Odoru Daisosasen, etc.

Mark Schilling schill at gol.com
Sun Jan 10 23:36:32 EST 1999

Warning! This post contains spoilers about Odoru Daisosasen! 

Thanks to John Doughill for pointing out that Oda does indeed come back
from the dead in Odoru Daisosasen. I should have made it clearer that I was
thinking more of "Fatal Attraction" endings, in which the villain springs
back to scarifying life, than Oda's Lazarus-like resurrection. 

He also asked about the connection between the Koizumi Kyoko character, who
is based on the Hannibal Lecter character from "Silence of the Lambs," and
the kidnapping incident. (SPOILER FOLLOWS!) She is an internet freak and
serial killer who finds her victims in S&M chat rooms and lures them into
fatal assignations. After the cops nab her, Oda Yuji, playing the Jodie
Foster role, tries to find out what she knows about the kidnapping case.
She tells him that the kidnappers are probably kids acting out their
criminal fantasies, whereas the elite cops in charge of the investigation
assume that they are adult pros. Guess who Oda decides to believe and who
turns out to be right? 

Regarding Doughill's comments regarding the relationship between the
quantity and quality of Japanese film production. First, the production
figures are somewhat misleading, including as they do many films that
receive only a token theatrical release before heading for the video
shelves. According to Eirin, the Big Three distributors released 78 films
and the independent sector 200 in 1997. Granted, these are substantial
numbers any way you cut them, particularly from a European standpoint, but
not extraordinary if you remember that Japan, with a population of 125
million and the world's second-largest economy, is far larger than any
European film market. Also, they represent a drastic decline from the peak
of 547 films reached in 1960. 

Does ramping up the quantity of production lead to a decline in quality? I
believe that the answer is often no. The high production levels of the
1950s and early 1960s gave thousands of people in the industry, from
producers and directors to the technical staff, opportunities to gain
experience and polish their skills. The system may have produced much junk,
but it also gave us the work of Ozu, Kurosawa and Mizoguchi. The production
cuts backs of the 1960s and 1970s eliminated these opportunities for Boomer
filmmakers, forcing many into television, advertising or, if they insisted
on entering the industry, porno. Imagine Kurosawa spending his formative
creative years making beer ads or trendy dramas. 

Also, after losing the middle of their audience to television, the studios
targeted much of their remaining production at what was left: kids on
school holiday and older folks who still had the movie-going habit. Among
the results of this strategy were a growing reliance on formula and a
dumbing down of the product. Good-bye "Shichinin no Samurai" and hello
"Hanako Monogatari." 
Another corollary to the tightening of production budgets was less
tolerance of directors who wanted to make art but couldn't produce at the
box office. Kurosawa was the best-known victim of this trend, but there
were many others. 

By the time Allan Booth began writing about Japanese film for the Asahi in
(correct me if I'm wrong) the early eighties the situation was admittedly
dire and he was rightfully disappointed in the quality of much of what he
had to endure. Also, he trashed the stinkers that came his way with a
savagery that could be hilarious and was usually on target. 

But I also felt that Booth's famous parting pronouncement -- that only a
tiny handful of the hundreds of Japanese films he had watched during the
decade had been worth his time -- was a cop out. If he was burned out as a
reviewer, he should have fessed up and moved on. Calling Japanese films
crap is easy -- foreigners here who see one or two a year do it all the
time. What's harder -- and ultimately more valuable than taking easy cracks
at Godzilla movies -- is to unearth the good work that is being done here
and persuade an unbelieving outside world to see it. 

Mark Schilling

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