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Japan's New Wave Pioneer

UCLA to honor filmmaker Susumu Hani with a mini-retrospective.

October 29, 1998|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The UCLA Film Archive's "The Inferno of Susumu Hani," composed of two programs of films screening tonight at 7:30 and Sunday at 7 p.m. in Melnitz Hall's James Bridges Theater, calls attention to one of the most important yet least-known Japanese filmmakers of the last 40 years.

Hani was the forerunner in Japan's New Wave of the early '60s, and launching the mini-retrospective is Hani's first feature, "Bad Boys" (1961). In it Hani miraculously elicited flawless natural portrayals from nonprofessionals in focusing on the story of a 19-year-old petty criminal, played by Yukio Yamada, and his subsequent experiences in a harsh yet effective reform school--Hani shot it in an actual institution.

What's so haunting about this film is the lyrical, gentle style Hani brings to such raw circumstances; it's as if he's drawn at once from early Godard--and Jean Vigo before him--as well as Rossellini. The irony is that while Hani intended a critique of the Japanese totalitarian spirit, the tough but not cruel and even constructive treatment the youth receives actually seems to work. He may enter a boy but leaves a man. (310) 206-8588.

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Of special interest in the AFI Film Fest's concluding weekend is a program of silents restored and preserved by the American Film Institute that will screen Friday at 5 p.m. at the Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. "Our Gang" (1922), the eight-minute long-lost very first film in the beloved Hal Roach series, finds the Little Rascals ingeniously coming to the rescue of a shopkeeper who is about to be evicted by her landlord. Roach is also represented by another long-lost comedy short, "Peculiar Patient's Pranks" (1915), one of the Roach-Harold Lloyd Lonesome Luke series, in which Luke winds up in a hospital only to wreak comic havoc upon it.

Along with the shorts is Oscar Micheaux's 71-minute second feature, "Within Our Gates," one of the most important of the 40 or so features he managed to make on shoestring budgets for black audiences between 1919 and 1949. As a storyteller Micheaux rambled mightily and was a firm believer in coincidence and melodrama. But he was a man of unflagging passion and commitment in encouraging the emerging African American middle class to better itself, and he could rise to the occasion, creating memorable, indeed haunting images and sequences.

"Within Our Gates" begins in Boston as a standard romantic melodrama starring lovely and poised Evelyn Preer as a visitor from the South whose malicious cousin wrecks Preer's engagement, sending her back home to work as a teacher with a brother and sister struggling to educate black children. Their school's desperate need for funds sends Preer back to Boston seeking aid, eliciting the support of a white Lady Bountiful--and the bigotry of the wealthy woman's friend.

In a decidedly roundabout way Micheaux eventually gets to the heart of the matter, which is the lynching of Preer's adoptive parents and the identity of her actual parents. The scenes of the lynching, presented with deft discretion, are intercut with an attempted rape of Preer. Unforgettable is a corrupt plantation owner's tattletale manservant, a kind of proto-Stepin Fetchit, who wrongly believes that by betraying his own people whites will like him better. (213) 520-2000.

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The Laemmle Theaters' "Cinema Judaica '98: The Fourth Annual Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival" will run Sunday through Nov. 12 at the Music Hall in Beverly Hills and, beginning Wednesday, the Town Center in Encino as well. It commences Sunday at 10 a.m. at the Music Hall with "The Revolt of Job," Hungary's 1983 best foreign film Oscar nominee. It will be shown again at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 7 and Nov. 11 when it also screens at noon at the Town Center. "The Revolt of Job" is at once beautiful and tragic, and it is also disturbing--in ways perhaps not intended.

A 60ish Jewish farmer and his wife (Ference Zenthe and Hedi Temessy) have buried seven children and crave someone to whom they can pass on both their worldly possessions and their spiritual values, a desire that grows within them as the times--it is 1943--grow darker. They have heard from a Polish peddler that in his country Jews have faced an ordeal greater than that of Daniel in the lion's den. (At the end of the film we are reminded that of the 600,000Jews rounded up between May and October of 1944, only 100,000 survived.)

The farmer, aptly named Job, decides that the only way to fulfill his and his wife's desire is to adopt a Gentile boy (Gabor Feher) from a nearby orphanage, although interfaith adoptions have been illegal since 1938. The gift of a pair of the farmer's fine calves, however, assures that the boy's papers will be backdated. Right from the start, this obstreperous towhead is told to tell anyone who inquires that he is not a Jew.

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