Tengoku to jigoku

One of the segments on yesterday’s CBS Sunday Morning show interested me.  It was about the musical “The Book of Mormon.”  The report gave me the sense that the script was being too easy on these Mormon missionaries.  David Edelstein reviewed both “Midnight in Paris” and “The Tree of Life,” a pairing that a lot of movie critics have been
giving us lately.  I’ve never seen a Terrence Malick film on its first run in a movie theatre.  I saw both “The Thin Red Line” and “The New World” on DVD.  Malick has been downright
prolific since 1998, at least compared to the years from 1973 to 1997.  My mom called me during the segment on Mike Tyson.  I had a difficult time swallowing this idea that Tyson was projecting a persona or playing some sort of role during those Robin Givens years.  That wasn’t the real him?  It sounds like a revision of history to me.  My mom talked
about my brother’s health problems, and she asked me questions about my work, and what I was going to eat for breakfast.  Back on the TV, Serena Altschul visited a Vermont white marble mine, and a man who got the call to make a grave marker for Frank Buckles, the last American World War I veteran.  He was born on February 1, 1901 and died on February 27, 2011.  Serena noted the dates and asked the worker how old that made Buckles at the time of his death.  I couldn’t figure out if Serena was bad at math, or if she asked that question to get the answer on camera.  Even my students could tell you that was 110 years.  I went over to the coffee shop and checked the New York Times Book Review section online.  The website wouldn’t allow me to copy and paste the Editors’ Choice selections, so I typed them into a document.  I thought the most interesting item was a
book by Albert Brooks.  One of the expressions I’ve heard people say too much lately is “aha moment.”  Well, I didn’t have an aha moment while looking through the New York Times yesterday.  I checked the store advertisements, but didn’t see anything I urgently
wanted.  When I returned home, I watched the DVD I’d borrowed from the library, Akira Kurosawa’s “High and Low.”  It’s also known by the title “Heaven and Hell.”  My memory of it is that it looked different, probably because it was an old VHS copy.  This Criterion Collection DVD was a widescreen edition which looked impressive.  The framing of shots was specifically for a wide screen.  Some of the placement of the characters got a bit tiring, with Mifune’s character isolated.  The actors stood like statues at times.  The movie shows Yokohama in 1963, although the businessmen in it show some of the cunning tactics that are similar to what the samurai did.  The movie is two movies, the first dealing with the dilemma of a company president dealing with the kidnapping of a child.  Mifune is the wealthy executive, and the crime comes at a bad time, because he’s taken out massive loans to buy stock in the company to take it over.  He can get out of it, because the kidnappers nabbed the wrong child, the chauffeur’s boy, but his wife and his own conscience win out.  The view of Yokohama comes through tinted windows, which I’m not sure we in the audience were supposed to notice, but it’s good to know that the view is real.  I know that Roman Polanski used a green screen just to show the view from a house in “The Ghost Writer.”  The first hour is like a play set in one room.  It has a lot of tension and fascinating things going on.  Mifune’s wife wears a kimono where all the men wear Western shirts and ties and suits, and her children go out to play cowboy games.  The shot which shows the reunion with the kidnapped boy was unusual, because the cops don’t drive all the way to him.  The car stops and Mifune runs to the kid.  The action didn’t quite
feel real, and it felt staged.  At least there could have been a dead end barrier.  “High and Low” brought to my mind “Stray Dog,” catching some of the moral deterioration of the big city in Japan.  In the second part of the movie, we see almost nothing of Mifune.  It’s all about the police investigation to find the kidnapper.  I thought that there was a suggestion that two of the cops were gay, dancing together in one scene.  We see the criminal wearing a carnation and mirrored dark glasses.  The reflections in the lenses reminded me of “Strangers on a Train.”  Another hint of Hitchcock was the last shot of the movie, which shows how crazy the kidnapper is.  It could not fail to remind everyone of “Psycho.”  I heard the song “O sole mio,” which I think of as being “It’s Now or Never,” on the soundtrack. The police inspector was supposed to be a Japanese version of Henry Fonda.  One of the special features on the DVD was an interview with Mifune on a talk show with Tetsuko Kuroyanagi from 1981.  You could place the year, because it was the spring after “Shogun” was shown on American television.  Mifune made a mistake in the interview,
saying that John Frankenheimer directed “The French Connection.”  It was actually William Friedkin.  I was skeptical of a lot of what Mifune had to say after that.  His credibility was in question.  I would see Mifune at a screening of “The Hidden Fortress.”
Unfortunately, I don’t remember what he talked about, because it was so long ago now.  I thought this DVD was pretty satisfying.  Mifune gives a pretty strong performance, letting out his anger in bursts as if he were still a samurai.  It’s hard to believe that there would be only one more movie with Kurosawa and Mifune working with each other, “Red Beard.”  Kurosawa was one of my all-time favorite foreign film directors.  Almost every film he made is worth your attention.  I went to the library and had a discussion with one of the librarians about Homer, not Homer Simpson, but the writer of The Iliad and The Odyssey.  He recognized me as a person who frequents record stores.

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