Note: The first half of 20th-century Japanese cinema was strongly shaped by censorships: prewar military censorship and postwar American censorship. Most of period films about prewar era that were made after WWII always had obvious anti-war messages that sometimes feel out of place.
... Ozu's early films often show wartime realistic poverty but avoid talking about elephant in the room. Mizoguchi's 47 Ronin (1941) is such a beautiful pro-war propaganda. Gojira/Godzilla (1954) is very clever war allergory. Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954) - is that American robbing Japan's village? While mainstream cinema was full of samurai flicks, new wave directors of 1960s turned to sex, criminal, marxism, radicalism, and experimental narratives.
... Here is my list of favourite epic films chronicling 20th-century Japan:
... Considering historical events, Shohei Imamura's Zegen (1987) should be included though this ultra-nationalist satire a bit underwhelms. (I chose Zegen over Kei Kumai's famous Sandakan 8 (1974) which story happens almost at the same places and period of time.)
... Yasuzo Masumura's The Red Angel (1966) sounds like a softcore porn movie in war, but he made it to be a very serious film, though sexually exploitative. I'm not sure how I feel about this strange kind of beast. He also made brilliant Giants And Toys (1958) about world of capitalism and media, that's way ahead of its time.
... The main protagonist of Masaki Kobayashi's magnum-opus Human Condition Trilogy (1959-1961) is too idealistic and too melodramatic that it annoys me. And the Chinese parts played by Japanese actors are worse. But it still achieves as one of a few Japanese films that directly depict Japan's brutality in wars, including Kei Kumai's The Sea and Poison (1986). This kind of films always have super-naive protagonists that may satisfy postwar Japanese audiences to side with, more than brutal majority in those films. Some would say this is the legacy of American censorship after WWII.
... In his masterpieces, The Burmese Harp (1956) and Fires on the Plain (1959), Kon Ichikawa masterfully make anti-war films without putting preaching words in characters' mouths or throwing messages into audiences' faces. Akira Kurosawa's No Regret for Our Youth (1946) ends like communist propaganda that may predicts 1960s movement.
... I had been amazed by synopsis of Nagisa Oshima's A Town of Love and Hope (1959) for a long time. When I finally saw the film, this postwar-inequality cautionary tale didn't disappoint me at all. His The Sun's Burial (1960) - meaning Japan's funeral - may be the most pessimistic film about this country. Pigs and Battleships (1961) is Imamura's screaming to postwar society full of pigs (Japanese) and battleships (American), its ending is thought-provoking. Actually I can complete this whole list with filmographies of Imamura and Oshima alone.
... On my first watch of Muddy River (1981) twenty years ago, I thought it's a mediocre coming-of-age story of a boy. Now on my second viewing, Muddy River is very deep and heartbreaking story about war-surviving parents of both kids.
... Every era has rebellious younger generations of their time. Rebellion in Japan peaked with street demonstrations in 1960s and 1970s. From Crazed Fruit (1956, Kô Nakahira), Everything Goes Wrong (1960, Seijun Suzuki), Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets (1971, Shuji Terayama) to The Man Who Stole the Sun (1979, Kazuhiko Hasegawa) - these kids rebel with or without a cause, usually take aim at parent generation who created wars, and try to find something to fill their invisible voids. The bad (or best) example is The Youth Killer (1976, Kazuhiko Hasegawa), I wish every characters just shut up and died.
... On the other hand, Oshima's films approach youth movement with more criticizing voice, from Cruel Story of Youth (1960) to The Man Who Left His Will On Film (1970). This kind of expressive and nihilistic films disappeared completely in 1980s with japan's economic boom. The closest may be The Family Game (1983) which is satire of the genre.
... Late 1990s saw many impressive teen movies returned: Like Grains of Sand (1995), Kids Return (1996), Eureka (2000), Go (2001), All About Lily Chou-chou (2001). They all are great but become narcissistic and repressive, in the time of Japan's economic recession.
... While expressive experimental films went underground with heavily manga influenced Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) then became mainstream with Battle Royale (2000) directed by Kinji Fukasaku who made that yakuza saga, Battles Without Honor and Humanity (1973).
... (Battle Royale original novel takes place in fictional
Republic of Greater East Asia in an alternate timeline where Japan won WWII. This military program is launched to stop people's rebellion to state.)
Some of films on the list above is not my most favorite films of those directors. So here are my most favorite Japanese films alphabetically.
After Life (1998,
My favorite Japanese directors are:
My discoveries from recent marathon-viewing are:
I think that Hayao Miyazaki's films not only caught the zeitgeist in the late 20th Century, for audiences just starting to come to term with environmental issues, but also in the 21st Century, with millennials growing up with a sense that their world has already been despoiled. Makoto Shinkai said it best, about his controversial ending for Weathering With You (2019), when he said that he couldn't bring himself to have a hero save the world, when the real world is already past saving. He said it felt dishonest for young viewers to tell them that there was any possibility beyond somehow learning to cope with the damage that humanity has already done to the world. I think Miyazaki's works are a little bit more optimistic than that – he's ready to start with planting a single tree, and encouraging everybody else to do the same.
These streaming services have been making something that they call 'movies.' They ain't movies. They are some weird algorithmic process that has created things that last 100 minutes or so.
Bruce Lee had no respect for American stuntmen, he was always hitting them with his feet. It's called tagging when you hit a stuntman for real. He was always tagging them with his feet and his fist and it got to the point where they would refuse to work with Bruce. He had nothing but disrespect for American stuntmen. It was probably just like, ‘Oh they're just not good enough. They are pussies. I want to make it look real!' But stuntmen don't like that. That's unprofessional.
The definition between [Cinema and TV] gets a little fuzzy, but the one thing that remains pretty consistent is stuff that's narrative-based—where it's based on writers and characters—that's for TV. While I think cinema can do very well with those things, it can also go beyond that. It can bend time and deal with image, sound, color, all those poetic properties that are harder to define. I think that's the distinction between how cinema and television is made. It has nothing to do with how it's shot. It's the attitude. I've done very little television, but they're run by showrunners and change directors. I remain very much a person who loves to give myself to a director, doing their bidding or inhabiting what they need me to do. That's freedom for me, service for me, enjoyment for me.
Tarantino is brilliant in his own right, but he's not making movies about things that happened recently. Or things that ever happen. He's making movies about pieces of movies, and ideas from movies.
About time. If he's guilty of a crime, incarcerate him. If not, let him act. Many great artists have been bad people.
I think it's really important to put in context that I started my producing career in the 80s. It was right in the middle of the AIDS crisis. I think what that did was cause a great acceleration. There was a sense of urgency that if we didn't tell our stories, nobody else would. And nobody cared what was happening to our community. I try and describe that time to young queer people, and it's hard for them to grasp the disenfranchisement we felt. It felt like our community was dying this horrible death every day, and there was no sense that it mattered.
Well, a feature film . . . hopefully, if you're an artist, each time out you have a problem, a subject matter, and you need to create a style that really works. With [TV] episodic, you create a template, and then directors just follow that template. So if you're doing “The Crown,” you're doing a lot of soft focus, backlighting. They all look the same. And that's a kind of a comfort, too, because every time you watch “The Crown,” you know exactly how it's going to look. The challenge of independent film is creating something that feels new, and that is going less and less in favor. And I think you can just look at film criticism to see that, because I remember when people would read film criticism and say, “What's new? What do I need to see? What's this film that Oliver Stone did about Vietnam? I think we should see that.” That seems to be less and less part of the conversation.
Our population could just suddenly dip and disappear! I talked to an expert on this recently, and I said; 'Tell me the truth'. He said with mass consumption continuing as it is we will have less than 50 years… I'm hoping I'll live another 30 years. I want to see the sea rise over Tokyo and the NTV tower become an island. I'd like to see Manhattan underwater… Money and desire – all that is going to collapse, and wild green grasses are going to take over.
I remember Jonathan Demme saying on the first day
[of “The Silence of the Lambs” shooting] —it was a Monday in January, 1990—“How do you want to be seen when Jodie comes down the corridor?” I said, “Standing in the middle of the cell.” He said, “Standing? You don't want to be reading? Why?” I said, “Because I can smell her coming down the corridor.” John said, “You're weird .” What he is, in a way, is a lover, because he's impressed that this young, physically vulnerable woman comes to visit the monster. Lecter thinks, God, she's courageous. But I'm going to take the mask off her now, so she can learn from me. He strips her down to make her a better person.
Back in 2008 I starred opposite Clint Eastwood in ‘Gran Torino' playing the lead Hmong role in a tale of two people transcending their differences to form an unlikely human bond. It was a historic cinematic moment for Hmong people around the world, despite its copious anti-Asian slurs.
In a movie theatre, you watch movies with the significant others in your life, but also in the company of strangers. That's the magic we experience when we go out to see a movie or a play or a concert or a comedy act. We don't know who all these people are sitting around us, but when the experience makes us laugh or cry or cheer or contemplate, and then when the lights come up and we leave our seats, the people with whom we head out into the real world don't feel like complete strangers anymore. We've become a community, alike in heart and spirit, or at any rate alike in having shared for a couple of hours a powerful experience. That brief interval in a theatre doesn't erase the many things that divide us: race or class or belief or gender or politics. But our country and our world feel less divided, less fractured, after a congregation of strangers has laughed, cried, jumped out their seats together, all at the same time. Art asks us to be aware of the particular and the universal, both at once. And that's why, of all the things that have the potential to unite us, none is more powerful than the communal experience of the arts.
If further viewing is ‘suggested' by algorithms based on what you've already seen, and the suggestions are based only on subject matter or genre, then what does that do to the art of cinema?
Algorithms, by definition, are based on calculations that treat the viewer as a consumer and nothing else.
Terrence Malick is quite an extraordinary guy, and I love some of his movies very much, but the problem with Terry, which I soon found, is he needs a writer desperately, because he insists on doing everything. He insists on writing, and overwriting, and overwriting, until it sounds terribly pretentious. You have to work terribly hard to make it sound real. And then he edits his films in such a way where he cuts everybody out of the story. Terry gets terribly involved in poetic shots… which are gorgeous, but they're paintings. All of them. He gets lost in that, and the stories get diffused, particularly in our film [
“The New World” ].
Note: I just rewatched Zhang Yimou's To Live, and it made me want to revisit chinese epic films that timelines span through 20th-century China/Hong Kong/Taiwan. This is my list of favorite ones chronologically.
Note: My watchlist
Note: My favourite series of 2020.
I think there's something sexy about casting a straight actor to play a gay role — if they're willing to invest a lot into it. In our world that we live in you can't really as a director demand that [an actor be a given sexual orientation]. Who's to determine how gay someone is?
I played a [straight] character for nine years who was nothing like me. I would definitely want to hire the best actor.
I don't have to spend time servicing straightness, straight relationships. Acting is investigating for me, mapping new territory, articulating things I don't get to articulate in my day-to-day. Mapping straightness, at this point... feels like a dead end. I'd like to tell — to watch — more stories where gay characters are informed by their struggles, but not defined. Not getting sacrificed so straight characters can enjoy some kind of epiphany. I don't think that's too much to ask.
I'm not being woke about this… but I feel strongly that if I cast someone in a story, I am casting them to act as a lover, or an enemy, or someone on drugs or a criminal or a saint… they are not there to ‘act gay' because ‘acting gay' is a bunch of codes for a performance. It's about authenticity, the taste of 2020. You wouldn't cast someone able-bodied and put them in a wheelchair, you wouldn't black someone up. Authenticity is leading us to joyous places.
I saw thirty minutes of [“Fight Club” ] only because our trailer is playing in front of it. And I would love to go on railing about the movie, but I'm just going to pretend as if I haven't seen it. It's just unbearable. I wish David Fincher testicular cancer, for all of his jokes about it, I wish him testicular fucking cancer.
Yeah. Look, I've been through cancer with somebody that I love, and I can understand if somebody thought... I didn't think that we were making fun of cancer survivors or victims. I thought what Chuck [Palahniuk] was doing was talking about a therapeutic environment that could be infiltrated or abused. We were talking about empathy vampirism. Cancer's rough. It's a fucking horrible thing. As far as Paul's quote, I get it. If you're in a rough emotional state and you've just been through something major.... My dad died, and it certainly made me feel different about death and suffering. And my dad probably liked ‘Fight Club' even less than Paul did.
What I find is people who just watch the movies to be entertained and have a good time, they get the movies and they understand the movies far better than people who fight the movies, who feel they're in some kind of chess match with the movie while they're watching it. And the reality is, the reason people get frustrated like that is because it's not a level playing field. I've had 20 years to think about these ideas. So it's not a level playing field in that sense. It's not meant to be a chess match between filmmaker and audience. It's entertainment. It's a ride you go on and, if done right, there will be aspects to it that will reward a second viewing. When you're dealing with time and when you're dealing with these sorts of complexities, you have to be making a film that the second time you watch it would be a different film.
Roger Deakins made jokes about my iPhone. For people who don't know. Roger was traumatized that I had ‘The Thin Red Line' from Terrence Malick on my iPhone and Roger thought it was horrific. Me, I thought it was cool because I could take the movie with me. It's not the same, but the thing is…I want to fight for the big screen, but a lot of my cinematic experiences have actually been on television.
You know what happened? We've hit ‘Anomalisa'. We made it ourselves. We made it in the middle of nothing in the middle of nowhere. We didn't know what we had. We finished it. We started sending it to Telluride and Venice and Toronto [film festivals], and these people went crazy for it. And it won! And everybody was bidding on it to buy it, because we didn't have distribution. And we won the Silver Lion at Venice . And I thought, holy cow.
When I am enjoying a film I just don't see editing. I find over-cutting is just the curse of what I see on television, in particular on streaming shows. It's just reactions shoehorned in everywhere and fast cutting for no reason. I feel like somebody is dragging me. I feel like I'm being manipulated and I reject that. That's the worst mistake [in editing], for me.
People have died all the way through human history, but people live like they are immortal. They don't want to think about death. But now, every person is [aware] of death. That is good for the progress of consciousness. We will become more conscious.
Miramax was a place that gave me an incredibly big shot, but it was also an incredibly thuggish place to work. It had a very unusual environment at that time. [It was] this place that seemed golden, in Hollywood's eyes, and in the zeitgeist. You felt honored to be included, but you also felt like you were a cog in a system that was dark and corrupt. It seemed like everyone was reading their own clippings and feeling thrilled to be part of this club that was the hottest little studio in the world.
The power of the screen has always been its intimacy– at least up to CinemaScope, which I hate. The director would command an audience to see only what he regarded as dramatically important. He used the close-up to say something without distractions. But Godard never uses any close-ups, which is contradictory since he and his contemporaries are interested in form. I'm more interested in content, I must confess, but something does come out of the form-over-content thinking.
‘Dune' is a book that's like Proust. It's science fiction but it's very, very literary. It's very difficult to find images to put in the film because pictures are optical. When I had the idea to do that, it was in an ecological [crisis]. I was feeling what all the people feel today. We're in an ecological problem, because the Earth is changing, and your crazy President doesn't believe that. That is ‘Dune' in the beginning.
It's a weird business, the film business. We honor creativity and talent and we forgive the brilliant ones. Unconsciously, we probably do enable them by turning a blind eye to whatever they're doing and taking their product and putting it out to the world...
You have to understand, [Bryan Singer] was brilliant, and that was why we all tolerated him and cajoled him. And if he wasn't so fucked up, he would be a really great director.
At the peak of his fame Malcolm McDowell starred in Caligula, a fevered Roman epic bankrolled by Penthouse magazine. The production sounds hilarious; it was basically two films in one. First, McDowell played the mad emperor alongside a classy lineup of actors that included Helen Mirren, John Gielgud and Peter O'Toole. Then the producers brought in adult performers to shoot hardcore sex scenes to be deployed as extended cutaways, seemingly at random, so as to give the impression that McDowell was gazing wistfully at a lesbian orgy, or a gladiator getting a blowjob. “There's quite a good movie in there somewhere,” he says. “But not the porn stuff.”
My films don't make money. In 2008, the first movie that I directed, Synecdoche, New York, came out, and it lost money. And at that time the movie industry, coincidentally, fell apart because of the economic crisis and studios stopped making movies and started making superhero franchise things. The sort of mid-budget movie that I've been working on, there was no outlet for it any more. It just didn't exist.
The art of directing for the commercial market is to know just how far you can go. In many ways I am freer now to do what I want to do than I was a few years ago. I hope in time to have more freedom still – if audiences will give it to me.
My wife grew up in Siberia. Her mother tongue is Russian. My mother tongue is Bavarian. Which is not even German, it's a dialect. But we decided, 25 years ago, that we would not speak in German or Russian to each other. Both of us leave the comfort zone of our language, and we communicate in English. This means that we are very cautious and careful. We are trying to articulate our feelings as closely as we can in a foreign tongue. And the result? In 25 years there has not been a single foul word that has passed between us.
Gone With The Wind and The Birth of a Nation are the most popular movies ever made (when box-office accounts are adjusted for inflation). These historical romances are interesting for divining American spirit; their art surpasses politics — even political correctness... Millennial moralizers don't understand that GWTW was the work of Hollywood progressives. Each character's life was given humane measure, which Hollywood no longer knows how to do... When maniacal progressives are on a censorious rampage — and our corporations and institutions go along with it — we lose our cultural foundation and deny the truth about ourselves.
Timothée Chalamet afterward publicly stated he regretted working with me and was giving the money to charity. But he swore to my sister he needed to do that as he was up for an Oscar for Call Me By Your Name, and he and his agent felt he had a better chance of winning if he denounced me, so he did.
The media made us stars and didn't take care of the subject of the film [La Haine]. They asked me questions where I said: ‘Don't ask me that, go to the projects and talk to the guys there.' But they didn't want to talk to them.
Alfred Hitchcock created
North by Northwest for an audience. He orchestrated their oohs and aahs, when they would lean forward and when they would sit back. This wasn't about someone on the sofa at home getting distracted by their phone or the doorbell or going to get a drink. The place was full of energy and at the end everyone stood and applauded; just as they did when I saw Slumdog Millionaire at the ArcLight in Los Angeles.
I saw The Thin Red Line in a cinema in Toronto in Canada when I was 20. I entered the theatre militantly atheist, depressed and with the belief that working in film was a superficial thing to do with one's life. I left the theatre with a glimpse of what faith meant, having been lifted and carried out of my sadness, and wanting to make my own films one day. In the dark of the cinema, among strangers, I was transformed.
I'm not writing stories about societies falling apart at the moment, so read into that what you will. If you look at classic dystopian stories, it becomes every man for himself immediately. Actually, in this crisis, what's happened is you're more likely to be sitting indoors watching Tiger King and worrying that your neighbour's OK and asking to see if they need you to bring in a bag of potatoes or whatever. What's actually happening at the moment is much more cohesive and heartening.
We're turning a 5-minute idea into a feature film! But then Jermaine
[Clement, co-director of What We Do in the Shadows ]
said ‘the world needs stupid shit' and I realized... Who wants to go and see a film that reminds us how terrible the world is? We need ridiculous movies to remind us that we're the dumbest, clumsiest animals.
Well, I spoke with Soderbergh, who's heading this DGA committee to restart production. I have about 85 percent of my film done. I could create a simulated version. He said not to do it, to wait, because a simulated version will never be the same thing. There are a lot of films out there where I don't know if they'll be able to go back. Michael Mann shot for a week in Tokyo. When is he ever going to be able to go back to Tokyo? Will I be able to make a film again over the next year? Have we seen Scorsese's last film? Eastwood's last film? Ridley Scott's last film? My last film? If we can't go back to work for a year, who knows what our health will be like?
For Tarantino, Hollywood's golden glow is directly tied to the blonde hair and wide eyes of Sharon Tate. Long cited as the angel of innocence whose brutal murder marked the end of the 1960s era of free love, it's hard to watch Tarantino's feature and ignore the white privilege presented in its depiction of Los Angeles. The Hollywood of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is one where minority actors and their struggles are erased or just non-existent.
I wanted to do something specifically on three Hollywood icons who had, I believed, really been treated poorly. That was Rock Hudson and Anna May Wong and Hattie McDaniel. I was very interested in them, even as a kid... [They] were all in the LGBTQ community. Rock was gay and Anna May and Hattie were bisexual. I thought it would be interesting to give them the happy ending that they deserved — to have these fictionalized people, in a revisionist way, usher in a Hollywood that I wish had happened 50 years ago, 60 years ago.
The first ‘Hellboy' movie was developed before even X-Men was on film. I remember visiting the ‘Mystery Men' set to try to convince Universal to green light it. It languished for a long time. To my mind, the first ‘Blade' was instrumental in showing how superhero movies could exist at the end of the 20th century. There was a collision of ‘Dark City' and ‘Blade' that somehow, in subtle ways paved the way for ‘The Matrix' to explode into the world. But, still, back then it was a countermovement to try and do superhero films, specially with material that didn't have Marvel numbers.
Movies have become more about the aesthetic than the story and the content and what the film is trying to say. I find that pretty disappointing and pretty depressing.
“Wuhan: The Long Night” by Lan Bo
Giving Polanski a prize was quite a statement. The film is something a lot of people work on, not just him. Giving him the prize protects him – it says you cannot reach him and the French cinema elite will stick together: it's like a cinema mob and he's the godfather.
[TV series is] certainly filmmaking, but it's not exactly cinema. In writing it, your rhythms are quite different. It can be pretty delicious for a writer. Perhaps less so for a director. It's not the same as directing a movie where you're completely responsible for the look of the thing, the casting, and so on. [But] many of the series that I've seen on Netflix or Amazon Prime have very, very good directing by directors I've never heard of.
I don't know if I should say this or not. Not because it's lascivious or something, but because it's gonna screw me on the next mystery movie that I write. But forget it, I'll say it, it's very interesting. Apple, they let you use iPhones in movies, but, and this is very pivotal, if you're ever watching a mystery movie, bad guys cannot have iPhones on camera. Every single filmmaker who has a bad guy in their movie that's supposed to be a secret wants to murder me right now.
We have a very modest goal for
[Velvet Goldmine ]. That's just to turn every gay person straight and every straight person gay.
With globalisation comes a breaking down of barriers – directors can move around and plant their visions wherever they wish – but in auteur-driven cinema perhaps we lose some piquancy, a more pointed vision, a more heightened and individual outlook, when directors stray into different lands.
I wanted to eliminate voiceover, any slaughtering, any blood, because a lot of films are made about this, and people are still not getting it. Now we will just look at them and look how they are and maybe people will get it. I decided to eliminate music. I can make emotional film and people will cry, without manipulating them.
On a personal level, as filmmakers, I don't think that this epidemic will somehow dent our passions or our eagerness to continue making films. This epidemic has caused us to stop and think about our society and a lot of issues that we haven't been reflecting on for a long period of time. So on a creative level, we may find a lot of source of inspiration as a result of this epidemic to make more work.
Marcello ends the film [ "La Dolce Vita" ] unmoored, shouting unheard words, just as in his first appearance. He has no idea what to do with all of the ugliness he perceives in his beautiful world, symbolized by the ghastly mutant fish that washes up on the pristine Italian beach in this final scene. The viewer may share in his despair, as he's caught once again between the sacred and profane. But there's also penumbra of envy to it, that at least he had plenty of the sacred to go around.
I've got a massive thing that I'm doing, and after that I'm gonna get out of this, I'm gonna get out of film after this. I've got another half of my life to live and I want to think about charities and finding a way to help people, not doing this bullshit, caring about box office, distribution and all this.