Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Classic Japanese Cinema - Jung

Another couple of busy sessions took place last night as the 14th Japanese Film Festival continued its march forward. We hope you are all enjoying the experience, and most of all the films. Today we have a first time entry from KOFFIA (Korean Film Festival in Australia) Director of Programming, Jungyeob Ji. Jung shares his wealth of knowledge of classic Japanese cinema with a bit of a history piece behind the original 'Zero Focus' and other thrillers of the time.  Read on to solve the mystery!

"I don’t really know much about Isshin Inudo. Unfortunately I haven’t seen any of his films, but "Zero Focus" is based on the novel by the one of the greatest Japanese crime mystery writers, Matsumoto Seicho. You might not have heard the name, Matsumoto Seicho, but if you happen to follow a Japanese TV drama series, you have probably seen some of his work. I am not sure exactly how many times "Zero Focus" has been adapted either for TV or screen. As far as I know "Zero Focus" directed in 1961 by Nomura Yoshitaro is the only one; incidentally Yoji Yamada apparently started his career as an assistant director to Nomura Yoshitaro, and also co-wrote the script of the film.

Nomura Yoshitaro’s "Zero Focus" is a great film and a psychological thriller at that. He was a prolific Matsumoto Seicho adapter. In fact, he closely collaborated with Seicho himself. Their best collaborative work is arguably "Castle of Sand" (1974) which is also considered as Nomura Yoshitaro’s best film. The film, obviously, was based on Seicho’s novel of the same title; there is also a 2005 TV drama adaptation of "Castle of Sand" if you want the modernized one.

In "Zero Focus", a newly wed man disappears. His wife goes on searching for him, but the search becomes more than just a man-hunt. Her own investigation reveals to her that he is not exactly what she thought he was. Matsumoto Seicho, however, never lets his novels become a simple whodunit story. He is profoundly interested in human behavior and motives behind crime. Also he never forgets to make his novels relevant in contemporary society. Especially, this is prominent in ‘the inspector Imanishi’ series.

In "Castle of Sand" (read a great review of it here), devils breed a devil, and a man tries to escape from that vicious circle, but in his desperation, he murders the only human being who ever showed him kindness and generosity in the world. For detectives, the investigation is an dead-end. The clues seem all simply isolated without any connection to the other. But as they persistently reach to where each clue independently leads them to, the brutal social layers of post-war Japan is unraveled.

Matsumoto Seicho                           Nomura Yoshitaro

Through his novels, Seicho shows primordial human goodness, and evilness at the same time, but when the relentless fear of this very evil overcomes human goodness, his characters resort to violence. In this sense, Seicho isn’t just a mystery novel writer with social consciousness. He is also a writer who deeply engages with the theme of human bondage by using a crime mystery genre. In his novels, a murder is not just there simply to be solved, but to be contemplated." by Jungyeob Ji, Hardboiled Land

Thanks to that terrific piece from Jung, another welcome contributor to the JFF Blog. Remember to head out tonight to catch the remake of "Zero Focus", starring a wealth of Japanese acting talent, with the likes of Ryoko Hirosue ("Departures" - 12th JFF, "Flowers" - 14th JFF), Miki Nakatani ("Flavor of Happiness" - 14th JFF) and Tae Kimura ("All Around Us" 13th JFF). It will be a great night and we hope to see you there!

See you at the festival!

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