The Criterion Collection’s Asian catalogue could arguably be described as thin. We’ve all seen Ran, Seven Samurai and Chungking Express. What’s going on in Asia NOW? While the following films were released in the last decade…or so, they serve as a distinctive hallmark in all things genius and masterpiece, genuflecting on both substance AND style. Not just substance, not just style, not just hipster cache.
Criterion would do well to investigate:
Technological bliss for even the semi-aware science fiction fan. Makoto Kusinagi doesn’t understand how to stop kicking ass and taking names. She also happens to be my number 2 most ass-kicking female of all time. Does she care? Nope. Whoever is ghost hacking humans and cyborgs in future Japanland had better take a serious thought to another profession because Mokoto can fight you dressed and she can fight you naked. Either way she will kick your ass. OK, as for why Criterion would enjoy this, is the usual. It’s perfect. Sound, score, animation, design and philosophy–it is a 5 star film. Yes, it had a recent re-release in blu-ray and looks all kinds of terrible with added CGI. Stop that. Remember when people actually drew with their hands? Ghost in the Shell does.
Central to the story is recently pubescent Hajime. A teen on the waning end of his growth spurt, he is on the waxing end of his love for girls. Specifically those possessing intelligence, beauty and particularly, a skill at mastering the game of GO (basically Asian Chess). Ayano, Hajime’s uncle (played by beating heart Tadanobu Asano) comes back to visit from Tokyo to hang, chill and say nothing much but mostly to think about POSSIBLY telling the girl he had it so bad for back in the day how over her he is. He is sooo over her. Just FYI. He travels from Tokyo and tells her this upfront and as she looks down on her engagement and wedding rings, there is the soft hum and sigh of cicadas in the back ground. It’s summer time after all. Next we have Hajime’s little sister Sachiko, a wizened and over-it-all six year old plagued mercilessly by a giant version of herself who silently watches her every move. Then there is grandpa, Akira. Akira lives in the magical world of zip and zim. Of little, green people, samurai’s, costuming and spontaneous song and dance. He marches to the beat of the silver tuning fork he carries in his pocket, ever aware of the need for spontaneous anime posturing and villain hunting. If I speak in hyperbole it is only because that is the language of this film. Everything is everything and nothing is nothing. Criterion would get it.
The penultimate transcendental meditation piece built from bamboo, rain and tears. Master craftsman Hirokazu Kore-eda creates a work that when encountered renders you speechless. If you have the patience for it, that is. Lingering shots of perfectly balanced rice paper windows, sea scapes and dark patches of night imbue the viewer with a sense of levity and understanding beyond the pale crunch of the daily humdrum. Criterion would do well to add this as rarely has anything come close to this level of artistic nuance, and it’s continually listed as one of the greatest Japanese masterpieces of all time. Cinematography balanced like a mathematical logarithim.
When is hunting vampires not something you need to do with your bio-cybernetic horse, mutant puppet hand and the usual dose of blood lusting self-hatred? Never. All the proper items are thrown together to make this one of the bloodiest, most fantastical of all feature anime’s from the 80’s and one that would benefit GREATLY from Criterion treatment. First of all I’m not sure if this is not a tape-to-tape transfer VHS style. I can practically see the pixilation and can never visualize the nuances of different blacks and dark colors. Important. Hopefully this will happen as I’m not sure Criterion understands that Anime can be taken seriously as an art form at least once in a decade.
Little sweet Mui most go to the city to work as a servant at a very young age. Trying times for all as the dark shade of the Communist revolution looms in the streets and sirens call out 9 pm curfew. In the big house it’s business as usual with green jade,lacquer and the proclivity to produce scene stealing glances at crickets, hair, vegetables and the porous nature of existence. Depicted in ecstatically luscious dense color pixilation, Mui grows up a shade apart everyone else. Does she really enjoy cleaning to that degree…or has she transcended metaphysics? Serious cinephiles will snort at the ridiculousness of it NOT already being in Criterion’s Asian rolodex. I can’t say I disagree. The film barely has 20 lines of dialogue. Genius.
So first you need to drive yourself down to the Quick-Trip and get one of the big cups – I’m talking like the 44 oz or the 60 oz and fill it with lots of colored caffeinated chemicals and while you’re at it add some peanut M&M’s, maybe some Rolos, some Twizzlers… and then screw it, just throw in the Ben & Jerry’s Coffee, Coffee Heath Crunch. Only with this arsenal will novices be able to stay awake through the meandering delicate fold that is Café Lumière. Subtle cinema aficionados will not need this of course…they may have to pop a few downers their excitement will be that intense for all of the non-talking and non-action. Excitement is what happens when the camera doesn’t move and the viewer must actually pay attention to the minutiae of character development, and all that is unsaid and in Japan, that’s most of the conversation. Criterion should choose this one as it is similar in taste and texture as that time you tried to eat air.
It’s a tie! Gong Li lovers, paint your lips red and let down your onyx colored hair. Criterion should just do a box-set of early Zhang Yimou, call it a day and watch the $$ roll in. Maybe add in The Story of Qiu Ju. Everyone will buy it because who doesn’t need more harsh Chinese patriarchal dogmatics and paternalistic abuse is played with the most sumptuous art direction and cinematography east of Merchant Ivory? Gong Li washing the dishes or knitting a sock is a magical mystery in of itself and in these films the viewer is treated to a smorgasbord of recalcitrant lady fire that puts Angelina Jolie to shame. Upset because there are no guns and explosions and Teflon inflated breast plates? Gong Li doesn’t need them as her super weapon is actual acting. In Ju Dou, she is the put upon wife playing a game of Russian roulette forced impregnation by her husband and stepson, and in Raise the Red Lantern, set designed in a sea of red silk, she plays #4 wife undergoing willing forced impregnation. Criterion can’t go wrong.
Sunday dinner at your dad’s house! Stuff your faces with loquacious delectable’s created by your Master Chef father, in the goldening of new retirement. Perhaps the wonton crab rolls are slightly bland? The sweet and sour sauce is in fact neither sweet nor sour? A metaphor for his three daughter’s unmitigated post-modern love life and lack thereof? International master and successful crosser of genre’s, Ang Lee, creates a culinary family drama that will make you want to stuff things in your mouth at the sight and sound of all the sumptuous emotional eating. It is Criterion worthy because of the ingenuous, naturalistic microcosm of familial gathering routines, pre-internet. Also, pre- Incredible Hulk, Ice Storm and Brokeback Mountain.
So you’re in the mood for love and devastation but you don’t want to leave the internet? Neither does anyone else! Especially when you’re a nerdy teen filled with oh-so painful emotions (!) Fun times for gentle Hasumi who is also web master of a fan site dedicated to pop star love, Lily Chou-Chou. Bjork-like in her wailings, Lily is the only one who is really there for nerdish Hasumi, after his homework is stolen, his class crush is sexually assaulted, and a gang of bullies defiles any other sacred items he may have. If you’re looking for sweet idyllic pitter patter you are in the wrong place. Criterion will like this because its experimental video vanguard nature has us at once laughing, crying, awing at the beauty of a sea of grass and the joy of a pair of headphones.