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Art Mirrors Life in Japan Today Film Fest's 'Minbo'


Among the nine pictures in the Japan America Society's "Japan Today Film Festival," opening a one-week run Friday at the Monica 4-Plex, are a number of gems, starting with Juzo Itami's "Minbo--or the Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion" (Friday at 7 p.m.), another lively social satire from the filmmaker best known for "Tampopo."

It's a serious comedy about how staffers at a luxury hotel are taught to stand up to yakuza (gangster) extortionists by a tough, smart attorney, played with her usual panache by Itami's wife and perennial star, Nobuko Miyamoto.

Akira Takarada, Toho Studio's romantic leading man of the 1960s, is perfectly cast as the hotel's suave general manager. Clearly, Itami's message hit home because the director was severely slashed in an underworld-style stabbing 10 days after the picture opened in Tokyo in May, 1992.

"Minbo" commences a regular run Oct. 28 at the Monica 4-Plex.

Yoichi Sai's prize-laden "All Under the Moon" (premiering Friday at 9:40 p.m.) is also a stinging comedy, offering a wry, earthy take on the travails of a second-generation Korean-Japanese taxi driver (Goro Kishitani) surviving chronic discrimination and pursuing a romance with a pretty Filipina (Ruby Moreno) who works as a B-girl at his mother's nightclub.

Shon Nakahara's provocative "The Gentle Twelve" (premiering Saturday at 9:40 p.m.), inspired by "Twelve Angry Men," slyly imagines what might happen if the jury system came to Japan.

Yoichi Higashi's "The River With No Bridge" (premiering Saturday at 6:40 p.m.) also tackles discrimination, on an epic scale, as we follow the lives of two brothers, members of the Burakumin, rural people at the bottom rung of Japan's lingering feudal caste system.

Although Emperor Meiji declared such people "New Commoners" in 1871, we see the brothers, youngsters in 1908, the year the film begins, growing up in the face of outrageous discrimination and finally joining in 1922 a Burakumin organization dedicated to asserting the equality of all people; the film was produced in celebration of the 70th anniversary of its founding.

The hardships the Burakumin endure simply because of caste contrast with their warm family and community life.

For full schedule: (310) 394-9741.

African Milestone: Danny Schechter's "Countdown to Freedom: Ten Days That Changed South Africa," which premiered at the Pan African Film Festival, begins a one-week run Friday at the Sunset 5. At once concise and comprehensive, this eloquent, profoundly moving documentary charts the 10 tense, suspense-filled days that led to Nelson Mandela's historic inauguration as president of South Africa.

Schechter reveals how two lethal bombings, voting irregularities and various snafus could not halt the march toward freedom for the country's black people--and how the African National Congress' campaign was a vast undertaking of immense sophistication and dedication on the part of many whites as well as blacks.

African American TV journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault succinctly sums up the milestone event: "A success story in a world where there are so few."

Information: (213) 848-3500.

Macabre Maestro: Among the 10 films of Dario Argento, Italy's baroque maestro of the macabre, which the American Cinematheque are presenting Saturday and Sunday at Raleigh Studios' Chaplin Theater, are several that unaccountably have never had a U.S. release, including "Deep Red" (Saturday at 7:15 p.m.), a complex 1976 horror picture variation on "Blow Up," starring that film's David Hemmings, and the 1987 "Opera" (Sunday at 6:15 p.m.), as elegant, visually dazzling and diabolically chilling a horror picture as you're ever likely to see.

Information: (213) 466-FILM.

Scots at UK/LA: UK/LA and the UCLA Film and Television Archive's Scottish Film Retrospective commences Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Melnitz Theater with Paul Murton's crisp, stylish one-hour "The Blue Boy," a classic thriller of psychological/supernatural suspense that provides Emma Thompson with an all-stops-out Barbara Stanwyck-like role as a woman three months pregnant who takes a holiday with her unfaithful husband ("Hear My Song's" Adrian Dunbar) at a deceptively benign old inn by a lake.

Information: (310) 206-FILM.

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