has long been a source of inspiration for American artists, and vice
versa. In that spirit, the Asia Society
hosts a screening of seven short films of varying degrees of Japanese-ness from
filmmakers working in America. Diverse
and intriguing, the New York Japan CineFest: Short Film Program will be a treat for short film connoisseurs
this Friday night at the venerable Park Avenue institution.
diehard fans of Japanese cinema, the highlight of the evening will doubtless be
Justin Ambrosino’s The 8th
here). Absolutely not purporting to tell the
behind-the-scenes story of Kurosawa’s Seven
Samurai, it speculates what might have happened if a cap and sunglasses
donning director had a dream telling him to cut one of the eight samurai from
his upcoming epic, just prior to the start of shooting. While Kurosawa’s film is an obvious
inspiration, one luckless actor’s wickedly supernatural mother issues suggest
the influence of Kaneto Shindo, the director of ambiguous horror classics like Kuroneko and Onibaba, who recently passed away after reaching the century
in glorious black-and-white by cinematographer Lucas Lee Graham, the subtitled Samurai is a moody but loving valentine
to Japanese cinema. Though Ambrosino is
not anymore Japanese than he sounds, Samurai
features almost the entire Japanese supporting cast of Eastwood’s Letters to Iwo Jima. The second longest selection of the program
at twenty-eight minutes, it is a fully realized, enormously satisfying film, by
perhaps the best film of the evening is the hardest to describe, combining
elements of narrative, essay, and experimental filmmaking. Observing the terms of his mother’s will, the
introverted narrator of Ken Ochiai’s Frog
in the Well
(trailer here) travels throughout
Japan spreading her ashes as directed.
Sometimes employing quick-cut film stills to create a live-action flip
book effect, Frog has a decidedly
unusual visual style yet it never overshadows the emotional significance of the
grown son’s travels. Indeed, it is
surprisingly touching, while also enticing viewers to visit Japan. Frankly, considering how gorgeous it makes
the country look, starting in the snowy north and traveling down to Okinawa,
the Japanese tourism board ought to buy television air time for it around the
much simpler and more straight-forward, Chisa Hidaka’s three minute Together: Dancing with Spinner Dolphins is
also lovely to look at, following a swimmer as she frolics underwater with the
beloved marine mammals. It sounds great
too, thanks to a shrewdly chosen excerpt from Ketil Bjørnstad’s The Sea, featuring ECM label mates Terje
Rypdal, David Darling, and Jon Christensen.
something of a brief irony-driven short, Yoriko Murakami’s richly rendered
stop-motion animated Corazon en Fuego /
Heart on Fire puts a twist on the O. Henry twist, ultimately guiding its
bereaved protagonist somewhere quite life-affirming. Yasu Suzuki’s New York set Radius Squared Times Heart is even more
upbeat, depicting a shy Japanese scientist courting a fellow tango dancer
through his skills in the kitchen. With
its accessible Friends-style humor,
it could easily be the crowd favorite of the evening.
heavier, Haruhito Naka’s Into the New
World rather awkwardly addresses big picture topics like God and 9-11
through half-baked magical realism.
Fortunately, Kosuke Furukawa’s only slightly metaphysical Uguisu is much subtler. It also features an excellent supporting turn
from Seiji Kakizaki, who has such presence as a diner customer getting under
the skin of a hipster artist simply through his soft-spoken honesty, he sort of
fools viewers into investing undue significance in his character. Furukawa’s sparing use of color is also quite
distinctive, as are the sly hints at the fantastical.
Overall, the New York Japan CineFest night of shorts
is very strong, including two excellent films, 8th Samurai and Frog
in the Well, plus several other quality selections. Since most films are American productions, at
least to an extent, it also represents an interesting change of pace for the Society,
while still staying true to their mission and focus. It is another example why New York cineastes
need to follow their programming closely.
Definitely recommended, the short film program screens this Friday night
(6/8) at the Asia Society.
Labels: Asia Society, Japanese Cinema, Short Films