THE HUMAN CONDITION - NO GREATER LOVE
NINGEN NO JOKEN I
1959, Janus Films, 208 min, Japan, Dir: Masaki Kobayashi

In real life, director Masaki Kobayashi (KWAIDAN) served in the Japanese Imperial Army but continually refused promotion, remaining a private throughout the duration of WWII as a way of protest. In this first installment of what is probably Kobayashi’s most outstanding achievement as a filmmaker, Tatsuya Nakadai portrays a newlywed pacifist who is sent with his wife (Michiyo Aratama) to Manchuria to put into practice his theories for improving conditions at labor camps. But optimistic Nakadai is slowly undermined not just by his civilian superiors’ complacency but also the brutal inhumanity of the military police overseers. The opening salvo of one of the great cinematic sagas of the 20th century, a classic that stands alongside Rossellini’s OPEN CITY, Kurosawa’s IKIRU and Kazan’s ON THE WATERFRONT as a social document defining personal courage. "A richly rewarding visual and human experience in all its bleakness. … Nakadai’s performance as a man of Christ-like forbearance, who travels to the edge of human endurance in a doomed and lonely struggle against an evil society, is both moving and charismatic.” – Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com.


BELLADONNA OF SADNESS
KANASHIMI NO BELLADONNA
1973, Arbelos Films, 89 min, Japan, Dir: Eiichi Yamamoto

One of the great lost masterpieces of Japanese animation, this mad, swirling, psychedelic light-show is equal parts J.R.R. Tolkien and Gustav Klimt-influenced eroticism. The last film in the groundbreaking Animerama trilogy produced by manga godfather Osamu Tezuka, and directed by his longtime collaborator Eiichi Yamamoto (ASTRO BOY and KIMBA THE WHITE LION), BELLADONNA unfolds as a series of spectacular still watercolor paintings that bleed and twist together. An innocent young woman (Aiko Nagayama) is assaulted by the local lord on her wedding night, and to take revenge makes a pact with the Devil (Tatsuya Nakadai), who transforms her into a black-robed vision of madness and desire. Fueled by a mind-blowing Japanese psych-rock soundtrack by Masahiko Satoh, BELLADONNA has been newly restored from the original 35mm camera negative and sound elements and is a major rediscovery for animation fans.


KILL!
KIRU
1968, Janus Films, 114 min, Japan, Dir: Kihachi Okamoto

In this pitch-black action comedy, a pair of down-on-their-luck swordsmen arrive in a dusty, windblown town, where they become involved in a local clan dispute. One, previously a farmer, longs to become a noble samurai. The other, a former samurai haunted by his past, prefers living anonymously with gangsters. But when both men discover the wrongdoings of the nefarious clan leader, they side with a band of rebels under siege at a remote mountain cabin. Based on the same source novel as Akira Kurosawa’s SANJURO, KILL! playfully tweaks samurai film convention, borrowing elements from established chanbara classics and seasoning them with a little Italian Western.


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