Junko’s Shamisen: A Mini-Epic of Poetic Revenge

Junko’s Shamisen: A Mini-Epic of Poetic Revenge

Junko’s Shamisen is a super-stylized samurai tale by Canadian filmmaker Sol Friedman. The short film is an exquisite chanbara mini-epic of revenge, suffused with manga and kabuki theater. Junko’s Shamisen flawlessly integrates traditional cell animation, 2D “cut out” style set animation, comic book dialogue bubbles and even some stop-motion to round things out. All of this is woven into the live action base of the film, which leaps off the screen with vivid color, depth and texture.

Set in the dark and densely-forested, rural backwoods of feudal-era Japan, Junko’s Shamisen is the quiet story of a young peasant girl named Junko living with her blind grandfather, who plays a three-stringed instrument called a shamisena. One day, Junko returns to their simple home to discover that her grandfather has been brutally murdered. Devastated and filled with despair, Junko, accompanied by a mystical fox spirit, abandons her old life and sets off for the village in search of better fortunes. While she goes begging from house to house, young Junko inadvertently encounters the ruthless Samurai Lord Yamamura, who was responsible for killing her grandfather. Emboldened by the influence of the fox spirit, Junko breaks out of her petite and unthreatening shell and avenges her grandfather through an act of gruesome poetic justice.

Junko’s Shamisen: A Mini-Epic of Poetic Revenge

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Monument: An Urban Tale of Courage

Monument: An Urban Tale of Courage

Monument is a three-minute short film created by the English filmmaker, Robin Schmidt.  The film was made as part of the competition in support of the Fireflies Charity, which recognizes relatives and friends’ battles with cancer.  This year they asked for entries for a film challenge to create a three minute film about courage.  Monument is  kind of an urban fairytale about an aged Rastafarian in a wheelchair, who relives a knife attack and decides to rid the community of its knife problem once and for all by magnetizing his body.

The film was a finalist in the Fireflies competition earlier this year, and won the Bahamas 14 Islands Film Challenge.

Monument: An Urban Tale of Courage

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George Washington: The Loss of All Things

George Washington: The Loss of All Things

George Washington is David Gordon Green’s acclaimed impressionistic Southern Gothic debut film, which one reviewer described as “within a heart-shot of William Faulkner.”  Green won the Best First Film prize from the New York Film Critics, the Discovery Award at Toronto and the Best Director Prize at The Newport film Festival.

David Gordon Green’s feature debut is a seamless blend of subjectivity, pseudo-documentary, evocation of childhood and mythopoeia.  In an impoverished small town in North Carolina, various misfit and poor children converse.  “Look at this place,” one boy says to another. “It looks like two tornadoes came through here.”  The town is dilapidated; one of the “tornadoes” may have been the Great Depression.  Shots of railroad tracks suggest dreams of getting out.  But during the course of the film, death hovers: a boy dies; as a result, another boy feels that God’s judgment is close; another boy almost dies; a boy’s dog dies.  The underlying theme of George Washington is clearly “the loss of all things.”

The videos presented here include the hypnotic opening sequence of David Gordon Green’s auspicious debut film George Washington, another video from the film described as an influential scene in modern cinema and an interview with Charlie Rose, where Green talks about his film George Washington.

George Washington: The Loss of All Things

George Washington: An Influential Scene in Modern Cinema

Charlie Rose: David Gordon Green Talks About “George Washington”

(Charlie Rose Interview: March 8, 2001)

A detailed review of George Washington can be read in The New York Times here.

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Sita Sings the Blues: An Inspiration to Warm the Heart

Sita Sings the Blues: An Inspiration to Warm the Heart

Sita Sings the Blues is an astonishingly original 2008 animated feature film written, directed, produced and animated entirely by the American artist Nina Paley, primarily using 2-D computer graphics. Sita Sings the Blues was awarded the Cristal Grand Prix for Best Feature at the 2008 Annecy International Animated Film Festival and the Crystal Bear-Special Mention in the category of Best Feature Film at the 2008 Berlin International Film Festival. Paley is also the producer of the highly acclaimed animated short films Fetch! (2001) and The Stork (2002), both of which I have posted earlier.

In his rave review of Sita Sings the Blues, Robert Ebert wrote:

To get any film made is a miracle. To conceive of a film like this is a greater miracle. How did Paley’s mind work? She begins with the story of Ramayana [an ancient Sanskrit epic, depicting the righteous duties of relationships, portraying ideal characters like the ideal servant, the ideal brother, the ideal wife and the ideal king], which is known to every school child in India but not to me. It tells the story of a brave, noble woman who was made to suffer because of the perfidy of a spineless husband and his mother. This is a story known to every school child in America. They learn it at their mother’s knee. Paley depicts the story with exuberant drawings in bright colors. It is about a prince named Rama who treated Sita shamefully, although she loved him and was faithful to him.”

But there is another story told within the movie, a contemporary tale that runs parallel to the ancient epic of Ramayana. In the film, we are introduced to an American couple living in San Francisco, young and in love, named Dave and Nina, and their cat, named Lexi. They are deeply in love, but Dave flies to India in order to take a “temporary” job. Nina longs to be with him and finally flies to join him in India. However, while in India, he is abrupt and cold to her, and when she returns home to America she receives a cruel message: “Don’t come back. Love, Dave.” Nina despairs and moves to a decrepit apartment in Brooklyn. Cockroaches crawl all around her apartment, but she’s so stricken with grief that she hardly notices them. One day in her deepest gloom she picks up the book Ramayana and starts to read. Inspiration begins to warm the cold embers of her heart. In her autobiography, Paley reveals that her own then-husband “terminated” their marriage while he was still in India. Paley’s ex-husband has inspired a great cultural contribution.

Now, without broader distribution of the outstanding reviews for Paley’s film, it doesn’t initially come off as having the ring of box office gold: An animated version of the epic Indian tale of Ramayana set to the 1920’s jazz vocals of Annette Hanshaw. Once people read that, they’re like: “Uh, huh.” And if you were to read that description in a mailer sent to you by your local art house, would you drop everything and race through driving rain see it? “Uh, uh.”

But Paley was faced with an even greater obstacle when she tried to get “Sita Sings the Blues” licensed. Partly because of the Annett Hanshaw musical soundtrack, licensors came back with the “bargain” estimate of about $220,000. It was simply not possible for her to acquire that kind of money, so instead Paley gave Sita Sings the Blues to her audiences. Paley stated, “Like all culture, it belongs to you already, but I am making it explicit with a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License. Please distribute, copy, share, archive, and show ‘Sita Sings the Blues.’”

The full version of Sita Sings the Blues is presented below in HD video. The film is comprised of 10 parts; at the end of each part, please click on the arrow at the bottom-right of the video to proceed to the next section. Sita Sings the Blues is best viewed in HD and Full-Screen Mode.

The Full Movie: Sita Sings the Blues

(Click Arrow on Right Side of Video for Next Part)

Music: Annett Hanshaw Sings Mean to Me:

A Colorfully Illustrated Picture Book: The Tale of “Sita Sings the Blues”

(Click on Above Image to View the “Sita” Picture Book)

Slide Show: Sita Sings the Blues

(Please Click Image to View Slide Show)

The full-length version of Sita Sings the Blues can also be viewed (streaming and download H.264 .mp4 720p 3Mbps) at WNET / thirteen.org

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