BFI Japan 2020 to Celebrate More Than 100 Years of Japanese Cinema

The Olympics may have been postponed and everything seems like it’s on pause, but the BFI’s planned mammoth Japan season is still doing all it can to make its way to us in the 2020 that never was. With the cinemas closed for the foreseeable future, the BFI will be making the first part of the season available online via BFI player with strands dedicated to golden age directors Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu as well as a series of classics including films by Mikio Naruse and Seijun Suzuki, cult movies, and the best in 21st century cinema. Once the BFI reopens, we can also look forward to some rarer treats from this century and the last.

BFI Player

A series of strands will begin streaming via BFI Player over a six month period beginning with Akira Kurosawa and Classics (11th May), followed by Yasujiro Ozu (5th June), Cult (3rd July), Anime (31st July), Independence (21st August), 21st Century (18th September), and J-Horror (30th October). Subscriptions to BFI Player are available for £4.99 p/m following a two week free trial.

Akira Kurosawa (11th May)

  • Seven Samurai – classic jidaigeki gets a post-war twist as a collection of down on their luck samurai come to the rescue of peasants beset by bandits.
  • Throne of Blood – eerie retelling of Macbeth starring Toshiro Mifune as the man who would be king and Isuzu Yamada as his ambitious wife.
  • Yojimbo – samurai western starring Toshiro Mifune as a ronin drifter wandering into a turf war.
  • Sanjuro – sequel to Yojimbo in which Mifune reprises his role as the titular Sanjuro as he helps some locals stand up to samurai corruption.
  • Rashomon – a series of witnesses provides contradictory accounts of the same event in an adaptation of the story by Ryunosuke Akutagawa starring Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyo, and Masayuki Mori.
  • The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail – comedic kabuki adaptation in which a samurai attempts to escape with his retinue after being betrayed by his brother by disguising himself as a monk.
  • Drunken Angel – post-war tragedy starring Toshiro Mifune at his most dashing as gangster dying of TB and Takashi Shimura as the compassionate yet alcoholic doctor trying to save him.
  • Stray Dog – a policeman (Mifune) and his partner (Shimura) scour post-war Tokyo for a missing gun.
  • Ikiru – existential drama starring Takashi Shimura as a civil servant reflecting on his life after discovering he has a terminal illness.
  • Hidden Fortress – two bumbling peasants agree to escort a general and a princess in disguise to safe territory in return for gold.
  • The Bad Sleep Well – contemporary take on Hamlet starring Toshiro Mifune as man enacting an elaborate revenge plot against the corrupt CEO who drove his father to suicide. Review.
  • Red Beard – humanistic drama starring Toshiro Mifune as a gruff yet compassionate doctor to the poor. Review.
  • Ran – King Lear relocated to feudal Japan.
  • Sanshiro Sugata Pt 1 & 2 – drama inspired by the life story of a legendary judo master.
  • The Most Beautiful – naturalistic national policy film from 1944 following the lives of female factory workers.
  • No Regrets for Our Youth – 1946 drama starring Setsuko Hara as a professor’s daughter who marries a radical leftist later executed as a spy.
  • One Wonderful Sunday – post-war drama in which an engaged couple attempt to have a nice day out in Tokyo for only 35 yen.
  • I Live in Fear – Toshiro Mifune stars as a factory owner so terrified of nuclear attack that he becomes determined to move his family to the comparative safety of Brazil while they attempt to have him declared legally incompetent on account of his intense paranoia.
  • The Lower Depths – 1957 adaptation of Gorky’s novel following the lives of a collection of people living in an Edo-era tenement.
  • High and Low – Toshiro Mifune stars as a wealthy man encountering a dilemma when his chauffeur’s son is kidnapped after being mistaken for his own.
  • Dodes’ka-den – Kurosawa’s first colour film exploring the lives of a collection of people living in a shantytown above a rubbish dump.

Classics (11th May)

  • Late Chrysanthemums – Naruse’s 1954 drama following the lives of four former geishas (played by Haruko Sugimura, Chikako Hosokawa, Yuko Mochizuki, and Sadako Sawamura) as they try to get by in the complicated post-war economy.  
  • Floating Clouds – Naruse’s 1955 romantic drama starring Hideko Takamine and Masayuki Mori as former lovers floundering in the post-war landscape. Review.
  • When a Woman Ascends the Stairs – Naruse’s 1960 drama starring Hideko Takamine as a widow turned Ginza bar hostess.
  • Onibaba – period horror from Kaneto Shindo in which a mother and daughter survive by murdering samurai and selling their armour.
  • Kwaidan – horror anthology from Masaki Kobayashi featuring adaptations of classic Japanese folktales.
  • Hana-Bi – noirish poetry from Takeshi Kitano as a former policeman takes on an unwise loan from yakuza to care for his terminally ill wife. Review.
  • Black Rain – Shohei Imamura’s 1989 drama set in the aftermath of the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima.
  • Branded to Kill – the anarchic 1967 hitman drama that got Seijun Suzuki fired from Nikkatsu.
  • Woman of the Dunes – Hiroshi Teshigahara’s adaption of the Kobo Abe novel in which a bug collector is imprisoned in a sand dune after missing the last bus home and being persuaded to spend the night in the home of a local woman.
  • After Life – poignant drama from Hirokazu Koreeda in which the recently deceased are permitted to recreate a favourite memory. Review. (not included in subscription, £3.50 to rent)
  • Youth of the Beast – Seijun Suzuki drama starring Jo Shishido as a mysterious figure playing double agent to engineer a gang war. Review.
  • Gate of Hell – period drama starring Machiko Kyo as a loyal wife who tricks a man trying to kill her husband to have her for himself to kill her instead.
  • Cruel Story of Youth – post-Sun Tribe youth drama from Shochiku directed by Nagisa Oshima. Review.

Yasujiro Ozu (5th June)

  • I Was Born, But… – 1932 silent in which two little boys have a hard time accepting that their dad has an inauthentic work persona. Review.
  • Flavour of Green Tea Over Rice – 1952 drama starring Shin Saburi and Michiyo Kogure as an unhappily married couple.
  • Tokyo Story – post-war classic in which an old couple from the country make a rare trip to the city to see their grown up children but are disappointed to discover that they don’t have much time for them.
  • Good Morning – consumerist comedy in which two little boys go on a pleasantries strike to get their parents to buy them a TV.
  • Late Autumn – drama in which a young widow tries to marry off her daughter with the help of old friends from college.
  • An Autumn Afternoon – Ozu’s final film stars Chishu Ryu as an ageing widower preparing to marry off his only daughter. Review.
  • Early Summer – a family’s attempt to marry off a daughter is frustrated when they realise she is carrying a torch for the widower next door.
  • Equinox Flower – drama of generational conflict in which an authoritarian father is forced to accept his daughter’s right to choose her own husband without asking for his advice or consent.
  • Late Spring – classic in which a young woman’s close relationship with her widowed father leaves her reluctant to marry.
  • Dragnet Girl – silent crime film starring Kinuyo Tanaka as a gangster’s moll who decides to reform after meeting the sister of a new gang member.
  • Walk Cheerfully – silent crime film in which a gangster wants to go straight after falling for an ordinary girl.
  • I Flunked, But… – silent college comedy.
  • Days of Youth – two students compete for the affections of the same girl.
  • Where Now the Dreams of Youth? – tragedy enters a carefree college existence when a naive young man games the system to offer all his friends jobs after inheriting his father’s company.
  • Woman of Tokyo – silent drama in which a student is devastated to learn that his older sister is not a translator as he thought but works as a bar hostess to finance his education.
  • Early Spring – rare Ozu drama exploring the taboo of an extra-marital affair.
  • Tokyo Twilight – grown up sisters reunite with the mother who abandoned them as children to run off with another man.
  • That Night’s Wife – 1930 crime drama in which a man is hunted by police after resorting to robbery to pay for his daughter’s medication.
  • The Lady and the Beard – 1931 comedy in which a traditionally minded man’s refusal to shave off his beard makes it difficult to move on with his life.
  • A Mother Should Be Loved – a young man discovers the woman who raised him is not his birth mother.
  • The Only Son – drama in which a mother visits her grown-up son and is disappointed to learn he has a wife and child he never told her about.
  • What Did the Lady Forget? – a modern girl visits her professor uncle but is disturbed to see him henpecked by his traditionalist wife.
  • Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family – a widow discovers that her grown up children are unwilling to support her and their younger sister when their father suddenly dies leaving them deep in debt.
  • There Was a Father – a father’s attempts to do the best for his son perpetually keep them apart.
  • A Hen in the Wind – a returned soldier struggles to accept his wife’s decision to resort to prostitution to pay for a doctor to save their son’s life in Ozu’s atypically dark post-war drama.

Cult (3rd July)

  • Gushing Prayer – pink film from Masao Adachi dramatising despair in the wake of the failure of the student movement.
  • Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss – first in the Stray Cat Rock series starring Akiko Wada and Meiko Kaji.
  • Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion – Meiko Kaji stars as a woman falsely imprisoned.
  • Lady Snowblood – Meiko Kaji stars as a young woman seeking revenge against the men who raped her mother.
  • House – surreal horror from Nobuhiko Obayashi in which a high school girl takes some friends to visit her aunt but ends up in a colourful nightmare world.

Anime (31st July)

The full lineup for the anime strand will be confirmed at a later date.

Independence (21st August)

  • Funeral Parade of Roses – Toshio Matsumoto’s avant-garde take on Oedipus Rex.
  • Tetsuo: The Iron Man – surrealist body horror from Shinya Tsukamoto.
  • Maborosi – a young widow struggles to come to terms with the apparent suicide of her husband in Hirokazu Koreeda’s debut feature. (not included in subscription, £3.50 to rent)
  • Sawako Decides – an aimless young woman struggles to find direction in her life in an early comedy from Yuya Ishii starring Hikari Mitsushima.
  • Getting Any? – zany pop culture comedy from Takeshi Kitano in which a man goes to great lengths to get a car solely so he can have sex in it. Review.
  • The Woodsman and the Rain – comedy from Shuichi Okita in which a film director bonds with a lonely lumberjack while shooting a zombie movie.
  • Love Exposure – 4-hour epic from Sion Sono in which the son of a priest becomes obsessed with upskirt photography.
  • The Mourning Forest – a bereaved mother bonds with the elderly resident of a care home where she works in an award winning drama from Naomi Kawase.
  • A Scene at the Sea – poetic drama from Takeshi Kitano about a deaf refuse collector who becomes fixated on surfacing. Review.
  • Dangan Runner – three men ricochet towards an inevitable ending in the debut feature from SABU. Review.
  • Zigeunerweisen – surreal drama from Seijun Suzuki starring Yoshio Harada as a nomad on the run after being suspected of seducing and killing the wife of a fisherman.

21st Century (18th September)

  • Still the Water – island coming of age drama from Naomi Kawase. (not included in subscription, £3.50 to rent)
  • Sweet Bean – a dorayaki salesman bonds with an old woman who helps him improve his bean paste in Naomi Kawase’s moving drama.
  • Nobody Knows – siblings are left to fend for themselves when their mother abandons them in Hirokazu Koreeda’s gritty drama. (not included in subscription, £3.50 to rent)
  • Still Walking – Hirokazu Koreeda’s moving depiction of a typical family. Review. (not included in subscription, £3.50 to rent)
  • Cold Fish – Sion Sono’s gory serial killer drama inspired by a real life incident.
  • Tokyo Tribe – a rap musical manga adaptation from Sion Sono.
  • Mitsuko Delivers – a heavily pregnant woman returns to her home town and proceeds to solve everyone’s problems in Yuya Ishii’s cheerful comedy.
  • For Love’s Sake – musical manga adaption celebrating the Showa era songbook from Takashi Miike.
  • Journey to the Shore – haunting romantic drama from Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Review.
  • Creepy – Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s eerie mystery drama. Review.
  • The Lust of Angels – edgy train groping drama from Nagisa Isogai.
  • Harmonium – a family is torn apart by unexpected tragedy when a face from the past pays a visit in Koji Fukada’s probing drama. Review.

Early films 1894-1914 (12th October)

The BFI will also be showcasing restored gems from their archive featuring footage of turn of the century Japan.

  • Japanese Dancers (1894) – rare footage of Japanese women performing an imperial dance.
  • Ainus of Japan (1913) – footage depicting the indigenous people of Hokkaido.
  • Japanese Festival (1910) – footage of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Yokohama Harbour
  • Shooting the Rapids on the River Ozu in Japan (1907) – 1907 river journey.

J-Horror (30th October)

  • Ring – a deadly curse is transmitted via videotape in Hideo Nakata’s J-horror classic.
  • Dark Water – a woman in the midst of a divorce and custody battle is haunted by the spectre of a lonely child in Hideo Nakata’s adaptation of the Koji Suzuki novel. Review.
  • Audition – Takashi Miike’s deceptive drama begins as a gentle romcom before edging slowly towards the horrific.
  • Gozu – truly strange yakuza horror comedy from Takashi Miike.
  • The Happiness of the Katakuris – Takashi Miike’s strangely cheerful musical take on the Korean film The Quiet Family.
  • Battle Royale – controversial drama from Kinji Fukasaku in which high school students are shipped to a remote island and forced to fight to the death.
  • Tetsuo II: Body Hammer – sequel to Shinya Tsukamoto’s cyberpunk body horror.
  • Pulse – death is eternal loneliness in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s tech fearing horror classic. Review.
  • Cure – Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s noirish horror starring Koji Yakusho as a detective investigating a series of bizarre murders.
  • Kuroneko – ghost cat film from Kaneto Shindo.
  • Snake of June – erotic drama from Shinya Tsukamoto in which a mysterious man targets a repressed woman and forces her to engage in illicit sex acts.

BFI Southbank

The season will continue at the BFI Southbank once the venue reopens.

  • Golden Age – season programmed by Alexander Jacoby and James Bell showcasing Japanese cinema from the 1930s to the 60s including work by Kenji Mizoguchi, Yasujiro Ozu, Mikio Naruse, and Akira Kurosawa, and starring Kinuyo Tanaka, Setsuko Hara, Hideko Takamine, and Toshiro Mifune.
  • Radicals and Rebels – also curated by Alexander Jacoby and James Bell, the Radicals and Rebels strand focuses on film after 1964 from the New Wave to the genre classics of the ’90s including work by Seijun Suzuki, Nagisa Oshima, and Kiju (Yoshishige) Yoshida.
  • 21st Century – contemporary classics co-presented by Japan Foundation and curated by Junko Takekawa.
  • Anime – major two month season curated by Justin Johnson and Hanako Miyata showcasing modern masters such as Satoshi Kon, Mamoru Oshii, Makoto Shinkai, Mamoru Hosoda, and Naoko Yamada.

For the full details on this and other BFI seasons be sure to check out the BFI’s official website where you can also find a link to BFI Player. You can also keep up with all the latest news by following the BFI on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.

Early Korean Cinema: Lost Films from the Japanese Colonial Period

hurrah-for-freedom-poster.jpgClassic Korean cinema is making a long awaited return to the BFI this February with a fantastic season of rarely screened (and sadly just rare) films produced during the Japanese colonial period.

Crossroads of Youth + season introduction

crossroads of youthThe oldest extant Korean film, Crossroads of Youth follows the adventures of a young man who travels to the city to find work after his arranged marriage falls through only to fall for a girl who is about to be sold to a money lender in payment for a debt.

The screening will be preceded by an illustrated lecture from the Korean Film Archive’s Chung Chong-hwa. As at the screening at the Barbican back in 2012, the silent film will be screened in the original fashion with live music and performances and narrated by a byeonsa.

Sweet Dream + Fisherman’s Fire

 The Korean Film Archive’s Chung Chong-hwa will introduce the films at the Friday 15th screening.

sweet dream still 1Acclaimed film editor Yang Ju-nam made his directorial debut with 1936’s Sweet Dream – a melodrama revolving around a vain housewife who abandons her daughter and moves in with a lover at a hotel after her husband throws her out.

fisherman's fire still 1Co-produced by Shochiku and supervised by Yasujiro Shimazu, Ahn Cheol-young’s Fisherman’s Fire follows the melancholy fate of fisherman’s daughter In-soon who is faced with being sold in payment of a debt but escapes to Seoul only to wind up being forced to become bar girl.

Military Train + Volunteer + intro by Baek Moonim, Yonsei University

military train still 1The only film directed by Suh Kwang-je, Military Train is also accounted as the first pro-Japanese government film, which is a fairly unfortunate legacy whichever way you look at it. Intended to boost recruitment, the film follows two best friends and roommates whose lives are disrupted when one is approached by resistance agents seeking info about the military train.

volunteer still 1Another recruiting film, Anh Seok-young’s Volunteer follows a poor farm boy who is thrown off his land and resents his meagre prospects. He sees entry to the Japanese army, which has recently relaxed regulations to allow Korean men to join, as a path to making something of himself…

Tuition

tuition largeOne of the many films inspired by a child’s essay Tuition is a mildly subversive propaganda melodrama about a little boy struggling to pay his school fees who goes on a perilous adventure when his grandma is taken ill. Full review.

Spring of the Korean Peninsula + discussion

spring of the korean peninsula still 1The directorial debut of Lee Byung-il (The Love Marriage), Spring on the Korean Peninsula (adapted from Kim Seong-min’s award winning 1936 novel Artists of the Peninsula) follows a young film director struggling to film a new version of the Chun-hyang story. When he loses his lead actress, he hires his friend’s little sister but then makes a disastrous choice to facilitate his artistic dreams.

The screening will be followed by a panel discussion featuring Korean film scholars Baek Moonim (Yonsei University), Lee Hwa-jin (Inha University) and Chung Chong-hwa (Korean Film Archive), and chaired by season co-curator Kate Taylor-Jones.

Hurrah! For Freedom

hurrah freedom still 1Sadly incomplete and, ironically enough, a victim of censorship in the Park Chung-hee era, Hurrah! for Freedom (also known as Viva Freedom!) is the appropriately titled first film to have been released after the liberation and follows a betrayed resistance fighter who escapes from Japanese capture and hides out in a nurse’s apartment while covertly continuing his resistance activities.

Early Korean Cinema: Lost Films from the Japanese Colonial Period runs at the BFI Southbank from 7th February. Tickets are currently on sale to members with public sales beginning on 15th January.

Tears and Laughter: Women in Japanese Melodrama

blue sky maiden stillRunning at BFI Southbank through October and November, Tears and Laughter: Women in Japanese Melodrama aims to showcase the changing roles of women in Japanese cinema in the pre-war and post-war eras through a series of films starring some of the best known actresses of the time including Ayako Wakao (who features on the poster in her first role working with director Yasuzo Masumura in Blue Sky Maiden), ’30s megastar and later director Kinuyo Tanaka, Ozu’s muse Setsuko Hara, Rashomon’s Machiko Kiyo, wife and muse of Kiju (Yoshishige) Yoshida Mariko Okada,  and the iconic Hideko Takamine who began as a child star and went on to work with most of the age’s finest directors.

Season Introduction: Women in Japanese Melodrama

The season will kick off with an introductory lecture on 17th October featuring contributions from Alexander Jacoby and Alejandra Armendáriz-Hernandez who will discuss some of the actresses featured in the season.

Osaka Elegy + Women of the Night

osaka elegyStarring Mizoguchi’s frequent leading lady Isuzu Yamada, Osaka Elegy centres on a switchboard operator who finds herself trapped in a ruinous relationship with her boss in an effort to save her father who has ruined himself through gambling debts.  16mm. Now screening on blu-ray due to poor quality of 16mm print.

women of the night stillWomen of the Night, completed in 1948, will screen along side Osaka Elegy (1936) and stars Kinuyo Tanaka in a tale of two sisters trying to survive in the ruined Osaka one of whom is a war widow and the other dangerously involved with a drugs smuggler. 35mm.

Wedding Ring

(c) Shochiku Co., LtdKinuyo Tanaka also stars in Keisuke Kinoshita’s 1950 melodrama Wedding Ring. Starring opposite Toshiro Mifune, Tanaka plays a housewife who travels back and fore from the seaside, where her sickly husband convalesces, to Tokyo where she runs her family’s jewellery store. A chance encounter with a strapping doctor (Mifune) on a train has unforeseen consequences as the pair grow closer and the husband begins to realise that he cannot provide the happiness his wife is seeking. 35mm.

Clothes of Deception

「偽れる盛装」(C)KADOKAWA1951Clothes of Deception is directed by Kozaburo Yoshimura who was the subject (along with Kaneto Shindo) of the BFI’s previous Japanese director retrospective in 2012 in which the film was also screened. Rashomon’s Machiko Kyo stars opposite Yasuko Fujita as a geisha in Kyoto’s historic Gion district whose life contrasts strongly with that of her sister who works for the tourist board. 35mm.

The Mistress (aka Wild Geese)

toyoda wild geese still 1Shiro Toyoda’s melodrama stars Hideko Takamine as a divorced woman who becomes the mistress of an elderly money lender to support her father but dares to dream of a happier future after falling for a young student. 35mm.

An Inlet of Muddy Water

inlet of muddy water still 2Tadashi Imai’s adaptation of a number of stories by 19th century writer Ichiyo Higuchi came top in Kinema Junpo’s best of list for 1953 and features three stories of women suffering at the hands of men. 35mm.

The Eternal Breasts

eternal breasts still 1Kinuyo Tanaka, one of Japan’s great actresses, was not the nation’s first female director as she is sometimes described, but she was the first to have a career as a film director. The Eternal Breasts is Tanaka’s third directorial effort (following Love Letter and The Moon has Risen) and tells the story of tanka poet Fumiko Nakajo who passed away from breast cancer in 1954 at only 31 years old. 35mm.

Floating Clouds 

floating clouds still 1Hideko Takamine and Masayuki Mori play two former lovers cast adrift in the new post-war world world where their love is both impossible and impossible to escape. Naruse’s melancholy melodrama is the story of a woman who strives for self-determination while chasing a man who craves only respectability, as trapped and confused as her still divided nation. 35mm.

Elegy of The North

elegy of the north stilll 1Masayuki Mori stars again in another romantic melodrama this time for Heinosuke Gosho (Where Chimneys are Seen), opposite Yoshiko Kuga who falls for Mori’s conflicted architect as an escape from her moribund marriage while Mori’s wife, played by Mieko Takamine, is having an affair with a young student. 16mm.

Tokyo Twilight

tokyo twilight still 1Among the darkest of Ozu’s post-war movies, Tokyo Twilight is a less forgiving family drama in which Setsuko Hara plays the older of two sisters who has returned home from a failing marriage with her little girl in tow only to find out that her unmarried student younger sister is facing an unwanted pregnancy. 35mm.

The Blue Sky Maiden (aka The Cheerful Girl)

blue sky maiden still 2Blue Sky Maiden, Masumura’s second film, is his first in colour and his first to star the radiant Ayako Wakao who would later become something like his muse. Light and bright and youthful, Blue Sky Maiden is not without the Masumura bite in its tale of an illegitimate child deposited in her cowardly father’s home and among his unpleasant family but bearing all of her sorrows with a cheerful determination which resolutely refuses to allow them to rob her of her happiness. 35mm.

An Affair at Akitsu (aka Akitsu Springs)

akitsu springs still 1Soon after An Affair at Akitsu, also known as Akitsu Springs, Mariko Okada would marry the film’s director, Kiju (Yoshishige) Yoshida, and the pair would go on create a series of “anti-melodramas” which adopted typical melodrama storylines but shot them in a deliberately detached manner. An Affair at Akitsu is Yoshida’s attempt at Shochiku’s most representative genre but, aided by the astonishing performance of Okada, he conjures a deeply felt meditation on post-war malaise as its lovers find themselves unable to escape the false paradise of Akitsu Springs. 35mm.

The Shape of Night

Shape of the night still 1Recently restored, Noburu Nakamura’s The Shape of Night stars Miyuki Kuwano as a young woman forced into prostitution by a no good boyfriend. 35mm.

Tears and Laughter: Women in Japanese Melodrama runs at BFI Southbank from 17th October to 29th November and tickets are already on general sale.

 

Pastoral Hide and Seek

Terayama’s Pastoral Hide and Seek is a post modern meditation on the nature of truth and memory. Totally surreal, a man’s childhood populated by bizarre circus troupe, nuns with eye patches, strange fascinations with clocks. Then the director gets fed up with the deceptiveness of his own vision, so then he tuns up inside his own childhood and tries to mess about with it. Odd but oddly affecting

A Man Vanishes

 

Imamura’s A Man Vanishes starts out as a documentary surrounding the disappearance of a plastics salesman but eventually becomes a discourse on truth, reality and cinema. We begin in documentary fashion by paying a visit to the police station and having the details of the missing man related to us. We then hear from the man’s fiancée who it seems is very keen to find him, and his family who are worried but also hurt and disappointed. It transpires that Oshima, the absent centre of the film, had many secrets those closest to him did not know. He had previously been suspended from his place of work for embezzlement, though the money had been repaid and the matter settled. He was also a drinker and according to his friends had been expressing doubts about his planned marriage, either because he did not want to marry or because he disapproved of his future sister-in-law’s supposedly ‘immoral’ lifestyle. There is also a rumour he’d been having an affair with a waitress which resulted in a pregnancy.

All this information uncovered and still no real clue as to Oshima’s whereabouts, Imamura takes the bold step of deciding to put the fiancée on television. After this things start to change, the fiancee seems to have lost her zeal to find her intended and, as it turns out, has developed feelings for the interviewer on the documentary (who is actually an actor). Shortly after this they visit a kind of spirit medium who claims the future sister-in-law has poisoned Oshima and disposed of the body because she too was in love with him and did not wish to share.

This ultimately leads to a showdown in a tea house in which the fiancée confronts her sister with the evidence so far and seems unwilling to believe her denials. Except at the climactic moment Imamura orders the set to come down around them and we see they’re just in a pretend tea house room in the middle of a soundstage. This ‘reality’ was fabricated, and other filmmakers will come here to make their fictional truths or untruthful realities. We thought we were watching fact, but it was a construction.

The final scene of the film then follows this up further, Imamura announces what we’re watching is a reconstruction, a fiction, as a man swears he saw Oshima going up the stairs with the sister, which she flatly denies. Another witness then shows up and reaffirms his testimony about having seen Oshima and the sister, and the debate continues with some of the participants becoming quite irate. Can we believe anything we’re seeing here, what or how much of this is truth? What is truth anyway, what is reality?

Was there a man who vanished, are these the people in the his life? If they are, are they themselves or have they begun to play versions of themselves more suited to film? Imamura later said this film might more rightly have been called ‘When a Woman Becomes an Actress’, and it is true that you can see a definite change in the fiancée after her television appearance. Or can you, is it just the way Imamura presents it or has the change really taken places since the woman became a ‘character’ watched by the TV audience? Just as we’ve been unable to reconstruct a accurate picture of Oshima through the descriptions of those who knew him, our vision of the major players, the fiancée and her sister is also clouded by Imamura’s presence.

Imamura’s assertions that objective documentary making is pointless and that greater truth can be displayed through fictional film making are carried right the way through the film. What you largely have are ideas which are then reconstructed by the film maker in the editing suite. It’s a document of real people and real lives but only from one perspective. Fictional film making, in Imamura’s view, is better able to articulate human truths than this patching together of material which cannot be a fully accurate representation.

A Man Vanishes is one of Imamura’s most intriguing films but nevertheless has been unavailable with English subtitles for a long time. Thankfully Masters of Cinema will be releasing a new version on DVD in a couple of months the viewing of which will, hopefully, help to clear things up a little (but then again, maybe not).

Funeral Parade of Roses

 

An inverted retelling of Sophocle’ Oedipus, Funeral Parade of Roses has become a landmark in Gay Japanese Cinema. Eddie (geddit?), a transvestite living in Tokyo makes her money at a gay bar and has begun an affair with this boss. This has created an awkward situation with the boss’s ‘wife’ who runs the club and has become increasingly jealous and antagonistic towards Eddie.  Something from Eddie’s past is also haunting her and will turn out to have major repercussions for herself and others.

Funeral Parade of Roses is notable for its explicit detailing of 1960s gay life in Tokyo. Eddie and her friends have wild parties where they take drugs and discuss avant-garde films from America whilst watching distorted pictures of the student riots on the TV. The films even breaks with its narrative to interview various people, including a couple of the the actors, about gay life.

This is just one of many of the post-modern techniques that Matsumoto employs, often breaking up the narrative with vox pop sessions, inserted signs etc. He often repeats scenes or sections of scenes and sometimes breaks them off only to return at exactly that point later on. The overall timeline of the plot only becomes clear near the end when you’re able to piece these scenes together into a coherent narrative. An important and influential film, Funeral Parade of Roses is a must for fans of Japanese Cinema.

Silence Has No Wings

Silence Has No Wings follows the journey of a butterfly from it’s larval phase in Nagasaki to it’s eventual fate in a small boy’s butterfly net on Hokkaido. Well, it’s much more complicated than that. The butterfly is also deeply associated with a female atomic bomb survivor whilst at the same time becoming the centre of a yakuza/triad disagreement. The film also mixes several styles and genres, at one moment a documentary – stock footage/taped interview of bomb survivors, another time a surreal gangster comedy or a social comment and even romantic melodrama. It’s truly a film that defies explanation and deserves to be seen