It’s time to announce the fourth season of Unknown Japan, a free screening series of rare Japanese films presented by Cinedelphia and the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia and curated by me, Eric. The first three weeks will be held at PhilaMOCA, the latter three at our usual home in the Bellevue (7th Floor). There’s a little something for everyone this time around…
WED August 8, 2012 @ PhilaMOCA
Carmen Comes Home (1951)
Dir: Keisuke KINOSHITA
Japan’s first color film is also perhaps the country’s most-loved movie to never reach our shores (the former film to hold that title was Twenty-Four Eyes, another Kinoshita film that was finally released on DVD in the US a few years back). Shot on location in Nagano Prefecture, Carmen Comes Home is a post-war illustration of a rapidly changing Japan. A free-spirited young stripper returns to her conservative hometown accompanied by a big city friend. They represent a new breed of Japanese youth that both frighten and intrigue the isolated country folk who cling to their prewar beliefs. Shot in glorious Fujicolor, Carmen is a joyous satire that’s heavy on both music and familiar faces including Ozu regular Chishu Ryu and accomplished golden age actress Hideko Takamine in the title role. Light, sunny, and accessible; the perfect opener for the fourth season of Unknown Japan.
WED August 15, 2012 @ PhilaMOCA
Love for an Idiot (1967)
Dir: Yasuzo MASUMURA
Many of the films of director Yasuzo Masumura have received DVD releases in the U.S. including Giants and Toys (1958), Afraid to Die (1960) [notable as the acting debut of famed author Yukio Mishima]), and Blind Beast (1969). Based on a novel by Junichiro Tanizaki (The Makioka Sisters), Love for an Idiot is an oddball and often uncomfortable comedy featuring a straight-laced factoryman who is thrust into the swinging ’60s courtesy of a young lover with a penchant for dancing and romancing. Masumura takes more than a few cues from the style of the French New Wave as he explores the domineering modern woman and the submissive modern male who just wants to be loved by someone other than his mother. Stylish, racy fun.
WED August 22, 2012 @ PhilaMOCA
Truck Rascals: No One Can Stop Me (1975)
Dir: Noribumi SUZUKI
Unknown Japan regular Bunta Sugawara (The Boxer, The Man Who Stole the Sun) stars in the first of 10 (!) films in the popular Truck Rascals series (all of which starred Sugawara and were directed by popular genre mainstay Noribumi Suzuki [Sex and Fury, School of the Holy Beast]). Apparently there was a movement amongst Japanese truck drivers in the 1970s where they decorated their vehicles with flamboyant jewels, signs, and lights, like a Mummers Parade on wheels. Sugawara stars as one of these burly men, a vulgar, hard drinking womanizer with both a temper and, of course, a heart of gold. The film, like its subsequent chapters, plays out like a comedic biker gang movie, but with an added dose of romance for the ladies. Tons of fun.
WED August 29, 2012 @ The Bellevue, 7th Floor
Summer Vacation – 1999 (1988)
Dir: Shusuke KANEKO
Here’s a strange one that was released on VHS back in the late ’90s, but has been pretty much forgotten since.
Three male classmates are left alone at their school during summer vacation where they spend their time reflecting upon the recent suicide of a friend that one of them may have played a part in. One day, a new boy arrives who looks exactly like their dead friend, but that’s really the least interesting of the mysteries at hand. Why, for instance, was the film set in the (then) future? And why were all of the male roles portrayed by female actors? And who would have guessed that the director of this heavily atmospheric coming of age story would go on to helm the popular ’90s reboot of the Gamera franchise as well as other huge budgeted sci-fi films including the 2001 Godzilla outing and the live-action Death Note film? It’s a weird world.
WED September 5, 2012 @ The Bellevue, 7th Floor
Dir: Hideo KAWATANI
One of the many Japanese Menudos, Morning Musume are easily one of the most successful idol groups of modern times, their inconsequential lineup constantly changing since 1997 thanks to the intervention of business suit-clad management. Their music is exactly what you’d imagine: sugary sweet pop songs seemingly composed by a computer based on successful formulas of the past. But their movie is a different story. Perhaps the most stereotypical example of modern Japanese pop culture that you can imagine, Tokkaekko is full of outrageous colors, songs, transitions, and general over-the-top strangeness; the whole thing is so jaw droppingly insane that it’s almost subversive in its approach towards cinematic cashing in. A plot summary isn’t even necessary, just sit back and let your eyes bleed.
* The above video isn’t a scene from the film, but it’s directed by Tokkaekko‘s Kawatani.
WED September 12, 2012 @ The Bellevue, 7th Floor
Q. What is it?
A. A period samurai film.
Q. Who directed it?
A. A name that will be familiar to those with even a passing interest in Japanese cinema.
Q. When was it made?
A. Quite recently.
Q. Why is it a secret?
A. No comment.