"An informed, opinionated look at contemporary Japanese film, from Suzuki to
- Mark Schilling
Exclusive samples from the book
From the foreword by Hideo Nakata:
"Every Japanese filmmaker has to find his own way to keep going. Curiosity for the new and envy for other good filmmakers are my personal drives. It is obvious that Japanese film production and distribution will become increasingly borderless, not only in East Asia but also universally. Some might say, "Let's make films which are appealing to foreign audiences." I myself firmly believe that a very Japanese film which is different from others can easily cross borders. Although I am now trying to make Hollywood studio movies, it is very important for me to make unique Japanese films as well."
From the introduction by the authors:
"At the same time as the studios lost their foothold and just about anything else that wasn't essential for their survival, a renaissance was already under way. The second half of the '70s saw the slow emergence of true independent filmmaking: young enthusiasts with 8mm cameras making their own short films and features on shoestring budgets. This development took over a decade to come to a boil, resulting in a full blown re-emergence in the 1990s when a new generation of filmmakers appeared, the vast majority coming from roots that lay outside the traditional film industry. They came from 8mm underground experimentalism, from the ranks of film critics, from the erotic pink film or porn, from television, and from the straight-to-video filmmaking that had shot up in the late '80s in the wake of the boom in home video player ownership. These were young filmmakers whose attitudes and philosophies of cinema were entirely different from those of the old studio period. They were independent in spirit: artists with nothing to lose, but with everything to gain."
From Chapter 1 - Seijun Suzuki:
"Japanese cinema has been lucky to have such a colorful figure as Seijun Suzuki as one of its ambassadors. Hovering over four decades of filmmaking like a kindly old wizard, with his horn-rimmed specs and scraggly goatee he certainly looks the part of the bohemian artist. Indeed, in 1985 he was even voted "Best Dressed Man" by the Tokyo Fashion Society.
Some have seen him as an iconoclast, a cinematic rebel out to break every rule in the filmmaking book-more likely discarding it entirely-and one whose increasingly mischievous sense of humor was to land him in hot water with his employers at Nikkatsu in the late '60s. Others view him as an aesthetic genius, reconfiguring and reinventing cinema to fit his own uniquely skewed visual perception of the world. The self-effacing Suzuki would probably shrug off both assessments and laugh, wondering what all the fuss is about. The truth is, whichever way you want to look at it, for more than 40 years Suzuki has adorned our screens with some of the most colorful, extraordinary, unpredictable, and downright fun pieces of visual entertainment that are likely to be found anywhere in world cinema.
Suzuki's films are marked out by a style which seems to be devoid of any influence from outside sources. They work to their own peculiar logic, and one which often seems based more on aesthetic than narrative concerns. Why does the nail polish of Reiko, the central character in Story of Sorrow and Sadness, dramatically change in hue through yellows and blacks in key scenes? Why is there a sandstorm raging outside the window as a heroin-addicted prostitute receives a whipping from her pimp in Youth of the Beast? Why does Tetsuya Watari's renegade gangster in Tokyo Drifter continually break into song between his numerous violent scuffles?"
From Chapter 10 - Takeshi Kitano:
"Back at home, the Japanese were confused. Heralded in the West as a cinematic auteur who cited Jean-Luc Godard as an influence and who had elevated the yakuza genre to the realms of High Art, was this really the same fast-talking Beat Takeshi who had played buffoon to Beat Kiyoshi's straight man as part of The Two Beats comedy double act during the '70s and early '80s? Was this the same comic persona who had dominated Japanese TV airwaves during the '80s, terrorizing the general public and subjecting them to all sorts of ignominies in shows such as Tensai Takeshi no Genki ga Deru Terebi [trans: Genius Takeshi's TV that makes you lively]; the smirking mastermind behind a plethora of dangerous high-profile public pranks, who broke into people's houses disguised in ninja costumes or as a giant daikon radish? Was this the comic lynchpin of the '80s sketch show Oretachi Hyôkinzoku [trans: Us jokers]; Takechanman the halfwit superhero who pitted his wits on a weekly basis against his evil opponent, the Black Devil? Was this the same taboo-breaking compère with the penchant for cross-dressing and the trademark obscene downward thrust of the hands inspired by the '70s Russian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, who dared to laugh at the old and fat, who exposed himself in public like a naughty schoolboy, and who peppered his peak-time performances with a colorful spray of vulgarities? Was this the same volatile hothead who burst into the offices of the tabloid magazine Friday with his Gundan, the loyal fan club of TV associates, drinking buddies, and hangers on, in the wake of a scandal involving published pictures of an alleged mistress?
Still to this day Kitano is amongst the most familiar faces on Japanese TV, and very much a part of the media establishment. His endearing public persona as the tearaway brat that never quite grew up, like Crayon Shin-chan with Tourette's syndrome, has ensured that he is constantly in demand, with barely a week going by when he doesn't appear onscreen in some capacity. Along with Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli, he is the one other name in this book that can be said to be a household one. He is without peer or parallel elsewhere in the world, a multi-purpose entertainer, whose talent is seemingly limitless. Alongside the endless TV appearances, columns in newspapers and magazines, his fifty or so books, acting in other people's films, his paintings, and fronting the Office Kitano production company, it's amazing the man even has time to eat, yet alone make films."
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