Eclipse Series 10: Silent Ozu—Three Family Comedies

Discuss DVDs released in the Eclipse and Essential Art House lines and the films on them.
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the dancing kid
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#176 Post by the dancing kid » Thu Jan 24, 2008 5:41 pm

This set might be more adventurous than we’re giving Criterion credit for. If you look at all of the Japanese films that Criterion has released (either through the main label or the Eclipse imprint) they basically fall into two categories: postwar “grand old master” films and action cinema, and the latter leaning heavily toward samurai films. There are some “non-canon” choices in the collection, most notably the Suzuki titles and ‘Crazed Fruit’, but overall I feel that they’ve developed a certain idea of what “Japanese cinema” should be represented by* (and what is commercially viable), and in general I feel that is quite limited. Criterion has actually been pretty successful at turning Suzuki into a “name” director, so that’s an example of adventurous programming paying off, but there aren’t very many other examples of that. ‘Crazed Fruit’ is, I believe, one of their worst sellers, and was really released as a favor to Donald Richie more than anything else. They don't seem to stray from the formula without good reason.

I think that if we look at this release as part of their ongoing relationship with Japanese film rather than purely refining the Eclipse brand it does seem a little more interesting. I guess that what I’m wondering is could this set be a “baby step” of sorts toward more adventurous releases for Japanese cinema? Ozu might be considered a sure thing, but Criterion doesn’t tread into silent territory all that often, so they might consider this a light risk that could test the waters for further goodies. It also wasn’t that long ago that Richie thought these films were probably going to go unreleased due to the condition of the elements, so I’m happy they were able to turn around whatever was holding them back before.

*I’m not sure how much of Criterion’s selection can be chalked up to canon-building, so I don’t want to emphasize this claim too heavily. However, the fact that DVD has been such a successful format for delivering these kinds of films to a wide audience makes me wonder to what degree Criterion realize that they (and other non-studio labels) are shaping the landscape of film for future generations. DVD has undoubtedly changed the way we watch films, but I think we could just as easily say it changes what films we watch.

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#177 Post by MichaelB » Thu Jan 24, 2008 6:04 pm

the dancing kid wrote:I’m not sure how much of Criterion’s selection can be chalked up to canon-building, so I don’t want to emphasize this claim too heavily. However, the fact that DVD has been such a successful format for delivering these kinds of films to a wide audience makes me wonder to what degree Criterion realize that they (and other non-studio labels) are shaping the landscape of film for future generations. DVD has undoubtedly changed the way we watch films, but I think we could just as easily say it changes what films we watch.
Yes, but 'twas ever thus. My own film education was shaped by the programming policies of 1980s London repertory cinemas, BBC2 and Channel Four.

And when I started working in rep cinemas myself, I realised just why the same titles kept popping up again and again - it was partly because safe bets were a vital part of the business's economics (a guaranteed hit on a Saturday night would finance a riskier prospect on a Wednesday), but it was also because at any given moment there was only a fraction of the total span of film history actually available.

In general, this was either because no-one currently had the rights (a particular problem with films not produced by major studios who owned them in perpetuity - all but the most famous/successful arthouse titles would start disappearing 5-7 years after their initial release as rights agreements expired without being renewed), or because there wasn't a conveniently accessible print. I was really shocked to discover how many bona fide classics simply weren't screenable for one or both of those reasons!

What was especially galling was the knowledge that the Rank film depot in Perivale, north-west London, must have had literally thousands of long-unavailable titles just sitting on its shelves - but they wouldn't let them out without copious paperwork proving legal entitlement.

We used to get loads of complaints about the way we showed Blow-Up and Zabriskie Point double bills over and over again, but in the early 1990s those were literally the only Antonionis in circulation in Britain, for precisely the majors-versus-arthouse reason outlined above - so we could either show them repeatedly, or ignore his work altogether.

Mind you, things are undoubtedly infinitely better now than they were in 1988, when even getting to see films in the correct aspect ratio was a major headache!

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HerrSchreck
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#178 Post by HerrSchreck » Thu Jan 24, 2008 7:06 pm

You make so many good points DKid I almost dont know where to start. On Suzuki you're absolutely right imo, someone in there at Janus/CC certainly has/had a huge love for the man and his works (there;s a whole thread somewhere around here devoted to grousing-- and defending-- the label for what is perceived as a bias towards a director whose work is obviously not as universally accepted by some as "worthy" as say a Renoir or Ozu). Of course it's their company and have every right to do whatever the hell they want... some disagree owing to their dollars being an investment i e shareholders. In the end it all comes out in the wash as facts are facts & thats that.

But you mention something which is indeed the "rub" here. The mere fact of a certain film's inclusion in the CC line gives it a cache and attention and veneer of cinematic magnificence that cause people to fetishize them as blind buys, when they haven't heard of the title. A title like Blast of Silence is a perfect example. Stick that film in the Kit Parker/VCI Forgotten Noir, or Image Ent line, and 3/4 of the buyers hereabouts wouldn't even think about buying it.

So a combination of almost random circumstance and happenstance-- what films they can get their hands on in terms of rights, the taste of producers, what films get the thumbs up from the Janus roundtable when a producer comes before the group with an idea (many get voted down I'm sure, and many for reasons having to do with economics and not the film itself), what films have elements in the condition acceptable for their General Release QUality.

The byproduct of the line is that it is indeed, as you said, as powerful if not MORE powerful than any college curriculum or critics written works in sum or arthouse cinemateque or retrospective in creating The Accepted Sum Picture of Quality Cinema. The default impression for many is the combination of the commentaries, extras, and literature included constitute their primary means to accessing "arthouse" cinema, or just plain old Best Movies Ever Made. The unfortunate byproduct for other companies is that consumers grow used to the technical properties of a CC release, since it is their primary venue of accessing arthouse, and therefore poo poo more adventurous releases (or silents owing to elements) because there is not extensive MTI'ng, progressive transfers, DL discs, included booklet, etc.

One issue that plays heavily into both the above discussion about The Picture Afforded By The CC Line of World Cinema, as well the discussion over the last few pages, is something that I haven't addressed specifically but is something which I'm a big baby about and simply refuse to accept: Criterion and silent cinema. They're probably the only line out of the arthouse majors-- Eureka/Eureka-MoC, The British Film Institute, Milestone, Kino, Image Entertainment, Edition Filmmuseum, Arte, Artificial Eye-- that simply just completely and totally poops all over silents. They just don't seem to care, or they're just scared to death of going there. And I don't for the life of me understand it. If they can push out something as marginal as Symbiotaxiplasm or Equinox or Crazed Fruit or some of the more freaked out and sleazoid Suzuki, I just don't understand what the problem is here. If Nick Wrigley, Trondsen and Cummings et al can find a way to make MoC work with the number of silents in their line (however "safe" the titles notwithstanding, at least the statement is "we cannot propose to give a Big Picture of Important World Cinema and not include silents, because there is a portion of the silent cinema that has yet to be matched by sound cinema.. so ignoring them would result in a line We Could Not Personally Be Proud Of In Sum") while including the bevy of extras, certainly there is no reason why CC is not releasing them. Enough time has gone by, they've had plenty of chances to release crucial titles, and they just don't: they are just the world chumps of silent cinema, and it's a shame. The result is that their primary, flagship line of The Most Beautiful & Important Films Ever Made is doomed to be incomplete, with a huge hole omitting some of the purest cinema and some of the most moving images (and some of the most influential over directors such as Renoir, Ozu, Bresson, Bergman, Kurosawa, etc) ever committed to celluloid. It's like creating a line of literary classics that begins with Burroughs and Pynchon, yet ignores Celine, James Joyce, TS Eliot, Proust, etc. To insightful historians, the omission of these unsurpassed masterworks would be extremely bizarre, especially for "the premeire purveyor of quality presentations of classics". In one sense folks say "be glad you're getting them at last" but I don't (or didn't) equate silent= Eclipse. Eclipse is for overlooked material in arthouse... and the only people in arthouse who ignore silents are CC. So in terms of the company, sticking all coming silents on Eclipse now makes sense to me... but prior to this month it made no sense to me. Silents are dealt with heartily all over the world by a bevy of companies far poorer than CC, and in cinemas and arthouse retrospectives every week in major cities all over the globe. SOme silents are overlooked, some are not.

The tantalizing mention of the Eisenstein silent box, the Ozus, and a few other enticing rumors kept me hoping, along with the fact of Nanook, Pandora, King of Kings (???, truly one of the strangest entries in the line, and a two-discer too), Haxan (fantastic release), Joan (fantastic release), and the slipping in of Weeds, kept me hanging on that the line would at last get in sync with the rest of the arthouse world in the overall picture afforded of world cinema.

I'm being totally honest, I never thought I'd see Ozu or Bergman on Eclipse. If that makes me a dooface, I'm a dooface. I thought Eclipse would be some wild sci fi, avant garde, directors from the shadows. I thought it would include oddities like Equinox, lost masterful stuff like Gremillon, Bernard, Klein. Truly marginal stuff. I would previously not have thought von Sternberg's silents would have come out on Eclipse either. That's primary, classic material I thought would have made a great CC box. I would have thought Lubitsch's musicals would absolUTEly have come out on CC. It's Lubitsch furchrissakes.

Of course what this means is that, unlike other labels, in terms of CC, silents are out. Officially, it would seem. Of course in the big picture it's awesome to get silents in any form, anywhere, so this is good news, strictly in those terms. Hopefully we will get some more adventurous silent material in terms of Japanese cinema. My only lament is that, since this is going to be the spigot for all those other Ozu (maybe Mizo?) silents and mid-period films, not to mention a-list classics like the Sternbergs, and all the other "less known gems from CC-brands", some of the freaky shit (remember we thought we were getting an Eclipse Jodorowsky box?)we've been praying for over the years is going to come at an intermittent drip.

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Steven H
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#179 Post by Steven H » Thu Jan 24, 2008 11:40 pm

If one thing can be said with certainty, it's that this release has really spawned the most interest and controversy yet from Eclipse. People, myself included, have been clamoring for silent Ozu for *years* on this messageboard in particular, and it's almost unbelievable to see it. Ten years ago what would the likelihood of this have been? Non-existant for sure. Back then you were *lucky* if you could find a worn out VHS tape of Inn in Tokyo with German subtitles. Now I feel relatively spoilt.

Like Schreck said, we've been watching silents fade in the Criterion fog for a very, very long time (maybe after some of their early films came under fire for not looking "perfect" they avoided silents due to damage? I have no idea.) Hopefully this set will do well, but unfortunately I don't think it will. People probably still view early Japanese cinema as too "primitive" to really be worth spending time and money on. I definitely agree with Michael and Dancing Kid's posts (between those two and Schreck we're talking some of my favorite forum folk here, by the by) and I really hope the early Ozu stuff spawns more releases in this direction. The world has a lot of discovering to do from 30s Japan, this can't be stressed enough.

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#180 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Jan 25, 2008 12:17 am

Steven H wrote:The world has a lot of discovering to do from 30s Japan, this can't be stressed enough.
And the amount of "undiscovered" treasures from the 50s (and 40s) is likewise immense. The West simply hasn't the faintest clue as to just how rich the legacy of classic Japanese cinema actually is.

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#181 Post by jt » Wed Jan 30, 2008 9:24 am

I'm not sure that I agree with HerrSchreck that the Ozu and Bernard sets are proof that all silents will be shovelled into the Eclipse line, I think we need another year of releases before we have access to any significant stats on the issue. If the Eclipse silents do particularly well, they might be persuaded to put some more silents into the main line.

My main point though, would be that if we do continue to get only one or two CC silents a year but 3 Eclipse sets (say, 12 films?), part of me would be disappointed that my favourite branch of cinema is seemingly being (continually) ignored by my second favourite DVD company but a bigger part of me would be thrilled that the overall number of silents has been greatly increased.

For all the arguments about the Eclipse mission statement and what type of films people think it should be releasing, if HerrSchreck is right and it turns into Criterion's dumping ground for silents, I for one would be very happy.

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#182 Post by HerrSchreck » Wed Jan 30, 2008 6:48 pm

jt wrote:I'm not sure that I agree with HerrSchreck that the Ozu and Bernard sets are proof that all silents will be shovelled into the Eclipse line
I'm so done with this discussion, but...

You'd be correct to not agree with that because I didn't say it. The Bernard set contains no silents. I haven't tracked backward but I probably mentioned von Sternberg along with Ozu.

I didn't say "the Ozu and Bernard sets are proof that all silents will be shoveled into the Eclipse line," as the Bernard set contains no silents. I probably said von Sternberg and Ozu.

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#183 Post by Matango » Mon Feb 04, 2008 1:29 am

Michael Kerpan wrote:
Steven H wrote:The world has a lot of discovering to do from 30s Japan, this can't be stressed enough.
And the amount of "undiscovered" treasures from the 50s (and 40s) is likewise immense. The West simply hasn't the faintest clue as to just how rich the legacy of classic Japanese cinema actually is.
Neither has Japan for that matter. Try finding anyone in the country under the age of 60 who can name more than one or two Ozu films, or anything at all by Naruse or Mizoguchi. It ain't easy.

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#184 Post by jt » Mon Feb 04, 2008 7:00 am

HerrSchreck wrote:You'd be correct to not agree with that because I didn't say it. The Bernard set contains no silents. I haven't tracked backward but I probably mentioned von Sternberg along with Ozu.

I didn't say "the Ozu and Bernard sets are proof that all silents will be shoveled into the Eclipse line," as the Bernard set contains no silents. I probably said von Sternberg and Ozu.
Don't want to get into an argument my good man. It's my mistake, I of course shouldn't have said Bernard. I think you mentioned Eisenstein or von Sternberg or someone. Not trying to put words into your mouth but I'm hoping that your suggestion that CC might have decided to shovel all its silents over to eclipse is indeed true. At the current rate, we get one silent a year, stacked with extras from CC. If we start to get 2 or 3 eclipse boxes in that time (6 to 10 films sans extras), I'd be thrilled. I don't care nearly as much about extras when it comes to unavailable films, especially silents. I'd just like to finally see the films I've been reading about all these years.

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#185 Post by Steven H » Mon Feb 04, 2008 11:38 am

Matango wrote:
Michael Kerpan wrote:
Steven H wrote:The world has a lot of discovering to do from 30s Japan, this can't be stressed enough.
And the amount of "undiscovered" treasures from the 50s (and 40s) is likewise immense. The West simply hasn't the faintest clue as to just how rich the legacy of classic Japanese cinema actually is.
Neither has Japan for that matter. Try finding anyone in the country under the age of 60 who can name more than one or two Ozu films, or anything at all by Naruse or Mizoguchi. It ain't easy.
I've heard this, but with DVD making and breaking canonical favorites all over the world in the last few years, it's something special to walk into a Japanese DVD store and buy, say, Makino's Singing Lovebirds in a special edition with extra features. Also, are you saying you're *not* a deranged trainspotter!? (j/k, I spent an afternoon or two looking up Ozu locations on Google Earth, myself. Fun.)

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#186 Post by Matango » Mon Feb 04, 2008 11:46 am

The only Japanese DVD store I have time to visit is usually HMV in Shinjuku, and a smaller arthousey place in Roppongi and the vast majority of stuff those places is without any extras and usually in the 5,000 yen (US$45) bracket. I'd say Western audiences are better catered to than Japanese as far as DVD quality for the Japanese greats goes.

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#187 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Feb 04, 2008 12:06 pm

Matango wrote:I'd say Western audiences are better catered to than Japanese as far as DVD quality for the Japanese greats goes.
Depends on whether you consider directors like Imai, Ichikawa, Imamura and Uchida (etc.) "great". If so, Japan is FAR better off than the West.

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#188 Post by tryavna » Mon Feb 04, 2008 1:04 pm

Steven H wrote:Also, are you saying you're *not* a deranged trainspotter!? (j/k, I spent an afternoon or two looking up Ozu locations on Google Earth, myself. Fun.)
This topic would make for an interesting thread all on its own. The last time I was in Europe, I went to Delft just because Herzog had filmed Nosferatu there. Some Dutch friends I was staying with thought that was an extremely odd reason.

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#189 Post by Tommaso » Mon Feb 04, 2008 1:39 pm

Well, the first time I was in Ireland, I went to the village of Cong, where Ford shot "The Quiet Man". Quite different experience: they made a souvenir shop of the whole village, and seem all still to live from the tourists going there for "The Quiet Man" alone...

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#190 Post by tavernier » Mon Feb 04, 2008 1:44 pm

...looks like a new thread comin' on.....

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#191 Post by HerrSchreck » Mon Feb 04, 2008 3:01 pm

New Yorkers could create a whole board devoted to location hunting. Travis walked here, Corleone walked here, Joe Buck walked there, Popeye & Cloudy surveyed there, yadda. I recall being in Italy almost a year ago to the day and waking up to the fact that I was standing just ahead of the tunnel Maggiorani chases the faux bike thief into on the side of the car. This was just after being up in the wealthy area where Cabiria did her little Chapliny dance before hooking up w the movie star.

In terms of Japanese cinema, I think that MK & Steve are revealing the standpoints of their own particular obsessions. The west may not have "the faintest clue as to just how rich the legacy of classic Japanese cinema actually is", but that's just a Sliver Disposition of a greater never ending overall picture: the average working person just doesn't give a shit about their own cultural heritage. The don't know their own national map, they don't know when their "important" historical benchmarks occurred, they don't give a damn who gets elected, and they don't care about governmental abuses. You think a Japanese working person worrying about how their status quo measures up to their neighbors' gives a shit about Dragnet Woman? That would make them the wacko on the block and is anathema to their social ambitions.

The Germans are far worse when it comes to their own rich silent legacy (note schreck groaning from his own personal obsession now). They have no fucking clue who Pick or Grune or Robison or von Gerlach are, and it always falls to Americans to get this material out there (and the Italians to restore it). There are NO DVDs of this material in the country of their origin. I remember meeting a Frenchwoman who thought Jean Vigo was a painter.

In the end, however, with a company like CC, or Kino, or Facets (cough), milestone etc, the west is better served for this material than folks into African, eastern European, Soviet/Russian, Chinese (Epoch & web notwithstanding) etc. Those dudes who come onto the board every quarter and ask "do you think CC will release any African cinema?" then sign their posts "Peace", and disappear into the ether... now those are the real weirdos! :wink:

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#192 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Feb 04, 2008 3:23 pm

If you live in Tokyo at least, the National Film Center has held absolutely mammoth retrospectives of major Japanese directors -- including ones who are scarcely rumors in the West. Not just Ozu and Naruse -- but Inagaki, Kobayashi, Kawashima, Shimizu, Uchida, Yamamoto, Okamoto -- and currently Makino. And at least some of this (maybe a lot) makes it onto satellite TV (alas -- a geosynchronous satellite that serves only central Japan).
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#193 Post by Steven H » Mon Feb 04, 2008 3:28 pm

HerrSchreck wrote:In terms of Japanese cinema, I think that MK & Steve are revealing the standpoints of their own particular obsessions. The west may not have "the faintest clue as to just how rich the legacy of classic Japanese cinema actually is", but that's just a Sliver Disposition of a greater never ending overall picture: the average working person just doesn't give a shit about their own cultural heritage. The don't know their own national map, they don't know when their "important" historical benchmarks occurred, they don't give a damn who gets elected, and they don't care about governmental abuses. You think a Japanese working person worrying about how their status quo measures up to their neighbors' gives a shit about Dragnet Woman? That would make them the wacko on the block and is anathema to their social ambitions.
I pretty much agree with you. I suppose I should have included a "relatively", as in, the US and Japan are *probably* relatively about the same in regards to picking somebody off the side of the street and demanding they start listing off classic directors. I'm absolutely not interested in discussing the different lifestyles (hence the couched terms) since I've never lived in the country (a prerequisite for judgment over reading about it or visiting, I think) and whether one "respects their cultural heritage" or not, I'm painting them with the same colors for sanity's sake. If anybody wants to discuss what culture is, how different these two countries are, and whether or not one is better than the other at recalling obscure cineastes of the last century, go right ahead, but I have nothing at all to add.

However, I am *right* in that there are hundreds and hundreds of classic films available there that aren't available here, and therefore, even if every film student literally wears blinders, they're more likely to run into them than their US counterparts, and I think it would be silly to argue otherwise.

Actually, this is the cornerstone of my "obsession." With so many amazing films to be found, it is like standing on top of a goldmine you can only get handfuls here and there from. It amazes me that more haven't fallen to the temptation!

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#194 Post by Sanjuro » Mon Feb 04, 2008 7:47 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote: And at least some of this (maybe a lot) makes it onto satellite TV (alas -- a geosynchronous satellite that serves only central Japan).
What does this mean? Satellite TV is available all over Japan (not that most people don't forget that a lot of Japan exists outside of Tokyo). I live up North and get satellite TV just fine. I subscribe to two channels (no being forced into expensive packs of useless fishing shows here). The Nihon Eiga Senmon channel which is absolutely fantastic for all it's Naruse, Ozu, Ichikawa, etc, etc (though not too many silent films) and Cinefil Imagica full of Bergman, Haneke, Lang and all sorts of chaps I've never heard of (plenty of silent films).

Perhaps you're thinking of cable which usually doesn't come out to the countryside, but isn't that the same in most countries?

And yes, methinks this should all go on a nice new thread.

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#195 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Feb 04, 2008 8:34 pm

Sanjuro wrote:What does this mean? Satellite TV is available all over Japan (not that most people don't forget that a lot of Japan exists outside of Tokyo). I live up North and get satellite TV just fine. I subscribe to two channels (no being forced into expensive packs of useless fishing shows here). The Nihon Eiga Senmon channel which is absolutely fantastic for all it's Naruse, Ozu, Ichikawa, etc, etc (though not too many silent films) and Cinefil Imagica full of Bergman, Haneke, Lang and all sorts of chaps I've never heard of (plenty of silent films).
Well, I had HEARD that some of these satellite stations didn't cover all of Japan (places like Northern Hokkaido might not be able to get some of them).

I believe there is (or was) also a station that specialized in "historical" films (samurais stuff, chambara, etc.).

I wish there was someway to get Nihon Eiga Senmon here in the US. ;~}

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#196 Post by Sanjuro » Mon Feb 04, 2008 10:03 pm

Oh man. Have you browsed the monthly programme guide? It's enough to make a Japanese cinema fan froth at the mouth and it's all in HD. I swear if they showed the things with English subs I'd never leave my house! Yeah, there's also a Jidai-geki channel which I don't have, although recently they've been doing a lot of cross-over which is nice.

And back on topic (just to make splitting up the thread tricky), I have the Shikoku Ozu silents box-set which is very nice (although unsubbed and unscored), are there any comparisons between this and the Criterion around, presumably they're going to have music?

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#197 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Feb 04, 2008 11:35 pm

Sanjuro wrote:And back on topic (just to make splitting up the thread tricky), I have the Shikoku Ozu silents box-set which is very nice (although unsubbed and unscored), are there any comparisons between this and the Criterion around, presumably they're going to have music?
The Criterion version of "Story of Floating Weeds" looked about the same as the Shochiku one -- as I recall. I guess the Eclipse silents box will have scores -- but (being used to the Shochiku set) I've grown accustomed to watching these "unaccompanied".

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#198 Post by Sanjuro » Tue Feb 05, 2008 1:47 am

Any recommendations for good background music while watching or do you always watch in silence?

It's surely not necessary, but I quite enjoy putting on different pieces to generate a mood. It's quite surprising sometimes when you suddenly notice how a random Miles Davis track affected the emotional impact of a scene on you.

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#199 Post by Michael Kerpan » Tue Feb 05, 2008 9:35 am

Sanjuro wrote:Any recommendations for good background music while watching or do you always watch in silence?

It's surely not necessary, but I quite enjoy putting on different pieces to generate a mood. It's quite surprising sometimes when you suddenly notice how a random Miles Davis track affected the emotional impact of a scene on you.
I've used Gershwin piano music, some lighter Shostakovich stuff and some of Stravinsky's sets of short pieces -- among other things (that I can't recall offhand). I more often listen without any added sound now, however.

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#200 Post by movielocke » Mon Mar 10, 2008 4:44 am

I saw Lady and the Beard tonight here in Los Angeles and I wonder if any of the japanese experts around here could tell me what was it that the beard kept tied around his waist and often rubbed for good luck. It appeared to be a small wooden tablet engraved with kanji and was attached to a braided cord he kept tied around his waist even when wearing modern clothing.

thanks.

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