Two noteworthy Japanese directors have provocative films on tap
Since his rise to international notoriety in the 1990s as a purveyor of extreme violence and gore — exhibit one being the 1999 shocker “Audition” — Takashi Miike has proven himself a far more diverse filmmaker than his cult rep would indicate.
In the past decade he has made everything from the family-friendly fantasy “The Great Yokai War” (2005) to the Western parody “Sukiyaki Western Django” (2007), with fan Quentin Tarantino in the cast.
Long a foreign fest favorite, he moved up to the majors with the selection of “13 Assassins,” his full-bore action remake of a 1963 Eiichi Kudo samurai swashbuckler, for the 2010 Venice competition. The pic was also a hit in Japan, earning $20 million at the B.O., and sold widely around the world.
His latest, “Ichimei (Harakiri: Death of a Samurai ),” is yet another remake, this time of the 1962 Masaki Kobayashi classic “Harakiri” (“Seppuku”). Kabuki star Ebizo Ichikawa plays a samurai who, in the original pic, asks to commit ritual suicide (commonly “harakiri”) at the house of a clan where his own son-in-law was forced to disembowel himself. But where Miike will take the story is anyone’s guess.
A native of Nara, in ancient times a center of Japanese culture and politics surrounded by hilly woodlands known for their natural beauty, Naomi Kawase has been celebrating her region and her roots since her start as a documentary filmmaker in the early 1990s. In 1995, she won the Camera d’Or for “Moe no suzaku,” her first feature, a family drama set in a declining rural community in the Nara mountains.
Long one of the few women helmers in a male-dominated biz, Kawase has quietly but persistently accumulated honors for her blend of docu influences and personal storytelling.
In 2007, she won the Cannes Grand Prix for “The Mourning Forest” (Mogari no mori), a drama about a caregiver at a nursing home who joins one of her charges, a man suffering from dementia, on a life-changing journey.
This year, she is back in the Cannes competition with “Hanezu no tsuki.” Set in the Asuka region of Nara Prefecture, the pic focuses on a woman studying the craft of dying who falls in love with a local carpenter. Together they investigate the local history and myths — and the love affair of two of their ancestors. Kawase’s own company, Kumie, will release the pic in Japan this September.
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