity in his films and remains somehow detached between the two; as do his characters, especially the older ones. Instead, they fully accept the ways of the world.

Ozu is rare in that he celebrates bourgeous life unapologetically. His postwar Japan isn't the same one you'd find in Kurosawa's Stray Dog or like something you'd see in a De Sica film. You won't find much in the way of poverty or black markets, but it captures a specific time and place, just the same.

Generally speaking, if you are searching for a sense of humanity in a film, you can do no better than Japanese classic cinema. This is particularly true of Ozu. On a personal level, I’ve never seen a director that depicts a family as similar to my own as well as Ozu does on a consistent basis – though there’s an ocean of difference between his culture and mine. His movies certainly are not for everyone, but if my fellow Liverputtians are interested, here’s a list of his stuff currently available on DVD:

Story of Floating Weeds (1935) – an acting troupe passes through a village, various dramas unfold. This film is remarkable because the acting is surprisingly low key for a silent movie. Remade as Floating Weeds in the 1959.

Early Summer (1949)

Tokyo Story (1953)

Good Morning (1959) - Warning: contains repititve flatulence humor.

Floating Weeds (1959) – usually included as a set with Story of Floating Weeds. The village in this version is on the coast, whereas the village in the original is in the mountains.

Some of his other films are available on VHS. (If you happen to be named Mat and live in Chicago, you can find several Ozu movies at Facets and should seize the opportunity!)

Ozu movies are best served with sushi, miso, Asahi and sake.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The new Star Wars movie

What used to be a much-anticipated event, the premiere, is now a half-hearted obligation. I doubt I will see Episode 3 on the first day, but I will make an attempt to see it during the first week. The trailer was enticing, but then, so are all the Star Wars trailers. With all the eye candy, I would almost say that Star Wars makes one of the best series of trailers around. Can’t say the same for the actual features. However, even in the last trailer, upon looking at Chewbacca, or was it another wookie?…anyway, I couldn’t help lamenting over one of the primary flaws in the series that has been particularly exasperated in the last 3 movies – that the galaxy far, far away is more inbred that an Arkansas town. Remember when Luke complained that Tatooine was away from all the action? Turns out he was mistaken. That sand speck was actually the most revisited location in the whole galaxy. Even his dad was stranded there and returned to avenge his momma, though, curiously, he never thought to search there when Luke was hidden away. (Incidentally, I can understand a desert planet and even an ice planet, but why is every world in Star Wars have to be of homogeneous topography?). I could list my litany of complaints about the previous 3 movies, but I’ll save that for a time when I’ve had a few beers and can’t contain the geek within. I’ll just sum up and say that I’m thinking Lucas would’ve been better served letting some of the talented writers who created the sub genre of books on Star Wars write the screenplays for this second wave of movies. Even with the promising tag line that the latest film is more adult oriented, I doubt the latest installment will change my mind.

UPDATE: Variety has very positive buzz here.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Wolfowitz the visionary

Stephen Hayes has a good story about the man.

May day, a day of rememberance more than a celebration

The gist of this series of posts: Communism kills....a lot. (via Volokh Conspiracy)