Lady Snowblood: A Ghost Story


When it comes to film, two of Japan’s most common genre outputs are the Samurai Film and the Ghost Story. At first glance (okay, and many sequential glances), Toshiya Fujita’s LADY SNOWBLOOD (1973) fits snugly in the Samurai category, following a stunning female assassin as she travels through late 19th century Japan, attempting to avenge her mother’s death. After looking closer at our heroine Yuki Kashima’s/The Lady Snowblood’s trial, however, it becomes clear that the film also works as a metaphorical ghost story, successfully blending the two prominent genres in an interesting and symbiotic way. Like a ghost whose unrest prevents it from passing on, Lady Snowblood’s entire existence is tied to a single piece of Unfinished Business: her quest for revenge. But whereas a phantom moves from this life to the next, Yuki’s eventual success actually gives her life for the first time, ending her state of limbo.

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The Criterion Collection — Top Ten Rankings


I put together this ranking to inform my Criterion watching regimen. It’s a helpful way to sort through the Collection and it keeps me from staring at my rack of discs for hours on end.

There’s no real purpose to this list, other than the fact that it organizes information I find interesting. It’s not a “Best Of” list, and it’s not meant to be. And it’s by no means comprehensive or definitive, especially when some contributors (way to go, Paul Schrader) listed the 10 films they’re most grateful for instead of their absolute favorites. Several other contributors listed far more than 10 films (Looking at you, Kaurismaki), and if the contributors spent time actually ranking their favorites this list doesn’t take that into account — sorry, guys.

So it’s not perfect.

But that’s all fine by me, I’m just looking for a place to start, some name recognition for a particular film. Even if the ranked film isn’t the pinnacle of filmmaking for the contributor, choosing 10 films out of over 700 inevitably draws attention to individual selections.

Ultimately, Criterion’s Top-Ten series ends up being a list of endorsements from a wide range of interesting people, each with their own preferences, and I find this variety extremely valuable.

I like this list because it’s eclectic, coming from people who are familiar with the Criterion Collection, but aren’t necessarily film critics or filmmakers. There’s fashion designers, art curators, even doctors.

These Top 10 Lists retain the pretension I associate (and enjoy) with the Criterion Collection, but still present a well-rounded curation. Newer titles are often privy to their own fashionable publicity, and this was a helpful way to dig out obscure, overlooked titles that mean a lot to one, maybe two people.

And if a particular title makes the cut for one, maybe two people, I think it’s worth giving it a shot. They emerged from a massive pile of Criterion films with this film in hand, and were quite possibly the only person to do so. So it’s at least worthy of consideration.

This list starts with the most popular titles and ends with titles chosen by only one contributor. It will be regularly updated when each new Top Ten list is released.

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The Barter (2014): Book Review

The Barter, Siobhan Adcock

There’s a reason so many effective horror stories revolve around a haunted house. If horror is meant to unnerve, undermining the sanctity of the home is a hell of way to do it. The home is safe, the place where parents’ natural tendency to protect is at its most powerful. But when something unwanted enters the home – a ghost, a demon, a Babadook – it’s terrifying for the parents as much as the children. All of a sudden, there’s no home court advantage.

But what happens when this extraneous force is somehow linked to the parents? What if they’re not only helpless to stop it but somehow responsible?

In her tremendously layered debut novel THE BARTER, Siobhan Adcock uses two parallel narratives, each focusing on womanhood and motherhood, to explore how the demands of society have a nasty habit of striping women of their identity. While ostensibly a horror novel, THE BARTER isn’t a traditional haunted house story even though there are plenty of ghosts, literal and metaphorical. It’s more unsettling than outright terrifying, but the entire novel is packed with insight, tragedy, and enough shrewd humor to devour effortlessly.

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Dani’s Favorites of 2014

I’m allowing myself fourteen movies for 2014 because: 1) ten is too hard, 2) I want to bring attention to these movies I think are great, 3) you’re not the boss of me, and 4) Buzzfeed tells me round numbers are not important (i.e. 19 Seriously Disturbing Bug Faces That Will Ruin Your Life Forever and 26 Pictures That Will Give You Hope For The Future). I haven’t seen ALL the films this year, but of those I did see these are my personal favorites.

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What We Do In The Shadows (2014) Review: AFI Film Fest

The Family

There’s been no shortage of vampire films this year, so it’s pretty remarkable that the darts have been landing so close to the bullseye. The best of the group have succeeded because rather than recreate vampire lore, they use it as an entry way to more universal and interesting stories. The genre operates like the best of restrictions, providing a skeletal structure that creative writers and directors can animate as they see fit.

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Wild Tales (2014) Review: AFI Film Fest

Wild Tales Cover

In a post-WILD TALES Q&A, Argentinian director Damian Szifron said the thematic connection tying his varied and terrific vignettes together is “the pleasure of losing control.” While building his film around such a feeling, Szifron had to have hoped it would be a pleasure to watch these characters lose control as well.

And it is. In so many cringe-worthy, uproarious, and surprisingly insightful ways, WILD TALES is an absolute pleasure.

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Gone Girl — Psycho Bitch: Qu’est-ce que C’est ?

GoneGirl 1

As I eavesdrop on people leaving the theater after their Gone Girl screening I hear many iterations of “What a crazy psycho bitch!” and all I want to do is scream, “BUT SHE’S SO MUCH MORE!” Since I read Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl a few years ago I’ve ranted at anyone who will listen that Amy Elliot Dunne is one of the great female characters of literature — and now film. With anti-hero’s basically ruling network and cable television it seems strange to me that people are so ready to just write off Amazing Amy as just another crazy bitch. The only acceptable reason for loving Travis Bickle, Tyler Durden, Alex Delarge, The Joker, Chuck Bass, Don Draper, Francis Underwood, and Walter White while totally overlooking Amy is because Amy is a woman and the others are men. There doesn’t seem to be any getting around it.

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Earth to Echo’s Castrated Youth

The Goonies -- One-Eyed Willy

The Real Face of Children’s Adventure Films

Grimm’s fairytales, those children’s stories that have stood the test of time, have done so not in spite of the danger in which they throw their young protagonists, but because of it. Hansel and Gretel get devastatingly close to being devoured by the witch, Little Red Riding Hood is eaten by the wolf, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty both essentially die when they are put into a never-ending sleep. And yet, we read these stories to our children from a very young age. Stories are where our children first encounter danger, difference, and fear, ultimately overcoming those obstacles while nestled safely in our arms. Movies have stepped in to share the mantle of acquainting our children with experiences that we hope they never have to confront in their own lives. At their best, movies help them vicariously experience and overcome these trials in the safest possible space.

This summer’s children’s adventure film Earth to Echo pulls certain plot points from the genre’s most successful outings (The Goonies and E.T.) and attempts to update the stories for the current generation. If you missed the film’s quick stint in theaters don’t be too dismayed; my reasons for discussing it now speak more to a wider cultural shift in the access children have to risk than just the sins of this particular movie. Unfortunately, when updating this modern story (read: adding the stock references to smart-phones, YouTube, Go-Pros, and Googling) the film ultimately suffers from the current epidemic of helicopter parenting — meaning constantly hovering over children to prevent them from experiencing any and all danger — and essentially sterilizes itself of any merit.

The film’s ultimate message? Confronting danger and difference in fiction is almost as undesirable as confronting it in life.

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The Emotional Mastery of Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata (1978)


I’ve found watching Ingmar Bergman films to be a uniquely masochistic experience. They’re not punishing in a conventional sense, never relying on any sort of realistic, special-effects bloodshed, but rather in the emotional carnage that provides the spine and nervous system of his films. This creates an entirely different form of realism, one where emotion is laid bare, interrogated by his claustrophobic settings and intimate, almost uncomfortable close-ups. Characters kick and scream and question their world and we, the audience, are placed in perilous proximity by Bergman and his frequent cinematographer Sven Nykvist. In the end, Roger Ebert was exactly right when referred to Bergman’s dramas as “brooding, lonely, and violent excursions into the human soul.”

It takes a remarkable sort of alchemy to make films that are so emotionally pointed while never sinking into pure exploitation. You quickly get the sense that each is a deep psychological exercise for Bergman. He once said “the people in my films are exactly like myself — creatures of instinct, of rather poor intellectual capacity, who at best only think while talking. Mostly they’re body, with a little hollow for the soul.” It’s all the more impressive that these characters, often deep in their own spiritual crisis, manage to be so universal.

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