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July 28, 2009

No Borders, No Limits

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Mark Schilling - 2007
FAB Press

I have only seen three films directed by Toshio Masuda. Two of them were The Human Revolution, Parts I and II, and the third was part of the Japanese portion of Tora! Tora! Tora! that was not done by Kinji Fukusaku. I had no idea who Fukasaku was either when I saw Tora, Tora, Tora. I bring this up because Mark Schilling mentions Masuda as one of the several filmmakers not discussed in Donald Richie and Joseph Anderson's book, The Japanese Film. I am not going to fault Anderson or Richie, because before their book, there was really nothing of substance in English, and their book probably reflected much of the general critical consensus of film in general, as well as what seemed to them to matter the most in Japanese cinema by the mid-Sixties. In retrospect I should fault myself for my own laziness in assuming that if a filmmaker is not noted by Donald Richie, than that filmmaker is not worth critical evaluation. To paraphrase Andrew Sarris in The American Cinema, don't take one critic's word regarding a film, see the work and decide for yourself.

Sarris and The American Cinema should be noted here because prior to Sarris' book, there were certain assumptions regarding who the worthwhile Hollywood directors were, and Samuel Fuller was definitely not one of them. Just as Sarris caused a reevaluation of directors previously ignored or dismissed that worked in English language films, more work needs to be done to properly acknowledge more filmmakers internationally. Schilling also mentions how Suzuki Seijun has received his share of critical kudos, years after his more productive period, but little attention has been made to the more interesting work of his peers. Mark Schilling's book offers another view of Japanese films, and it is of help that a few more films are made available on subtitled DVDs.

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Stray Cat Rock: Sex Hunter (Yasuharu Hasebe - 1970)

While it is far from perfect, this age of internet communications and DVDs has allowed for challenges to laziness in film scholarship, mine included. What I have learned for myself over the past four years of writing regularly about film online is that there is so much regarding film that is unknown to me, either because of critical or cultural assumptions on my part, or because I am dependent on what is available in English, or that a film, or even a tidbit of information regarding a filmmaker is simply not to be found, at least not with my available resources. Schilling's book is about films made by one studio during a span of a little more than a decade. What would be are more books, or at least more internet accessible articles on more films, as well as availability of the films in an easily viewable format.

Personal experience has made some difference. For most Westerners, Thai cinema is either the films that play in the art houses or film festivals, or is the martial arts show. Most of the Thai films that are available on DVD are genre films because those films are the most commercially viable in Thailand as well. What I got to view in Thailand were some films that would not make the film festival or art theater circuit, nor would they be considered for the audience that supports DVDs of Asian genre films. What I have learned is that especially in considering films from other countries, there is so much filtering by film scholars and critics, and the companies that make the films available, which is not discussed or challenged effectively. Any form of scholarship should usually be of some value, but it should also be considered the beginning of discussion or one's own exploration in film studies.

Schilling's book developed from the program he created for the Udine Far East Film Festival in 2005. The festival is noted for featuring both popular and artistic Asian films, both past and present, and often those films and filmmakers not established by mainstream critical consensus. And while this except from an essay by Udine festival organizers Sabrina Baracetti, Thomas Bertacche and Giorgio Placereani is in regards to Asian films, it could easily describe what is required in serious attention to film in other parts of the world: "The history of Far Eastern cinema contains a huge amount of films, auteurs, and production companies which are still totally unknown in the West. If there was so much about modern-day cinema that we didn't know about, to what degree were we (are we) ignorant of the cinema of the past? Exploring Asian cinema in a synchronic/diachronic, horizontal and vertical sense: this was the challenge we set for ourselves."

Since reading Schilling's book, I have even more interest in seeing A Colt is my Passport, although my concern is that the film may not live up to the promise shown in the production stills. I am Waiting is also discussed by Schilling, and is another of the films in the "Nikkatsu Noir" set. Toshio Masuda is represented with his hit film, Rusty Knife. The interview with Schilling suggests that Masuda was also interested in trying to go beyond the expectations of simply filming vehicles for Nikkatsu's stable of stars. Several of the films Schilling mentions are already available on subtitled DVDs. The book's title, No Borders, No Limits should be taken to heart regarding the boundaries often self placed when we discuss film.

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Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards! (Seijun Suzuki - 1963)

Posted by peter at July 28, 2009 12:02 AM