With Thanksgiving a couple days away, now's as good a time as any to revisit John Hughes' 1987 film Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. I hadn't seen it in many years and had forgotten about all the cameos (Michael McKean, Ben Stein, Kevin Bacon), and I don't think I'd previously noticed how well-crafted it was from a filmmaking standpoint. There's a moment when the camera does a double-take from Steve Martin's point of view, there's a slow pan up a dangerous figure, and there's even a Vertigo shot to underline a moment of horror/hilarity. Clarity in storytelling is probably more important in comedy than any other genre, and there are jokes in this movie that only land because Hughes is crystal clear in communicating to us.
I'm also impressed at how John Candy's character comes across as more endearing than annoying to us while we fully understand why he's so infuriating to Steve Martin's. A difficult balance to find, let alone maintain throughout an entire feature-length film. And the ending tugs at my heart in a way that doesn't feel forced or unearned. I don't like most feel-good movies (I'd rather commune with Bergman or wrestle with Scorsese), but Planes, Trains... is one of the rare feel-good movies that comes by its audience tears honestly. God bless Del Griffith.
I just saw two Keisuke Kinoshita films for the first time, and I'll be interested to look into more of his work.
Speaking of honest tears, Kinoshita's 1954 film Twenty-Four Eyes is a moving story about a young teacher and the twelve little children in her care. The film follows the group over the years as they dream, grow up, and get battered around by life for being poor. It's difficult to watch sometimes, but worth it in the end. And I was pleased to see Chishū Ryū, Yasujirō Ozu's frequent collaborator, put in a small appearance. Twenty-Four Eyes had some similarities to Ozu in the focus on realistic drama and the sorrows of life, though Kinoshita isn't as strict a visual artist as Ozu (he actually moves the camera around during shots sometimes, like some kind of crazy person!).
The Ballad of Narayama, released in 1958, is quite a different piece. In it Kinoshita uses techniques taken from the theater — a singing narrator, artificial sets, dramatic lighting changes — all to strong effect. The scene changes in which the background drops away to reveal another behind it are particularly effective, and I wish more filmmakers felt comfortable utlizing less realistic lighting design. The plot was a bit too slight for me, but I enjoyed the craft involved, and Kinuyo Tanaka's performance was troubling in its sincerity. (She also worked with Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi, and Akira Kurosawa during her acting career — quite a resumé!)
And speaking of less realistic lighting, my sci-fi webcomic Flesh Machine has just passed the 150 page mark!
Have a safe (and pleasant, if that's your thing) holiday, and thanks for reading! This year, I'm thankful for my readers, he said sincerely, but added a bit of meta-fictional winking afterward to balance out the corniness of the statement.
Till next week...