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Chronicles of Inferno: Japan’s Art Theater Guild

February 7, 2013 - February 27, 2013

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Originally created in 1961 to distribute European art films, Japan's Art Theater Guild (or ATG) began producing their own independent films in 1967, and soon unleashed a string of experimental, innovative, and highly controversial works that would challenge not only postwar Japanese society, but cinema itself. ATG captured the pulse of Japan's blistering underground movements and cultural schisms, tackling everything from queer pride to the after-effects of World War II, communist radicalism to Situationist theater, pornography to politics. “We are going to war! Smash it all!” cries a revolutionary in Koji Wakamatsu's incendiary cine-assault, Ecstasy of the Angels; ATG aimed to do just that, with film as its main weapon.

The company's roster encompasses a who's who of Japanese filmmaking talent: New Wave icons like Shohei Imamura, Nagisa Oshima, and Masahiro Shinoda; genre masters such as Kihachi Okamoto; veterans of independent cinema like Kaneto Shindo; and more extremist firebrands like Toshio Matsumoto, Shuji Terayama, and Koji Wakamatsu (who tragically passed away this October). Each brought thei own unique style to ATG, from Kazuo Kuroki's modernist Silence Has No Wings to the frenzied chaos of Kihachi Okamoto's Human Bullet, from the documentary realism of Susumu Hani to the surrealist richness of Shuji Terayama. While some directors and titles became well known outside of Japan, other ATG masterpieces remain sadly little seen, an oversight this series happily corrects.

We are honored to host the distinguished director Susumu Hani, whose works are some of ATG’s—and Japan’s—greatest, together with his producer Kimiko Nukamura. Plus we've added a special program of his early innovative documentaries to complement his ATG films.

Jason Sanders

Thursday, February 7, 2013
7:00 p.m. Silence Has No Wings
(Tobenai chinmoku). Kazuo Kuroki (Japan, 1966). Introduced by Roland Domenig. This dazzling blend of documentary realism and poetic abstraction recreates a “butterfly’s journey” (embodied by Mariko Kaga) across postwar Japan. “A film of sympathetic irrationality . . . fascinating in its strangeness”(Positif). (100 mins)

Friday, February 8, 2013
7:00 p.m. Ecstasy of the Angels
(Tenshi no kōkotsu). Koji Wakamatsu (Japan, 1972). Introduced by Go Hirasawa. An extreme-left militant group finds itself consumed by paranoia in Koji Wakamatsu’s notorious cocktail of politics, porn, and protest, one of the most infamous films of the Japanese (or any) New Wave. Written by Masao Adachi. (89 mins)

Saturday, February 9, 2013
8:00 p.m. She and He
(Kanojo to kare). Susumu Hani (Japan, 1963). Susumu Hani in person. Introduced by Roland Domenig. A housewife slowly becomes alienated from the world around her in Hani’s elliptical masterpiece, compared on release to the best of Antonioni. Starring Sachiko Hidari and Eiji Okada (Hiroshima, Mon Amour). (111 mins). UPDATE: Mr. Hani regrets that he is unable to visit the Bay Area as planned.

Sunday, February 10, 2013
3:00 p.m. Children Who Draw
(E o kaku kodomotachi). Susumu Hani (Japan, 1956). Susumu Hani in person. Introduced by Julian Ross. Hani’s innovative documentary looks at children who draw, and one boy in particular, who doesn’t draw well at all. The film observes the minutiae of a child’s daily world, where every moment encompasses a lifetime of emotion. With the companion film Children in a Classroom (1955). (68 mins). UPDATE: Mr. Hani regrets that he is unable to visit the Bay Area as planned.

Sunday, February 10, 2013
3:00 p.m. Children Who Draw


Sunday, February 10, 2013
5:00 p.m. The Inferno of First Love
(Hatsukoi jigokuhen). Susumu Hani (Japan, 1968). Susumu Hani and Kimiko Nukamura in person. Introduced by Miryam Sas. A girl and a boy weave through Tokyo’s nightclub/counterculture district in this portrait of a Japan on the crux of worlds old and new. Boasting Hani’s documentary film techniques and an experimental, wildly kinky script by underground provocateur Shuji Terayama. (107 mins). UPDATE: Susumu Hani and Kimiko Nukamura regret that they must cancel their Bay Area visit.

Thursday, February 14, 2013
7:00 p.m. Pastoral: Hide and Seek
(Den’en ni shisu). Shuji Terayama (Japan, 1974). Introduced by Miryam Sas. Welcome to the color-filtered, cross-dressing, orgiastic, surrealist realms of Pastoral, which reimagines a director’s childhood through a screen of pastel colors, group sex, and looming adults. One of the key underground films of the 1970s, from the same planet of Kuchar, Jodorowsky, and early John Waters. (102 mins)

Friday, February 15, 2013
7:00 p.m. Double Suicide
(Shinju ten no Amijima). Masahiro Shinoda (Japan, 1969). Shinoda’s “remix” of a classic Japanese bunraku puppet play finds live actors, puppets, and their handlers all part of the action, heightened by a Brechtian divide between “story” and “telling” and a jarring score by Toru Takemitsu. Starring Kichiemon Nakamura and Shima Iwashita. (100 mins)

Saturday, February 16, 2013
6:00 p.m. The Ceremony
(Gishiki). Nagisa Oshima (Japan, 1971). Oshima’s audacious family saga is nothing less than the history of the postwar Japanese state. “Makes contemporary cinema look puny by comparison, so dense and complex its achievement”(TIFF Cinematheque). (122 mins)

Saturday, February 23, 2013
8:30 p.m. Human Bullet
(Nikudan). Kihachi Okamoto (Japan, 1968). A reluctant kamikaze at the tail end of WWII enjoys his last day on earth—or tries to—in this disorienting, savage antiwar satire, reminiscent of Sam Fuller by way of Hunter S. Thompson. From the director of Sword of Doom. (116 mins)

Sunday, February 24, 2013
2:00 p.m. Shura
Toshio Matsumoto (Japan, 1971). Experimental filmmaker Toshio Matsumoto (Funeral Parade of Roses) destabilizes the samurai film with this stately, pitch-black tale of a ronin distracted from duty by a scheming courtesan, and his later vengeance. A Borgesian satire in the guise of samurai horror. (134 mins)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013
7:00 p.m. A Man Vanishes
(Ningen jōhatsu). Shohei Imamura (Japan, 1967). What began as a documentary on johatsu, the phenomenon of people going missing in overcrowded Japan, became a brilliant film years ahead of its time in its blurring of fact and fiction, “a coup de cinéma equaled only by Kiarostami’s Close-Up”(TIFF Cinematheque). (125 mins)

Series curated by Go Hirasawa, Meiji-Gakuin University, and Roland Domenig, University of Vienna, and supported by the Japan Foundation. Curatorial assistance provided by Julian Ross, University of Leeds. The series is coordinated at BAM/PFA by Kathy Geritz and Mona Nagai and is presented in conjunction with the UC Berkeley conference Media Histories/Media Theories and East Asia, organized by Miryam Sas, and cosponsored by the UC Berkeley’s Center for Japanese Studies and Townsend Center for the Humanities, as well as by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. We thank the Consulate General of Japan, San Francisco and the Japan Society of Northern California for their cooperation.

     


A companion series, Fragments of Japanese Underground Cinema, curated by Go Hirasawa and Julian Ross, screens at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts from February 14 to 28; for more information go to ybca.org.

Read "Underground Japanese Cinema and the Art Theatre Guild," an article by co-curator Go Hirasawa.