This month the BFI have put together a season of films produced or distributed by the Art Theatre Guild of Japan. This includes many new wave and independent art films that have either not been previously screened in Britain or have been unavailable with English Subtitles for quite some time, if they ever have been at all. To launch the season a panel discussion was held featuring Tony Rayns, Ronald Domenig, Yuriko Furuhata, and Julian Ross regarding the work and influence of the Guild.
The Arts Theatre Guild was launched in the early sixties during a time of crisis in Japanese cinema as television started to steal audiences away and the old studio system was crumbling. The Guild originally had the idea of buying in the more artistic foreign films which many distributors would no longer touch because they needed to be more sure of a profit. However they soon found themselves supporting Japanese art cinema and eventually producing it themselves. These films were obviously very low budget, and ATG supplied only 50% the other half the directors had to find themselves and should the project go over budget ATG would offer no additional support. Despite this many new young directors were eager to work with them for the comparative freedom they received from the big studio. Likewise they could only afford to hire unkown actors but as the prestige of the projects began to rise filmstars became eager to work on them and can often be found in smaller parts in these movies.
Each of the panelists chose a clip from a film in the season. Tony Rayn’s clip was especially interesting because he had appended a two minute section from a Terayama performance art show in Tokyo to a brief clip from Pastoral Hide and Seek. Yoriko Furuhata’s clip from Funeral Parade of Roses demonstrated the intersection of all the avant garde underground art and politics in this period. A brief except from Silence Without Wings showed the new directorial techniques, fast cutting and rapid POV changes. This definitely looks like a series to look forward to.