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Japan, 1984 (MIFF 1986)

Director: Juzo Itami

This debut feature from actor and essayist Juzo Itami has been universally acclaimed for its confident and sensitive satire on Japanese rituals and customs.

Set in contemporary Japan, the film chronicles the chaos that besets a family over the three days following the death of the somewhat suspect patriarch [immediately following a clean bill of health from his doctor). Responsibility for the traditional three day Buddhist ceremony to mourn his passing is taken on by his daughter and son-in-law, both of whom are television commercial actors and who, at great expense, organise the event with the help of a "How To" video.

Itami finely balances trenchant black comedy with pathos as the extended family gather for a marathon of food, sadness, sex and saki, which highlights the chasm between modern life and traditional rituals.

A major commercial success in Japan — and winner of 38 national awards — the film features a fine ensemble cast, including Ozu veteran Chishu Ryu as the priest and Itami's own wife as the widow.

Describing the film, Itami said, "My personal desire and my instinct is to show contradiction, to achieve a telling juxtaposition — in the same frame if possible. I like to mix modern and traditional . . . The contradiction between ancient and modern life is the greatest, if not the unique, problem facing Japan today,"

When THE FUNERAL screened at the London Film Festival last year, John Giliet wrote, "The film reveals a master craftsman in its feeling for camera, colour and design and. best of all, it is very funny indeed."

"A riotous comedy and social satire, this film was a runaway commercial and critical success in Japan in I984, collecting 38 major national awards, and generating widespread media coverage. Itami's book on the film, THE FUNERAL DIARY, itself sold 60,000 copies within a month of publication. It is not hard to see why the film was so successful. It hit a popular nerve in a country where there is widespread dissatisfaction with the commercial exploitation of tradition and yet enormous social pressure to maintain increasingly meaningless and onerous traditions, especially in the performance of marriages and funerals.

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