Subterranean Homesick Blues

The Japanese film poster for Yatsuhaka-mura aka VILLAGE OF EIGHT GRAVESTONES (1977)

Not all homecomings are happy affairs and, if you want to experience one that makes a good argument against family reunions, consider Yatsuhaka-mura (Japanese title, Village of Eight Gravestones, 1977), which presents the ancestral homestead as a cursed place with a dark history. Tatsuya (played by former pop singer Ken’ichi Hagiwara), the film’s protagonist, was taken away from his mountain village by his mother when he was just a child but when he returns after many years, he feels like the ultimate outsider as he reconnects with family he never really knew. Not only is his village isolated and mired in the past but it sits upon a network of underground caves and tunnels, which hold the key to a family secret.

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The Cult of Kaze

There are good cults and bad cults and the cult of Kaze is a bit of both worlds. Not really a recognized cult, it is instead an informal club of ten women who are united in sisterhood over a common cause which they hope will result in their liberation from a certain Mr. Kaze, a handsome, successful executive in the television industry. The bad part of their mutual solidarity is that the women want Kaze to die and they aim to kill him. Why? Because nine of the women have had affairs with and been discarded by this man and the tenth woman, Futaba Kaze, is his wife and has suffered from his serial unfaithfulness for years. As you would expect from this set-up, Kuroi jûnin no onna (The English title translates as Ten Dark Women or Ten Women in Black), directed by Kon Ichikawa in 1961, is a feminist revenge film but it is also so much more than that.

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The Girl with the Fishing Spear

Mari Shirato plays a fisherman’s widow who is preparing to avenge her husband in the 1984 thriller Mermaid Legend, directed by Toshiharu Ikeda.

In 1984 ATG (Art Theater Guild), one of the most experimental and artistic of Japan’s film distribution companies, and Directors Company, released Ningyo Densetsu, directed by Toshiharu Ikeda. ATG had already established itself as a cutting-edge visionary with such releases as Toshio Matsumoto’s Funeral Parade of Roses (1969), Shuji Terayama’s Pastoral: Hide and Seek (1974) and Seijun Suzuki’s Zigeunerweisen (1980). Ningyo Densetsu was something altogether different – a commercially viable fusion of murder mystery, white collar crime and revenge thriller which looked more mainstream than most of ATG’s previous releases. Also known as Mermaid Legend, the movie is also much more extreme than some of the most infamous exploitation films of its era yet it is distinguished by its artistry in all areas of production. But make no mistake, this is not family-friendly fare or recommended for fans of The Little Mermaid

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Balm for the Soul

The Japanese poster for The Burmese Harp (1956)

In 1955 Kon Ichikawa was a well established filmmaker in Japan who was mostly known for satiric comedies like Mr. Pu (1953) and A Billionaire (1954) and the occasional literary adaptation like Young People (1952). His work was still unknown outside of his own country but that would change with his 27th film, The Burmese Harp (Japanese title: Biruma no tategoto, 1956). It would prove to be his first major critical and box office success in Japan but also one that would bring him international acclaim. “That was the first film I really felt I had to make,” Ichikawa later admitted to author and film scholar Donald Richie.   Continue reading