UCLA Archive Premieres Japanese Films

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Times Staff Writer

The UCLA Film Archive will present “New Japanese Cinema,” composed of four films, all of them in their local premieres. Opening the series on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in Melnitz Theater are Midori Kurisaki’s 50-minute “Dark Hair” (1980) and Hiroaki Yoshida’s “Twilight of the Cockroaches” (1987).

In “Dark Hair,” Kurisaki traces the significance of long, dark hair for the Japanese woman in a series of exquisitely staged scenes from classical drama. “Hair is life to a woman,” mutters an old crone, whose recollections of stories of women with beautiful hair provide the frame for the film. Not surprisingly, most of these tales are tragic, dealing with traditional star-crossed lovers. In several vignettes, the woman is played by gifted Kabuki actor Senjaku Nakamura. Kurisaki will be present.

“Twilight of the Cockroaches” combines live-action with animation using considerable wit and imagination. In a small cottage inhabited by an untidy man, cockroaches reign supreme, aware that they live in a veritable paradise while in “another country”--i.e., an apartment in a building nearby--they are constantly endangered by a woman bent on exterminating them. But what if this woman should become involved with the man across the way. . .? Yoshida has anthropomorphized his cockroaches into adorable Disney-like creatures; his film is saved from sentimentality largely by the amusing perspective on the “gigantic” adults.


If both “Dark Hair” and “Twilight of the Cockroaches” seem, in different ways, a bit precious, Juzo Itami’s “A Taxing Woman’s Return” (1987), which screens Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Yojiro Takita’s “The Yen Family” (1988), which screens Sunday at 7:30 p.m., are both crackling, hilarious satires that represent the mainstream contemporary Japanese cinema at its most vigorous and critical. These are both major films of universal appeal and seem destined for regular theatrical runs.

As the title indicates, “A Taxing Woman’s Return” is a sequel to Itami’s “A Taxing Woman,” which starred his wife, Nobuko Miyamoto, as an implacable tax inspector, a no-nonsense woman with a severe Dutch bob and a sprinkling of freckles that she makes no attempt to hide with makeup.

This sequel is actually more accessible than the original in that it is not spoofing the specific foibles of the inscrutable Japanese tax system, but rather is commenting with pitch-dark, fatalistic humor on widespread corruption at the highest levels of government, a topic as timely as current headlines. Once again, Itami displays unflagging energy and panache as Miyamoto and her colleagues go after the sleek head of a lucrative religious cult, played with suave aplomb by the veteran Rentaro Mikuni.

As in his previous “Comic Magazine,” a corrosive satire on the excesses of the media, Takita is a gratifyingly uncompromising satirist. In “The Yen Family,” he zeroes in on a suburban household so money-grubbing that it runs a newspaper distributorship and a catering service, both exploiting the elderly, out of the kitchen (where the mother is also operating her erotic wake-up service while she prepares breakfast). As “The Yen Family” becomes progressively outrageous, however, it also develops considerable complexity, and its indictment of materialism--Japanese-style--is often ironic and paradoxical. Like “A Taxing Woman Returns,” “The Yen Family” is a swift, satisfying treat.

For more information: (213) 206-8013, 206-FILM.

“New Chinese Cinema” continues at the Nuart Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. only with Tian Zhuangzhuang’s “Horse Thief” (1986), one of the most fiercely demanding and awesomely beautiful films you are ever likely to see. It takes us into Tibet in the ‘20s--it might as well be antiquity--and presents us with a young clansman, Norbu (Tseshang Rigzin, who brings to mind the Toshiro Mifune of “Rashomon”), so poor he steals horses from transients to support his wife and 5-year-old son, yet so pious he gives most of his profits to the temple. Tian follows Norbu’s destiny with minimal dialogue and exposition, and with astounding images of natural beauty and of the elaborate, mysterious rituals of Tibetan Buddhism. As film historian Tony Rayns has observed, Tian invites us to meditate upon rather than to analyze what we’re seeing, and Tian’s images are indeed comparable to those of Tarkovsky, Paradjanov and Bresson.

Information: (213) 478-6379, 479-5269.