All Asian Men Look the Same…NOT!
This year’s New York Asian Film Festival offers an impeccable feast of critical hits and audience favorites from the Pacific coast. Runs: June 20th – July 13th
First up is a Japanese version of Meet Joe Black, with a similarly handsome lead (Takeshi!), but without the tedious pacing and the inconclusive dribble. Called Sweet Rain: The Accuracy of Death, it’s separated into three acts, with each story exploring the relationship between the Reaper and his victims/patients. The embodiment of death being played by a gorgeous male actor demands that we take for granted a family-friendly equation between le petit mort and orgasm. With all the queasy S&M parts thrown out, it’s hard not running towards the light at the end of the tunnel when Brad Pitt is there waiting for you. It reminds me of why Orpheus fell in love with Death and gave up on Eurydice, thanks Cocteau for the twisted romanticism.
The other film playing at the New York Asian Film Festival is Johnnie To’s Sparrow, a G-rated ode to Hong Kong through the gauze of French New Wave-ness with pickpockets and con artists combing the streets. To’s retrospective at the PFA will be the subject of a later retroactive post.
Since I don’t really live in the area, I mind as well gush about other retrospectives I would not hesitate auctioning my soul for. Film Forum is importing the iconic Japanese actor (other than Toshiro Mifuni), Tatsuya Nakadai, for a limited run of his filmography, June 20 – August 7. And he’s still alive, and doing a Q&A.
If anybody ask me for a list of my favorite actors, Tatsuya would be near the top. It was When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Naruse, 1960) that introduced me to this boyish face, which lacks the delicate curves of Sessue Hayakawa and the jagged features of Mifune, defined solely by an almost perfect square and enhanced by the awkward contortions of his brows and lips. I wanted Mama-san to end up with her shy manager (played by Nakadai) and not with the businessman who would later abandon her. Why does this always happened to comfort women with the hearts of gold?
Even on the onset of his prolific career, a protean resilience separated him from his peers, as he donned and discarded one mask after another, somehow symptomatic of the 60s, a period where conventional Japanese masculinity had undergone a shift of confounding uncertainty. Was he supposed to be a hyper aggressive cipher of evil (Sword of Doom), a sacrificial martyr for institutional critique (Harakiri), or just an everyman getting extensive plastic surgery (Face of Another)?
Terrence Rafferty of the NY Times best sums up the strange appeal of Mr. Nakadai.
Whether Mr. Nakadai is portraying a man who is delighted by the life before his eyes or appalled by it, he never looks blasé, uninterested: he seems to exist in a state of constant surprise.
By 1985, when Kurosawa’s Ran saturated the radar screen, everyone had forgotten that adolescent face behind the theatrical madness of Lord Hidetora, another mask among a series of others.
My personal pick: The Age of Assassins (Kihachi Okamoto, 1967), a wacky espionage romp starring Nakadai as the quintessential Hitchcockian “wrong man” on the run.