Japan Society to Present A TRIBUTE TO DONALD RICHIE (1924-2013), PART 2, Beg. 3/13
This spring Japan Society continues to honor the late Donald Richie, whose criticism, commentary and advocacy contributed incomparably toward making Japanese art and culture, especially its cinema, revered throughout the world. As the second and final leg of the ongoing series, again curated by noted film scholar Kyoko Hirano, A Tribute to Donald Richie (1924-2013), Part 2: Richie's Electric Eight: The Bold & the Daring encompasses eight films that reflect the complexity, nuance, and brilliance of Japanese society, as seen through Richie's unflinching and insatiable eye.
Hirano says, "Looking far beyond the stereotypical Japan of Mt. Fuji and cherry blossoms or subservient geisha and salarymen, Donald Richie recognized the unconventional beauty in the everyday lives of ordinary people, celebrating the spirit of those who resist authority, the resilience of women who survive and outsmart a male-centered world, and the battles of those discriminated against by society."
The line-up reflects the diversity in Japanese cinema mirrored by diversity of Richie's vast interests. While Part 1 was more of a "101" introduction to Japanese cinema showcasing five well-known masters, A Tribute to Donald Richie (1924-2013), Part 2: Richie's Electric Eight: The Bold & the Daring showcases legends such as Shohei Imamura and Nagisa Oshima, but also newer and some lesser known but important and films critically-acclaimed and filmmakers.
Co-presented with The Japan Foundation, and presented as the Society's annual spring Globus Film Series, Richie's Electric Eight: The Bold & the Daring launches March 13 with Shusuke Kaneko's Summer Vacation 1999. One of Richie's favorite films, this rarely screened gem is remarkable for its gender-blind casting (actresses play young men), as well as its unique dream-like quality. The screening will be introduced by MoMA's emeritus senior film curator Laurence Kardish, and will be followed by the YAOI Party, a lively and colorful affair in which gender-bending outfits are encouraged, with refreshments and a live performance by the high-energy glam jazz pop band Ideal Orkestra.
Other rare features in the series unavailable on DVD are Kohei Oguri's Muddy River, screening March 21, and Makoto Shinozaki'sOkaeri, screening March 28. With several films being presented in glorious 35mm, the March 29 closing night screening of Nagisa Oshima's The Ceremony features a new 35mm print, and will be introduced by New York Film Festival director emeritus Richard Peña.
Rounding out the lineup are Yoshitaro Nomura's Chase on March 14; the documentary Campaign on March 15, introduced by its directorKazuhiro Soda; Shohei Imamura's Profound Desire of the Gods, commemorating actor Rentaro Mikuni (1923-2013); and The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On on March 29, introduced by Wendy Keys, former Executive Producer at the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
"Richie supported the Japanese New Wave movement of Imamura and Oshima, highlighted young and emerging talents such as Oguri, Hara, Shunsuke Kaneko, Shinozaki and Soda, and also championed the important classic films of Yoshitaro Nomura," says Hirano. "For Richie, the independent spirit shown by these directors in portraying taboo subjects and their artistic endeavors exploring new forms of cinematic expression are reasons for us to see their films, from which we discover something new about the world we live in."
Before his passing in February, Donald Richie (1924-2013) educated and inspired generations to become interested in Japan through the Japanese art and culture he introduced - especially through film. Hirano calls him one of the single most important film and cultural critics. "Many people in the world beyond North America and Western Europe, beyond the film world, first became acquainted with Japanese culture through Richie's wide range of writings," she says. "Thanks to Richie, the world knows the greatness of Japanese cinema."
Tickets to each screening are $12/$9 Japan Society members, seniors and students, except $15/$12 for the Summer Vacation 1999 screening and opening party. Tickets may be purchased in person at Japan Society, by calling the box office at 212-715-1258, or at www.japansociety.org.
SCREENING SCHEDULE AND FILM DESCRIPTIONS:
Summer Vacation 1999
Thursday, March 13 at 7:00 pm
**Introduction by Laurence Kardish, Senior Curator, Film, Emeritus, The Museum of Modern Art **Followed by the YAOI Party
1988, 90 min., 35mm, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Shusuke Kaneko. With Eri Miyajima, Tomoko Ohtakara, Miyuki Nakano, Rie Mizuhara (currently Eri Fukatsu). Voiceovers by Minami Takayama, Nozomu Sasaki, Hiromi Murata.
A student's recent suicide at a rural boys' boarding school hangs heavily over three students who are left behind during summer vacation with no family to return to. They each struggle to process the death, blaming each other and lashing out with adolescent cruelty, until one day when a student arrives who looks exactly like their deceased classmate. Inspired by Thomas' Heart (Toma no shinzo), a legendary popular manga by Moto Hagio, Shusuke Kaneko (1955-) depicts teenage yearning, mystery and dark passion, with a screenplay by Rio Kishida, a long-time collaborator with poet-filmmaker-theater director Shuji Terayama, and mesmerizing cinematography is by Kenji Takama.
"This profoundly romantic, beautifully realized independent production is one of the most original Japanese films of the year," wrote Donald Richie in a new Japanese cinema report he submitted to Japan Society in 1998. "It is a muted, intense, romantic fusing of love and death. To this an entirely new dimension has been added by casting young girls (14 to 15) in the roles of the four young boys. The result is astonishing and extremely moving. One watches these young people, so young that a degree of androgyny is expected, and it is as though one is watching adolescence for the first time." (Excerpted from Richie's "New Japanese Cinema" report to Japan Society, spring 1988.)
Friday, March 14 at 7:00 pm
1957, 116 min., b&w, 16mm, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Yoshitaro Nomura. With Hideko Takamine, Takahiro Tamura, Minoru Ohki, Hizuru Takachiho, Seiji Miyaguchi.
Yoshitaro Nomura (1919-2005), known for his popular "detective film" genre, partnered with screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto and social theme-oriented mystery writer Seicho Matsumoto on Chase. A young detective teams up with a veteran officer to travel south, where a suspected murderer is expected to show up to see his ex-lover, now a housewife. Their surveillance shows detailed, tedious police work, as well as revealing the watched woman's passion, causing the young detective to reflect on his own feelings for his girlfriend.
"When we were preparing for Dark Visions: Japanese Film Noir & Neo-Noir, Japan Society's 2002 film series, I consulted with Mr. Richie as usual," says series curator Kyoko Hirano. "He immediately suggested Chase. I was rather skeptical about showing such an understated film. I was pleasantly surprised at how popular it was--over 200 people came and were totally enchanted by the skillful storytelling and the theme, sympathetic to the hidden passion of the woman who leads a loveless, married life. I was once again impressed by Mr. Richie's insight."
Saturday, March 15 at 5:00 pm
**Introduction by director Kazuhiro Soda.
2007, 120 min., blu-ray, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Kazuhiro Soda.
Donald Richie was always interested in new films and young, emerging directors. He valued Kazuhiro Soda (1970- ) highly for his observational cinéma verité style illuminating fundamental problems of Japanese society and the Japanese way of thinking. In the mid-2000s, Soda follows his college classmate Kazuhiko "Yama-san" Yamuchi, a self-employed, inexperienced, uncharismatic, ordinary man running for a seat on the Kawasaki City Council in the suburbs of Tokyo. Yama is fully supported by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which faithfully adheres to the idiosyncratic Japanese style and method of running electoral campaigns.
"Yesterday [5/21/07], a special preview of Campaign was held at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan in Tokyo," wrote Soda on his blog. "Donald Richie introduced the movie. Mr. Richie is famous as the person who introduced Japanese cinema to the West. I don't know how many times I have read his book, Ozu. I couldn't believe it when I heard that he loved Campaign and that he was going to give an introduction at the screening. But in fact, he began his introduction by saying, 'Today, we are going to show you a very important documentary.' It was perfect. I am very lucky that there's someone who fundamentally understands my work this well."
Friday, March 21 at 7:00 pm
1981, 105 min., 35mm, b&w, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Kohei Oguri. With Takahiro Tamura, Yumiko Fujita, Mariko Kaga.
Kohei Oguri (1945- ) affectionately portrays the friendship of children facing the harsh reality of social discrimination. The nine-year-old protagonist grows up in a warm and loving working-class family, but his perception of life changes when he befriends a boy and his sister living on a houseboat with their prostitute mother. Takako Shigemori's screenplay is based on Teru Miyamoto's novel and the details of the children's everyday lives are superbly captured by Shohei Ando's cinematography.
Donald Richie on Muddy River: "Whether this unsentimental, black-and-white movie about the friendship of two little boys in post-World War II Japan is a harbinger of a renaissance of the once-eminent Japanese film remains to be seen. But without doubt, the success ofMuddy River, financed by the film-struck president of an iron-working plant and at first unable to find a distributor, serves to expose the prolonged decline of an industry whose achievements once stirred international praise." (Excerpted from an article by Richie in The New York Times published on January 23, 1983.)
Profound Desire of the Gods
Saturday, March 22 at 5:00 pm
**A special screening commemorating actor Rentaro Mikuni (1923-2013).
1968, 175 min., 35mm, color, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Shohei Imamura. With Rentaro Mikuni, Choichiro Kawarazaki, Kazuo Kitamura, Hideko Okiyama, Yasuko Matsui, Yoshi Kato.
Shohei Imamura's (1926-2006) first color film is a powerful testament to people caught between modernity and the primitive, the rational and mythology, and technology and nature. In an isolated village on a southern island, Tokyo's capitalist development plan encroaches on traditional ways of life while the family in charge of local rituals fights against discrimination for their practice of incest. Rentaro Mikuni's incomparable acting illuminates Imamura's ultimate quest--to examine what being Japanese means.