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Protosevich On Kobayashi

Protosevich On Kobayashi

Did you know this episode marks the fifth anniversary of Hell Is For Hyphenates? If you didn’t before, you do now. So no playing dumb.

Last year when we celebrated our 50th episode (we mark every possible occasion available to us), we noted that it was fitting we do so not with a big-name filmmaker of the month, but rather with someone we hadn’t actually heard of before. If this show is all about discovery (and it is), then there’s nothing more appropriate.

So it’s cool that it’s happened again.

We were pretty excited when screenwriter Mark Protosevich agreed to be our guest, and were fascinated by his choice of filmmaker: Masaki Kobayashi.

Other names were bandied about as possibilities, but Mark chose Kobayashi largely because he’s a filmmaker who rarely gets his dues. And when we began watching his work, it became clear that we were dealing with one of the all time greats. How is Kobayashi not as big a name in cinema as Kurosawa, his contemporary, colleague and friend?

If, like us this time last month, you’re not familiar with Kobayashi’s works, then this is the episode for you. We talk the Samurai epic Harakiri, the terrifying ghost story Kwaidan, and one of the most impressive cinematic achievements of all time, World War Two epic The Human Condition.

As always, we begin by reviewing a few key films from the past month, and this time they all reflect our future in some way: Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland, George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, and Alex Garland’s Ex Machina.

But that’s not all. Our middle segment this month is one you have to hear if you’ve ever complained about a screenwriter ever. We look at the way in which writers are credited in Hollywood: complex guild arbitration means that the credited writer may not actually be the one responsible for the script. What seems like an insane system from the outside starts to make sense once you examine it, and there’s no one better to talk about this than Mark. We were hoping for a few generalised stories that avoid specifics, but what we got was both candid and eye-opening.

“I have sole credit on that film, but not a single line of dialogue in the film was written by me.”

If you’re not a subscriber and only listen to the occasional episode, then this is one you have to hear. And it’s not always the done thing to ask for a gift, but if you could swing by iTunes and leave us a positive review, that would be a lovely birthday present.

If you want to brush up on the films of Masaki Kobayashi first, remember to check out our Cheat Sheet here, before listening to the episode here.

Hell Is For Hyphenates – May 2015

Screenwriter Mark Protosevich (The Cell, I Am Legend, Thor, Oldboy) joins the Hyphenates to talk the key films of May 2015, ask how accurate the writing credits on Hollywood productions actually are, and look at the extraordinary films of the underrated Japanese director Masaki Kobayashi.

The Masaki Kobayashi Cheat Sheet

Masaki Kobayashi Wide

Want to become an instant expert in our filmmaker of the month without committing yourself to an entire filmography? Then you need the Hell Is For Hyphenates Cheat Sheet: a double that will bring you totally up to speed before our next episode lands…

MK Films

THE THICK-WALLED ROOM (1956) and HARAKIRI (1962)

If you want to know what Kobayashi is all about, you can’t go wrong with this double. The Thick-Walled Room is a story about imprisoned former soldiers in post-war Japan, jailed for crimes against humanity. It was ready for release in 1953, but was deemed too inflammatory, and sat on the shelf for three years. Inflammatory is an understatement. Kobayashi and writer Kôbô Abe don’t hold back in their criticisms of Japan and the Allied Forces, and the crimes that take place when desperate men are in combat. But it’s the emotional journey of the central characters that keeps us engaged, and Kobayashi’s incredible use of metaphor and surrealism. Then, follow it up with Harakiri, the tale of a samurai who appears at the estate of a large clan requesting the opportunity to commit seppuku in their courtyard. But the country is full of ronin who have made similar requests as a bluff in order to extract money or employment from sympathetic clans, and this group isn’t having it: if he wants to kill himself, they’re going to make sure he follows through. What follows is an extraordinarily tense battle of wits between the ragged samurai warrior (an all-time performance by Kobayashi’s most frequent collaborator Tatsuya Nakadei) and the clan’s senior counsellor (an amazing and memorable turn from Rentarō Mukini). Our guest Mark Protosevich described Harakiri as one of his top ten favourite films of all time, and you won’t be hard-pressed to see why.

Substitutions: If you can’t get or have already seen The Thick-Walled Room, try Kwaidan (1964), Kobayashi’s award-winning ghost story anthology that Roger Ebert described as “among the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen”. If you can’t get or have already seen Harakiri, swap in Samurai Rebellion (1967), a film about the futility of honour in feudal Japan, and the only time Kobayashi worked with the great Toshiro Mifune.

The Hidden Gem: Want to watch something a little off the beaten track? Well, we’re not sure if The Human Condition necessarily qualifies. In The Story of Cinema, British film critic David Shipman called it “unquestionably the greatest film ever made”, and in the New York Times, AO Scott said that the film “can clarify and enrich your understanding of what it is to be alive”. So it’s hardly obscure, but we put it here because it has a total running time of about ten hours, and thus earns its place as a wildcard entry. (Although it’s considered a single work, it is most commonly released as three distinct films, with an intermission breaking them into manageable 90 minute chapters.) The Human Condition is the story of Kaji, a pacifist who must deal with Japan’s oppressive war machine at the break-out of World War Two. The events closely echo Kobayashi’s own story, both in terms of his stringent beliefs and his experiences in the war. This one is absolutely worth your time, and given its ten hour length, we don’t say that lightly.

The next episode of Hell Is For Hyphenates, featuring Mark Protosevich talking Masaki Kobayashi, will be released on the morning of May 31 (AEST).

Our Next Hyphenate Mark Protosevich

Mark Protosevich
Screenwriter and May 2015 Hyphenate Mark Protosevich

Five years! Five whole years! That’s how long Hell Is For Hyphenates will have been running when our next episode is released at the end of the month. That’s a whole lot of guests, a whole lot of filmmakers, and a frankly insane number of films. Which is just how we like it.

Joining us to celebrate the occasion will be our special guest: screenwriter Mark Protosevich. Mark has worked on 2000’s The Cell, 2006’s Poseiden, 2007’s I Am Legend, 2011’s Thor and 2013’s Oldboy. He’s also worked with Steven Spielberg on the fourth Jurassic Park, and wrote the script for the unproduced Batman Triumphant, which would have been the fifth instalment of the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher series of Batman films.

We’re delighted to have Mark on the show, and equally delighted at his Filmmaker of the Month:  Japanese filmmaker Masaki Kobayashi!

Directed by Masaki Kobayashi

It wasn’t the filmmaker he chose that got us excited (although we are very excited to explore this little-discussed ouvre). It was the part of his email:

I woke up this morning and knew exactly which director I wanted to choose – Masaki Kobayashi. HARA KIRI is one of my top ten favorite films of all time. That’s not hyperbole. Also, I feel he’s not discussed as being in the ranks of the great directors, and I fully believe he is. Not just in terms of Japan, but the world.

The whole idea of our show is that we look at a filmmaker through the eyes of the person who loves that filmmaker more than anyone else. It doesn’t matter if the guest wants to talk about Stan Brakhage or Brett Rattner: so long as they’re setting out to prove why their filmmaker of choice is the greatest, we know we’re in for a great show.

So who is Masaki Kobayashi?

Kobayashi was a firm pacifist who was drafted into World War II. In protest, he refused any promotion above the rank of private, and later spent time as a prisoner of war. When the war ended, he returned to filmmaking and directed his first film Musuko no Sheishun (My Son’s Youth) in 1952.

He is best known for three key works: the Human Condition trilogy, which from 1959 to 1961 explored the effects of World War II on a pacifist; the afore-mentioned Harakiri, which won the Special Jury Prize at the 1963 Cannes Film Festival; and the1964 ghost anthology Kwaidan, which also won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes, as well as receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.

In the late 1960s he broke out of the studio system and formed the independent “Yonki-no-Kai” or “Club of the Four Knights” with Akira Kurosawa, Kon Ichikawa and Keisuke Kinoshita. In case you’re wondering what The Avengers would look like with 20th century Japanese filmmakers.

But as fascinating as that biography is, there’s far more to Kobayashi’s work. How much more? Join us for our 5th anniversary episode on May 31 to find out!

Masaki Kobayashi
Our next filmmaker of the month, Masaki Kobayashi