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Archive for December, 2011

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Yamada Yoji does not make action-packed Hollywood blockbusters. Stemming from the branch of Japanese filmmakers taught by Ozu and Mizoguchi, Yamada’s films usually take a more introspective, down-to-earth direction. While Kabei: Our Mother marks his 80th film, it was only in the early 2000s that Yamada gained the recognition of Western audiences. The films of his samurai trilogy (The Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade, and Love and Honor) are all more interested in the internal conflicts of the characters and potent characterizations of the decaying Edo era than in epic, choreographed swordfights. The effect is either lost on the audience or whole-heartedly embraced. In terms of samurai films, Ninja Scroll is a bowl of gyuudon and The Twilight Samurai is kaiseki ryori. Both are delicious, but both are eaten with distinctly different intentions. Additionally, Yamada has built most of his career around depicting two specific eras of Japanese history; the late-Edo (ending in 1867) and Showa (1925-1989). Both of these periods marked times of tremendous change in Japan; the forcible ‘opening’ of Japan to Western trade and end of bakufu (Shogunate) rule (shortly followed by the dissolution of the samurai class) and Japan’s ill-fated foray into imperialism.

Like Yamada’s samurai trilogy, Kabei is not a run-of-the-mill World War II film. The story follows Nogami Kayo (AKA Kabei, played by Yoshinaga Sayuri), a mother who must care for her two daughters after her husband, a professor, is arrested and jailed for expressing opinions contrary to the Imperial war effort. Forced to cope with the difficulties of being a single mother and her own reservations about the rising nationalism in Japan, Kabei raises her daughters with the help of her lovely sister-in-law, a rowdy uncle, and the clumsy and good-hearted Yamasaki. Uninterested in action, Yamada devotes the film’s energy to the portrayal of the characters’ experiences. Uninterested in romanticizing the past, Yamada also places his typical emphasis on historical accuracy and goes to considerable effort to accurately capture the look and atmosphere of Showa era Japan.

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This is one of the best movies you will see all year and everyone should watch it. Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil is the funniest, smartest, and most lighthearted satire of horror movie tropes to be released since Shaun of the Dead. Playing with some of the most tiresome and common clichés of slasher movies, this film manages to cast the entire horror genre in an original and refreshingly light.

 Opening on what appears to be a southern Appalachian forest and mimicking a shot made infamous in Deliverance (and echoed in The Descent), the film introduces us to a band of unwitting and mostly dull-witted ‘college kids,’ who we all know will meet a gruesome end by the film’s conclusion. Headed off on a Memorial Day camping trip (why would anyone ever go camping in the South? Seriously, only bad things happen there), they have a brief encounter with Tucker (Alan Tudyk, Firefly) and Dale (Tyler Labine), two well-intentioned rednecks off to fix up their dream vacation home. Unsurprisingly, they completely misinterpret Dale’s attempt to make small talk with the lovely Allison (Katrina Bowden of 30 Rock)…perhaps partially because he brings along a scythe to casually lean-on as he bumbles through an introduction.

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