The Michigan Daily - Monday, September 20, 2004 - 9A
By Marshall W. Lee
MFor the Daily
Yoji Yamada's "Twilight Samurai,"
a rich and lyrical exercise in cinematic
restraint well deserving of its record
12 Japanese Academy Awards, is a
rare gem of a samurai film.
Yamada's 77th feature and Japan's
foreign-language Oscar nominee for
2003,"Twilight Samurai" is set in rural
Japan during the era of the Meiji Res-
toration, circa 1868 - the same peri-
od as iconic Japanese director Akira
Samurai" and Twilight
Edward Zwick's Samurai
vastly overrated At the
Tom Cruise vehi- Michigan Theater
cle, "The Last Empire Films
three films exam-
ine a time of great social change in
Japan when political upheaval and
technological advancement left many
samurai - disciplined warriors still
living by the ancient Code of Bushido
- facing poverty and unemployment.
But unlike Kurosawa's violent, philo-
sophical powerhouse and Zwick's
sweeping historical epic, "Twilight
Samurai" is a relatively gentle domes-
tic drama filled up with melancholy
and subtle beauty.
The hero of the film is Seibei
(Hiroyuki Sanada), a timid, low-level
samurai living under the rule of his
clan in northeast Japan, where he
spends his days not in battle, but as
an accountant, balancing books and
keeping track of dried fish and veg-
etable stores. Declining invitations
from his colleagues to go out drinking
and carousing, Seibei hurries home
each evening at dusk because he has
a senile mother and two young daugh-
ters to support and is in debt after the
death of his wife from consumption.
Seibei's story is told by Yomada and
cinematographer Mutsuo Naganuma
in muted tones and colors, elegantly
recreating a feudal village that seems,
in contrast to Katsumoto's highly styl-
ized home in "The Last Samurai,"
less like an extravagant set piece and
more like a living, breathing entity.
Seibei's community retains it's archi-
tecture, values and customs even as
the changing world is making its way
of life obsolete. A scene in which Sei-
bei and his old friend Linuma discuss
the chaotic streets of Kyoto while a
nearby group of guards practice rifle
fire under a blossoming lotus tree is a
smart illustration of this.
Since the death of his wife, Seibei's
life has been anything but easy, and
after long days in his office, the weary
samurai rushes home to grow crops
and build insect cages, anything to
earn a little extra cash for his family.
Seibei's co-workers mock his unkempt
appearance and torn clothing and one
afternoon when the lord of clan visits
the warehouse and notices his "strange
aroma," the samurai is reprimanded
News of Seibei's humiliation
spreads quickly and, in a scene that
is alternately hilarious and moving,
Seibei is paid a visit by his indignant
uncle who urges him to remarry and
bring a woman into the house to cook,
clean and mother the two young girls.
As it happens, Seibei's childhood
sweetheart, Tomoe (Rie Miyazaki),
has become single after divorcing her
s at power of family
Frankly darling, this giant robotic hand doesn't give a damn.
Despite thinly veile plot
'Captai*n' a visul .treat
By Amanda McAllister
For the Daily
Courtesy or mptre Fims
Only 4 and a half stars? Get my pen. I'm writing to this "publication."
violent husband and she soon begins
to help around the house. Although
romance seems a natural step, Seibei
is too timid and weary to propose
A decision to help Linuma in a fight
soon gets Seibei in over his head as
the clan leaders approach him with a
dubious assignment: He is to kill the
defiant master swordsman Yogo (Min
Tanaka) who has barricaded himself in
his home after refusing to kill himself
at the order of the clan.
The film's third act is wonderful
in the way it simultaneously defies
expectations and asserts everything the
audience believe about Seibei, bringing
tension, depth and elegance to a climac-
tic fight scene that could easily have
been another routine action sequence.
The fight between Yogo and Seibei, as
well as the protracted conversation that
precedes it, are just too good to spoil,
but the extraordinary exchange of dia-
logue and the low, lingering camera
shots inside Yogo's house make for an
exemplary film sequence.
In the lead role, Sanada achieves a
minor miracle, allowing Seibei to be
wholly good without ever seeming shal-
low or foolish, and he is especially fun to
watch in those moments when the hero's
hopes and fears boil just below his placid
surface. Yamada is a master of character
study, creating in each frame a world so
delicate and compelling that even the
smallest of Sanada's gestures - a deep
and weary breath, the slightest smile of
contentment - grabs the viewer's atten-
tion and fills the screen with life.
"Sky Captain and the World of Tomor-
row" has everything that can make a film
horrible. It's an action movie with a love
story woven in, it's set in the retro-future,
and, besides the actors, every aspect of the
movie was constructed with CGI. Oh, and
there are robots. Lots ofrobots.
A recipe for disaster, sure, but "Sky Cap-
tain" emerges an entertaining story and a
reminder of why
people still pay good
money to see movies
on the big screen.
Paltrow) is investigat-
ing the disappearanc-
es of several scientists
when an attack
At Quality 16
Ironic street performers rally against president
By Steve Cotner
Daily Arts Writer
As the street theater performers
Billionaires for Bush celebrate "Edu-
cation is Not for Everyone Day" on
campus - indulging in croquet on
the Diag grass and tossing off slo-
gans like "A mind is a terrible thing!"
- Michigan students will either get
the joke, get mad or be had.
The Michigan Daily's Steve Cotner
sat down with the group's national
co-chairman Andrew Boyd, a.k.a.
Phil T. Rich, to discover where this
group is coming from. Boyd is a Uni-
versity alum who made headlines in
the '80s creating ironic spectacles
like the "Nuclear Saints of America,"
a group that exalted the University's'
Cold War military research to god-
like status and invaded the military
lab to do communion with atomic
While on campus to recruit last
week for his group, he answered a
range of questions about the history
and future of political protest. The
full interview can be found online at
The Michigan Daily: In the
'60s, Martin Luther King Jr. was
effective because he planned out the
events so thoroughly, and he made
sure the symbolism of the situations
was very clear.
Andrew Boyd: Yeah, that's why he
did it at the Lincoln memorial, etc.
TMD: And having food thrown
on you, or having a firehose turned
on you, was a kind of street theater,
but one in which right and wrong was
very clear. So if you were drawing
influence from those kinds of things
early on, what did it mean to you to
start using irony instead of that bare
AB: That's a good question. Abbie
Hoffman said that "All protest is
theater," it's just traditional protest
is bad theater. Partly because the
people aren't aware that it's theater,
and they're not treating it like theater.
And by being theater, it doesn't mean
that it's not authentic, right, it doesn't
mean it's not real, or passionate, or
a true act of power or empowerment
or a spiritual moment for people.
But you just want to understand it
like King did, about the symbol and
Why did we end up using irony? I
think we just sort of went by our gut,
that we were creatures of our times
and our times were becoming very
ironic. It's almost the dominant trope
of our age, maybe not by '83, maybe
we were just ahead of our times. But
certainly the '90s, you've got The
tify as environmentalists. You go down
the issues, and Americans are quite lib-
eral, a majority of them are progressive
on the issues, it's just that both parties
are failing them. So there's a lot of rea-
sons to have hope.
And in any case, it's the good fight.
If you know that there's a real prob-
lem in this country and you do noth-
ing about it, it's gonna eat away at
you, and you're gonna feel bad. There
was actually a scientific study done
recently that being civically engaged,
and being a dissenter and involved in
protest, is better for your individual
health. You're not avoiding it, you're
not letting this stuff eat away at you.
If you're repressing it, it's going to
come back and bite you two-fold. So
you engage it. You're locating your-
self in the world, in reality, and you're
dealing with it. And then you find a
way to have fun, and you find a way
to become a better person through it.
begins; giant robots (bearing a striking
resemblance to "Futurama's" Bender on
steroids) march into New York City, crush-
ing buildings and wreaking havoc. Thank-
fully, Joe "Sky Captain" Sullivan (Jude
Law) swoops in and thwarts the attack, and,
with ex-flame Perkins and sidekick Dex
(Giovanni Ribisi, "Lost in Translation"),
sets out to find Dr. Totenkopf (stock foot-
age of Laurence Olivier), a mysterious man
who appears to be behind the event. They
encounter a variety of robots and a myste-
rious, ninja-like woman; as their journey
takes them to Totenkopf'sisland, with a little
help from Sky Captain's old friend Franky
The plot is cliche: charismatic good guy
hunts down bad guy, fighting robots along
the way. But, the pulp look and feel of the
movie help pull the story through the realm
of tackiness, and make it amusing instead of
Joe and Polly get locked in a room full of
dynamite at one point, and the viewers watch
as the flame travels slowly along the unnec-
essarily long wick. Points like this could
make the audience cringe, but the movie's
goal of recreating the thrill and excitement
of its ancestors allows for cliches like these
to be met with a grin instead of a groan.
The story suffers a bit for the sake of
action; important points, like the possibil-
ity of Earth's incineration are somewhat
glossed over and either mentioned either
as an afterthought, or summed up by Polly
as she narrates her news article. While this
method is useful for getting through some
supplementary plot points that are interest-
ing but not necessarily important, it is over-
extended to cover things that deserved more
Considering the entire film was shot
against blue screens, the actors turn in sur-
prisingly good performances; the men fare
better than the women, though. Law is
charming and tough, the quintessential good
guy, and banters quite well no matter who
else is onscreen. Ribisi gives another solid
performance, reminding the viewer why
he's in what seems like every movie lately.
Paltrow and Jolie, however, struggle;
Paltrow's delivery ranges from dry to
downright awkward and disjointed, while
Jolie seems to be racing through her lines.
Despite Paltrow's somewhat lackluster
verbal performance, she outdoes Jolie in
physical action - her reaction shots and
overall look are dead on. Paltrow is every
bit the starlet, fitting into her 1939 charac-
ter extraordinarily well, with facial expres-
sions that speak volumes, while Jolie,
despite claiming to be space pirate Cap-
tain Franky, is very obviously Jolie in an
eye patch. They may not be Oscar-worthy
roles, but the actors keep audiences enter-
tained and drawn into the film.
Setting aside any plot and performance
weaknesses for a second, "Sky Captain"
greatly excels in one area: its visually stun-
ning. Neutral colors, soft focus shots and
dramatic lighting pay tribute to the old
serials of the '30s. The visuals supplement
the action as well; the robots are all distinct
and interesting, and watching Sky Captain
fight them as he flies through the streets of
New York is quite an experience.
Despite any shortcomings in the plot
and somewhat underdeveloped charac-
ters, "Sky Captain" is a solid movie. This
movie could've been bad ... really, really
bad. However, it avoids the land of disas-
trous science fiction robot movies (cough...
I, Robot) and manages to overcome some
basic problems with style.
Billionaires for Bush march In Boston during the Democratic National
Daily Show. You've got Dave Eggers.
Where would that be without irony?
I think it is partly in the wake of the
failure, if you will, of the '60s, or people's
sense of disheartenment. "We did all the
marching, and look where we are." So
irony is a way to protect yourself from
that failure, and yet comment on it and
still sort of salvage some hope.
TMD: Given that sense of failure, and
the present state of corporate control that
you protest, how do you manage to get
past a tragic mentality, and be active and
even have a sense of humor about it?
AB: Well, there's a lot of things. One
is you look to the past for inspiration,
that there've been equally dire moments
in our history and people have organized
themselves and created fundamental
movements for social change that have
transformed the face of American poli-
tics. Look at the Civil Rights movement,
the abolitionist movement, the progres-
sive reforms of the teens and '20s, the
anti-Vietnam war protest. In '64 the
war's unfolding but nothing's happening
and suddenly five years later, the whole
country's in revolt. 100 years of Jim Crow
and then starting in '54 this explosion of
grassroots movements transforms the face
of the South.
You look at the fact that 70 percent of
Americans think that corporations have
too much power. Seventy percent iden-
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$10 Rush Tickets on sale 9 am -
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Ravi Shankar, sitar
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 8 PM
Legendary virtuoso sitarist, composer, teacher, and writ-
er Ravi Shakar is renowned throughout the world for his
pioneering work in bringing Indian music to the West.
Called the "Godfather of World Music" by George Harri-
son, Shankar is India's most recognized and esteemed
musical ambassador, influencing music and musicians
of all genres.
Emerson String Quartet
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 4 PM
Backed by a collection of Gr
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.Does & Livie Music,
and Hand., foot &Scalp
rammy Awards, the Emer-
nlnhall\/ for its masferv/ of a