Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Two Fantastic Tales from Germany and Japan

Join me as I make for a journey through time, space and the history of the cinematic fantasy genre...

Okay, maybe that introduction was a bit ambitious. What I am going to do is share two of my favorite fantasy films with you - two movies that share something essential, but couldn't be more different from each other. 

On one hand we have Wolfgang Petersen's 1984 family-adventure-fantasy flick of Die Unendliche Geschichte aka The NeverEnding Story based on Michael Ende's book of the same title. The German classic is part of what I call my 'cinematic fundament', consisting of movies that I watched over and over again as a child. These films have become part of my subconscious conception of the world, life and myself, and I'm trying to revisit them every now and then. As with Never Ending Story, I often don't realize how close these movies are to my heart and mind, since so much has just blended in with my own character. I forgot that I knew all the lines, the soundtrack and the cuts by heart, so it was almost a celestial experience to rewatch the story of a boy who, well, get's caught up in a book. The abstract layer to this never occurred to me when I watched it back in the days, which reminds me of my experience with Dawn of the Dead. As a child, you do recognize and appreciate the fact that the underdog becomes the hero, as is the case in many family movies, but you don't completely grasp the whole span of the idea, of "Yes, it's okay to spend time reading and living these stories as if they were your own". 

The other movie, or tale if you may, is the much acclaimed 1953 movie Ugetsu Monogatari aka Tales of a Pale and Mysterious Moon After the Rain by Kenji Mizoguchi. I first watched this movie a couple of days ago but it would probably already make my Top 5 of fantasy, or at least mystery movies. The story is less straight-out fantastic as in Never Ending Story and the movie could be considered more supernaturally influenced than thoroughly fantasy. It's a period drama (jidaigeki) based on a book of the same title by Ueda Akinari. If Never Ending Story is the story a boy getting lost in a fantasy novel, Ugetsu is the story of a man struggling for not only survival but wealth, and getting lost in that search. I would recommend going into the movie as blindly as possible, in order to enjoy the unfolding of the events and the atmosphere. Ugetsu isn't a scary movie, but it's spooky and it has a specific dark, romantic black-and-white Japanese touch to it that I have never seen this way in a film.

Both movies are also elevated by their beautiful visuals - whether it's the bold, 80s, German vision of fantasy or the clean, classic, haunting shots of a historical Japan from a 50s point-of-view. As I said, the soundtrack of NeverEnding Story is a treat, and although it has been impregnated on my mind through countless watchings, I think it stands out from an objective view as well. Ugetsu's haunting images are also underlined by enchantingly exotic sounds, although it's clearly the visuals that stay in memory the most. I would recommend watching these two movies as a double feature in whatever order you would like to see them, although I'd personally choose the order in which I put together the images for this post. Never Ending Story is more like a hopeful sunset while Ugetsu fully unfolds its magic only at night.

campy costumes • The Nothing • a big old book

fans should check out
Labyrinth (1986), The Princess Bride (1987), The Dark Crystal (1982)

pottery • aspiring samurais • interesting eye-brow fashion

fans should check out
Rashomon (1950), Rebecca (1940)

This post was part of the LAMB Foreign Chops: International Fantasy


  1. Would never have paired The Neverending Story with Ugetsu, that's for sure, but you write about both of them wonderfully.

    And as I said in my previous comment, YAY someone else loves that film too.

    I did have it in my list back in 2011 of favourite films. Have drafted that page now, but it was there!

    (P.S - listening to Across the Universe ep 4 and loving it!)

    1. Thanks! They're two different movies, as I said, but I think they complement each other quite well. And a big YAY from me too :D For the same reason as yours.

      Oh, you should update that page! I love going through other people's favourite films pages to find inspiration for what to watch and I remember going through yours a few times too.

      You probably mean eps 5, I wrote 4 but it was a mistake ;)

  2. i love japanese films, but i realised i never saw the older ones before.. Uegetsu seems like an interesting piece though :)

    1. I haven't seen many in general, but I love Japanese culture... you should watch this one if you want to try out something old.


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