Discoveries: Nikkatsu

Nikkatsu Studios Logo

During this hyperextended quarantine, I continue to make interesting discoveries. Late one night, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) put on a double bill of noir films from Nikkatsu Studios.

Nikkatsu? I had heard of Toho, Shochiku, Diaei, and Tohei … but never Nikkatsu. After a quick look at Google, I found that Nikkatsu was actually the oldest studio in Japan, founded all the way back in 1912, three years before D.W. Griffith filmed Birth of a Nation.

I began to look at I Am Waiting (1957), but as the hour was late and I was tired, I reluctantly prepared for sleep.

But then, I discovered that the TCM website has a Watch Now option. When you select Watch Movies, you have available to you virtually all the recently shown films on the channel, including cartoons and shorts. The only requirement is that you subscribe to a service on your TV that carries the TCM channel: There is a login required.

A Scene from A Colt Is My Passport (1967)

I was delighted to find that both I Am Waiting and A Colt Is My Passport were available through the website. Thereupon I watched both films and was delighted that I persevered in searching them out. Not only that, but I bought the Criterion Collection’s Nikkatsu Noir series of five films, which included the above titles but three others that I plan to watch in the weeks to come.

Film noir has traveled from the United States to France (the films of Jean-Pierre Melville), England (the original Get Carter with Michael Caine), and Japan.

A Long Flight to … Where?

This may sound strange to you, but I am surviving the rigors of self-quarantine because I am good at lying to myself.

The Coronavirus Quarantine Is Sort of Like Jet Lag

I have on occasion taken some longish flights to Europe and South America. The ones to Europe are particularly problematical because I arrive early in the morning after a night that has lasted for only a few hours. I know that if I drop into bed upon check-in at my hotel, I will awake while it is still light; and I won’t be able to go to sleep until the next morning.

So what do I do?

  • First of all, I pretend to myself during the flight that I am somehow outside of time, and that during the flight, time has no meaning.
  • Most important, I set my watch to the time zone of my destination. Nobody else I know does this: They insist on holding on to the time zone of their city of origin.
  • When I arrive, I stay awake until it is a reasonable bedtime in my destination.

When I went to Iceland, for example, I arrived in June—when the sun doesn’t set until the wee hours of the morning. I ate extra meals, went on a walking tour of Reykjavík, and finally collapsed in bed while the sun was still up around midnight. I woke up refreshed at an acceptable time the next morning.

So what does all this have to do with the coronavirus? Fortunately, Martine and I are retired, so I could pretend that this whole period of the outbreak is like a long flight to nowhere.

A Nook of My Library Circa 2002

I have in my apartment several thousand books as well as hundreds of films on DVD. With my subscription to Spectrum Cable, I have access to hundreds of films for no additional cost using their On Demand service. Plus: As a member of Amazon Prime, I have access to thousands of other films.

So on my “flight” to nowhere during this seemingly endless quarantine, I am reading 12-18 books a month as well as seeing 25 or more feature films a month. (And in between reading and film viewing, I do all the cooking and go out for walks.)

I realize I would be in a radically different situation if I had to worry about a job, but fortunately I don’t. I have to worry that that madman in the White House may decide to cancel Social Security or destroy the value of the American dollar, but other than that I am not dependent on the workplace—though I am affected when restaurants are shuttered, museums and libraries closed, and so on.

There is an 1884 novel by a French writer named Joris-Karl Huysmans called Against Nature (in French À Rebours) about a dilettante names Jean des Esseintes who, instead of actually going on a vacation, does an armchair traveler “staycation” and is happy about it. The epigraph to the novel is a quote from the 14th century Flemish mystic Jan van Ruysbroeck:

“I must rejoice beyond the bounds of time…though the world may shudder at my joy, and in its coarseness know not what I mean.”

Plague Diary 29: Corona Cooking

The Mafia Cooking Hour

During my months-long quarantine, I have been sustained by five things:

  1. My relationship with Martine
  2. Playing chess with the computer
  3. Reading
  4. Watching movies on TV and my computer
  5. Cooking

That last item deserves some explanation. I have always enjoyed cooking, but I never was able to give it the attention it deserved. When I was working, I cooked good food, but I shied away from recipes that required some sophistication and a lot of time. Now that I am retired and quarantined, I am able to take the time to make some really good meals.

Mostly for Martine’s benefit, I got my hands on a cookbook by a convicted mafioso, Henry Hill, featuring the Italian cooking of the New York/New Jersey area: The Wiseguy Cookbook. Although Martine was born in France, she was mostly raised in Northern New Jersey (in Oceanport). As a child, it was New Jersey Italian food that she loved most. That was before she came out to Los Angeles and fell for Hungarian food.

For myself, I have become more interested in the vegetarian cuisine of India. Fortunately, Youtube has some excellent and very authentic recipes by Indians, Pakistanis, and others featuring Indian cuisine. This week, I made the following:

Manjula presents us here with a recipe for Chick Pea Pulav (aka Chole Biryani). The followed the recipe exactly, except that I added half a chopped onion and some extra hot Indian red chile powder. The only change I would suggest is to use one cup of water rather than a cup and a half. The dish is superb.

Fortunately, there is a nearby Indian foods store in Culver City called Indian Sweets and Spices. In better times, there is a little café on the premises with vegetarian-only curries; but there is also an excellent selection of teas and such hard-to-find items as mango powder, foenugreek leaves, garlic/ginger paste, and asafoetida.

It’s Not Like Flicking a Switch

Abandoned City on Hashima Island, Near Nagasaki

Let me start by saying that I am no Pollyanna-ish prognosticator of Good News. The worldwide COVID-19 plague has wounded all economies to varying degrees, some of which may not return to “normal” for decades. I cannot help but think that most Americans in flyover country think that all the government has to do is flick a switch for us to return to the good old days before March 2020. I for one do not think it’ll be that easy.

What will inevitably happen is that the plague will settle most heavily on states which have gone off social distancing and quarantine too early. The people that Trump is most trying to help—his supporters in the South and Midwest—will die by the thousands, if not tens of thousands. Any attempt to return to “normal” too quickly will re-energize the plague as people go back to being in close contact with one another.

The governors of states like New York and California are for a more gradual approach. States with anti-science GOP governors, like Florida and Georgia, will suffer the consequences disproportionately.

 

 

 

The Social Distancing Film Festival

It’s Not the Big Screen, But It’s Still Good

First, my apologies for hijacking a photo from the University of California at Santa Barbara website. Secondly, I didn’t do several years of graduate study in film history and criticism without it having a lasting influence on me.

While Martine has been taking long walks to no particular destination (the destinations are all closed, anyway) and noting the takeover of the streets of L.A. by bums, I have been reading and watching a ton of movies. In twenty-six days this month, I have watched twenty-five movies:

04/03/20 Boorman, John Emerald Forest, The 1985
04/04/20 Menzies, William Cameron * Address Unknown 1944
04/05/20 Resnais, Alain Hiroshima Mon Amour 1959
04/06/20 Kurosawa, Akira * Rashomon 1950
04/07/20 Jackson, Peter Hobbit, The: An Unexpected Journey 2012
04/08/20 Jackson, Peter Hobbit, The: The Desolation of Smaug 2013
04/10/20 Jackson, Peter Hobbit, The: The battle of the Five Armies 2014
04/11/20 Forster, Marc * Quantum of Solace 2008
04/11/20 Lang, Fritz * Beyond a Reasonable Doubt 1954
04/12/20 Wise, Robert * Set-Up, The 1949
04/14/20 Hertz, Nathan Attack of the 50 Foot Woman 1958
04/15/20 Dean, Alexandra Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story 2017
04/16/20 Totten, Robert Sacketts, The: Episode 1 [Made for TV] 1979
04/17/20 Totten, Robert Sacketts, The: Episode 2 [Made for TV] 1979
04/19/20 Siodmak, Robert * Phantom Lady 1944
04/20/20 Park, Chan-wook I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK 2006
04/21/20 Robson, Mark/Val Lewton * Isle of the Dead 1945
04/21/20 Misumi, Kenji * Sword of Vengeance 1972
04/22/20 Misumi, Kenji Baby Cart at the River Styx 1972
04/23/20 Tarantino, Quentin * Jackie Brown 1997
04/24/20 Parajanov, Sergei * Color of Pomegranates, The [Sayat Nova] 1969
04/24/20 Parajanov, Sergei Hagop Hovnatanian 1967
04/25/20 Rouse, Russell * Wicked Woman 1954
04/26/20 Keaton, Buster * Sherlock Jr 1924
04/27/20 Rapper, Irving * Now Voyager 1942

More than half of them, I really liked. Those are noted with an asterisk just before the title of the film. Predictably, most were either American film noir productions or Japanese jidai-geki (samurai films). A few were outright dogs.

As long as the quarantine/social-distancing rules remain in place, I will probably continue to see at least one film per day. Some of them are on DVD from Netflix; some from Turner Classic Movies (TCM); others from Spectrum Cable’s On Demand service.

 

Plague Diary 17: A Film About the Plague

There Is Only One Film I Know About Quarantining from the Plague

In the early 1940s, a Hollywood movie producer named Val Lewton (his real name was Vladimir Ivanovich Leventon) was responsible for a handful of great horror films in which the effects were more psychological than crude, which placed him pretty much in a one-man category.

Today, I saw (for the nth time) his film Isle of the Dead (1945), set on a strange Greek island during the First Balkan War (1912-13). Boris Karloff plays the Greek General Nikolas Pherides who, together with an American journalist, rows to an offshore island to visit the grave of his wife. He finds that her grave had been broken into and her body stolen. Worse yet, he lands on the island only to find that one of the guests in the house where he is staying has died of the plague.

Karloff and the other people on the island must quarantine until the wind changes. Once the hot, dry sirocco wind begins to blow, that particular strain of the plague dies off.

Boris Karloff as General Pherides, “The Watchdog”

The psychological element introduced by Lewton is a superstition of a vampire-like creature called a vorvolaka which is promulgated by a Greek peasant woman named Kyra serving in the house. Karloff, who prides himself by his nickname of “The Watchdog,” buys into the possibility of the truth of this superstition, blaming a young serving woman who is enjoying rubicund good health for being a vorvolaka.

The film is a scant 72 minutes long and would be an excellent choice for a Quarantining-at-Home Film Festival, even if it is one lone title. There is also an Elia Kazan film called Panic in the Streets (1950) which involves the plague but has no claustrophobic quarantining.