Margot at the Wedding

Margot at the Wedding (2007) movie poster

(2007) dir. Noah Baumbach
viewed: 02/26/08

After his success with The Squid and the Whale (2005), there was a lot of expectation of writer/director Noah Baumbach’s latest film, written for Nicole Kidman and Baumbach’s wife, actress Jennifer Jason Leigh.  But from the get-go the film got negative reviews.  From both word of mouth and reviews across the board, it received more derision than praise.  Still, it only put me off of seeing it theatrically.  I was fine with it for DVD.

The critiques are pretty apt.  Baumbach’s strengths are his characters that he develops, both in writing and with the actors.  The world that he inhabits is very much East Coast, upper-middle class, intellectual and dysfunctional.  For this film, he focuses on the relationship between two sisters, the titular published author Margot (Kidman) and the kinder yet less successful Pauline (Leigh), whose wedding is also titular.

The problem is with Margot.  She is so stiff and mean and unlikeable that she’s almost completely unsympathetic.  Throw in Jack Black…actually, I wish they hadn’t thrown in Jack Black.  He’s become the new generation’s Robin Williams.  He’s always, always the same, but his character is so fucking stupid and selfish, you end up agreeing with Margot that Pauline should be able to do better.

The emotional center, as it was in The Squid and the Whale, is with the kids, caught between the psychoses and dramas of their parents, sensitive, intelligent, almost coming of age.  This is the oddity, perhaps, because it almost should be more like “Margot’s son at the Wedding” because though Margot is a site of personal terror for all that inhabit her world, she is more objectively viewed.  You don’t identify with her.  And when the film ends, Margot suddenly runs up to catch her son in a bus, presumably making a dramatic choice about her life.  Maybe if the film was different, this could have worked.  It felt like it was supposed to be poignant, but it wasn’t.

All that said, I really didn’t think it was a “bad” movie.  Believe me, I have seen much, much worse.  I guess that the expectations of Baumbach are validly high, so you kind of feel that maybe there was a good movie here somewhere.  Or maybe it just needed to be less extreme in the characterization.  I don’t know.  I’m not here to try to figure out what this film could have been.  But just to say that if one likes his other films, you don’t necessarily have to avoid this one.

My favorite thing, which I say with a little chagrin, is the extremely cute and charming Flora Cross, Pauline’s teenage daughter.  She makes me wish that I was 15 and that I had her phone number.  I liked her in the film.  Take that for what it’s worth.

Colma: The Musical

Colma The Musical (2006) movie poster

(2006) dir. Richard Wong
viewed: 02/22/08

Colma, for those of you that don’t have a Bay Area history, is a small town just south of the city that among its purely suburban strip malls and malls, is also the planting ground for the Bay Area’s dead.  It’s the town where “the dead outnumber the living” and is rife with cemeteries.  I used to find its suburbanity comforting and it’s still where San Franciscan’s do their Target shopping.

The fact that anyone would make a coming of age film based in Colma would have been interesting enough, but to add the humorous audacity of making it a musical just adds to the chutzpah.  It’s a low-budget affair (surprise, surprise), and it strikes me, that the quality of the filming, acting, recording, etc. is something unique to the means of production that you wouldn’t have seen many years back.  It’s a kind of film, in a sense, with its qualities in mind, that just wasn’t exactly possible without cheaper, better quality technologies.

The narrative is about three friends and their post-high school malaise that sets in within weeks of graduation.  The three primary actors are all good.  They all sing well enough.  The songs are pretty good at the beginning, a sort of pop punky pop, more like Kim Wilde than Green Day, I suppose, but then lag a bit as they branch into other musical genres.  The barroom drinking song fails to ring true for example.

But there is an earnestness that is appealing, though also a weakness.  The drama is less potent than the humor.  The campy self-awareness of the absurdity of musicals gives the film its early tone, and while that is maintained throughout to an extent, the emotional drama just sort of ekes by on its sincerity rather than its quality.

Still, I know a couple of people who would enjoy this.  It’s kinda cute.

Day Watch

Day Watch (2006) movie poster

(2006) dir. Timur Bekmambetov
viewed: 02/21/08

I did note after watching Night Watch (2004), that despite not being overly impressed with it that I would probably see its sequel.  Well, true to my word, I did.  And I don’t completely regret it.  In fact, I kind of liked it more than the first one.

Day Watch, as its known in the U.S., is the follow up to the Russian supernatural science fiction action adventure film, and the highest-grossing film in post-Communist Russia.  It’s a special effects film, with lots of CGI, and I compared its predecessor to Blade (1998)  and its follow-ups, lower-level B-movie sci-fi action adventure films with vampires and mythologies and cult followings.  And that’s an apt comparison for the American viewer.  Though it may have some connection to Russian mythos and is adapted from a popular Russian novel, it’s not really a whole lot more than lots of arch-sillyness, and crazy camera shots.

Still, I kind of enjoyed it.  More than I did the first one.  It might be timing.  Maybe I am more in the mood for something like this than I was the original.  I thought it was supposed to be a trilogy, though this film does feel like it has closure.  I don’t know.  I am not up on Russian popular cinema and only know when this stuff emerges here.

Some of the mythos seem to tie into issues about regionalist folklore, regional character, and perhaps some aspect of social commentary.  This is pure speculation.  But starting in Iran with Asian warlords and following through in Uzbekistan, and a couple of asides at countryfolk versus city folk, I sense something going on.  I don’t know enough to estimate that.

I won’t prolong this other than to say that as a B-movie, even if it’s a Russian A-movie, it’s not the worst thing I’ve seen.  It’d been a couple years since I saw Night Watch, so I didn’t recall much of the core narrative and spent quite a bit of the time a bit lost with the details…well, that didn’t bother me, really.  I spend a lot of time confused.

In Bruges

 

In Bruges (2008) movie poster

(2008) dir. Martin McDonagh
viewed: 02/19/08 at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, SF, CA

I can’t hardly say the last time I went to the Kabuki, but it’s been years.  When I first moved to San Francisco in December of 1990, the Kabuki was the only real megaplax, major mutliple screen movie theater and was a real center for mainstream films in the city.  At that time, it was owned by AMC, and I always found it kind of nicely designed, abutting the Japantown mall, the view from the top floor through the broadside windows facing north offered a nice, though not extensive view of Pacific Heights rooftops.

When the 1000 Van Ness theater opened, only a few blocks back toward town, featuring even more screens and also operated by AMC, the Kabuki took a pretty big hit.  It became the poorer sister in terms of the films that got shown there and the traffic dropped significantly.  When the Metreon opened not much later, the Kabuki dropped even more.  And for me, not being so convenient a location based on my personal track of the city, it diminished in visits.  I think it was dying, if not almost dead.

Then, in 2007, they remodeled the theater, now operated by the Sundance group, associated with Robert Redford’s notable film festival and television network.  The remodeling is quite surface, but significantly different, mod and hip, attempting to look a bit more like a lounge or a club than the average theater.  And on the top floor of the largest screen in the theater, they feature a full bar and a restaurant of lightish fare, with assigned seating and tables for your food and cocktails.  It costs a bit extra and the drinks aren’t cheap, but it’s a kind of interesting affair that I can imagine a lot of a certain type of San Franciscans really taking to.  I liked it because it wasn’t crowded when I went, late afternoon on a weekday, martini in hand to watch the film, In Bruges.

All that about the theater.  About the film: I’d read that it was a pretty good film, written and directed by Martin McDonagh, a well-known English playwright with steep roots in Ireland.  His first feature film, compared with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) and Snatch. (2000), Guy Ritchie’s poppy, oddball comedies about London criminals running amok, it was thought to be more interesting and richer than Ritchie’s films.

From the opening credit sequence, I immediately disagreed.  The film features Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell as two hitmen shuffled off to Bruges, Belgium after a botched hit that killed an innocent child.  Gleeson is the intelligent one, Farrell is the grousing newbie, who constantly calls Bruges “a shithole”.

I think the real problem is the direction and editing of the film.  The humor comes across more in the trailer than it does in its placement and tempo in the film.  Nothing works.  Moments of comedy, moments of sentiment, all fall flat.

I’ve been to Bruges, climbed the belltower, trundled around the town.  It was one of the first cities in Europe that I visited, knowing nothing about it, hitting it on a whim because of a recommendation from one hostel to another.  Bruges does look lovely in the film, lovelier than I remember, though I always did think it was nice.

Bottom line, this film is crap.  At least Guy Ritchie’s films are fun and silly, whatever negativity that is pushed on them.  He has a sense of handling pacing, tempo, comedy, delivery.  This film just clunked along.  Don’t see it.

But do check out the new Kabuki.  It’s kind of fun.

The Brave One

The Brave One (2007) movie poster

(2007) dir. Neil Jordan
viewed: 02/18/08

As I started to watch The Brave One, I wondered why I had chosen to queue it and rent it.  A female version of Death Wish (1974), a revenge tale, vengeance through vigilanteism.  A character who is thrown from the “regular” world into a world of violence, reacting by picking up a gun and shooting down the “bad guys”.  Actually, it might have been interesting to watch this in contrast with Death Sentence (2007), the Kevin Bacon thriller that is based, I believe on similar source material as Death Wish.  I didn’t plan on seeing that, but maybe I will.

But coming back to why I queued this, I don’t think the content so much interested me, but I’ve always liked Jodie Foster and I’ve been interested in Neil Jordan since his film The Butcher Boy (1997), though his filmic output has been a truly mixed quality.  He has an filmography that is not epic, but is consistently interesting.  (On an aside, I try not to use the word “interesting” when writing, because it’s a fallback term that doesn’t say much.  I sometimes try to go back through these entries and replace “interesting” with some word more interesting, oddly enough.  But sometimes, it’s the only word I can think of.  My apologies.)

For my money, approaching the film in the contrasts of the urban vigilante genre, would be the most enlightening.  Taken on its own terms, the film has a couple of key focal points.  One is Foster’s relationship with New York.  She is a talk radio personality, recording the evolving character of New York City.  The trauma of the beating that she receives and that kills her fiancee turns the city into a different place for her, and she sees herself as different.  There is something in this, but the film doesn’t really grip this concept in a significant manner.

Similarly, the film has an interest in technology and the recording of events of violence, which it also drops halfway through.  The initial violence is recorded on a camcorder by the ruffians, though it doesn’t make sense why and the recording never comes back in the narrative.  Foster’s first killing of her own is videoed on the surveillence camera in the corner market, a tape that she takes and replays.  The next killing is recorded only in sound, which she also listens to over and again.  There seems like something was being played with here at some level, but it evaporates toward the end.

Now, I am going to tell you how this movie ends, so if you don’t want to know, then stop reading.

What did perplex me was the ending and ultimately what the film is endorsing.  Terrence Howard’s (who is very good) character, the very dedicated and sensitive, caring cop, who ends up knowing the Foster is the vigilantee killer and tells her that his integrity would have put her in jail, gives in and let’s her blow away the last of her fiancees killers when he could easily have put him in jail.  And she’s killed the others.

Even though the film has a sensitivity to Foster’s experience and perspective, this is no Charles Bronson, icy-hearted justice, but it is ultimately justified by the film.  For a while, it seems like she is spiralling out of control and the only way the film can end is with her incarcerated or killed.  And in many ways, that seems like what will happen, so it’s kind of surprising and troubling that Howard allows her to kill and get away.  Foster’s character keeps hoping that someone will stop her, wondering aloud why no one has caught her.  What does it mean that even good-hearted honest people would allow for the a person to dole out vengence and violence with impunity?  Does the film justify that?  It seems to.  Then how different is it than Broson and company?  Just a more sensitive and politic version of the same belief in the gut response of brutal street justice.

It’s kinda scary.  But maybe my reaction to that is my ambivalence toward the vengeance film genre.  Maybe that is why I was wondering why I actually queued this film.  I guess sometimes I don’t know exactly why I do things.

Persepolis

Persepolis (2007) movie poster

(2007) dir. Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi
viewed: 02/18/08 at CineArts @ the Empire, SF, CA

Adapted from the comics of Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical, Persepolis, and adapted and co-directed by Satrapi, the animated film of her story is a poignant and sad coming of age story, set against the changing culture of Iran in the 1970’s through the 1980’s.  The style, simple, high-contrast images mostly, effectively develop the character of Marjane, with whom it is so easy to identify and empathize.

Though raised in Tehran, Marjane is succorred on Western pop culture of her childhood, though much of it is smuggled into the country and more radical to simply enjoy.  She could in many ways, from that stance, her cynical, impish character, could be a next door neighbor.  Perhaps this struck me because Satrapi is my age and her interests are all familiar.  Even her attitude.

The difference is that she is not a next-door neighbor, but a child of upper middle class intellectuals in a country vastly different than the United States.  For all intents and purposes, for much of the younger years depicted, Iran was an “enemy state”, a place where as a child, I had virtually no genuine understanding.  I reckon back to the 1980 45 single “Bomb Iran” by Vince Vance & the Valiants (yes, I had to wikipedia it to get the group’s name), which bopping along to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann”, summed up the popular understanding of American knowledge and sentiment of the time (though I am sure highly derided as well).

This is just to say that there is identification and then there is identification.  The reason that this story is compelling is the challenges that Marjane battles in her Westernized personal identity versus her Iranian cultural identity, the brutal changes and destruction of freedom, the killing of a country and a city as it had been known by her family.  And the killing of thousands of dissidents, intellectuals, Communists, by an increasingly lethal government.  The Iran/Iraq war, which the U.S. had its ruthless hand in, never really touches so much the lives of the average Americans, though it devastated a generation of Iranians.

In the end, Satrapi’s identity is in crisis, escaping the Europe, once miserably as a teenager, then ultimately as a young adult.  It’s a very moving story, and perhaps because of her intelligence and Westernization, is so easy to understand and identify with.  The ending, of her separation from Iran, is sad but emphatic, though there is obviously so much more story after.

I have not read the comic, though I am interested now.  I have had several Iranian friends over the years, some who lived through similar periods in Tehran and perhaps for similar reasons, came West.  The friends that I have, I would think perhaps were not raised with the same access to popular culture, but were certainly familiar with Western literature and art.  I would think to an extent that they may come from a similar social level, the intelligencia, perhaps more at odds with the turning of the culture to a more rigorous form of Islam.  So, in that sense, the connection feels more personal.

I found it to be a very moving and telling film, especially considering beyond the emotional identification, the historical perspective provided by the film.  In watching several documentaries about the history of American intervention in the Middle East, there is an even further humanizing to the understanding of the people of the country, the variety of experience, and a better sense of what difference exists and does not.

The Birth of a Nation

The Birth of a Nation (1915) movie poster

(1915) dir. D.W. Griffith
viewed: 02/16/08

The Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffith’s magnum opus, one of the most significant films in American film history, not merely controversial, even today, almost 100 years after its creation, is no simple film to approach.  The fact is that I’d never seen it until last night.  I’d seen Intolerance (1916) in my first film class, long, long ago, and had learned about Griffith and The Birth of a Nation at the time.  In my graduate studies in cinema, I saw Griffith’s Broken Blossoms (1919) which floored me with its beauty.  It’s a stunning, stunning film.  It’s taken me a long time to get to his first feature film, his most controversial and influential.

The Birth of a Nation tells the story of the American Civil War and the Antebellum South from a tradtional Southern perspective, one which Griffith portrays as simple and good, before the Civil War destroyed it.  And most controversially, he portrays the birth of the Ku Klux Klan as a savior of the South, protector of morals, and righter of wrongs.  It also takes a particularly skewed and irresponsible interpretation of history, portraying great sympathy for oppressionists and terrorists and snide and grotesque racism toward African Americans and most critically and brutally on mixed race characters, mulattos.

Though there are a number of actual African Americans in the film, filling out the crowd scenes and occasionally taking the frame, many of the significant roles of African Americans are played in blackface, presumably for some specific reasons…I haven’t read up enough to fully comment on this.

Flatly, the second half of the film, the Reconstruction, is the more reprehensible of the two parts of the film.  The lead up to the Civil War and the War itself are depicted in a less problematic tone.  The content of the film, the praising of the Klan, is more than problematic: it’s offensive.  It’s revisionist history and completely irresponsible.  The truth of the Reconstruction is a dark and ugly period in American history, with most of the South completely destroyed.

It’s too much for me to comment on fully, so I won’t go into my understanding of the true history other than to say, that the view of Griffith and The Birth of a Nation is not merely a “perspective”, but a naive and misleading interpretation of history.

But the film’s notoriety is not simply its inherently problematic content, but it’s mastery and innovation in cinematic narrative.  Before this film, cinematic narratives were nowhere as complex and involved.  Griffith invented so much of what became American cinematic narrative, techniques of intercutting, using such complex narrative devices…it’s almost invisible to a modern eye to understand how much he developed and innovated right here in this film.

And it’s not merely techniques, tools, mechanical features, but his storytelling is epic and masterful.  The battle sequences are tremendously effective and grand.  His use of compound images, the burning of Atlanta hovering above the streaming evacuees, is dramatic and artistic.  His vision and ability to construct a film of great passion and drama is immense.  And one of the reasons that in my first film class we ended up seeing Intolerance is probably because you don’t confront the problematic content and can appreciate the artistry.

To praise The Birth of a Nation or to criticize it alone lacks the breadth of complexity at work in the film.  Not simply Griffith’s morals, racism, revisionism.  Not simply Griffith’s contributions to the language of cinema and the poetry of his storytelling.  It’s the complexity of American history, the complexity of a nation filled with brilliant people, horrifically ignorant people, and the broad range of intermingling of those aspects of humanity.  It’s not a simple thing.  The film is perhaps one of the greatest snapshots of the American experience.  Not what it depicts as realism, but of the vision and belief, true or false, of a particular artist, truly American, if only one of a multitude of beliefs.  It does not validate his beliefs to understand what this film says or what it tries to say.  It is, in essence, a very revealing understanding, one that would be best served in the context of understanding the history of the American Civil War and its aftermath, and the history of American cinema.

In fact, seen in the proper context, I would think, like reading John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, perhaps seeing The Birth of a Nation should be mandatory viewing for all Americans.  Not for the truth it tries to portray, but the truths that are revealed in its interpretation of events, the interpretation itself.

The Spiderwick Chronicles

The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008) movie poster

(2008) dir. Mark Waters
viewed: 02/15/08 at AMC Loews Metreon 16 with IMAX, SF, CA

Children’s literature, or just plain old kids books, are either going through a great period of growth and exceptionality or simply one of over-exploitation.  And while the latter is probably more the case, there is some potential hope that the former may actually have some truth to it.  Who knows?  The latter is doubtlessly true either way.

Ever since J.K. Rowling broke the Harry Potter franchise on us and unleashed its cinematic offspring, oodles of other childrens book series have come, with a heavy bent on fantasy, culling the C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien traditions, but really probably mining Rowling more than anything else.  I think that there is perhaps a modern aspect of this that leans toward fun, it does probably reek of potential franchises and dollars more than anything else.

Of these poorer man’s kids series, I haven’t managed to see several of the ones that came out last year, includeing The Golden Compass (2007) or Stardust (2007).  One I caught on video a couple of years ago was Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) which didn’t offer much promise (or sequels as it turns out) but hasn’t hindered the actual books’ popularity.  The Spiderwick Chronicles seemed to have been marketed a la the Lemony Snicket ones and I can’t say that the trailer really stood out for me.

That said, I ended up with a free day with my son, and realizing that my almost four year old daughter was doubtlessly a bit young for this film, we decided to take it in, though he hadn’t been really hit by the marketing for it.

Oddly enough, the marketing for a lot of upcoming releases had him enraptured, particularly Kung Fu Panda (2008) and Speed Racer (2008).  Oddly enough, the trailer for the new Indiana Jones film seemed significantly weak.

The Spiderwick Chronicles turned out to be a pretty decent kids movie.  My son was pretty scared by the ogres and the action, asking to leave and go home at one point.  I could feel his heart racing and his body tensing through the action.  But the film actually is tightly and deftly put together, getting going from the get-go (amazing how few films do not do such a thing), and keeping the action and narrative development moving constantly.

There are good performances by the lead child actors, particularly Freddie Highmore in a dual role as twin brothers, adventurous and mild, and I even liked their sister, played by Sarah Bolger.

The story follows a freshly separated family of four who relocate to a small town and an old house that formerly belonged to an old uncle Spiderwick who disappeared 80 years before when cataloguing pixies, ogres, and all kinds of fantasy life.  His book of his scientific documentation is the source of great desire for an evil ogre and very quickly all hell breaks loose.

There’s not a lot of time for ruminating on the meanings of things and the art direction is naturalistic enough in its fantasy that it’s not overwhelming.  I don’t know.  I guess I was surprised that it was as enjoyable as it turned out to be.  Definitely, not too shabby.

Female Trouble

Female Trouble (1974) movie poster

(1974) dir. John Waters
viewed: 02/13/08

John Waters’ follow up to his hilarious and punk as hell film Pink Flamingos (1972), Female Trouble, is the one of his films with which I had the most familiarity.  I have a good friend who could watch it over and over, laughing hysterically at all the classic lines, quoting them ad nauseum, and relishing in the over-the-top tour de force that is Divine in the film.  I did find it funny and uber camp and outrageous, but I certainly didn’t have the same fervor for it that he did.

For 2008 so far, my themes have been the Samurai films of Kihachi Okamoto, lame superhero B-movies, and a John Waters retrospective.

Female Trouble, for me, many years later, and with the current perspective that I’ve been developing, isn’t as strong a film as Pink Flamingos.  But interestingly, it seems a creative step for Waters into an aspect of Hollywood genre film or perhaps more specifically, a film that is really about Divine’s star power, a role written to take her to the nth degree, a true starring role.

Divine as Dawn Davenport, spoiled brat turned juvenile delinquent turned spree murderer, is the ultimate role for the actor do vamp, camp, and outlandish with the greatest of aplomb.  Dawn Davenport has a story arc, if not intentionally sympathetic, running away from home when she fails to get her deeply desired “cha cha heels” for Christmas.  She gets knocked up by the town drunk, also played by Divine, in the beautifully crass scene in which she has sex with herself as man and woman.  She gives birth, biting through the umbilical cord (certainly no worse than eating dog shit), and becomes a criminal with her gang of cronies.  Her ultimate exploitation by the art-loving snobs the Dashers, which leads to her trip to the electric chair, exudes a fulfillment as well as an exploitation, embracing the crass and filth, the mixture of beauty and ugliness that is the ultimate aesthetic at work.

Beauty and ugliness are the core of the film’s critical consciousness.  Whereas the Dashers, the well-to-do aesthetes who shun sex for the aesthetics of beauty/ugliness and crime, “disocover” their apt pupil in Dawn Davenport, who is already virtually without empathy and full of bile.  When she is disfigured by Edith Massey, Dawn’s archenemy (and arguably as willing to push the aesthetic envelope right alongside of Divine herself), Dawn’s bloodied and ultimately scarred face becomes the site of beauty.

In a performance, with a wild mohawk and tight-fitting outfit, Divine spoofs the talent shows of beauty queens, romping on a trampoline, hurling mackeral, and ultimately shooting into the audience, the debunking of beauty is complete.  Divine and Massey, both willing to exploit their rather garish figures in outfits that completely stun the eyes, play out the issues, the “female troubles” and pointedly skewer culture.

Of course, Waters does this all with cleverly camp dialogue and characterization that makes the whole outrage purely comedic.  But it would be foolish to think that the cultural critique is not significant in this film.  Divine even sings the theme song, proving wihtout a doubt, that this truly is a “star vehicle”, a star vehicle from the other side of cinema.

Samurai Assassin

Samurai Assassin (1965) movie poster

(1965) dir. Kihachi Okamoto
viewed: 02/12/08

After a friend turned me on to Samurai films earlier this year, and specifically to Kihachi Okamoto, whose The Sword of Doom (1966) and Kill! (1969), started out my film-watching year, I turned to yet another of his works in the genre, his 1965 film Samurai Assassin.

It too features amazing cinematography, a fascinating of foreground and background juxtapositions, occasionally with shocking close-ups or sudden foreground movement, like the opening of a parasol.  The film ends in a black-and-white bloodbath in the snow, which the whole screen is obscurred by the heavy fall of snowflakes.  The Sword of Doom in many ways is my favorite of the three films, in which these camera techniques and visual play strike their greatest effect, but Samurai Assassin is a very good film and displays the characteristics that appealed in the other two.

Toshiro Mifune is the almost noir-ish antihero, son of a concubine and an unamed father of noble birth, his struggle to become a true samurai is hampered not only by an unrequited love of a noble lady but also by the tenuousness of the samurai class in a changing 1860 Japanese culture.  His battle for reknown becomes his personal undoing and ultimate dissolution of the world that he so strongly desires.

Okamoto, along with structuring his visual compositions in foreground and background objectivity, uses the faces of Mifune and Yûnosuke Itô, the crumple-faced villain who manipulates Mifune, but constantly has a complex, dogged strangeness to his visage that draws the camera and the eye so intensely.