2010 was indeed a big year for VCinema (and, speaking of which, our first anniversary is coming in late January 2011). We had to figure out how to produce a podcast with two (and later, three) hosts who live in different regions of the United States, work out a theme to that podcast (longtime and/or careful listeners may remember that, before we were an Asian film podcast, we initially identified ourselves as a “cult film podcast”), start a blog, find quality writers for the blog, brand, market, rebrand, all of those things that sites have to go through to get themselves “up and running” for visitors. At times, it seems like every day has been some sort of challenge for us, but with every challenge comes discovery.
For our first year-end wrap-up, for the year of 2010, “discovery” was the main theme. I called on all of the main contributors of both our podcast and blog to chime on their film-related discoveries this year. The discovery did not need to be a film that was released this year, considering some VCinema staff members live in areas where Asian film is the default and some live in areas where it’s considered lucky if the local Redbox has a single, beat up copy of Dragon Wars for rental.
Tokyo Vice author Jake Adelstein, our episode 7 guest, some time after our interview, taught me this Japanese proverb, “Kicking men off mountains, it’s your turn to fall” (人を蹴落としお山にのぼれゃ、次は自分が落ちる番) It’s this proverb that resonated in my head when watching Gen Takahashi’s 2006 film Confessions of a Dog this summer at the Shinsedai Cinema Fest. Compared in theme to Sidney Lumet classics such as Serpico (1973) and Prince of the City (1981), Confessions of a Dog essentially looks at corruption in the Japanese Police Force. The film in particular documents Takeda (veteran character actor, Shun Sugata), an officer whose rise and fall is due to his willingness to “play ball” and engage in criminal activities perpetrated by the police.
The film is three-plus hours long, but I found myself absolutely transfixed and engrossed in the film and the final fifteen minutes packed a gut-punch of emotion. One of the two films in 2010 that I saw and afterward stood up and applauded (Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru (1952) was the other).
Coffin Jon is the Producer, first-chair host of the VCinema podcast and Editor-in-Chief of the VCinema blog.
The past year has been a time of discovery for myself as a fan of cinema. Working on the VCinema podcast has given me a completely different understanding for film criticism, as well as film discussion. More specifically, the podcast has introduced me to the importance of cultural context in film. So, when this blog first went active (in a real sense) and we took part in the Wildgrounds J-Film Blogathon, I decided to dedicate a lot of time to my article on Japanese film director Yasuharu Hasebe. I went through books, watched interviews with the director and most importantly, I went through a lot of his work with a new appreciation due to this research. I watched the movies with a new understanding of the Japanese film industry within this time period, and my viewings became a much richer experience for this. If any one particular film stood out from my viewings, it would probably be Hasebe’s Violent Pink title Assault! Jack the Ripper (1976).
A dark film that focuses on a baker who finds an infatuation with the mix of eroticism and extreme violence, Assault! Jack the Ripper showcases the selfishness of untamed lust. It’s a morbid piece of work without question and Hasebe handles the material in a very matter-of-fact fashion which makes it all the more disturbing. His mix of pinku stylistic choices and this cruel subject matter makes the film seem like a jazz-induced trip into the darkest reaches of the genre, and I couldn’t be more happy because of it. The film pushes buttons, looks fantastic and breaks ground while doing so. Would this be the ‘best’ film I have watched this year? Ultimately, no, but it may be the most important for me on a very personal level in my own growth as a writer and lover of film.
Josh is the second seat co-host of the VCinema podcast and writer and webmaster of the VCinema blog. He also runs Varied Celluloid Dot Net.
My favorite 2010 Asian film experience wasn’t a film or a festival, but the Korean Cinema Conference that was held in November at New York University’s Cinema Studies department. This was a conference looking at the transnational dimension of Korean cinema. Scholars from around the world were invited for the four day conference and I got to meet many of the people I look up to in the field of Korean cinema studies: Kim So-young, David Scott Diffrient, Earl Jackson Jr. and many others welcomed me into discussions that extended into long dinner sessions after the conference day had ended. To be able to take part in such a huge event, and to be able to truly push and play with the boundaries of Korean cinema studies, will remain not just one of my favorite events of this year, but in the years to follow as well. To be part of this community via the blogs and the podcast really makes all the work we put in behind the scenes worth it (although donations would be appreciated) and I am truly looking forward to the next year as we grow and expand and try new things.
This past spring the Stanford Theater, a refurbished and beautiful old theater in downtown Palo Alto, California, played host to a Kurosawa retrospective that was making the rounds. I managed to see a few of my favorites, like The Seven Samurai (1954), as well as a few others, most notably Kagemusha (1980).
I never really held Kagemusha in as high esteem as Ran (1985), Kurosawa’s other, epic ’80s films. Kagemusha always felt like a misstep to me, a beautiful but muddled preamble to Ran, in which both Kurosawa and Tatsuya Nakadai, the lead in both films, got it right. But seeing Kagemusha on the big screen, I was completely blown away.
It was like watching an entirely different movie. What seemed distant and unfocused on the small screen became riveting when projected large. The action scenes were incredible, but even the dialogue-driven scenes were mesmerizing. And Nakadai, who I had always thought of as a lost old man in this, was revealed as a man out of his element, buffeted by historical giants. It was like watching an entirely different movie.
Some movies are just meant to be seen on the big screen. Like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Kagemusha not only makes the most of the size of the screen, it is also diminished by the small screen. I shall never watch Kagemusha again unless it is in a theater. Even if that means never seeing it again, that is fine with me; seeing it any other way would be sacrilege.
Adam (aka Kemek) contributes the “Everything I Know About Korea, I Learned By Watching Movies” segment in the podcast. He currently lives and teaches English in South Korea. You can read about his exploits in his blog, Yakihito.