Monday, October 05, 2015

Benshi concert Chuji tabinikki / [A Diary of Chuji's Travels] (2010 restoration National Film Center, Tokyo) (incomplete) (Ichiro Kataoka and the Otowaza ensemble)

Chuji tabinikki. Photos: National Film Center, Tokyo. Click to enlarge the images.
忠次旅日記 / [Diario di viaggio di Chuji] [not released in Finland] (Nikkatsu – JP 1927) (fragments)
Pt. 2: SHINSHU KESSHO HEN [Riso cruento a Shinshu / Bloody Laughter in Shinshu]
Pt. 3: GOYO HEN [In nome della legge / In the Name of the Law] D+SC+story: Daisuke Ito; DP:  Rokuzo Watarai (Pt. 2), Hiromitsu Karasawa (Pt. 3); cast (Pt. 2): Denjiro Okochi (Chuji Kunisada), Hideo Nakamura (Kantaro), Kichiji Nakamura (Kabe Yaesemon), Seinosuke Sakamoto (Mitsuki no Bunzo); cast (Pt. 3): Denjiro Okochi (Chuji Kunisada), Naoe Fushimi (Oshina), Ranko Sawa (Okume), Motoharu Isokawa (Kihei, a sake brewer), Eiji Murakami (Ginjiro), Nobuko Akitsuki (Yujo Nobuo), Kajo Onoe (Washizu no Otozo), Mononosuke Ichikawa (Takasaski no Jukichi); rel: 14.8.1927 (Pt. 2), 27.12.1927 (Pt. 3); orig. l: 21,457 ft.; incomplete, fragments of Pt. 2 + Pt. 3, 35 mm, 6679 ft, 111' (16 fps); titles: JAP, subt. ENG; print source: National Film Center, National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto (GCM), Pordenone.
    Benshi: Ichiro Kataoka. Live music performed by: Otowaza ensemble
    Original length: 6540 m. This restoration: 2036 m.
    Introduced by Hisashi Okajima (Director, National Film Center, National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo).
    There was a restoration comparison before the film: the source / black and white / tinted.
    Viewed at Teatro Verdi, with e-subtitles in Italian, 5 Oct 2015

Johan Nordström (GCM Catalog and website): "Daisuke Ito (1898-1981) played a central part in bringing a hitherto unknown level of stylistic sophistication and political awareness to the genre of jidaigeki (historical films). Often called “the father of jidaigeki” by critics and movie fans in Japan, Ito was the prolific director of nearly a hundred jidaigeki films, several of which are hailed among the finest films ever produced in Japan. Instrumental in developing the theatrical kyugeki, or “old style”, period film into shin-jidaigeki, its modern variation, these films utilized contemporary storytelling form with historical settings, often politically charged, yet still engaged with the social issues of their own time, thinly veiled by placing them “safely” in the past. These socially conscious period films, often choosing for their protagonist a disgruntled, lonely, nihilistic drifter, pitted against society or the rigid social and political structure of feudal times, were occasionally referred to as keiko-eiga, “tendency films” or left-leaning commercial films, and reached their zenith in the years leading up to 1930, after which harsh state censorship smothered the genre."

"Described by David Bordwell as “calligraphic”, Ito’s fluid camera style, combined with fast-paced action and rapid cutting, created a cinema of flourishes which earned Ito his well-known nickname “Ido daisuki” (a pun on his name, meaning “great fan of [camera] movement”). After Ito left the Shochiku studio, he eventually joined Nikkatsu in 1926. It was there during 1927 and 1928 that he would come to create his famous re-telling of the story of the gambler-outlaw Chuji Kunisada (1810-1850) in his 3-part Chuji tabinikki (A Diary of Chuji’s Travels). Described by S. A. Thornton as “a deeply pessimistic story of resistance and betrayal”, not only did it establish Ito as a leader of the “tendency” period film, but it served to cement the working relationship between Ito and the film’s star, Denjiro Okochi (1898-1962). Mariann Lewinsky has aptly noted that “both a director’s film and an actors’ showcase, Chuji Tabinikki boasts a display of a presentational acting style which features virtuoso performances in scene after scene.”Today Ito’s trilogy survives only in fragments, obtained by Tokyo’s National Film Center in 1991. Of the first part, Koshu satsujin hen (Death Squad in Koshu), nothing survives. However, one episode of the second part, Shinshu kessho hen (Bloody Laughter in Shinshu), and about half of the third part, Goyo hen (In the Name of the Law), have been restored, including a shortened version of the powerful finale. Lewinsky, writing on the occasion of the screening of this material at the 2001 Giornate del Cinema Muto, commented: “Now lost is the overall triptych structure, described in contemporary reviews as a succession of dominant moods, from the ‘freshness’ of the first part, via the intense ‘sentiment’ of the central section, on into the ‘dark nihilism’ of the final epilogue. However, the material that remains does contain a comparable mood modulation in microcosm, and, along with it, Chuji’s utter decline from an athletic, invincible superhero into a paralysed, mute body on a stretcher. Also lost is the network of recurring motifs, both plot-related and visual, but some remnants (such as the circle motif in the giant brewery vats and the ring-around-the-rosy game of the children linking hands) demonstrate the director’s visual sense and creative power in this respect.”"

"Ito’s sophisticated understanding of the jidaigeki genre’s tropes and themes also allowed him to subvert them; Chuji tabinikki is a prime example of this. Rather than conform to the archetypical tragic romantic ending, in which the protagonist dies a beautiful and heroic death, the film instead turns darkly nihilistic: Ito denies his hero the fulfilment of this narrative plot pattern, reducing his protagonist to a cripple who can only watch as his followers vainly sacrifice themselves one by one to save him in the film’s legendary final battle. Lewinsky comments, “In making his hero fall so much further, Ito confers on him a far more intense level of tragedy. Ito’s ugly, shameful ending is more moving than the usual beautiful-tragic one, and therefore more beautiful. Seen as a genre film, Chuji Tabinikki intensifies, extends, and transforms the standard formulae throughout.”

The Restoration

"Since parts of the film were discovered in 1991, the National Film Center at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, has to date undertaken the restoration of Chuji tabinikki three times. The original 3-part trilogy’s complete length was 6,540 metres; the 1991 find, a 35 mm nitrate print from a digest version of material from Parts 2 and 3, partially tinted and in deteriorated condition, totalled 1800 metres. The 1992 and 2001 restorations, carried out by the IMAGICA West laboratory, utilized analogue techniques. In 1992 an internegative on safety stock was struck from the nitrate print, Chuji tabinikki, 1927. (National Film Center, Tokyo) employing the wet-gate printing process; in 2001 a total-immersion process was applied. When the National Film Center decided in 2010 to undertake the project of restoring this canonical work a third time, it was decided that it would be a digital restoration by IMAGICA."

"First a 35 mm internegative was struck from the 35 mm screening print source material, using the wet-gate process. This was then scanned at 4K resolution, although the actual restoration work was carried out in 2K. Lost intertitles were added based on the script, and the screen-time of some hard-to-read intertitles was extended. This digital material then underwent grading, after which the 2K material was used to create a 35 mm black & white negative. Finally, this negative was used as a basis for creating a tinted print using an analogue photochemical process at IMAGICA West."

"The digital restoration of Chuji tabinikki constitutes the National Film Center’s latest effort to restore one of the true masterpieces of Japanese cinema to a previously unprecendented level of clarity.

The Presentation

"Chuji tabinikki will be presented with the benshi narration of Ichiro Kataoka, performing together with the three-piece musical ensemble Otowaza, which consists of Ayumi Kamiya (piano), Yasumi Miyazawa (shamisen [Japanese three-stringed instrument]), and Masayoshi Tanaka (percussion and taiko [Japanese drum]). A special score has been composed by Kamiya and Miyazawa for the occasion."

"Kataoka is thrilled to be performing the narration for this masterpiece of Japanese cinema: “Chuji tabinikki has often been called the pinnacle of Japanese silent cinema, yet for the longest time it was believed to be lost forever. When it was miraculously rediscovered in 1991, it came to fill what had been a large void in the history of Japanese cinema. For us, Chuji tabinikki is not just a famous masterpiece, it has become a symbol for rediscovery and restoration. There is no greater joy than for us to be able to perform in Pordenone with the latest restoration of this legendary film.”
" – Johan Nordström

AA: Voted in Cinema Junpo as the best Japanese film of all times in 1959.

A wonderful new restoration of the still very incomplete classic. I saw the previous (2001) restoration of Chuji tabinikki in Le Giornate del Cinema Muto's seminal retrospective of the silent heritage of Japanese cinema in Sacile in 2001. The giant survey was engrossing and depressing. Only 1–5% of Japanese silent cinema was considered preserved. The retrospective was to an exceptionally high degree a jigsaw puzzle. Many films were extremely fragmentary, and print quality was often awful.

We have learned much since, and the new restoration and presentation of Daisuke Ito's Chuji tabinikki is a symbol of this progress. Better image quality, colour, and better readability of the intertitles all help make much fuller sense of the film. Still fatally and fundamentally incomplete and fragmentary, it is a bit easier now to try mentally to reconstruct the story, including the missing first part. It is also useful to read Mariann Lewinsky's GCM 2001 program note to Chuji tabinikki.

My remark in 2001: "Of the original 6540 meters of the legendary masterpiece, 1800 meters survive. Beautiful calligraphy of the intertitles. The shocking trajectory of the protagonist from the invincible samurai to the paralysed body on the stretcher." That would mean that the version screened today was 235 m longer, much of it undoubtedly thanks to the re-editing of the intertitles which contributed a lot to the intelligibility of the narrative. (I forget now whether the restoration comparison is included in the length of the print). Last time already I was grateful for the high quality of the translation, and this time it was again very gratifying to read.

From the previous viewing I remembered the furious energy evident in the fragmentary remains of the masterpiece. This time I sensed an affinity between the fate of the badman Chuji and the destiny of the film itself. Both paralysed by disfiguration, yet emanating an extraordinary force.

Memorable: - an extraordinary choreography of action - epic long views - the via dolorosa - the villainous Chuji's solo mastery against a manifold enemy with his left hand only - an emphasis on the children's play - the unflinching tragic ending - tragicomic goings-on at the geisha house - the calligraphy of the intertitles - the high literary quality.

There was a restoration comparison before the film: the source / black and white restoration / the tinted result. As I am not a fan of modern tinting I would prefer black and white, or a simulation of toning. Yet I understand this film needs colour.

This was a benshi concert gala event, and it made this screening unique, special, and unforgettable. That said, I have my reservations about the benshi.

A final thought: Chuji tabinikki reminds me of Leo Tolstoy's tale Hadji Murat. (Harold Bloom: "It is my personal touchstone for the sublime of prose fiction, to me the best story in the world, or at least the best that I have ever read", The Western Canon, p. 313). There is the same sense of an irresistible life force and an unflinching facing of death.

No comments: