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Film Review: Record of A Tenement Gentleman (1947) by Yasujiro Ozu

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Film Review: Record of A Tenement Gentleman (1947) by Yasujiro Ozu

The stark reality of what Ozu saw around him: the fragmentation of both self and society, a theme that would haunt him throughout his cinematic life

“Record of A Tenement Gentleman” is one of Ozu’s great early films, and one which was also screened last year at Cannes as part of their Classics section.  

The plot outline of “Record”, like most of Ozu’s works, is deceptively simple (and also full of comic touches). In post-war Japan, a man living in an impoverished Tokyo tenement brings home an abandoned child (Kohei). O-Tane, a hard-hearted widow living in the same tenement, is forced to take care of Kohei. In what follows, we gradually see O-Tane’s change of heart, from her initial anger at Kohei’s bedwetting, her endless tricks to get rid of the boy, to finally growing fond of him.

What is most remarkable is how each scene, character, and setting is ingrained with the disastrous after-effects of WW2. Tashiro, Tamekichi, and O-Tane, the three residents of the tenement we are introduced to, each suffer from the economic consequences of the war: Tashiro is a street fortune teller, Tamekichi mends pots and pans, while O-Tane does odd jobs to make ends meet. Indeed, most conversations in “Record” centre around deprivation and hardship. When Tamekichi’s Americanised daughter suddenly turns up for lunch, Tamekichi reprimands her for not bringing anything and then wanting to eat his lunch. Moreover, the implications of societal turmoil here are not just economic but also moral: when the Kawayashis throw a dinner party for everyone with the money their son has won in the lottery, everyone unanimously agrees on how luck only falls on pure-minded and innocent children, unlike their adult counterparts. This thematic layer – the breakdown of traditional structures and the corresponding advent of modernity – is integral to Ozu’s cinema. These were for him events which had an irreversible impact on both Japanese society and individual morality.

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Though “Record” features a wider variety of shots that one is used to in an Ozu film – more medium shots and long shots, an oftentimes panning camera – it also provides some nascent glimpses of what would go on to characterise his signature style of filmmaking. There is for instance the distinctive Tatami-mat shot, directly frontal, stationary, and filmed from a low height, as if from the eye level of a person kneeling on a tatami mat. “Record” is also replete with ‘pillow’ shots, those seemingly random cutaways of everyday life that provide a break from the narrative: clothes swaying in the breeze, smoke rising out of chimneys…

Equally intriguing to behold are the conscious experiments with pacing, with scenes ending always a beat or two later than they ought to. Early in the film, O-Tane warns Kohei not to wet the bed again, and ruminates on what kind of a cold-hearted father the kid must have. Throughout, the scene goes from mid shot coverage to individual close ups. And yet, it doesn’t end when the monologue ends. Instead, we goes back again to Kohei sleeping on a large bed, now accompanied by silence, and then see a deliberately stretched out shot of O-Tane staring at her nails and looking straight ahead. Here, we see an instance of plot points taking a backseat for what has been called ‘dead time’, something which will go on to form an integral part of Ozu’s famous Noriko Trilogy.

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In similar fashion, there is very little sentimentality on display. There is for instance no major build up to the boy being found (or even when he runs away). It simply happens, and what we are studiously shown is the before-and-after of events. This lack of sentimentality also seeps into the acting.  Thus, Choko Iida plays O-Tane with a restrained expressivity, always keeping herself in check despite being prone to heightened emotions. There is a sense in which the action is directly acted out rather than being interpreted. When O-Tane scolds Kohei (Hohi Aoki) after another bedwetting session, he scrunches up his face and raises his hands to his eyes as if to wipe tears, even though there is no actual crying involved. It is the action rather than the interpretation that is important, something that might have more to do with traditional Japanese theatre performance than than what we today understand as realist acting.

Towards the end, just when O-Tane gets extremely attached to Kohei, and is almost beginning to treat him like her own son, the little kid’s father suddenly turns up to take him back. Kohei, it turns out, was merely lost and not abandoned. Later, Tashiro and Tamekichi visit O-tane and congratulate her for finally being free. Without no much as a warning, O-Tane, who for so long has kept up a restrained facade, suddenly breaks down. It is a singularly touching moment, in a film that has so far kept all things sentimental at bay (one is immediately reminded of other crying scenes in Ozu’s films, be it Noriko in “Late Spring” or Ayako in “Late Autumn”). O-tane remarks that she is crying not because she is sad, but because of how happy Kohei and his father were. The emotional outburst then leads to a realisation; being selfish won’t do, and one has to stop worrying only about oneself.

Yet again, we encounter a tendency strewn across Ozu’s works, of seemingly inconsequential everyday acts and events that acquire the magnitude of a soul-shattering revelation. Here, as in other places, it is the ephemerality of everything, and ultimately of life itself.

“Record” ends with a sobering image, a montage of boys orphaned and made homeless by the war, aimlessly wandering around the influential samurai Saigo Takamori’s statue. There is hope in O-Tane’s changed personality, but also the stark reality of what Ozu saw around him: the fragmentation of both self and society, a theme that would haunt him throughout his cinematic life.

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Movie Reviews

‘Abigail’ is a Delightfully Gory Addition to Vampire Movies – Review

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‘Abigail’ is a Delightfully Gory Addition to Vampire Movies – Review

Becky checked out Abigail to see how it stacks up to other vampire movies.

I need to start off with a bit of blunt honesty: I initially thought it was a mistake for the trailers to give away that Abigail is a vampire. It would’ve been an immensely satisfying twist had the audience gone in completely blind to the truth of what Abigail really is.

That being said, having seen the film, I can now admit that it wasn’t a mistake at all. In fact everything given away in the trailer only serves to whet the appetite, so to speak, for what’s to come in the rest of the film.

Abigail, an extremely loose re-interpretation of Dracula’s Daughter (1936), follows a group of kidnappers as they snatch a wealthy mogul’s daughter, the titular Abigail, to hold her for ransom. It seems like a simple job: hold the girl until her father coughs up the ransom, everyone gets paid, everyone is happy. There’s just one little detail the kidnappers don’t know: Abigail is actually a vampire, and she’s very hungry.

The story does take a bit of time to properly get going, with a major chunk of time passing before anything remotely supernatural happens. However, once the creepy vampire activities start happening, the story kicks into a whole new gear. The basic set up is frightening, as these criminals find themselves locked in a house with a vampire and no exits. The thing is, the story also comes across as funny at times, in a weird and twisted sort of way.

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For instance, there’s a scene revealed in one of the trailers where the group debates how they’re going to take the vampire down and they list off the different kinds of vampires known in fiction (citing Anne Rice, True Blood, and Twilight among other things). It makes sense that this is how most people would have any information about vampires, yet the way it’s presented you can’t help but laugh a little when it comes up.

The cast is one detail that makes Abigail a very good film. Alisha Weir almost completely steals the show with her performance as Abigail and proves she has a bright future in movies. Kathryn Newton also rocks as Sammy the hacker. This is the second horror film I’ve seen her in this year and she is rapidly becoming one of my favorite actresses. However, all praise needs to be given to Melissa Barrera’s performance as Joey. She absolutely killed it throughout the film and it’s mesmerizing to watch her interactions with Abigail shift throughout the story.

One thing that needs to be noted is that Abigail is a very gory film. It’s not constant, but when it does happen, it’s a lot. The filmmakers definitely played these moments up for maximum effect and it works.

Something that worked unexpectedly well is the theme of ballet that is woven throughout the film. That is one detail I wasn’t sure would work, but if anything it serves to make Abigail even more terrifying. To be followed throughout the mansion by a vampiric ballerina is quite unsettling and definitely makes Abigail one of the more memorable additions to the lore of vampiric cinema.

In conclusion, Abigail is equal parts scary, gory, and believe it or not, fun. It likely won’t win any awards, but I truly feel that most people who go in to see it will leave feeling satisfied. Abigail is the very definition of a good ‘popcorn movie’ and one I wouldn’t mind seeing again.

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Short Film Review: Wooden Toilet (2023) by Zuni Rinpoche

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Short Film Review: Wooden Toilet (2023) by Zuni Rinpoche

“You separated from us”

Winner of Best LGBTQ Short Film’ at the International Kolkata Short Film Festival this year, “Wooden Toilet” had an extensive festival run before premiering in its country of production, Bhutan.

The 11-minutes short begins with a rather impressive sequence, of a procession of people dressed in white through the mountains, with an exception of one woman who is eventually revealed to be the one whose husband’s funeral the group of people were attending. The sudden laughter of a man breaks the ritualistic approach, and we find out that there is something unusual about this man, who is later on trying to explain it to the aforementioned woman. The back story of another man, where he is trying to reveal something to his father but is instead met with anger and scorn, highlights, to a point at least, what the issue with the two men is. One of the final scenes makes it rather clear, while the last scene connects the short with its title.

The first thing one would notice about “Wooden Toilet” is its impressive visuals. Starting with the initial procession, the close ups that emit a sense of horror, the hanging ropes and the red bedroom are all truly memorable, with Zuni Rinpoche implementing symbolism in order to make his comments. The symbolisms, however, are somewhat difficult to understand what they are about, although the comment about the racism and lack of understanding queer people have to face is made quite clear.

The non-linear approach, which also includes much surrealism, apart from the aforementioned symbolism, adds much to the narrative, particularly through the implementation of the aforementioned scenes. One could say, that on a number of levels, the film could be described as experimental, although there is also a basis in terms of story, that does not allow it to go fully towards that direction.

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All in all, “Wooden Toilet” is an intriguing short by Zuni Rinpoche, who would definitely benefit from a longer duration, that would allow the director to unfold his story and his symbolisms in more eloquent fashion. Still, the film deserves a watch for its visuals and the overall approach to the queer concept.

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“Unsung Hero” Movie Review: A True Story of Faith, Music, and a Family's New Beginning –

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“Unsung Hero” Movie Review: A True Story of Faith, Music, and a Family's New Beginning –

Staff Report

“Unsung Hero” is an inspiring tale of resilience and hope that charts the journey of the Smallbone family from the shores of Australia to the heart of America. After the collapse of his music company, David Smallbone, portrayed by Joel Smallbone of for KING + COUNTRY, along with his pregnant wife Helen, played by Daisy Betts, and their seven children, embark on a daring move to the United States. Armed with nothing but their luggage, a shared love for music, and unyielding faith, the family seeks to rebuild their shattered lives.

Set for release in the United States on April 26, 2024, “Unsung Hero” is directed by Joel Smallbone and Richard Ramsey, with Lionsgate handling distribution. The film’s poignant and uplifting score is crafted by Brent McCorkle, ensuring that music plays a pivotal role in narrating the Smallbones’ story. Produced by Justin Tolley, Josh Walsh, and Luke Smallbone, and brought to the screen by Kingdom Story Company and Candy Rock Entertainment, this film promises a heartwarming cinematic experience.

“Unsung Hero” delves deep into the challenges and triumphs of the Smallbone family as they navigate their new environment. Helen’s unwavering faith becomes a beacon of hope for her family, inspiring her husband and children to cling to their own beliefs even when their dreams seem out of reach. It’s this foundation of faith that ignites the musical talent within their children, ultimately leading them to become two of the most acclaimed acts in the world of Inspirational Music. The story not only celebrates their eventual success—highlighted by GRAMMY awards for both for KING + COUNTRY and Rebecca St. James—but also pays homage to the silent sacrifices made by David and Helen.

“Unsung Hero” is more than just a biographical film; it’s a testament to the power of faith and family, and the incredible impact of nurturing talents. As the Smallbones find their footing in a new country, they also discover that their greatest strength lies within each other and their shared passions. This film is a must-watch for anyone who believes in the power of starting anew and the magic that music and faith can bring to life’s darkest moments. For more information, visit Rotten Tomatoes’ page dedicated to “Unsung Hero”

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Reference link:

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/.

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