The Makioka Sisters (1983)

The Makioka Sisters

Dir. Kon Ichikawa, 1983

In 1983, Toho commemorated its 50th anniversary by producing The Makioka Sisters, a sprawling prestige adaptation of a 1940s serial novel, featuring some of the most notable actors in Japan. The result was mixed.

Set in 1938, The Makioka Sisters focuses around a family of four sisters who sold their late father’s kimono shop some years ago. The oldest sister Tsuruko is distant from the others, but is wary of moving to Tokyo with her husband. The second oldest Sachiko takes care of the rest of the family and is concerned with marrying off the younger sisters: traditional Yukiko, who is approaching old maid status after a well-publicized illicit romance, and free-spirited Taeko, who only wants to make dolls for a living and spend her life with a man she loves.

Although adapted from a novel, director Kon Ichikawa prefers to use visuals to tell his story, with its four seasons representing four sisters. Most notable of all is that the three older sisters always wear kimonos, while Taeko dresses like a modern western woman, more suited to the streets of Tokyo or New York than her family’s dark, antiquatedly spacious bungalow.

If only the dialogue was so good. After praising the visual storytelling, The AV Club’s Scott Tobias called the film out on its “oft-turgid melodrama,” and I am inclined to agree. This film would have been just as effective if it was silent. C+

Gallipoli (1981)


Dir. Peter Weir, 1981

On his way to becoming Australia’s preeminent filmmaker, Peter Weir wrote and directed Gallipoli, the story of the most infamous battle ever fought by Australian forces. More than 1% of the young nation’s population died in the First World War, and over eight thousand of those died in vain trying to capture Gallipoli, Turkey’s gateway to the sea of Marmara.

Mark Lee and Mel Gibson play rival sprinters in the Western Australian hinterland who run away to join the ANZAC and fight in the Great War. While Lee is eager to fight for his country, Gibson is more cynical until rejoining his old railroad buddies. After walking to Perth then training and making trouble in Egypt, Gallipoli comes in full force.

Rather than make a non-threatening prestige film, Weir set Gallipoli apart by taking a very long time to get to the battle, and making the battle relentlessly bloody. It is this decision, along with Weir’s austere style and superb acting from Lee, Gibson, and all the supporting actors (like recently passed Aussie film regular Bill Hunter), that make Gallipoli stand the test of time. A

Time Bandits (1981)

SPOILER ALERT: As these reviews are of an academic nature, they may contain spoilers. Future reviews will try to limit that, but until then, read at your own risk.

Time Bandits

Dir. Terry Gilliam, 1981

This film was Gilliam’s third, and is amongst his most bizarre. The film feels like a children’s book, though the story is in fact original. From the first few scenes, its not clear how anyone could’ve come up with it: a little boy who loves history is ignored by his hyperconsumerist parents, but is unintentionally rescued by thieving dwarves on the run from God. Because only the boy is pure of heart, he is charged with rebuilding history by God. But God seems indifferent, and in the end, not only do his parents not learn the error of their ways; they are unceremoniously blown up by a piece of concentrated Evil: that’s how the film ends.

As always, Gilliam excels with the visual elements. The protagonists travel through time using animated square portals, and the dungeon of Evil is reminiscent of MC Escher. Most of the scenes are ensconced in darkness, and those that don’t inevitably end badly. Terry Gilliam uses both the story and visual to leave the viewer satisfied, yet unsettled. B-