Episode 120: Rescreening Yojimbo

“Man is a genius when he dreams. Dream what you are capable of. The harder you dream it, the sooner it will come true.”

Akira Kurosawa, Director of Yojimbo

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On Episode 120 of Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor Rescreen Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and provide a First Impression of the next Rescreening episode title, Max Ophüls Letter from an Unknown Woman.

Yojimbo Trailer

Yojimbo is currently streaming on Criterion Channel and HBO Max and is available to rent and purchase on most major digital storefronts.

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Michael Clawson on Letterboxd | Taylor Baker on Letterboxd

Episode 118: Rescreening A Woman Under the Influence

“The greatest location in the world is the human face.”

John Cassavetes, Director of A Woman Under the Influence

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Deezer | Gaana | Google Podcasts | iHeartRadio | JioSaavn | LibSyn | Player FM | RadioPublic | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

On Episode 118 of Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor Rescreen John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence and provide a First Impression of the next Rescreening episode title, Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo.

Connect with us on your preferred Social Media Platform Letterboxd, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Michael Clawson on Letterboxd | Taylor Baker on Letterboxd

A Woman Under the Influence Trailer

A Woman Under the Influence is currently streaming on the Criterion Channel and HBO Max.

Yojimbo is currently streaming on Criterion Channel and HBO Max and is available to rent and purchase on most major digital storefronts.

New York Asian Film Festival Review: Anima

Written by Patrick Hao

73/100

“It takes hundreds of years for a tree to grow. But just minutes to cut it down.” Those are words said by Linzi (Eric Wang) which serves as a thesis for Jingling Cao’s feature debut, Anima. The line doesn’t merely address the massive deforestation and exploitation of nature, but the way that local and indigenous culture are quickly being eradicated in the process. Anima captures this conflict in a meditative drama centered around a single family.

Set mainly in the 1980’s, the film follows Linzi and his brother, Tutu (Si Ligeng), of the Evenki ethnic group, a pastoral group of people who live in Mongolia’s Moerdaoga Forest. Their childhood is defined with tragedy when Linzi falls into a bear cave as a toddler. His mother jumps in to protect him but is swiftly killed by the bear before Tutu was able to shoot the bear and save his brother. The Evenki view bears as deeply spiritual animals, representative of Evenki ancestors, and anyone who kills one would be cursed. This fear prompts Linzi and Tutu’s father to move them out of their village.

New York Asian Film Festival 2021

As adults, the two brothers begin on different paths. Tutu, scarred by his experiences, embraces possible wealth and modernity that the newly arrived lumber company provides as part of China’s economic development program at the time. Linzi, on the other hand, embraces the traditions of the Evenki and feels uncomfortable with the lumber company’s infiltration into the sacred forest. This brings conflict between the two brothers which is further exacerbated by the appearance of Chun (Qi Xi), whom both brothers have affections for.

Filmed in Maerdaoga National Forest, the setting is captured with great deliberation. Shot by Mark Lee Ping Bing, a frequent collaborator with Hou Hsiao-Hsien, there is a spirituality to the environment that flows into the characters living in them. It has great beauty and many dangers, from sub-freezing temperatures to torrential downpours. In that way, the respect that is shown to nature is reminiscent of Akira Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala or Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, The Wrath of God.

Cao’s filmmaking serves to fully engross the audience into Linzi and Tutu’s way of life. We see how they live, both with each other, other people, and with nature itself. There’s time to relish in the trivialities of everyday life. But the film can be difficult. Cao emphasizes poeticism and introspection over easy narrative delights – not too dissimilar to the films of  the aforementioned Hou Hsiao-Hsien. For some, it might take time to adjust to the pacing of the film, but if you stay with it you’ll be rewarded.  

It would be reductive to just call this film an environmentalist drama. Anima is more interested in being a rumination on the way modernity and industrialization have separated people from their culture and the natural world – the existential crisis of many indigenous people today. A crisis that has already seeped into the rest of us.

Anima Trailer

You can purchase a ticket to see Anima at the New York Asian Film Festival here.

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The Hidden Fortress

Written by Michael Clawson

80/100

In a fleet-footed adventure, two clownish peasants with a comical love-hate relationship (famously the inspiration for C-3PO and R2-D2) accompany a princess in disguise and her samurai guard on a trek through enemy territory. In exchange, they’ll get a piece of the gold that they help to haul… that is, if they don’t succumb to temptation and try to steal it before journey’s end. 

Mostly light in mood, it shows Kurosawa playfully poking fun at human greed and the distrust it can sew between people, making up for a lack of complexity in character with captivating use of widescreen compositions (you wouldn’t know from the splendor of it that this was his first time employing the format). Most memorably striking are the high and low angle shots of the towering, jagged mountain peaks that the titular fortress is nestled between, where the peasants first meet their royal companions.

For laughs, the movie does rely heavily on the peasants quarreling and quickly becoming selfish, but for me, it stopped short of growing tiresome. It’s the blend of comedy and action that makes this a rip-roaring ride. The action is spectacularly staged, from the large set pieces (such as the early sequence in which a mass of imprisoned peasants revolt and flee from their captors) to the more contained confrontations (such as the spear duel between the guard and an old friend turned foe). The latter scene is shot with patience and deliberation, and is another clear inspiration for Star Wars, the spears reminiscent of lightsabers. 

The Hidden Fortress Trailer

The Hidden Fortress is currently playing on Criterion Channel and HBO Max.

Stray Dog

Written by Michael Clawson

80/100

On another in a long line of sweltering summer days in post-war Japan, rookie cop Murakami (Toshiro Mifune), exhausted from a night without sleep, boards an uncomfortably packed city bus after leaving the gun range, and upon deboarding, realizes his colt has been pickpocketed. On foot, he chases after the man he suspects is the culprit, but loses him. Murakami is an honest, upright new recruit, so he immediately reports the incident to his chief, who isn’t anywhere as concerned as Murakami is about there being one more gun out there amid the general public. From the chief’s perspective, the difference is marginal, but to Murakami, it’s devastating. Any blood drawn by the gun will be on his hands, and the guilt bearing down on him is as oppressive as the brutal seasonal heat.

Initially, Murakami seeks out the thief on his own. A colleague helps to lead him to the realization that there might have been an accomplice, and sure enough, when Murakami sifts through mugshots of previously booked pickpockets, he recognizes a woman from his miserable bus ride. He tracks her down and tails her around the city in one of two extended montages in which Kurosawa dexterously condenses action down into a suspenseful string of shots. The second such montage comes shortly thereafter as Murakami puts on dirtied up civilian gear and prowls the backstreets and alleyways of downtown, hoping he’ll be approached by a pistol dealer. Murakami picks up a trail that looks like it could lead him to the thief, and joins up with the more experienced officer Satō (Takashi Shimura, another Kurosawa regular) to see the trail to its end.

The colt does indeed inflict harm before Murakami is able to retrieve it, and that only strengthens his single-minded determination to find the criminal. But how much violence or illegality is he really preventing even if he does get the gun back in his holster before it’s been emptied of bullets? With his obsessiveness, it’s as if he thinks all crime and wrongdoing rested squarely on his shoulders, and there’s something heartening about his optimistic albeit naive thinking that he alone can prevent so much suffering. The culprit, after all, turns out to be a desperate veteran, only one of many in the aftermath of traumatizing war. A commentary on the social ills of post-war Japan thus lies beneath what on its surface is an expertly crafted film noir.

Stray Dog Trailer

Stray Dog is currently available to stream on the Criterion Channel