Directors' Corner, Shunji Iwai

Shunji Iwai’s Filmography Part 2: Swallowtail Butterfly, April Story & All About Lily Chou-Chou

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I’m glad I managed to reach the 100th for the Silver Moon site before this two week hiatus. I’m not sure if when I come back I have this much time to watch and blog films (the last two weeks I’ve watched and reviewed movies like a madman, one post per day on average), but I’m well intended to update this site regularly. This next batch of Shunji Iwai is an intriguing one. Many people would point this period as Iwai’s peak of his career, and indeed, I can see his ambition towards those projects. In a way, these three films keep redefine my perception of him as an auteur director. The first thing would be his small-based Western exposure compared to many other contemporary Japanese directors. At first I thought it was because he was the type of director who appeal to the native audience than the rest until Swallowtail Butterfly (1996) completely blows my mind. The film has an international cast, it features multi-linguist dialogues and while it’s set in Japan, the film is shot throughout Asian countries like Hong Kong, Singapore and Iwai edits it in America. In fact, the crew only regards the film as 30% Japanese. Which brings me to the next point, so then why his films don’t have a huge international appeal despite he was one of the few Japanese of his time to cast international cast, and eventually make films in America?

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Directors' Corner, Shunji Iwai

Shunji Iwai’s Filmography Part 1: Fireworks, Love Letter & Picnic

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Even with the first three entries, they already established Shunji Iwai as a talent to look out for. He works on a shoestring budget so his films aren’t the most exquisite looking, but you start to see many of his trademarks. First is his insistence on portraying youthful sensibility through his teenage protagonists (Fireworks (1993), Picnic (1995) and their romances. It sounds like nothing special, I know, but he has a firm handle on both depicting his characters as complex and believable, and the romance that is always on the right note. His emphasis on atmosphere is there, too, as you can see in a snowy landscape in Love Letter (1995), accompany with the soothing piano. But his most recongizable trademark (which brings a fair share of distractors as well) comes from his music-video and TV-format root: his hypersatured images and his focus on music squences just like the MTV and his rapid-editing. Only in 3 films, we see him going from well-acclaimed Love Letter to cult-status Picnic, further signify the fact that he’s fearless. I personally love the way he writes his characters, especially with those opening sequences that already establish very well the characters and their own situations. Really looking forward for the next batch.

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Directors' Corner

Directors’ Corner – Claire Denis

Claire Denis: born in 1946. Denis was born in Paris, but raised in colonial French Africa. Her childhood spent living in West Africa with her parents and her younger sister would color her perspectives on certain political issues. She worked as an assistant director with Wim Wenders on Paris, Texas (1984) and Wings of Desire (1987), and with Jim Jarmusch on Down by Law (1986) before moving on to her debut film Chocolat (1988).

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Claire Denis: born in 1946. Denis was born in Paris, but raised in colonial French Africa. Her childhood spent living in West Africa with her parents and her younger sister would color her perspectives on certain political issues. She worked as an assistant director with Wim Wenders on Paris, Texas (1984) and Wings of Desire (1987), and with Jim Jarmusch on Down by Law (1986) before moving on to her debut film Chocolat (1988).

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