Pandemonium in the Dark

In Japanese cinema, the samurai film can be many things. It can be a ghost story (Ugetsu, 1953), a rousing adventure (The Hidden Fortress, 1958), a tragic romance (Gate of Hell, 1953), a sweeping historical epic (Tales of the Taira Clan, 1955), a Shakespeare adaptation (Throne of Blood, 1957) or even a revenge saga (Chushingura, 1962). The latter is my favorite sub-genre in the category and the best samurai revenge films are usually driven by the avenger’s sense of honor being defamed and/or moral outrage at personal injustice. This is certainly the motivation behind the heroine of Lady Snowblood (1973), played by Meiko Kaji, and its sequel, Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance (1974). It is also the central premise of Masaki Kobayashi’s Harakiri (aka Seppuku, 1962), which is more doom-laden and brooding than the kinetic action of the Lady Snowblood films but nevertheless explodes in a bloody, sword-wielding finale. But if you want to go deeper, darker and crueler, it is hard to top Toshio Matsumoto’s Demons (aka Shura aka Pandemonium, 1971) for pure malice.   Continue reading

Embryonic Journey

A young Japanese butterfly collector sees a rare species in his part of Japan in Silence Has No Wings (aka Tobenai Chinmoku, 1966), directed by Kazuo Kuroki.

What happens when you take an idea for a nature documentary short about a specific type of butterfly like the Nagasaki Swallowtail (papilla memnon) and expand it into an experimental narrative feature incorporating stylistic influences of the French New Wave with allegorical and sociological overtones? The result is Silence Has No Wings (aka Tobenai Chinmoku, 1966), a visually astonishing and rarely seen film by Japanese director Kazuo Kuroki, who began his career as an assistant director before helming several public relations and documentary shorts like Electric Rolling Stock of Toshiba (aka Toshiba Sharyo, 1958) and The Seawall (aka Kaiheki, 1959). Continue reading