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This is not what I thought I would be writing today.


Today the news was released that on the 6th May 2021, we lost Kentaro Miura at young age of 54, the creator of the epic long-running series Berserk. A legend in the Manga and fantasy communities, his works have influenced the likes of Dark Souls and fellow mangaka artists everywhere. He influenced me with his compassion and breadth of world-building, his powerful characters and spell-binding tales.

Berserk (Dark Horse Comics)

I know I am not alone in finding Berserk to be my gateway into Manga, and remaining my favourite after so many other series. This news has come as a great shock. I am relieved that his family and friends have been allowed to mourn before the news was spread and I am overwhelmed and reassured by so many as heartbroken as myself. A legend in his field, it seemed that he would keep the tale of Guts going until long into the future. Yet here we are.


It is a testament to his characters, to his storytelling, to the skill and power of his beautiful panels, that I feel a loss so deep. That Guts has stolen my heart and become a magnificent part of my own influences as a creator, proves that Miura transcends just the physical talent of producing such beautiful pieces of art in all this work, as meticulous and time-consuming as it was, but that he was an amazing storyteller. Guts was one of many complex characters including Griffith, Casca and The Skull Knight that jumped from the pages of each volume, causing hours and hours of disputes between fans about motivations and purpose of their presence. He'd only just begun to dissect this, to bring these great figures to a conclusion.

Berserk (Dark Horse Comics)

We have lost Kentaro Miura. I mourn for myself. And I mourn for his characters that may not see an ending; the characters that have suffered so much and kept fighting, the draw for the series, a story of survival and hope in a dark unforgiving world. I mourn for his work, for his talent and for him as the optimistic figure in the Mangaka world, a reminder of humanity despite his dark and troubling subject matter in Berserk. His messages, laced throughout hopelessness and desolation, his reminder to keep on fighting, are for many the true story behind the long-running series; we must keep fighting on and pave our own paths forward. Just as he did.

Berserk (Dark Horse Comics)

I have to brief, because I don’t know what more I can say. It doesn’t do it any justice, this post. The loss is stifling. But Miura’s passing is a reminder of a life spent creating that meant so much to his fans. That he gave so much to his characters and worlds, plucked from the intricacies of a magnificent mind, endlessly creative… did he and his fans ask too much of him? Ultimately, he still kept going. He loved Berserk as much as us. That means enough.


Miura did what he loved. He fought for what he loved. He must have had days like I did, even though he was the creator of one of the most powerful stories put to paper. I hope we can see the intention for his ending of Berserk, how he wanted it to be… I wish we hadn’t lost him so soon. I wish to read more words of wisdom from him, from what he has gained in his own experiences, as he reminds us again and again to step forward, bear each stumble and fall and to stand back up.

Berserk (Dark Horse Comics)

I have been absent from this blog. Working on personal projects and, finally, working on an essay related to a wonderful series of films I have recently seen, I did not expect my first post in some time to be with such a heavy heart. The essay can wait. My month has been filled with highs and lows; I won an award for my Short film I completed at the end of my degree, one of which I had lost all faith in despite the hard work put in place by those closest to me. I have experienced intense burst of creativity and numbing pangs of inspiration-less drivel. One day I feel I am wasting time and effort. Others, I feel I am making a meager breakthrough. But I keep working. If any of it will amount to anything, I don’t know. But Miura reminds me that I can keep going, one step at a time. Why not do what you love? I have spent too many years overworking myself, giving too much to jobs I’ve hated, that have exhausted me, leaving me nothing but a whimpering shell.

Berserk (Dark Horse Comics)

I don’t even feel like sharing or promoting this post. That I’ve written it here, if anyone ever finds it in the deep recesses of the web, I hope it finds them some comfort. If not, I did this for me.


Rest in Peace.


Berserk (Dark Horse Comics)

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****

As another couple of weeks pass and my inactivity on this blog grows ever more unsettling to myself alone - not to say that I have been completely despondent, in fact I’ve been busier than even I am comfortable with; still, I had to ride the wave - it is time I raid the stacks of films that I have recently seen and contemplate the most striking of the selections at hand. Of course, what I’m writing today is hardly going to be a review. Down with discipline, I say! Failing in my attempt at criticism, for once again I pick one I enjoyed rather than something sub-par or even simply attending to each watch item and their success as a film, what makes this pick a little different is that I re-watched it immediately upon conclusion.

Bleak Night (Yoon, 2010 - Third Window Films)

How interesting I hear you cry! It is indeed. The film I feel like talking about today is a little discussed gem although successful on the International festival circuits upon its release in 2010. A character study of troubled teens, it is the coming-of-age, South-Korean drama Bleak Night by Yoon Sung-hyun.

Bleak Night (Yoon, 2010 - Third Window Films)

The father of a young Ki-tae (Lee Je-hoon) seeks out the two best friends of his son, following his death by suicide. The boys, Hee-jun (Park Jeong-Min) and Dong-yoon (Seo Jun-Yeong), never attended the funeral and the weeks leading up to the incident, the former transferred schools and the other dropped out. Finding photos of his son with them, he feels they can shine some light on what drove Ki-tae to take his own life. Through a series of flashbacks, the relationship is revealed to us. Ki-tae relies heavily on his friends. With an absent mother and a father who works long hours, he leads a solitary home life, turning to his friends for affirmation, love and support. Not that he is open about his feelings. Ki-taes rocky friendship with Hee-jun, spurned by jealousy over a crush that spirals out of control, bullying soon ensues tainting their relationship forever. Dong-yoon, lost in the heady thrills of first love, is at first oblivious, but upon discovering the feud tries to stop Ki-tae's relentless actions. Instead, the boys are flung further apart. Filled to the brim with the pettiness of youth, misunderstandings, the jealousy, the intensity of young friendships, the need for acceptance and worst of all the loneliness, Ki-taes’ final troubled weeks are revealed to us.

Ki-tae, Hee-jun & Dong-yoon (Yoon, 2010 - Third Window Films)

Yoons' portrait of adolescence at its most stifling. The framework surrounding the father incites the plot, but the true story unfolds in the classrooms, the evenings the boys spent together at one another’s houses or by the tracks. Despite knowing the outcome, the revelation of the stages that led to the dissolution of childhood friends is truly heartbreaking. It feels like a familiar story; one almost too close to home. But this is where Yoon truly masters his tale. He takes the experience of young people and captures the misinterpretations and errors of our teenage-hood and places them on the screen in front of us. He understands that teenagers don’t understand one another, let alone themselves. So how are they supposed to face the world?

Bleak Night (Yoon, 2010 - Third Window Films)

Through a uses of hand-held shots and close-ups, wonderful cinematography executed by Byeon Bong-seon, Yoon interprets their world. Scenes of the three boys at the tracks are often caught in wide’s and close-ups of the individual’s faces. These wide’s take in the intricacies of their relationship. There is a solace at the tracks, despite deeper themes that this location can hold – that they will one day go their separate ways on a journey that will be hard for them all.

Bleak Night (Yoon, 2010 - Third Window Films)

Away from here, in the classroom or with others, it feels far more restrictive. Watched by their peers, the intimacy of the youthful world blurs with the lack of privacy. Dong-yoons’ love life with his playful, kind-hearted girlfriend, reflects this intimacy and fills their world with romance and tenderness. This starkly contrasts to the parallels conflict between Ki-tae and Hee-jun – equally as intense, bleaker with every passage of time as the feud escalates into physical abuse. Ki-taes gang, a group of boys as shallow as the reason he enjoys their company, hover at the fringes of their worst conflicts. Watching and waiting, intrusive. These close-ups capture the range of confusing emotions Ki-tae experiences about the situation. Through rejection, he lashes out. Yet the boy wants nothing more than to connect to his old friend. They are inches from one another in many a scene – but one has shut the other out. These moments are unbearable but also cataclysmic.

Bleak Night (Yoon, 2010 - Third Window Films)

Much of the power in this film resides in the performances by its three leads. Lee, Park and Seo carry the emotional intensity, perfectly understanding the roles they are assigned and capturing the complexities of young lives. The story asks a lot from them, and they deliver it naturally. In particular, Lee’s interpretation of Ki-tae is equally balanced with tragedy and despair. He is a complex character, unlikable at first before we begin to understand his motivations; with this in mind, the actor is able to address the childish neediness and the venom that comes with jealousy and rejection. How one man is capable of capturing these emotions; the hurt and anguish behind the stand-offishness is beyond me. Lee is simply outstanding.


Ki- tae: Who is the best?
Dong-yoon: You are. My friend.

In fact, Ki-tae’s character is fascinating in the exploration of bullies on screen. It is interesting to see the dissection of these characters, refusing to justify their actions but certainly make us pity them. He cares what others think about him. It mystifies the other two boys, but this doesn’t change how much Ki-tae cares. But so much of Ki-tae is beyond comprehension to them; possibly through distractions of their own experiences as youth. Yet for the viewer so much of his behaviour is plain to see. Deeply troubled, incredibly lonely, Ki-tae needs more. He's a bully through some fault of his own, but he doesn't see himself that way. In fact, projecting much of his own failings on others; Ki-tae is in need of friends, of structure and reliability.

Bleak Night (Yoon, 2010 - Third Window Films)

A notable facet of Ki-taes identity I find equally as complex and fascinating, that ties into the understanding of his relationship with the other boys, his needy and infantile nature, is through the baseball they throw between one another at the tracks. Early on in the film, when it's almost lost, Dong-yoon and Hee-jun search the brush for it, unsure of the significance of it. It's a childlike possessiveness Ki-tae holds over the item. It can be interpreted as a represenation of his dreams such as the desire to become a batter for the professional leagues, the use he has in the friendship with the two other boys (it brings them together, and without his ball they can't play) or ultimately, it's a symbolism of their unity overall. He's never willing to give it up to them. They both almost gain ownership of it but relinquish. I suppose this displays on some deeper level, they both understood the importance of the baseball, even if they didn't know the importance. In the end, the baseball is the one thing Ki-tae can really control, and enjoy without a care in the world.

Bleak Night (Yoon, 2010 - Third Window Films)

Ultimately, there is no one there to stop Ki-tae or his escalating rashness, because he feels abandoned. But feeling and knowing that he is are two different things. Ki-tae craves attention; negative or positive. What he gains from bullying Hee-jun is a desire for a reaction from the boy, worse than any anger or hate that he could impart on his own being. Worst of all, the hot-headedness of his character, the naivety of him robs the boy of any capability to hold back. When Ki-tae wants to fit in and be wanted, it is not enough for him to gather around him his cronies, because even he knows this is not enough. Furthermore, he gains equally as little by manipulating Dong-yoon. Inside his own head all the time, Ki-tae is incapable of making sound decisions, teetering closer to childishness than the adulthood he struggles to see for himself. The final days of Ki-tae, the heart-wrenching meeting between him and Dong-yoon, later alone at home, devoid of everything he cherished, are unendurable and unforgettable. Ki-tae, simply put, is one of the most devastating characters I‘ve ever seen on screen.

Bleak Night (Yoon, 2010 - Third Window Films)

It was the feeling of such overwhelming pity that had me re-watching the film. As I mentioned before, it all feels too familiar. Not that my youth was filled with bullying, abuse or exile. But I was witness to it, experienced it in varying degrees that could have all too easily have become uncontrollable if I and my friends had been different people. Words that are said that carry too much weight to ever be forgotten. Words we don’t mean, or mean in that moment if only briefly, that lose all ferocity and warp into some tainted hex upon those you love once regretted.

Bleak Night (Yoon, 2010 - Third Window Films)

Bleak Night is an understated piece of filmmaking, so many of the events are microscopic in comparison to the significant life events of the average adult. It’s understanding that the micro is utterly distressing to these young people, and with these small things that define them at such a delicate age being tampered with or questioned, can tip the scales into absolute tragedy. It reminds me of what it was like to feel misunderstood when I was younger. The extremity of emotion, that is still dormant inside me, which remains dormant with the mild reasoning I have gained with age. Upon my re-watch, I wanted to understand the boys more.

'You never thought of me as a friend.'

Yoon has created an experience. The lives of Ki-tae, Hee-jun and Dong-yoon, in all their sincerity, closeness and cruelty are sad to see. Where loneliness is captured, there is also regret. For me, it is a shame that such a powerful film has gone amiss by so many. It’s not happy viewing. When has anything I recommended in my reviews fit that basic criteria? But it’s a character study of immense depth and heart. This a crafted by a filmmaker entirely in tune with characters and his subject matter. It steers clear of melodrama, reveling in its realistic nature. And in the last scene, when nothing can be taken back, and we see the unrealistic delusions of a lost youth, you wish there was some way that things could have changed. In the end, it was all a cry for love.



Rating: ****


Bleak Night is available to buy here

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  • Kerry Chambers

Cinema is art in motion, stories around the campfire retold in astounding ways, humanity playing out on the big screen, a spectacle to behold and inspection of the world we reside in. It holds up a mirror for us to face this world, it can transport us far away and relay our dreams for all to see. We can laugh together, cry, scream, despair, learn and hope. Cinema is pure magic. When it’s done well.

Ed Wood (Burton, 1994 - Buena Vista Home Entertainment)

Today I want to share some of my favourite films about filmmaking. Not only the process but the very essence of the visual format, of the amazing minds behind mammoth projects, the drama, the horror, the egotism and best of all humour to be found in what is essentially an industry where you can make things up all day. It’s exactly why I still love film. There is so much passion behind amazing projects and even masterful voyeurism that both the filmmaker and spectator embrace. Film can be so many things and it is this freedom that makes working on sets so exciting.

The Woodsman and the Rain (Okita, 2011 - Third Window Films)

The films selected won’t be how-to guides. Instead I want to share some of my favorite films that interpret the process. Some are obvious, some are underrated; what I hope is that you’ll find some new favourites to explore!


10. Saving Mr. Banks (Hancock, 2013)

USA

Saving Mr. Banks (Hancock, 2013 - Disney Home Entertainment)

No matter what anyone has to say about Disney as a company now and it’s weaponised nostalgia and regurgitated goods, there’s no debating the momentous power it has wielded over the animation industry, nor its influence on many including myself in its excellent, emotive storytelling. Come on, I know all the lyrics to every movie up until 2005. It will always be part of me. Therefore, Saving Mr. Banks is the perfect kind of story for anyone like me. Telling the story of Pamela Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, as she resists Walt Disney’s interest in buying the rights to her book for years, she decides to visit Los Angeles to see what he envisions. His methods and style of storytelling do not meet her approval and again and again she is put off by her story devolving into a whimsical mess. Can Mr. Disney meet her in the middle and convince her that there’s more than just money behind his desire to bring her story to the big screen?

Saving Mr. Banks (Hancock, 2013 - Disney Home Entertainment)

It serves more than just a propaganda cash cow for Disney. Saving Mr. Banks is a behind the scenes look of the creation of Mary Poppins for the screen, the challenges with Travers and her resistance to musicals, to the adaptation of her beloved novel and to Disney’s magic. Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson take the helm, playing the aforementioned characters, bouncing beautifully off of one another and become the beautiful emotional soul of the film, balancing perfectly sentiment, humour and tenderness. The workings of Disney and his reliable colleagues uncover a fascinating process in the creation of magic and the challenges of adapting a novel in the style of the studio. Best of all, it’s a sweet story of a woman coming to terms with letting go of a troubled past. Never too sappy and often funny, this is a personal favourite of mine, one of the best films Disney have put out in the last ten years standing leagues above the poor remakes that have plagued their canon, it is the perfect feel good watch.


For more Hollywood style films about films, check out The Artist (Hazanavicius, 2011) and La La Land (2016, Chazelle)


9. Behind the Camera (E, 2012)

South Korea

Behind the Camera (E, 2012 - Third Window Films)

Probably the weakest entry on this list, my reason for inclusion is mainly due to the interesting concept used to make the film. E J-yong helms the piece as himself, a mockumentary style with a cast spoofing their own star powers including the brilliant Youn Yuh-jung and entertaining Oh Jung-se. The director leaves for Hollywood and attempts, a daring experiment, to direct remotely through the use of phone calls, Skype and webcams. The cast and crew, at first skeptical quickly grow more restless until E has the start of a mutiny on his hands. Meanwhile, the promotion he is filming, about a director filming his crew remotely also, leaves his team exceptionally suspicious.

Behind the Camera (E, 2012 - Third Window Films)

The execution lacks the energy that the trailers and promotional material for the film had. Oh and Youn are actor I admire very much so any scene with them was simply a delight, especially the formers wonderful wit. They are possibly the highlights. There some entertaining and interesting moments that could have been pushed further, an example being the beginnings of a thought-provoking and poignant conversation about the obsession with outward appearances. Many scenes like this are sprinkled throughout and E seems to be trying to capture the farce of the Korean film industry. Only it’s not biting enough. The wit isn’t sharp enough to be a true satire and the drama never excels as far as it could. So the film sits at a wavering middle ground, which isn’t always a bad thing. Plus, director Kim Jee-woon makes a cameo (although I’m not sure he was in on the joke or not…)


More behind the scenes style films include Make-up Room (Morikawa, 2015) and Lowlife Love (Uchida, 2015)


8. Cinema Paradiso (Tornatore, 1988)

Italy

Cinema Paradiso (Tornatore, 1988 - Arrow Academy)

A true classic is my next entry and a truly sweet film about the power of cinema on a community. Every film lover is swept up in the magic of Giuseppe’s Tornatore story, and how can you not be when you see the townspeople watching films projected onto buildings, finding anyway they can to enjoy it. When I think of the state of cinema now, one longs for this dedication. Through the war, through times of struggle and strife it is film that unites them.

Cinema Paradiso (Tornatore, 1988 - Arrow Academy)

A Filmmaker, Salvatore Di Vita, recounts his childhood and how he came to fall in love with cinema in his once quaint Sicilian village. Projectionist of the picture house, Cinema Paradiso, allows the boy to work in the projection room with him and it is here that the magic of film on himself and the audiences below is revealed. As the boy grows up, he falls for a local girl and eventually takes over as the projectionist. However, his motor urges his him to leave town, knowing that his true passion is filmmaking. For many, this film is the ultimate love letter to the silver screen but what makes it so widely accessible is the tale of a small-town boy taking a leap of faith and following his dream, even if it means leaving his home behind. Salvatore never forgets his roots and it equally becomes a story of nostalgia.


For more stunning Italian cinema of the cinematic type, check out 8 ½ (Fellini, 1963) and The Lady Without Camelias (Antonioni, 1935)


7. One Cut of the Dead (Ueda, 2017)

Japan

One Cut of the Dead (Ueda, 2017 - Third Window Films)

We open in an abandoned military warehouse rumored to house unsettling experiments in the middle of nowhere. A Japanese film crew is attempting to make a low-budget horror. Only, the director is insane and Zombies are appearing. In an opening non-stop 37 minute take, what unfolds is an intense experience as the crew are hunted down, cut short by a fabulous twist. And I won’t tell you anymore. Because, it is the very reason this film grossed $30 million domestically, on two screens and on a budget of $27,000. So watch it to find out.

One Cut of the Dead (Ueda, 2017 - Third Window Films)

That aside, what director Shinichirou Ueda executes is an excellent dissection of cinema, becoming a commentary of behind the scenes and the low budget industry as much as it is a horror comedy. The detriment to the film is that it is compared to Shaun of the Dead; if this observation is its genre-bending progressiveness then I would agree. However, narratively and tonally, it’s a different experience all together. Instead, Ueda has created an original film. If could divulge more I would, but really check it out and enjoy such a great release.


For more filmmaking comedy mash-ups, check out Reality (Dupieux, 2014) and Tropic Thunder (Stiller, 2008)


6. Peeping Tom (Powell, 1960)

UK

Peeping Tom (Powell, 1960 - Studio Canal)

The notoriety of Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom is often drawn to the controversy surrounding its release that drove the filmmaker into seclusion following its release, blacklisting him from the British film Industry. Despite coming out the same year as Hitchcock’s Psycho, people were horrified by the premise of a disturbed voyeur who murders women and films them in their dying moments, forcing his victims to witness their own fear in their final moment through the mirror attached to his camera. It’s dark and grotesque and arguably more challenging than its popular counterpart, and people were not ready to be faced with its ultimate dilemma. That we are all pretty perverted.

Peeping Tom (Powell, 1960 - Studio Canal)

It’s the ultimate moral quandary for all storytellers and Powell revels in it. A psychological thriller of great complexity, the film explores child abuse, sadomasochism, scopophilic fetishism and a reclusive struggling to interact with people and how childhood trauma has shaped his murderous intent. The antagonist is unusually likable, and fed into British sensibilities at the time with an adversity to sexual explicitness, perversion and repression. Because we all know that the Brits are a contrary bunch. Powell was ahead of his time and created a film challenging the viewer’s own depraved interest in the macabre, and for many I believe that was the most horrifying thing, for we became accomplices just by being present in the darkness of the picture house.


For other voyeuristic examinations of the lens, check out Sex Lies, and Videotape (Soderbergh, 1989) or The Pornographers (Imamura, 1966). But for more perverse psychological filmmaking, maybe try out Benny’s Video (Haneke, 1992)


5. Ed Wood (Burton, 1994)

USA

Ed Wood (Burton, 1994 - Buena Vista Home Entertainment)

B-movies are fabulous in every sense of the word. Campy messes, Bruce Campbell appearances, over-the-top madcap adventures, bizarre realms where somehow the low budget opens the paths to more creativity; how can you not love ‘em? Even though Campbell doesn’t make an appearance in this next film, it’s one of the best biopics about a B-movie legend who defined the genre. Tim Burton paints a loving portrait of the man considered Hollywood’s worst filmmaker, cult filmmaker Ed Wood. Following his career and his famous collaborations with Bela Lugosi during the twilight years of his career, it captures the dedicated cast and crew of misfits that came together to work on the eccentric and strange films of Wood. They were critical and commercial failures, who went on to become cult classics, but in them were big ideas and determination that drew people to the director and his projects.

Ed Wood (Burton, 1994 - Buena Vista Home Entertainment)

Still considered one of Burton’s best films, it’s also one of the best autobiographical films. Its cast is excellent; Johnny Depp as the titular Wood is just one of many outstanding performances he gave in the nineties and proves his capability of immense depth and heart to a weird but charming character. Supported by Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Bill Murray and Patricia Arquette (to name but a few), Ed Wood is a project equally as important to its modern day counterparts as they bring to life a true legend. Burtons’ love for classic Hollywood schlock is equally on show here. Impossible to dislike and utterly devoted to its subject until the end, Ed Wood is a warm celebration of dreamers.


I would also recommend films like Boogie Nights (Anderson, 1997) and The Disaster Artist (Franco, 2017) for true passion projects about well-intentioned filmmaking.


4. Burden of Dreams (Blank, 1982)

USA/Germany

Burden of Dreams (Blank, 1982 - BFI)

Speaking of dreams, this next film really takes the cake. A documentary, and the only one on this list, it is equally as significant in the cinematic canon as it’s feature counterpart Fitzcarraldo, of which this behind the scenes takes place. Werner Herzog is the ballsiest filmmaker in history, with no exaggeration necessary considering that this is the same man who filmed an active volcano on an evacuated island, and Les Blanks expose captures the madness behind the vision. Entertaining in its own right, Blanks film serves as a testament to the passion behind filmmaking, capturing all the mental turmoil that comes with achieving a vision.

Burden of Dreams (Blank, 1982 - BFI)

In 1982, Herzog began working on his epic Fitzcarraldo; a production plagued with setbacks. Desiring to film on location in the Amazon rainforest, in a climate unwelcoming to the demands to a film crew, the director also reviled special effects, with all stunts and practical effects staged before the camera. Not only this, but issues with casting – in the lead roles were Jason Robards and Mick Jagger who left for various reasons – leading to the hiring of the mercurial Kinski. Furthermore, much like the titular character of his production, Herzog desired to haul an old-fashioned steam boat over a mountain with manpower alone. The man was (and is) insane, endangered lives and his own sanity pushing the boundaries of what filmmaking could achieve. But it’s absolutely absorbing.

Burden of Dreams (Blank, 1982 - BFI)

The finished product reveals the methods of Herzog and his controversial lead actor and regular collaborator, Klaus Kinski, even capturing one of many infamous outbreaks from the actor. Their relationship, and Herzog’s own exploration of his creative process and vision is fascinating. So much can be learned from the director through the lens of Blank. Herzog is candid with his own fears yet he remains admirable. Not that I condone the lengths he went to accomplish his dreams; I’m always blown away by his cinematic conviction.


For documentaries about the behinds the scenes of some truly epic productions check out Hearts of Darkness (Coppola, 1991). Or for more from Herzog, try his documentary My Best Fiend (1999)


3. Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (Sono, 2013)

Japan

Why Don't You Play in Hell? (Sono, 2013 - Drafthouse)

I’ve previously talked about my love of Sion Sono. There’s a whole list dedicated to him - Recommends: Top 15 Sion Sono Films. So when thinking about films I wanted to feature on this list, I had no doubt in my mind that I had to include Why Don’t You Play in Hell? Despite it being featured on this list, I simply had to plug it again. It’s Sono’s passion project; penned in the nineties he was only able to bring it to life after a lot of hard grafting in 2013. Accumulating all the best things about the filmmakers works, his self-awareness, sense of humour, lust for blood, artistic flare and crazy style, Why Don’t You Play in Hell? is every filmmakers dream.

Why Don't You Play in Hell? (Sono, 2013 - Drafthouse)

A Yakuza boss hires a rookie filmmaker to direct a film starring his willful daughter, in order to show it to his wife when she is released from prison who is serving time on behalf of the himself and his gang. In the act of filming however, the boss always wants to infiltrate the residence of the rival gang, capturing the violence, or victory, in a ‘two birds with one stone’ scenario. Sono’s greatest skill is to subvert expectations and mash-up all the genres he can possibly fit into one place. Unfolding on screen is a love story, a crime film, action epic and tender tale of friendship, all seamlessly interwoven that it’s a masterpiece in its self that Sono even managed it. Shinichi Tsutsumi, veteran actor with much critical and commercial success in Japan, gets an extra special mention from me for being so delightfully weird as the rival boss, really embracing the outlandish story and extremity of the role in hand whilst being occasionally pretty cool. Entertaining to the very end, I implore all who haven’t seen it yet to watch it, and those who have to watch it again.


More from Sono in this particular realm to divulge in would be Red Post on Escher Street (2020) and Antiporno (2016)


2. Pain and Glory (Almodóvar, 2019)

Spain

Pain and Glory (Almodóvar, 2019 - Pathe)

One of my greatest sins since creating this website has been my lack of attention to one of my favourite filmmakers of all time, Pedro Almodóvar. Maybe someday in the future I will do a rundown of my favourite of his but for now, like the shameful fan that I am, I will simply place him second in this list. Personally, I think it’s a pretty good choice. In a career spanning more than four decades, Almodóvar has been a very self-reflective filmmaker. Using the art, theatre and literature as conduits to his own personal stories, he’s also been an incredibly post-modern director in the sense that he has come to dissect the representation of media and cinema and use it to his own advantage in often outrageous ways.

Pain and Glory (Almodóvar, 2019 - Pathe)

His latest feature, a true testament to a new phase in the works of the director, explores a rather autobiographical story. An ageing director reflects on his past, his youth and the influences that shaped him into who he became and the choices his made over his career as he battles various inflictions both physical and mental. Desiring to work on his new project, his personal life encumbers his work and he struggles to come to terms with his identity, legacy and creativity moving forward. Antonio Banderas plays the fictional Almodóvar in his most understated performance of his career, taking much inspiration from the years the two have known and worked together. The union of the two actors captures the magic of the filmmaker’s works whilst proving his capabilities moving onto a more meditative stage in his career. In the same way that Cinema Paradiso looks at the roots of its filmmaker subject, as does Pain & Glory although far more critically. What can those experiences do to shape the work we create? How does facing ones past still prove so challenging despite years of mining it for inspiration?


For more self-reflective works from this great filmmaker, check out Broken Embraces (2009) and Bad Education (2004)


1 – The Woodsman and the Rain (Okita, 2011)

Japan

The Woodsman and the Rain (Okita, 2011 - Third Window Films)

Far from the most technically impressive on this list or the most high profile, but do I care? Of course not. It’s definitely one of the sincerest and sweetest takes on the filmmaking film and a personal favourite of mine. Underrated for sure and one I’ve yet to come across in lists of this kind, I want to hype it up as much as I can. In a small mountain village, a widowed woodsman with a troubled relationship with his son (the recognisable and always great Kōji Yakusho) finds himself helping out on a film production. At first showing them locations, after growing a soft spot for the insecure and anxious writer/director (An absolutely wonderful Shun Oguri), eventually he becomes an extra and then part of the crew as he recruits the villagers to help realise the young man’s vision.

The Woodsman and the Rain (Okita, 2011 - Third Window Films)

What filmmaker Shuichi Okita manages to capture in The Woodsman and the Rain is the perfect sense of community a production can obtain, as with each passing day not only do the villagers grow closer, but so do the crew. It captures the ridiculousness of productions, the thrive or die attitude far too intimidating for its nervous director and shifts the attention to his own internalized battle. As someone who understands the ‘Imposter Syndrome’ effect all too much, the story struck me on a very personal level and Okita’s characterization of the introverted director perfectly captured those feelings of self-doubt and fear.

The Woodsman and the Rain (Okita, 2011 - Third Window Films)

Ultimately it’s about finding one’s own voice, and through the sweet friendship between the woodsman and the young director, we discover the power of having someone believe in you. Okita’s film is funny and touching in all the right ways and despite spoofing the film industry and all its bad qualities, he finds a way to show his admiration for all the good parts too. Nurturing goes a long way.


For other hidden gems of the ‘filmmaking films’ kind, check out Top Knot Detective (Pearce & McCann, 2016) and Millennium Actress (Kon, 2001)



There you have it, some of my favourites. Some are love songs to the craft whilst others spoof it, but there's no denying the love there is for Cinema behind every one of these stories. I hope you have found something worth watching!

Why Don't You Play in Hell? (Sono, 2013 - Drafthouse)

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A Space for Reviews, World Cinema Appreciation, Essays and Reflections by Writer Kerry Chambers

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