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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Movie Answer Man (11/04/2001)

Q. Forget the theory that "K-Pax" was borrowed from the Argentinean film :"Man Facing Southeast." The idea of a psychiatrist examining a patient who claims to be an alien dates back even further. "Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster" (1964) stars Akiko Wakabayashi as the princess of Salgina. Upon hearing a mysterious voice, she gains prophetic powers and claims to be a Martian (Venusian in the Japanese version). She is taken to a psychiatrist played by the late, great Takashi Shimura, who comes to the conclusion that there is nothing wrong with her, but he refuses to accept the notion that she is an alien. (Brett Homenick, Spring Valley CA)

A. Takashi Shimura starred in "Ikiru," "The Seven Samurai," "Hidden Fortress" and "Kwaidan," four of the greatest films of all time. I have to go with his diagnosis.

Q. Re your message questioning the "R" rating of my film "Waking Life." Yeah, it's that one scene in the jail cell where the guy uses bad language, just enough f-words to get an R. Rumor has it they give you two or so, but I guess we'll never know because the MPAA is such a secret society/skull and bones kind of thing. It's a drag. Although I don't think the movie is for kids, I like the idea of a 15 or 16 year-old being able to go without all the hassle. (Rick Linklater, director, Austin, Texas)

A. The fundamental problem with the MPAA is that it avoids making any kind of common-sense evaluation of a film, and simply counts f-words and evaluates nudity. "Waking Life," one of the most affirmative and challenging films I can imagine for smart teenagers, gets the R rating, while the thriller "Domestic Disturbance," which shows a small child exposed to a murder, an incineration, the beating of his mother (leading to a miscarriage) and the beating of his father, after which the kid himself causes an electrocution, gets the PG-13--presumably because there is no nudity and the language stays below the cut-off point. What sane parent would prefer their teenager to see "Domestic Disturbance" rather than "Waking Life?"

Q. If all writing on film is just one man's opinion, then why should we read any of it? (Donny Wallace, Navasota, TX).

A. If this is just one man's question, why should I answer it?

Q. Reading your review of the woeful "On The Line" reminded me of one of the film's many flaws: When Kevin and Abbey recite the Presidents, I recited along with them, primarily to keep myself awake. Both of them conveniently left out Grover Cleveland's second term of office. It's one thing for two strangers to rattle off all the Presidents, but for both of them to miss the same one...wow, that really is fate! (Colin Boyd, Phoenix AZ)

A. And not even a mention that he was one of baseball's winningest pitchers.

Q. Your review of the Thai film "The Iron Ladies," about the gay and transvestite volleyball team, knocked me out of my chair, not only because I was surprised that you had seen it, but also because you hit the nail on the head regarding "Coach Bee" as played by Siridhana Hongsophon. While watching the rather cliched film I was simply transfixed by Ms. Hongsophon. Her acting simply put is one of the most "real" performances I have ever encountered. Indeed, I hesitate to write "acting" because she was so good that it almost seems a crime to call her an actress (I'm not sure if that's an insult to Ms. Hongsophon or the entire acting profession). It was quite refreshing to know that I am not the only person to notice that this film has quite a hidden gem in it. (William Woods, Alhambra CA)

A. Hongsophon's performance should be used as a benchmark at the Actors' Studio. I wrote in my review: "Her performance is so utterly without spin, style or affect that it could be lifted intact from a documentary. She is utterly convincing as--a volleyball coach. It's as if a real coach is being filmed with a hidden camera. There is no attempt to 'perform,' no awareness of punch lines, no artificial drama. Just a flat, straight-ahead, no-nonsense coaching job. It is either one of the most convincing performances I have ever seen, or no performance at all."

Q. After the big battle in "The Last Castle," when Redford and the men were standing in formation, where were the dozens of dead and wounded that should have been strewn all over the grounds? (Art Rothstein, San Francisco)

A. It would be inconvenient and counter-productive to show them, since the Redford character is the hero, and yet is responsible for the deaths of more men than the film's villain.

Q. With the new DVD release of "Memento," which I feel is one of the all-time great movies, I was wondering if you can tell me in what sequence I would program my DVD player (using the "Scene Selection" option) to play the movie in a "normal" playing arc? Yes, I know it will lessen the effect of the movie, but my best friend hates this movie in the directors current format, and I really want to help her understand and appreciate it. (Bruce Lewis, Columbus OH)

A. The movie of course is told backwards--the first scene is at the end, and the last scene is at the beginning. So you could use the chapter stops to show her the scenes in reverse order. My guess is that this would leave her exactly as confused as before. Whatever you do, don't let her see "Mulholland Drive." Her ears might start to pop.

Q. I saw "Heartbreakers" on a recent airplane trip and was surprised to read in the credits that it was directed by David Mamet. In fact, I saw the movie twice on that trip, so I read Mamet's name four times in the credits (twice in the beginning, twice in the end). But the IMDb lists the director as David Mirkin. This doesn't seem to be just a case of misspelling, since I know that Mirkin is an established director in his own right. But which one directed "Heartbreakers," Mamet or Mirkin? I did notice Mamet touches in the cast (such as the presence of Mamet favorite Ricky Jay) and the subject matter (con artists), but is it possible I was just seeing things when I saw Mamet credited as the director? (Alexander Higle, Jamaica Plain MA)

A. You must have been. Jan Sirridge, vice president of non-theatrical sales at MGM, replies: "We never change the credits when editing our films for inflight exhibition. Just to confirm this, I had the video lab that duplicated all inflight exhibition cassettes check both masters and they have confirmed that David Mirkin is listed as the director."

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