The spring 2019 issue of ZYZZYVA, a literary magazine based in San Francisco, includes my short story “Directors Cut”, which was inspired by years of watching Japanese movies. (Sorry, it’s not online.) The story is set in SF but I tried to imagine how a Japanese director would choose to film it.
The first subtitled films I saw, at an old art house theatre in Washington, D.C., were European. I hadn’t realized that a movie camera could show people who seemed real, not Hollywood-perfect. Fast forward to college, where my boyfriend, now husband, ran a film club and took a course on Japanese film. I attended several of the screenings with him and found that there was a world beyond Samurai films. My favorite Akira Kurosawa film is “Redbeard” (1965), his 3 hour epic about a country doctor. The story is set in Japan in the 19th century, but it is one of the best treatments of the intersection of social justice and medicine I have ever found. I saw it by myself at the Pacific Film Archive at UC Berkeley one rainy afternoon with a few other lucky souls. When the lights came on at intermission, a stranger asked me, “Did you imagine that it would be this good?” No, I hadn’t.
Yasujirō Ozu is one of my favorite directors, partly because he featured the actor Chisū Ryū, is in all but two of 54 films, often playing a father. Ryū was a gifted character actor— humorous, tender. Ozu’s films feel like a glimpse of family life in a completely different culture. The movies were contemporary when they were made, but now, more than half a century later, they document the years before and after WWII . Hirokazu Kore-eda, a younger director, whose film “Shoplifters” was released in the U.S. last year, is also known for family dramas, somewhat darker. Yesterday evening, PFA screened his first film, “Maborosi” (1995) which was stunning, despite the well-worn print. Japanese directors don’t limit themselves to one generation—this was a film about a young mother but it also featured a tough old lady fisherwoman, grandparents and children. Much of the film is set in a remote seaside village and the cinematography in the rural area is especially gorgeous.