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Second Time Around 

Wednesday, Sep 10 1997
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Countercurrents: The Films of Yasuzo Masumura
Clear your Saturday night schedule for the next few weeks and discover the lost, legendary director Yasuzo Masumura at the PFA. You've probably never heard of him, but he's credited with inspiring Japanese New Wave directors like Nagisa Oshima with his rejection of sentimentality and embrace of contemporary themes and techniques. His career seems to have ended doing S/M features (even these are highly regarded among those who savor the stuff) and anonymous yakuza flicks, but from the late '50s to the early '70s he produced an extraordinary string of films on subjects ranging from high school drama to industrial espionage to kids on the run. Many of his films manage to be both fully functional genre pictures as well as thoroughly ironic subversions of them. The PFA's rather stodgy program notes give barely a hint of their wild-ass nature. Manji (Oct. 4) is a torrid Polanski-esque psychodrama about a demure housewife who starts wearing the pants in her household when she falls head-over-heels in love with another woman; it sports the most hair-raising scene I've witnessed all year (and this year has seen Cronenberg's Crash, Lynch's Lost Highway, and the Fassbinder retrospective), involving a blood pact between the housewife and her girlfriend's fiance and the immortal subtitle "You suck mine first."

The best place to start would be with this weekend's The Build-Up (Sept. 13). A merciless satire on consumerism and the advertising industry, it follows three candy companies as they prepare their new lines of caramels and spy on each other's plans. Indeed, the whole city seems to be interested only in caramels and what new gimmick each company is going to include. The rollicking dialogue is pure Hawksian screwball comedy, and Hitomi Nozoe, as the ghetto girl with a mouthful of spectacular cavities who becomes a spokesmodel sensation, is the Reese Witherspoon of her time. After The Build-Up, you'll probably be hooked, so don't miss Afraid to Die (Sept. 20), starring Yukio Mishima as a swaggering but chicken-hearted yakuza who'd rather stay in prison than face the dangers of the street. The other series highlight for me is Play (Oct. 11), a gritty, gorgeous portrait of a sweet teen-age ghetto couple (both virgins) who fall in love while on the run from a yakuza boss who intended to deflower the girl himself. This one's brutal, bizarre violence and overamped acting will give you a taste of some of Masumura's exploitation work, but the teen-age stars, Keiko Sekine and Masaaki Daimon, and their reckless amour fou are guaranteed to break your heart.

-- Tod Booth

"Countercurrents: The Films of Yasuzo Masumura" runs on Saturdays through Oct. 11 at the Pacific Film Archive, 2625 Durant (at College) in Berkeley. Please see Reps Etc., Page 81, for each week's schedule and times. Tickets are $5.50 for the first movie, $1.50 for an additional one. Call (510) 642-1124.

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Tod Booth

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