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DID YOU READ

Into the Forest with Shimizu and Visconti

Into the Forest with Shimizu and Visconti (photo)

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Criterion does it again, rescuing a major filmmaker from the quicksand of neglect, happenstance and/or canonical prejudice, and shoving them into the spotlight with state-of-the-art DVD releases that virtually demand a reevaluative reckoning. As with Larisa Shepitko, Jacques Becker, Raymond Bernard, William Klein and Jean Painlevé, you won’t find mention of Hiroshi Shimizu in any major English-language film history text, and in each case the elisions are criminal. An almost exact contemporary of Ozu, Mizoguchi and Naruse, from the beginnings of their careers in the mid-to-late ’20s to their last films, Shimizu echoes a good deal of their field of concerns — the plight of women in a patriarchy, the delicacy of the unsaid, the tragic spiral of romantic melodrama — but comes at them with a subtly distinctive way of observing his characters, similar to Ozu’s rigorous restraint but freer, more organic, less “perfect” and more spontaneous.

The movies are also, at more or less half the length, far brisker. Of the four titles featured in this Eclipse set — which include one silent, “Japanese Women at the Harbor” (1931), which has a disarming way of listening to dialogue from great distances, and dissolving characters from scenes like ghosts — “Ornamental Hairpin” (1941) is probably the most fully realized, and Shimizu’s most renowned. Made during the war but defiantly obviating any mention of the world outside (except for a very veiled reference to a married couple being bashfully Communist), the film is entirely set in a vacation spa, where the masseur staff are all blind and Buddhist monks arrive in noisy holiday throngs. There Mr. Nanmura, a young man (Japanese axiom Chishu Ryu), wades in a natural spring and steps on a hairpin dropped there earlier by a geisha named Emi (Kinuyo Tanaka); the injury is enough, apparently, to hobble him on crutches for weeks.

For reasons unknown to us but accepted by the other characters, Nanmura doesn’t think to go home, and instead the other vacationers (an old codger with two grandsons, a persnickety bachelor professor, etc.) gather around him in an ersatz family unit. They’re soon joined by the privately desperate Emi, who returns to the resort to apologize, but also to run away from her profession and an unseen, unnamed lover-pimp-employer. The summer plays out in tiny swatches, as the community poignantly awaits the moment when they all must return to their ordinary lives, and when Nanmura’s foot is healed sufficiently, despite Emi’s unvoiced hope that he’ll stay with her at the spa and life will be one long summertime idyll.

The story is as fragile as a paper rose, and Shimizu shoots it that way, keeping his camera at a respectful distance but every now and then daring for a heartbreaking semi-close-up that threatens to shatter the peaceful pond surface for good. Given the proximity to Ozu (and our own odd but blessed saturation in Ozu-ness), you’d almost expect the characters to quietly evolve out of their initial stereotypes without the requirement of “arc,” but when they do, it’s still surprising and generous and invigorating. And Shimizu’s visual choices are often breathtakingly adventurous, or, if you like, evocative of the 1927-28 silent film possibilities ruined by talkies: at the outset, during the geisha pilgrimage through the forest, the camera is part of the procession, walking with the women, backwards as it were, through a pack of hikers. And when Emi explains to her fellow geisha friend why she’s not returning to Tokyo, as she’s taking down laundry in the sun, Shimizu frames the shots according to the work, and the result is a choreographed suite of rue and shame and affection that would’ve been crystal clear to a child with the sound turned off.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.