2018 has been an intense and fruitful year for documentary, especially on the margins, between works released theatrically, those made available directly on streaming platforms, and those screened almost exclusively at festivals, the offer has become as diversified as ever. As usual on this blog I have tried to direct my attention to some of the most significant works of nonfiction produced in East and Southeast Asia, and in doing so (time is limited I’m afraid) I have neglected many others made in other parts of the world, and living in Japan also didn’t help. For instance I was not able to see Dead Souls by Wang Bing, a movie I’m looking forward to seeing.
If last year my main focus was Taiwan and its dynamic contemporary documentary scene, a research that culminated with this essay I wrote for Cinergie in July, 2018 was more varied. The screening of NDU‘s To the Japs: South Korean A-Bomb Survivors Speak Out (1971) at the Kobe Planet Film Archive, part of my ongoing exploration of the works of the collective, was one of the highlights of the year, unfortunately I didn’t have the time to write about it, but hopefully I will be able to scribble down something next year.
It goes without saying that the list below is a reflection of my taste, interests and viewing habits, and thus it is mainly composed of documentaries made in the Asian continent (but there are few exceptions of course), and works that push the boundaries of what is usually considered nonfiction cinema.
Toward a Common Tenderness (Oda Kaori, 2017)
After Aragane, Oda confirms herself as one of the most original voices in contemporary nonfiction with another excellent work, this time mixing the diaristic and the poetic. Mesmerizing, as usual, the sound design.
Miasma, Plants, Export Paintings (Wang Bo, Pan Lu, 2018)
I discovered the movie a month or so ago, but it was a revelation: history, art, geography and colonialism mixed in an aesthetically challenging piece of work.
A Room with a Coconut View (Tulapop Saenjaroen, 2018)
The most overtly experimental work in this list, not for everyone taste for sure, but I found it refreshingly good.
Inland Sea (Soda Kazuhiro, 2018)
Probably my favorite by Soda, one that resonates more with me and my experience of living in Japan. You can read more here.
Everyday Is Alzheimer’s the Final: Death Becomes Us (Sekiguchi Yuka, 2018)
A really important documentary, not stylistically daring, nonetheless a film that delivers a strong punch in the stomach of the viewer with its matter-of-factness exposure of the disintegration of memory, aging and death.
MATA-The Island’s Gaze (Cheng Li-Ming, 2017)
An elliptical work that focuses its attention on the gaze of Scottish photographer John Thomson, who visited Taiwan in 1871 , and on his relationship with some members of the Siraya tribe – one of the several that inhabited Taiwan before the arrival of the Dutch and the Han. (here more)
The Hymns of Muscovy (Dimitri Venkov, 2017)
“…the sky itself appeared to me like an abyss, something which I had never felt before ー the vertigo above and the vertigo below” Goerge Bataille
Slow Motion, Stop Motion (Kurihara Mie, 2018)
A poetic and witty personal film, documenting the filmmaker’s wanderings and meetings in Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. I’ve written more here.
What Do You Think About the War Responsibility of Emperor Hirohito (Tsuchiya Yutaka, 1997)
A video experiment and an important time capsule inside a time capsule: the Pacific War and the emperor’s responsibility as perceived by certain strata of the Japanese population during the 1990s.
Jakub (Jana Ševčicová, 1992)
A film of faces, the ancient faces of the Ruthenians people, “painted” in a black and white so dense, grainy and gritty that is almost painful to watch.
Cambodia Lost Rock & Roll (John Pirozzi, 2014)
Incredibly sad, but at the same time incredibly fun to watch and listen to.
Best cinematic experience
By far the best viewing experience I had in 2018. You can read my excitement here.
78/52 (Alexandre O. Philippe, 2017)
A guilty pleasure.
Matangi/ Maya/ M.I.A. (Stephen Loveridge, 2018)
I did not like many things in the movie, but the last 30-40 minutes offer an interesting take on complex topics such as being an artist in the contemporary world, fame, social awareness, and immigration and art.
A Man Who Became Cinema
A documentary about Hara Masato and his struggles to keep making movies, one day I need to write something on Hara, a fascinating and “cinematic” figure.