• 2020

  • Metropolitan Cats

  • The Met turns 150 years old this year. Its collection is as vast as it is priceless. Within their enormous collection, there are over a 1000 years of cats in art. Quite an impressive catalog of cats! This film, was produced in 1983 and there’s even a companion catalog book (used hardback) published by the museum a couple of years prior available on Amazon. This was unearthed from the archive to commemorate their 150th anniversary. Each month, the museum plans to release more films from the archive.

    From the video description:

    As part of The Met’s 150th anniversary in 2020, each month we will release three to four films from the Museum’s extensive moving-image archive, which comprises over 1,500 films, both made and collected by the Museum, from the 1920s onward. This includes rarely seen artist profiles and documentaries, as well as process films about art-making techniques and behind-the-scenes footage of the Museum.

    The closing credits go to Robin Lehman as producer and director for this short film. It’s unclear if it is the same Robin Lehman on IMDB, but what a lovely, charming and informative short.

  • ‘Parasite’ house is a custom-built film set, designed by Bong Joon-Ho and Lee Ha-Jun

  • That’s right. Namgoong Hyeonja, the architect mentioned in the film Parasite, is a fictional architect. He’s not real. However, the genius behind the house in the film was real. Bong Joon-Ho tapped his production designer Lee Ha-Jun, and their art department wizards to build a remarkable architectural vision. The Park house was constructed entirely on a film lot. Here’s some of the initial renderings and concept models:

    Compare some of those concept renderings with some actual stills from the film:

    Incredible attention to detail and commitment to getting the right shot. There are more photos and insights from Bong and Lee in the interview piece at IndieWire. Bong Joon Ho’s stories and films are heavily steeped in symbolism. They’re dense and delicious like a strong sun tea that’s been sitting outside for hours in the hot sun. They’re chock full of complex metaphors and reference cultural deep-cut films such as Akira Kurosawa’s, High and Low.

    Bong’s intelligent cuts, tedious blocking, and deliberate recycling of shots are a delicious recipe for a fun film. Here’s some of his own words (from the IndieWire piece) on why they chose the structure of the house and the film:

    Cinephiles may be reminded of Akira Kurosawa’s “High and Low.” In that case, the structure is simpler and stronger. The Japanese title is “Heaven and Hell.” On the top of the hill is a rich guy and in the bottom, there is the criminal kind of structure. It’s basically the same in “Parasite,” but with more layers.

    Because the story is about the rich and poor, that’s obviously the approach we had to take in terms of designing the sound and lighting. The poorer you are, the less sunlight you have access to, and that’s just how it is in real life as well: You have a limited access to windows. For example, in “Snowpiercer,” the tail cars didn’t have any windows and with semi-basement homes, you have a very limited of sunlight you get during the day — maybe 15 or 30 minutes — and that’s where the film opens.

    We actually used natural lighting for those scenes in “Parasite.” All of our sets, the rich house and the poor house, were built on outdoor lots.

    Lee Ha-Jun, a seasoned production designer says the the living room should act as a stand-in for TV. I believe he means that literally for Mr. and Mrs. Park, initially. But, offering an appreciative and wide view of the garden, the large window becomes a living portal to the backyard green space. A gateway of vast symbolic significance within Bong’s plot. The window occupies an intentional 2.35:1 aspect ratio, which is culturally symbolic to film, but more importantly feels spacious on screen. It has its production merits too, inviting light and warmth during the day on set. Lee has a terse explanation, but it is pretty clear that almost everything on set was thoughtfully produced for the sake of blocking:

    The front yard was a key reason why he had to build Mr. Park’s house. Director Bong already had the actors’ blocking in mind.

    Even all of the furniture was custom-made for Bong’s film:

    The semi-basement neighborhood was built to flood:

    Photo: ⓒ 2019 CJ ENM Corporation, Barunson E&A All Rights Reserved.
    A still from the film, using the same fabricated production set.

    I wasn’t joking when I said it was full of metaphors. Here’s a few examples I fell in love with that caught my eyes. Ample repetition reinforces significance. As a resolution begins to unravel, the same shot cedes itself to darkness as something sinister emerges only moments later.

    Reflections and oppositions are important. Light and warmth. Opaque and transparent. Cloudy and clear. Clean and dirty. Level and angled. Rich and poor. Survival and oppression. High and low.

    What I find to be the most striking, is these temples of film production are all temporary. They’re built on film lots, hundreds of works laboring to build these realistic places, used for shots, deconstructed, and the cycle repeats for the next big movie. It’s like they’re emulating the Himalayan practice of creating Tibetan Sand Mandalas. For more photos and concept images from the film, check out Architectural Digest.

  • 2019

  • House

  • House is a rare piece of cinema, too few have seen. It’s a fucking thrilling Japanese art-house horror film. It has a strange and violent surrealism on par with what you could call, a bad trip. Beyond that, it’s an incredible odyssey of explorative special effects that influenced generations of filmmakers from Steven Spielberg to Ari Aster to Edgar Wright. Nobuhiko Obayashi, left no stone unturned in the art department. Rotoscoping. Rotating sets. Animation. Puppets. Analog frame splicing. Sound effects galore. Legendary locations. Lens and lighting tricks and of course — loads of gushing squirting blood punctuated by levitating severed limbs. Pure magic. Here’s the trailer cut from Criterion:

    Of course Obayashi went all out, because he basically had creative carte blanche with the studio. Which makes total sense when you think about the timing of its release in theaters. Chuck Stephens at Criterion writes:

    What Toho Studios was hoping for when it hired Obayashi was a homegrown Jaws: a locally produced summer movie roller coaster sufficiently thrill-chocked to at least partially deflect the ongoing onslaught of Tokyo-box-office-topping New Hollywood hits from Messrs. Spielberg and Lucas—something fast and loud, with tons of fun packed between screams. In the Japanese cinema of the mid-1970s, “fast,” “fun,” and “homegrown hit” were in short supply. Adults-only pinku eiga (pink cinema) had taken over, and even master genre filmmakers like Kinji Fukasaku found themselves struggling to sustain the successes of the yakuza and other action flicks that had proved so lucrative earlier that decade. The radical glories of the country’s 1960s New Wave had managed to last well into the early 1970s (thanks mainly to the independent funding and screening initiative known as the Art Theater Guild, where Nagisa Oshima would produce such form-shattering works as Diary of a Shinjuku Thief and The Man Who Left His Will on Film), but by 1976, the most trailblazing new Japanese film was the one no one in Japan was allowed to see: Oshima’s sexual-passion-as-radical-politics treatise In the Realm of the Senses, whose shameless thickets of pubic hair ran head-on into the nation’s final visual taboo and which remains to this day banned in its country of origin. (Meanwhile, former Nikkatsu action director Yasuharu Hasebe’s ultrasadistic rape fantasia Assault! Jack the Ripper!—which strictly adhered to that quaint follicular technicality—went on to become a major pinku eiga box-office success that year.) 

    The greatest thing about this is, 5 years later Spielberg produced Poltergeist, which is basically an American bastardization of House. Don’t get me wrong, I love Poltergeist, but there was clearly a studio rivalry going on. While Poltergeist borrows very little in terms of story or surrealism, it borrows enough. House stands apart on its own from the other adjacent haunted-genre films that came after it. Jonathon Barkan at Bloody Disgusting writes:

    House is a film that needs a shelf of its own. In no way can it be perfectly described in all its visual glory. Words are truly inadequate to do it justice. The film is atypical – not like The Old Dark House or The Haunting, but not as abstract or pretentious as earlier Cronenberg/Lynch films. Despite including all the usual Bava-isms, and regardless of his knack for staining the surreal on film, it’s still amazing that he could have dreamt up such imagery.

    Obayashi really is one-of-a-kind. He has quite the resumé to prove it too. Mr. Obayashi is currently ill with cancer, but he is still very much so active. In fact, last I could find, he was shooting a film about “how the atomic bomb came to be dropped [on Hiroshima].” Really looking forward to that film release.

    Until then, I’m going to re-watch House while packing up my own apartment, as I’m moving in three weeks. Wish me luck 😅