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Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film (by Chris DesJardins 2005)


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review in one breath

Here is a very recent and rare text covering many "fringe" Japanese directors of yakuza film whose work has become in the last decade increasingly popular amongst Western audiences. Each of the fourteen chapters deals with a seperate individual and consists of a detailed professional biography, a thorough exploration of primary/relevant films, and a transcript of an interview the author himself conducted with the director/actor.


about the author

Author Chris D. (aka Chris DesJardins) is undoubtedly a diverse fellow whose personal love for the Arts in general and in particular certain genre of Japanese film, led him not only to write this book but also to be in the enviable position of having met and interviewed such a wealth of truly respectable Japanese directors. As far as I can surmise, the (simplified) story goes like this:

In the mid-1970s, Chris, a mild-mannered (?) English teacher in Venice, California, befriended artistes of the radically poetic and musically punk variety, and soon found himself co-founder of band X, which would become an increasingly established presence within the Los Angeles punk sub culture. Through this venue, Chris began writing for punk-centric publications (while also recording music - which I will not detail here). This exercise in writing blossomed into an interest (and effort) in screenplays and film, which eventually led to (a real paying job?) at The American Cinemateque in Los Angeles.

Through opportunities achieved at the Cinemateque, primarily fueled by his intense personal interest in Japanese film, Chris D. was eventually introduced to new acquaintances through which he (obviously) arduently pursued new creative horizons. The product of that persistence and personal love of Japanese yakuza film is this book dedicated to the many unsung directorial heroes of Japanese "fringe" film.

about the book

This text consists of fourteen chapters, each dedicated to a specific individual of paramount importance to what the author deems "outlaw film". By that term is meant directors (or actors) whose personal work has tended to break conventional boundaries (in certain genre) through films which contemporary audiences (including contemporary Western audiences) have been forced to recognize core creativity. For example, director Suzuki Seijun has always been in many ways an "outlaw director", fired and even rebuked for his radical directing style. And yet the reason he earns a chapter here as opposed to the myriad other directors similarly fired and despised is that subsequent audiences (and critics) could not help but admit/recognize the cutting-edge and truly compelling value of Suzuki's films.

Thus here you will be intimately introduced to twelve similarly shunned yet resurrected directors and two icons of such "outlaw" films", each of which has retrospectively redefined Japanese film to his/her own unique degree.

I've been at this quite a while and yet I will admit I am not familiar with several of the directors listed in this text. (This is in part due to the fact that SaruDama does not (or has not yet) specifically turned toward yakuza genre films.) That said, as regards the majority of directors whose films I have already reviewed, I have gained considerable insight into their trajectory of cinematic vision and polish through this text.

[PS: Here I am referring to the chapters on Fukasaku Kinji, Shinoda Masahiro, Hasebe Yasuharu, Suzuki Seijun, Ishii Teruo, Wakamatsu Koji, Miike Takashi, Kurosawa Kiyoshi, Kaji Meiko and Sonny Chiba.]

thoughts

Okay. I'll be honest. I envy (the hell outta) Chris D.'s CORE access and insight into these undeniably priceless personalities responsible for the creation of what we now love and cherish as uniquely Japanese film. And who but Chris D. has so successfully thrust himself into the heart of this widely beloved genre? Answer: No one I can think of.

Thus this text deserves (and earns) a great amount of respect from dedicated fans of fringe Japanese films and uniquely fills an essential gap which similar "Japanese Film" texts have failed to address. I (myself) own several of the other primary references to Japanese film yet none of them are person-centric. Rather than the ubiquitous "A to Z" encyclopedic reference to film titles, here you get a director-specific detailed chronology of films, themes and styles.

This (unique) personality-centric format has proven far more insightful (to me) than any other resource (of which I have a few) based on year or title.

critique

Okay. Here we go.

Here's the one irrefutable weakness of this book: The entire text amounts to a spoiler encyclopedia.

As his preferred manner of discussing any given director, Chris D. has decided to provide in excruciating detail EVERY spoiler (down to the final, most ironic twists) of the "greatest" films of each of the "greatest" directors he covers.

Thus regarding the films themselves, there is very little "analysis" but instead a whole lotta "divulging".

In essence, this text concerns itself solely with readers primarily interested in directors rather than their films, and thus mercilessly sacrifices film spoilers in order to depict general directorial trends.

Personally speaking, this "spoiler" aspect makes this text quite difficult for me to read, particularly in terms of films I know I will be seeing some day. And of the professional biographies Chris provides on each individual, easily 70 percent involves such plot divulging. Of course, if perchance you've already seen ALL of the films by ALL of the directors listed herein, or if you care ONLY/primarily for the cinematic trajectories of directors rather than the personal impact of their films (upon you), this is indeed the book for you.

However, if you wish to experience first-hand the beauty, shock and experience of the films Chris D. has built this book upon, you may become rather frustrated trying to read only the "non-spoiler" elements in the professional biography. (I've tried this and it is very difficult and far from satisfying.)

The other elements of each chapter, particularly the transcribed interviews do not fall into this problem and remain thoroughly accessible to those of us who have yet to see every film in the director's repertoire.

This would be a good resource on directors and their trajectories. You should probably not approach this a reference on films unless you are looking for a spoiler encyclopedia.

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