the World in 8 DVDs (Continued)
to Part One
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Sympathy for the Underdog
1971 (2004) - Toei (Home Vision)
If I decided to devote this column to nothing but Asian cinema from
now on, I would never again have to worry about running out of
movies to discuss. Some of the most exciting and original movies of
recent years have hailed from Japan, Korea, and Hong Kong. But as
thrilling as it's been to see new movies like directors like Takashi
Miike and Chan-wook Park, an equally exciting development has been
the sudden availability of over thirty years worth of hidden movie
history. Prolific filmmakers like Seijun Suzuki and Kinji Fukasaku
have had their films, most of which have been either impossible or
very difficult to track down in this country, enjoy something of a
hit a chord with today's audiences with his final work, the
magnum opus Battle Royale.
Thanks in no small part to the cult success of that film, we've
been able to see some of his earlier classics such as the
five-film Yakuza Papers
cycle. Sympathy for the Underdog
predates the first film of that series (Battles
Without Honor & Humanity) by two years and can in
some ways be seen as a warm-up for that ambitious saga, bridging
the gap between it and Fukasaku's earlier, more traditional
Koji Tsuruta stars as Gunji, a middle-aged yakuza released from
prison as the film begins, having come out on the losing end of
a turf war in Tokyo. He gathers together the tattered remains of
his old crew and they embark on a new racket, muscling their way
into the island of Okinawa. It ain't easy and it gets even
harder when the boss from Tokyo shows up. Faced with the
prospect of losing everything a second time, Gunji faces off
against the man who sent him to prison.
Sympathy for the Underdog
is a more modest film than any in the Yakuza
Papers series but it's certainly a lot of fun.
Tsuruta is as cool as they come, never without his sunglasses,
even in a dimly bit bar. This is a guy who's been underestimated
once too often and isn't going to let that happen again.
gets a lot of mileage out of staging most of his action in Okinawa,
depicting an island that's clearly different from the mainland even
if you know absolutely nothing about Japanese history or geography.
The action is tough and exciting, drenched in neon and bright red
blood. Sympathy for the Underdog
isn't the greatest yakuza movie you'll ever see, but if it's your
first, I can all but guarantee that it won't be your last.
Home Vision has brought Fukasaku's movie to disc very well, though
it isn't quite up to the Bitsy-award winning level of their Yakuza
Papers box. Both picture and sound are very solid. Extras
include a somewhat dry but still interesting interview with Fukasaku
biographer Sadao Yamane, the original trailer, and Fukasaku's
for the Underdog
Film Rating: B+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/C+
All About Lily Chou-Chou
2001 (2005) - Fortissimo Films (Home Vision)
The best thing about having catholic taste in movies is that every
once in awhile, you'll stumble across a movie that you've never
heard of and fall in love with it. For me, All
About Lily Chou-Chou is such a movie. This is one of the
most haunting and memorable pictures I've seen in recent months and
if you take absolutely nothing else from anything else I ever write
for this website, please at least rent this movie.
Lily Chou-Chou is a (fictional) pop star and the object of
obsession for Yuichi, the teenaged moderator of an online chat room
devoted to her. Online, Yuichi is a disembodied voice of authority
but in real life, he's a sad, put-upon kid whose life revolves
around shoplifting, crime, and some very brutal friends. Basically,
this is a coming-of-age movie and I know, we've all seen dozens and
dozens of coming-of-age movies and we don't really care anymore. But
you've never seen a coming-of-age movie quite like this one.
one thing, the story is told (at least in part) through the
bulletin board messages anonymously posted on Yuichi's website.
Writer/director Shunji Iwai has tapped into youth culture in a
way that I haven't seen depicted on screen before. He not only
remembers what they care about and how they spend their time,
he knows how they communicate with each other and expertly
captures the casual cruelty with which they often treat each
This is a complex and involved picture that demands close
attention from the viewer. But it's also haunting, moving and
surprisingly beautiful. Both the music and the visuals are
stunning and both are well represented on disc. Home Vision's
DVD also provides an exceptionally good documentary, The
Making of All About Lily Chou-Chou. Running almost an
hour, the doc examines the convoluted path Lily
Chou-Chou took to the screen and provides some
outstanding and intimate behind-the-scenes footage. Director
Shunji Iwai also touches on the genesis of the story in an essay
printed in the liner notes of the disc. Rounding out the disc
are a music video for the song Wings
That Can't Fly, a bio and filmography for Iwai and a
pair of trailers.
About Lily Chou-Chou is a terrific movie, a hidden gem
waiting to be discovered on DVD. I like this movie more and more the
more I think about it and I can't wait to check it out again. I
suspect it's one of the few movies I've seen lately that will really
reward multiple viewings.
All About Lily
Film Rating: A-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B+/B
1984 (2004) - 20th Century Fox
Our world tour concludes back home here in America. Paris,
Texas is a perfect example of why foreign film sections
are a crock. The movie is set in America, written by Sam Shepard,
and stars Harry Dean Stanton and Dean Stockwell. But it's directed
by German filmmaker Wim Wenders, also stars Nastassja Kinski and
French actress Aurore Clement, and was financed by French and German
backers. The story is American but the way in which the story is
told is very European. Truth be told, Paris,
Texas is a truly international film. It's also, in my
opinion anyway, one of the best films of the 1980s.
stars as Travis and as the movie opens, we find him wandering,
alone and mute, through the beautiful south Texas landscape. A
doctor rehydrates him and calls his brother Walt (Stockwell) in
Los Angeles. Walt and Travis haven't seen each other for four
years when Travis vanished into thin air, leaving behind a wife
(Kinski) and young son (Hunter Carson) who Walt has been raising
with his wife (Clement). Walt tries to draw Travis back into
reality and once they arrive in L.A., Travis tries to pick
things up with his son. In the film's final act, Travis and
Hunter return to Texas in an attempt to find the wife and mother
they've both lost.
To call Paris, Texas
leisurely paced is like saying the Sears Tower is kind of tall.
But the gentle rhythms of the story are perfectly suited to
Wenders' methodical pace. Travis has been gone for a long time
and nobody is going to crack that shell overnight. The story
unfolds slowly and in lesser hands, this would be rough going.
But Wenders has several key collaborators making this work.
Foremost is the formidable Harry Dean Stanton in one of his only
leading roles. Stanton is one of those actors whose face is so
interesting that he doesn't have to do anything to command the
screen. Also important to the film is the brilliant music by Ry
Cooder, his very best score in a career full of highlights.
Cooder's guitar is as much a character in Paris,
Texas as Travis, Walt and Hunter.
if you're like me, you've only ever seen Paris,
Texas on VHS. Fox's DVD is nothing short of a revelation.
I had no idea this was such a visually beautiful movie. The
cinematography by Robby Muller is breathtaking from first shot to
last and the transfer to disc brings it out perfectly. A DVD like
this reminds me why this format is so wonderful. How many movies are
there like Paris, Texas that
I've only seen butchered on poorly transferred, pan & scan VHS?
Watching this movie on DVD was like seeing it for the first time.
Fox's DVD of Paris, Texas
rates as one of the most pleasant surprises I've run across on the
format. Released with little to no fanfare last December at a
rock-bottom price, you can be forgiven for assuming the disc would
be underwhelming. Technically, it's terrific. As for extras, Wenders
supplies a running commentary for the entire length of the movie.
It's an informative, if not especially lively track, with
revelations about the writing of the film (during a scene written by
Wenders himself, he asks that if you dislike the dialogue you not
blame Sam Shepard), the casting, the financing and more. Kudos to
Wenders for making it all the way through this lengthy film with
very few dead spots in the commentary. Wenders has also uncovered a
handful of deleted scenes, presented here with optional commentary.
The disc also includes a still gallery, the trailer and a bit of
archival video called Kinski in Cannes.
This is raw red-carpet footage from the Cannes premiere and while it
also features Wenders, Stanton, Stockwell and Clement in Cannes,
there's no doubt that it's Nastassja who the paparazzi are
Paris, Texas is a great film
and Fox has done a superlative job in bringing it to DVD. At about
ten bucks a pop, there's really no reason for anyone who loves
movies not to pick this one up. If you're a movie fan who hates
foreign films, consider this your safe introduction to the rhythms
and pacing of non-American movies. Everybody's speaking English and
all the locations should be familiar. If you like this, take the
plunge into German, French and Italian cinema. If you don't, you're
robbing yourself of some great movies.
Film Rating: A
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/B/B
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