Shinji Somai

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feihong
Joined: Thu Nov 04, 2004 12:20 pm

Re: Shinji Somai

#26 Post by feihong » Sun Jun 28, 2020 1:00 am

I just came across an article from 2013 saying some company in Japan was establishing a "Kinema Junpo Collection" of VOD streaming movies. The two movies they were starting with caught my eye: Typhoon Club and Tokyo Heaven.

I've seen a 1080p version of Typhoon Club, which makes me wonder if it came initially from that VOD service. If that's the source, then I wonder if Tokyo Heaven might be out there somewhere, too. I don't know if anyone has seen this, but used DVDs of Tokyo Heaven currently sell for between $800 and $1500. VHS tapes go for $100. But maybe there's a hi-def source for the movie, via VOD?

Last year I earned a large paycheck and decided to get Somai's Luminous Woman on DVD. The disc isn't great, but the film looks really cool. Still, it set me back quite a bit. There was an amazing ad for the film on Youtube, a really quick thing (probably a TV spot?), that sold me on it, making it look like Somai doing a more earthbound version of The 5th Element. Now I've seen a single scene from Tokyo Heaven on Youtube, where the lead actress sings, scat-sings, and dances along with a trombonist in some restaurant. Really beautiful. Then I read about the film, and it has this crazy plot. It like these two films are a sort of brief 90s diversion into splurging romantic fantasy for Somai. It's too bad the films aren't more accessible.

On another note, yay! The Somai thread made it to page 2.

bad future
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Re: Shinji Somai

#27 Post by bad future » Sun Jun 28, 2020 2:32 am

I recently discovered Shinji Somai through a project I started for the quarantine season(s) where I decided to pick out a time frame and go through each year in order relatively thoroughly for anything that looks interesting. I landed on 1985-1999 almost arbitrarily...
SpoilerShow
(well, seemed like a fun range of stuff mainstream to SOV and in between, vhs relics and recently canonized stuff, but not like SO MUCH widely acknowledged greatness that it would take forever just to get through one year, as I imagine the 60’s would be for example, and ‘84 felt like it might be a good stopping point for a future similar project.)
Anyway, that’s a long preamble to explain why I’ve seen Love Hotel, Typhoon Club and Lost Chapter of Snow (LOVED the first two, the third not so much), not any of his earlier stuff that’s readily available, but instead looking ahead and really hoping for a way to see Luminous Woman and Tokyo Heaven, you know, without literally spending a grand. I hope you’re right that there might be versions out there! Please report back if you uncover anything, and I’ll do the same...

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feihong
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Re: Shinji Somai

#28 Post by feihong » Sun Jun 28, 2020 3:02 am

There's also an HD version of P.P. Rider on iTunes in Japan. It looks great, and that is, for my money, the best of Somai's movies, and one of the three or four best movies of the 80s in my admittedly eclectic headcannon. I haven't seen a bad Somai movie yet, though I'm less fully on board with Moving as others. But I ended up liking Lost Chapter, without being totally overwhelmed. It's interesting to me probably more as another screenplay by Yozo Tanaka, who's on the credits for Zigeunerweisen, Kagero-za and Yumeji. That was intriguing, and I thought the marionette in the closing credits reminded me of the puppet figure in the last parts of Yumeji. I have but have yet to see The Terrible Couple (and I found english subs for it). But Tokyo Heaven seems like a weird sort of holy grail of missing movies for me now.It's frustrating to hit such a brick wall trying to track this movie down.

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Michael Kerpan
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Re: Shinji Somai

#29 Post by Michael Kerpan » Sun Jun 28, 2020 9:37 am

Too much Somai (and Jun Ichikawa, for that matter) remain "out of reach". Very frustrating.

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feihong
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Re: Shinji Somai

#30 Post by feihong » Mon Sep 21, 2020 5:49 am

I should start this by saying I that I can't read or speak Japanese, and so I'm entirely dependent on subtitles and translations to understand what's written about Japanese films, what's on screen, and what's available on Japanese DVDs and blu rays. Of course, usually Japanese DVDs and blu rays have no English subtitles, and generally speaking they have very few special features. Sometimes there's a trailer, or a brief photo gallery of publicity stills. The 2 Nikkatsu DVD collections of Seijun Suzuki movies feature director commentary tracks, and it's a shame those haven't been optioned as special features on U.S. releases of the films. Most often on Japanese discs the movie starts up immediately, and the disc menu only appears if you call it up, or if you reach the end of the film. So this is a preface to say that I discovered something really interesting on a Somai disc I'd acquired, and I can't read anything to determine what it is I've found.

Recently someone created fansubs for Shinji Somai's 1987 film Luminous Woman, so I finally was able to put my exorbitant DVD of the film to use. I watched the film with subtitles. The film is very strange. It reminds me a little of a Jean-Jacques Beineix film, or it sometimes seems a bit like City of Lost Children; and it generally comes across as loopy and disconnected from the zeitgeist as a film like The Fifth Element. I've read it described as the weirdest film in Somai's canon, and while I've only seen around half of Somai's filmography, I'm inclined to agree. The film it precedes, Tokyo Heaven, has a narrative which is also based in the fantastical, making these two movies a brief foray for Somai into magical realism. Like the earlier Lost Chapter: Passion in the Snow, it is scripted by Yozo Tanaka (who also scripted for Seijun Suzuki on Branded to Kill and is the credited screenwriter for all of the Taisho Trilogy movies). There are still plenty of Somai's patented long takes, but here they are briefer than in Typhoon Club or P.P. Rider or Love Hotel. The acting is generally good in the way of most Somai pictures, but the singer Monday Michiru stands out, playing one of the leads with extreme sincerity. She seems to sing a ton of opera for the film, and whether or not it is actually her voice, she seems to be creditably matching the playback all the time she's on screen.

The movie has some clear, simple themes––there is the contrast between a dissipated countryside and a vibrant but sinister city, the contrast of opera and bare-knuckle brawling, and a strong contrast between smarts and feeling, or intuition, which makes for a kind of phantasmagorical love story between burly mountain man Sensaku––the film's self-styled "pathetic god of nature"––and Yoshino, the opera singer corrupted by her search for fame, who refuses to sing in protest against the violence of her manager's bare-knuckle fight club. Sensaku comes to the city looking for the woman he has promised to marry, and gets involved in the fighting in order to survive there. His naivety is no match for the sophistication of the city folk, but his earnest nature earns him intense friendship with the fight club's singing drag queen (another transplant from Sensaku's native Hokkaido) and an intense romantic connection to Yoshino, the club's mutely protesting opera singer. Meanwhile, the club owner, Yoshino's covetous manager, has already stolen and corrupted Sensaku's bride to be. The film plays out like a fable, or perhaps like an opera, and the tension between fable and opera dominates the proceedings. Are the emotions the different characters feel grandiose enough to kill for, or simple enough to be self-evident? The visual style of the film is super-expressive. The images are all post-processed with an entropic color shift, making the film composed primarily of shades of blue and red. As a result, Tokyo looks like hell in this movie; but a kind of vivid, candy-colored hell of the imagination, all pulsing blood and cool vesicles. The scenes in the fight club are shot without any traditional combat coverage, and instead are treated with Somai's typical limited take, plan-shot approach. This really does something strange to the film, making these fight scenes very frustrating and diffuse affairs to watch, but this is a self conscious part of the film's narrative structure; strong and indefatigable as he is, Sensaku never wins a fight in any clear, satisfying way––even his victories look like defeats. Rather they are shot to emphasize the way in which Yoshino and her manager react to them––especially as Yoshino develops feelings for Sensaku, and finds she is able to sing only when he is in danger. I have to say I didn't like this movie nearly so much as I like P.P. Rider (one of the best films I've ever seen) or Typhoon Club (pretty high up there, too), or Love Hotel, and while I mostly like it better than Moving, I think Moving is far more coherent on a first watch. But there are a lot of interesting ideas jangling around in Luminous Woman, and there is very conscious and often clever explication of those ideas. It is more ambitious and interesting than the previous Tanaka-scripted Lost Chapter: Passion in the Snow.

However, watching the film on my computer, with the subtitles, I discovered something about the disc I hadn't known about until now; there are two separate files on the disc for the film. In other words, there are two versions of the film, two different cuts you can watch.

The version the subtitles synch up to is 1 hour, 58 minutes long. When I look up the film all over the internet, that's the runtime which is always listed for the movie. But there is a second version on the disc, a whole separate file, which is 2 hours and 37 minutes long. That's a...a what? A director's cut? One which is nearly 40 minutes longer than the theatrical cut. Admittedly, when the 2-hour movie was over, I was very, very ready for it to be over. But I would love to know more about this second cut of the film. Scrubbing through the timeline, I see some additional singing scenes for Monday Michiru, some additional scenes where Sensaku confronts his bride-to-be, and what looks like a very expanded sequence near the end of the film, where Sensaku returns to Hokkaido and finds some kind of massacre in his village. He then seems to take the survivors of his village and essentially re-establish their community as a farming cooperative (very reminiscent of an earlier-era agrarian scenario) in another location. It does make some sense to include this big sequence of material; in the theatrical cut, there is a whole suite of scenes near the end where Yoshino goes looking for Sensaku in Hokkaido, and keeps arriving at places he has recently been, without actually encountering him. When we see Sensaku afterwards, he's working on building a bridge, but we assume he is a day-laborer on a commercial project (earlier in the film this is work he lists as having done in the past). After the final confrontation, we see Sensaku and Yoshino in the fields outside Sensaku's village. She is placed on a pedestal in the middle of a field of crops, singing while the villagers work. Sensaku looks on, contented, seemingly the master of all he surveys. This final scene seems dreamlike and a little insubstantial next to the grim tale that has come before. But if we get this final movement of the story where Sensaku rebuilds his village from the ground up, this ending seems to gain a richer foundation in the narrative. Now Sensaku seems like the village headman, or, possibly he is a benevolent god of nature, as Yoshino comes to think of him. And at that point Yoshino seems like an avatar of human endeavor in a verdant wilderness. I don't know if it's worth 40 more minutes of material, but sometimes a movie that long can lose my interest and recapture it again later. Whatever the case, I can't find anything online to indicate the nature of this second cut of the film. Is it a director's cut? An extended TV cut? I have no idea. It would be fascinating to know.

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Michael Kerpan
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Re: Shinji Somai

#31 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Sep 21, 2020 9:26 am

Alas, so little has been written about Somai in English. I can try asking about this on the KineJapan mailing list.

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Re: Shinji Somai

#32 Post by The Fanciful Norwegian » Mon Sep 21, 2020 2:05 pm

Looking around in Japanese, it seems that the extra scenes were cut before any sound editing, and some have no audio and use subtitles to convey the missing dialogue (obviously this would be easier to confirm with the disc on hand). Some apparently also show the clapperboard at the beginning of the shot, which suggests to me they were taken from a very early rough cut. Besides the changes already noted, they're also said to include performances by two actors (Shimokawa Tappei and Kawai Michiko) who were left out of the final cut altogether. Unfortunately I can't find anything confirming whether the longer version actually reflected Sōmai's preferences.

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feihong
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Re: Shinji Somai

#33 Post by feihong » Mon Sep 21, 2020 7:12 pm

When I take a closer look at some of these scenes, I can see the subtitles, and it seems like most of these expanded and added scenes have no soundtrack whatsoever. I don't see a clapperboard yet, but the cut footage is in slightly rougher shape, with some greasepencil markings and print damage.

There is an added scene in a bus (earlier in the theatrical version there is a flashback to this snowed-in bus in Hokkaido, where Sensaku promises to marry this girl from his home village), and that's where Tappei Shimokawa appears, along with a splendid cat, which hardly figures in the scene. Sensaku speaks to his sort of reverently. I can't get a context for that scene––and the bus scene in the movie, though it ultimately makes sense, is pretty hard to parse as the movie plays. There is not much context given for what is going on in that earlier scene, and without being able to read the subtitles, I can't figure it out. Some of the only closeups on Sensaku in the film are in this later, excised bus scene. Michiko Kawai, who appeared as Bruce in P.P. Rider, giving a wonderful performance, seems to figure in one of the cut scenes where Sensaku returns to Tokyo, and to the brothel his Hokkaido girlfriend worked at. Kawai sits opposite Sensaku, never facing the camera, in a delicate white dress, flanked by an ornate mirror (earlier scenes of this brothel are shot with wider-angle lenses and lower light, making the set appear distorted like a carnival fun-house, but this later version is framed more conventionally, drawing attention to the baroque detail of the place). As Sensaku talks very politely to the madam, Kawai wolfs down a bowl of noodles with zest, cutting into the conversation occasionally. It seems as if this scene points Sensaku to the hospital/asylum where he ultimately finds his former girlfriend, and eventually finds Yoshino as well, caring for her. Of all the scenes I see added here, this one seems like one that could definitely afford to be cut, though there is also a beautiful scene right after the drag queen lights himself on fire in the bus, a scene that plays out a sort of aftermath to the bus fire, with Yoshino trying to hold on to Sensaku, who now seems determined to return to Hokkaido, which could easily be cut as well. That scene looks amazing––both characters are standing in about a foot of water, in a flooded set that looks remarkably unique. Still, I think I'd prefer to see this more gradual movement of characters away from and then towards each other. The later half of the theatrical version of the film gets very choppy, and I think it makes it hard to understand what the movie is going for in the later scenes. Even the scene at the brothel makes a certain amount of sense, because we see there a Sensaku who has made himself more polite, more civilized, in order to navigate the dangers of the city when he returns to it. When Sensaku first arrives at the brothel he is hugely disruptive, and seemingly unaware of how little his bellicose aggressivity is communicates what he wants to know. He pushed people around when they stand in his way, and he looks like the wild, threatening mountain man he proves to be. In this later scene, Sensaku has shaved and donned a dapper suit (albeit of a florescent red color); he speaks politely and listens to the madam and the other prostitutes. Michiko Kawai's performance hardly makes an impact, but I am so partial to her for her acting in P.P. Rider as a child that I want to see her in this film anyway. It looks like she also appears in Somai's later 90s film, Wait and See, and after that she appears in The Sea is Watching, amongst other movies.

There's a part of me that thinks the longer, nearly three-hour cut of the movie might be better, not just for the way in which it more fully explicates the characters emotional states and grounds their decisions in the second half of the movie with a larger amount of gravitas, but also for the way in which stretching a fairly simple drama of violent human passions to an unbearable length is such a hallmark of opera. I don't know if I mentioned it before, but the arias Yoshino sings throughout the movie mostly all have lyrics that express the state of her existential distress of the moment. It's very clever writing from Tanaka. There is also some funny stuff done throughout the movie with allusion––Yoshino calls Sensaku "King Kong" when she first meets him, and in bookend sequences in the film Yoshino is placed atop a pile or other makeshift pedestal, like Fay Wray on top of the empire State building. Ultimately it's a movie that calls out for just a little more than is provided in the 2-hour cut. So it's quite interesting to see how much more they intended to have in the film, at least at some point in the editing. From what I can see, a lot of the early part of the extended movie is cut exactly as it appears in the 2-hour version; it's really the ending that gets chopped up in order to bring the movie in at a reasonable length.

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