Review: Scandal (1950)

Yes, it’s a Christmas movie.

All Ichiro Aoye (Toshirō Mifune) wanted was to get his latest painting done while up in the mountains. But a chance encounter with famous singer Miyako Saijo (Shirley Yamaguchi) leads to an innocent motorbike ride past a bus with a pair of nosy magazine photographers looking for an exclusive interview with her. They don’t get it, but manage to snap the two seemingly sharing a room (they’re not). Once the photo arrives back at Amour Magazine, a salacious story gets written and both Ichiro and Miyako deal with the resulting fallout, even though they both temporarily benefit from career boosts due to the resulting gossip.

Thus begins Akira Kurosawa’s Scandal, which manages to poke a finger in the eye of celebrity worship and the often lousy and slanderous “journalism” that comes with it. The film is also has bits of comedy, does double jury duty as a decent courtroom drama and you’ll also find the old heart string tugboat towing the SS Kleenex for good measure. There’s a big slice of mundane, but honest sentimentality here that still resonates more with age and for me, it’s Kurosawa’s most “American” film, despite the Japanese setting.

in Japan, extreme painting is a spectator sport.

Ayoe goes to the magazine’s office, slugs the article’s writer and tells them he plans to sue. Later, he’s approached at his home by a somewhat disheveled lawyer, Hiruta (Takashi Shimura) who gives him his business card and asks to represent him at the upcoming trial. Ayoe says he’ll give it some thought, but his friend Sumie (Noiriko Sengoku) comments on Hirata’s smelly feet and warns Ichiro about his choice. The next day, Ichiro visits Hirata’s rundown home to accept but meets his bedridden young daughter, Masako (Yōko Katsuragi), who’s had tuberculosis for five years, but still greets him with a joyful smile and shows Ichiro what’s currently keeping her happy: an intricate wedding outfit her mother has made that’s to be delivered the next day to a future bride. That old tugboat is puffing out gently scented tissue smoke right about now.

I am the law?

Inoue also stops by Hinata’s cluttered “office”, a tiny shack on the roof of a building that looks as it it was built by the lawyer himself where he finds some bike racing forms and a photo of Hinata’s daughter tacked up near the door where she’s standing up and still bearing that warm smile. Ichiro leaves a chalkboard note saying he wants to retain the lawyer and leaves. The film gets busy touching on that period between Christmas and New Year’s Day where there are some laughs to be found and you realize that drunken revelers are the same almost everywhere. Hinata’s plans to one-up the magazine by secretly revealing his trial plans to its shady publisher backfires badly and he eventually takes money to gamble on the races, where he seems to keep losing.

See, I told you this was a Christmas movie!

Everything culminates in quite the ending that’s guaranteed to get that tugboat huffing out more tissue smoke of course, but with Kurosawa, it’s in for a penny, in for a few pounds. there are a few ways to watch this from poorly subtitled versions posted online to the far superior Criterion Collection box set you can get here that gets you five of the director’s post World War II films. Whichever way you choose, you’re in for quite a holiday.



Show & Tell: On Ray Harryhausen’s Fairy Tales

Red StareIn regards to every well-worn fairy tale, “It’s not the tale, but how it’s told” is the order of the day. Parents and other creative adults well-versed in story time voices and acting have this mantra branded on their brain cells and know how to make any yarn they spin keep kids at rapt attention. Still, for many of his longtime fans, Ray Harryhausen’s incredible stop-motion versions of Mother Goose stories and five classic fairy tales are some of the most memorable versions ever created.

Save for The Tortoise and the Hare (which was incomplete until its 2002 premiere), I can recall some of these films along with his earlier Mother Goose shorts being shown during assembly hall sessions or in the occasional class where a regular teacher was out sick and the substitute called in hadn’t time to whip up a proper lesson plan. While most of these 16mm shorts were part of my childhood, I’d imagine plenty of today’s little (and more tech savvy) whippersnappers haven’t a clue who Harryhausen was or what made (and still makes him) him great and such a huge inspiration of countless filmmakers and visual effects artists to this day.

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Random Film of the Week(end): SCANDAL

(thanks, NonoLoves!) 

SCANDALAkira Kurosawa’s SCANDAL is a brilliantly bittersweet film that works as an indictment of a celebrity-crazed public and paparazzi-fueled gossip gone wrong (as if it were ever “right”) while completely pulling you into its well-rounded characters and situations that will seem all to familiar in this era of TMZ and other “entertainment journalism” that’s merely feeding a voyeuristic “need” to pore into the private lives of people that for the most part don’t want or need this sort of intrusion.

The film is also a sentimental holiday story and seeing the Japanese takes on Christmas and New Year’s Day (circa 1950) makes for an interesting cultural shock that adds a nice layer of necessary humor to the plot. If you’re one for the weeping moment, this one’s also a great few-hanky flick that’s near flawless (meaning your strings will be yanked appropriately and at the right moments).

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Random Film of the Week: Rocketship X-M

(Thanks, SciFiBMovieGuy!)

Rocketship X-MAmusingly enough, that movie poster on the left calls Rocketship X-M a story about man’s “conquest of space”, but spoiler alert: it’s not quite that triumphant a voyage at all. Yeah, man makes it into space in that fancy silver craft, but if there’s a conquest here, it’s presented in a pretty stark manner that’s not conducive to anything resembling a “happy” ending. That said, this one’s yet another highly recommended classic that’s worth a look if you’ve never seen it before and yes indeed, it’s worth grabbing a few sci-fi loving friends to take along for the ride. Pack that space ice cream, some popcorn and maybe a clean hanky, but leave your thinking cap on that bedpost, buddy…

While the actual “science” in this low-budget 1950 sci-fi flick isn’t exactly realistic and indeed, laughable (hey, we didn’t send a man into space until over a decade later), this is still a pretty powerful film that manages to be memorable for a few reasons. Granted, it was rushed to theaters to beat out the superior (in every technical aspect, at least) Destination Moon, but the anti-nuke/anti-war message presented makes this gem resonate a bit more than George Pal’s classic (which can be seen as the 2001: A Space Odyssey of its time thanks to all that attention to detail). What works in this little film (shot over 18 days for under $100,000) is the script (from an uncredited Dalton Trumbo – look him up if you don’t know who he is) that adds an interesting layer of sentimentality to the characters. Oh, and the acting is first-rate as well all around.

Of course, you’ll probably be too busy rooting for the crew of the X-M to get out of the rather crappy situation they’ve found themselves in after their moon rocket ends up going WAY off course (as in not scientifically possible) rather than look to deeply for hidden messages. Then again, that excellent Ferde Grofe score plus the decent acting are compelling enough reason to sit down and enjoy this one for what it is. In other words, flush the insulting (but yes, quite amusing) Mystery Science Theater 3000 version and watch the original movie instead. Some films deserve to be better remembered for what they were back when they were released and not someone’s bastardized joke-book version that pays no respect to something that tried to bring a certain er, gravity to a formerly not so serious genre.

Yeah, it’s a short review, but this is one of those films that just needs to be seen more and talked about afterward. Enjoy the trip and as the old saying goes: be nice to the people you meet on the way up – you’re going to meet (most of) the same ones on the way back down…