Two music icons—David Bowie and Ryuichi Sakamoto—star in Nagisa Oshima’s captivating World War II drama Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, now up on the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck in its complete edition. Bowie regally embodies a British officer interned by the Japanese as a POW, and Sakamoto (who also composed this film’s hypnotic score) plays the camp commander, obsessed with the mysterious blond major. Meanwhile, Tom Conti is a British lieutenant colonel who tries to bridge the emotional and language divides between captor and prisoner. Also featuring actor-director Takeshi Kitano in his first dramatic role, this multilayered, brutal, at times erotic tale of culture clash was one of Oshima’s greatest successes. Watch it on the Channel along with a making-of featurette and interviews with Bowie, Sakamoto, and others.
Also up this week: a spotlight on one of the great partnerships in Japanese cinema of the 1980s, two playful experiments in cinematic style, an examination of how comedy narratives evolved during the silent era, and a pair of films based on the work of French author Colette.
Juzo Itami became the most talked-about Japanese director of the eighties and nineties when he and his wife, actor Nobuko Miyamoto, created a string of audacious movies centered on independent women who were smart and passionate about their work. In the latest installment of Creative Marriages, we’re celebrating their partnership in both life and cinema. Watch their 1985 international breakthrough, Tampopo, a mouth-watering “ramen western” starring Miyamoto as a single mother who becomes a first-class noodle chef with a lot of help from her friends. Also on view is the seriocomic social thriller A Taxing Woman (1987), a box-office smash that staged a frontal attack on the contemporary obsession with making money. Watch a clip from programmer Michael Sragow’s introduction, and check out our previous Creative Marriages programs highlighting Federico Fellini and Giulietta Masina, Roger Vadim and Brigitte Bardot, and Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais.
Christian Petzold’s 2014 drama, set in rubble-strewn Berlin in 1945, is like no other film about post–World War II Jewish-German identity. After surviving Auschwitz, a former cabaret singer (Nina Hoss) has her disfigured face reconstructed and returns to her war-ravaged hometown to seek out her gentile husband, who may or may not have betrayed her to the Nazis. Without recognizing her, he enlists her to play his wife in a bizarre hall-of-shattered-mirrors story that is as richly metaphorical as it is preposterously engrossing. SUPPLEMENTAL FEATURES: a new introduction by critic Imogen Sara Smith; a conversation between director Christian Petzold and actor Nina Hoss; The Making of “Phoenix,” a 2014 documentary featuring interviews with Petzold, Hoss, actors Nina Kunzendorf and Ronald Zehrfeld, and production designer K. D. Gruber; and more.
The silent comedy might be most famous today for its one-off gags and chases, but by the twenties the form had begun to tell increasingly sophisticated feature-length stories, thanks to such pioneering figures as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. In this month’s episode of Observations on Film Art—a Channel-exclusive series that takes a look at great filmmakers’ use of cinematic devices and conventions—scholar David Bordwell unpacks the narrative strategies at play in Lloyd’s comedy of embarrassment Girl Shy (1924), illuminating the film’s implementation of such classical Hollywood devices as psychological characterization and repeated motifs. Check out a preview of the episode here.
The limits of human endurance are put to the test in German iconoclast Werner Herzog’s 1982 Fitzcarraldo, an epic portrait of a rubber baron’s attempts to build an opera house in the Peruvian jungle. The film was the result of a notoriously nightmarish five-year production, glimpses of which are captured in Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams, an unsparing behind-the-scenes look at Herzog’s quest to bring his impossible vision to the screen.