When director Kinji Fukasaku adapted the yakuza novel Graveyard of Honor for the screen in 1975, he came from an extraordinary series of Japanese gangster films that began with Street Mobster in 1972 and ended with New Battles Without Honor and Humanity in 1974. There were six other yakuza images, who changed the genre in the same way that Francis Coppola reinvented the American gangster film with the Godfather films. Like Coppola, Fukasaku sought to deepen and criticize the conventions with which he worked, and to put his stories at an intersection between myth and socio-economic commentary. The Cemetery of Honor was, in many ways, the culmination of this project, a crime story set against the backdrop of post-WWII Japan, in which the main character's tumultuous journey from violent triumph to crippling drug addiction mirrors the fears of a country trying to rebuild in the middle of the country American occupation. In 2002, Takashi Miike directed a new version of Graveyard of Honor with a significant change in the environment. This time, the main story of the protagonist Rikio Ishikawa takes place in the 1990s, the “lost decade” when the Japanese economy was in free fall. As Miike biographer Tom Mes points out in his excellent audio commentary for the new Arrow Blu-ray set with both versions of Graveyard, Miikes Ishikawa reflects his era, just as the hero of Fukasaku's version reflects his. Its excesses in the first half of the film indicate the excesses of its culture during the economic bubble. When this bubble collapses, it moves from excess to despair. In addition to Mes & # 39; s story, Arrow's Blu-ray set "Graveyard of Honor" contains an equally good commentary on the Fukusaku version by Mark Schilling and numerous making-of documentaries as well as an outstanding visual essay on Miike's work by the author and critic Kat Ellinger. Both films are evidence of the absurdity of the notion that films must have “likeable” characters; Every director presents Rikio Ishikawa as an irredeemable sociopath from start to finish, and the resulting insights are far more thought-provoking and rewarding for what one could ever get from a more conventional "relatable" hero.
Another new Arrow version, ivansxtc., Yearning for 20 years. The tearing show business drama about an agent (Danny Huston) suffering from cancer in a sex and cocaine free fall was shot on a Sony HDW-700A HDCAM at a frame rate of 60i and projected to 24 frames when it opened in 2002; The film never really got the distribution it deserved, partly because of technical complications resulting from the filming format, and partly because of the industry's unrest towards director Bernard Rose's grim attitude towards Hollywood. Still to categorize ivansxtc. as a Hollywood gambler, switching off is far too restrictive; Rose and co-author Lisa Enos are adapting the same Tolstoy novella that served as the basis for Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru, using their Los Angeles milieu as a means of exploring harrowing questions about mortality that ultimately give way to a spiritually transcendent climax of either one of the scariest as well as one of the most comforting films about death I have ever seen. It's also a sharp and very fun turn-of-the-century Hollywood time capsule that is full of great performances, lots of non-professional actors playing variations of themselves. The film has barely been available for decades, but the wait for Arrow & # 39; s Blu-ray was worth it: in addition to three different versions of the film (the theatrical release in 24p and 60i and an extended producer cut recently put together by Enos) is the CD contains several recent and archived interviews, plus great audio commentary from Enos and filmmaker Richard Wolstencroft. My personal favorite extra: a 2018 American Cinematheque Q&A, hosted by screenwriter Larry Karaszewski, who does a great job of sharing funny anecdotes from Rose, Huston, Enos, Peter Weller (who is great as the disgusting movie star in the picture), and Adam Krentzman – Rose's agent at the time, performing one of the best performances in the film as an agent trying to do damage control after his colleague's implosion.
My final recommendations this week are two westerns, a classic and a brand new one. Director Henry Kings 1950 The Gunfighter is a contemplative brooding about violence and regret with a central figure – Gregory Peck's Jimmy Ringo – who is one of the greatest anti-heroes in American cinema. Film has many joys, but one of its most important uses for independent filmmakers is the case study of how to use finite resources to build drama and tension. Although it's a studio film, most of The Gunfighter takes place on a set in a timeframe of just a few hours. Film lessons go beyond the use of limited space and time, however – there's also the excellent editing of The Gunfighter by frequent King contributor Barbara McLean, which features one of the greatest (and most easily replicable) cuts in cinema history in a scene in which Ringo performs his shooting skills without the camera ever showing the moment he pulls his pistol out of the holster. This edit and many other innovations from King and McLean are expertly scrutinized for the additional features of Criterion's new Gunfighter Blu-ray, a must-have for filmmakers and western enthusiasts alike. The CD contains an interview with filmmaker and archivist Gina Telaroli about King's career and directing, a video essay by film historian J.E. Smyth on McLean's work as well as audio interviews with King and McLean himself. Aaron Koontz's kinetic 2020 western The Pale Door, out this week on DVD and Blu-ray from RLJE, is as far from the reflective, muffled tone of The Gunfighter removed. Though it starts as a riff over Delmer Dave's Oater like Jubal and 3:10 to Yuma, it quickly turns left into supernatural horror territory when its criminals are caught by a coven of centuries-old witches. Koontz alternates between genres with skillful formal control, delivering the thrusts of horror and moral investigation of the West with equal effect and effectiveness. He also puts together a first-class ensemble – the convincing performances of Bill Sage, Zachary Knighton and Melora Walters alone make The Pale Door worth a look.
Jim Hemphill is the writer and director of the award-winning film The Trouble with the Truth, which is currently streamed on Amazon Prime and Tubi. His website is www.jimhemphillfilms.com.