Top image: Crazed Fruit (1956) dir. Ko Nakahira
“When I was younger I fell in love with Japanese films,” young actor Connor Jessup told us in HERO 15, reflecting on his passions outside of work. When he’s not exploring the subtle beauty of Japanese cinema, the Canadian talent is capturing audiences as troubled high school student Taylor Blaine in ABC’s American Crime. Right now, he’s gracing small screens in the show’s third season.
If you haven’t heard of Connor yet, watch this space. From playing a socially isolated teen in 2012’s Blackbird to the lead role in Stephen Dunn’s 2015 coming-of-age drama Closet Monster (both of which won Best Canadian Film at the Toronto International Film Festival) the young Canadian actor is a rising talent to watch. But what’s most endearing about Connor is his unbridled love of anime and Japanese filmmakers, fuelled by his trips to Tokyo.
Just in time for weekend watching, Connor here shares his favourite Japanese films and reflects on why they’ve had such an impact on him.
Still Walking (2008) dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda
“Currently my favourite movie,” says Connor. “The epilogue is admittedly a little unnecessary, but otherwise it is absolutely perfect. In his patient, humane (and very personal) examination of a single, middle-class Japanese family over 24 hours, Kore-eda never descends into melodrama or sentiment. Instead, he overflows the screen with detail – home cooking, half-remembered stories, old resentments that simmer but never boil, endless good humour, a perfect cast (especially the great Kirin Kiki.) His craft – static camera, flawless active blocking, slow, accumulative editing – and command of detail are so great and so fundamental that he seems to disappear into the movie. Also, the best opening line of all time.”
Late Spring (1949) dir. Yasujiro Ozu
“The only movie that’s ever made me cry just by peeling an apple. Ozu is the grandmaster, the great glacial humanist. His movies grow on you, and add to each other. Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara, both masters of the melancholy smile, are at their peak here as father and daughter. Honestly though, I don’t know how to choose between his movies. I always forget which is which. Besides Late Spring, I think the wartime There Was a Father and the famous Tokyo Story are my favourites. I feel like I understand about 2% of what he was doing.”
Vengeance is Mine (1979) dir. Shohei Imamura
“This movie is so much fucking fun. Imamura is the anti-Ozu, the anti-Kore-eda. (Infamously, he even worked as Ozu’s presumably unhappy AD for a while.) No gentleness or quiet rhythms to be found here. His movies are about lowlifes, prostitutes, gangsters, killers, pornographers. They’re violent, salacious, electric. And his masterpiece is ‘Vengeance is Mine’. Ken Ogata (also great in Paul Schrader’s ‘Mishima’) is irresistible as the central serial killer. Sex, death, more sex, impenetrable psychology, complete irreverence, almost-incest, an elastic visual style. So great.”
Crazed Fruit (1956) dir. Ko Nakahira
“I stumbled on this movie by accident, and came out in awe. What the hell is this? Who the fuck is Ko Nakahira? Why doesn’t he have his own postage stamp? Before Imamura, before Oshima, before Godard and Truffaut even, he was doing all that shit, and often better. This movie is pure jazz. Bare skin, pained adolescent love triangles, post-war sexual liberation, sunglasses and cigarettes. Credited with launching a wave of movies about violent, decadent youth. Understandably. It makes nihilism sexy. One of the all-time great climaxes too.”
High and Low (1963) dir. Akira Kurosawa
“If you’ll excuse my (continued) obnoxiousness, I think this was the first movie I saw that made me aware of mise en scène. I was like fourteen, and it sent shivers up my back. Like, sexual shivers. The way the camera and the people seemed to move together, perfectly, every slight adjustment creating an entirely new dynamic. Minimal effort, maximum effect. Perfectly calibrated. There was never a wasted part of that widescreen frame. Sheer, virtuosic genius.”