Ogawa Production retrospective at Cinéma du réel (March 23-April 28)

This year Cinéma du réel, one of the most prestigious documentary film festivals, will kick off its 40th edition this coming Friday, among the more anticipated events of the Parisian festival there will be a special focus on Ogawa Shinsuke and Ogawa Production, a huge retrospective dedicated to the documentary collective that from the 1960s onward changed and impacted the landscape of non-fiction cinema in Japan and Asia. Part of the events celebrating and reflecting on the civil unrest and protests that shook the world in 1968, from March 23rd to April 28th, the festival and the city of Paris will showcase seven movies made by the group in the 1960s:

Sea of Youth – Four Correspondence Course Students (1966)

Forest of Oppression – A Record of the Struggle at Takasaki City University of Economics (1967)

Report from Haneda (1967)

The Battle Front for the Liberation of Japan – Summer in Sanrizuka (1968)

Prehistory of the Partisans (1969, directed by Tsuchimoto Noriaki)

At the end of Cinéma du réel, the retrospective will then move to the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume where will continue its focus on the Sanrizuka Series, movies documenting the struggle and resistance of the peasants and the students, united against the land expropriation perpetrated by the government in order to build Narita airport. The retrospective will last until April 27th presenting also the movies made by Ogawa Pro in its third phase, when the group moved to Magino village in Yamagata prefecture. The collective disbanded in 1992 with the untimely death of its founder Ogawa Shinsuke, a passing that also revealed the dark side of such a unique cinematic endeavor, Ogawa himself left a huge debt made during the years to support the collective and their films.

One member of the collective, Iizuka Toshio, will be in Paris to introduce the Magino films, and discuss his own movies and his relationship with Ogawa Shinsuke and the group. Curated by Ricardo Matos Cabo, whom I had the pleasure of meeting last October in Yamagata, the retrospective will also include other documentaries about the group, Devotion: A Film About Ogawa Productions (2000) by Barbara Hammer, A Visit to Ogawa Productions (1981) with Oshima Nagisa, Filmmaking and the Way to the Village (1973) by Fukuda Katsuhiko, and Kashima Paradise (1973) a French documentary about the struggle in Narita. An important part of the event will be the presence of scholar Abè Markus Nornes who will give a master class on Ogawa and lectures on militant film in Japan and Sanrizuka: Heta Village (1973).

If you’re in Paris, don’t miss this opportunity, experiencing Ogawa Pro’s documentaries on a big screen, in the proper contest and with proper introductions, is one of the best cinematic experiences I had in my life. Here the schedule of the screenings and lectures at Jeu de Paume :

April 3 (Tue), 18:30 Sanrizuka – Heta Village (1973)

April 4 (Wed), 18:00 Winter in Sanrizuka (1970)

April 6 (Fri) 16:30 Sanrizuka — the Three Day War (1970)
18:00 Sanrizuka – Peasants of the Second Fortress (1971)

April 7 (Sat) 11:30 Sanrizuka – The Construction of Iwayama Tower (1971)
14:30 Sanrizuka – Heta Village (1973)
18:00  Filmmaking and the Way to the Village (1973)

April 10 (Tue) 18:30 Dokkoi! Songs from the Bottom (1975)

April 17 (Tue) 16:00 Devotion: A Film About Ogawa Productions (2000)
18:00 The Magino Village Story – Pass (1977)
The Magino Village Story – Raising Silkworms (1977)

April 20 (Fri) 18:00 « Nippon » : Furuyashiki Village (1982)

April 21 (Sat) 11:30 Encounter with Toshio Iizuka
14:30 The Sundial Carved with a Thousand Years of Notches – The Magino Village Tale (1986)

April 24 (Tue) 19:00 The Magino Village Story – Pass (1977)
A Visit to Ogawa Productions (1981, directed by Oshige Jun’ichiro)

April 28 (Sat) 14:30 Kashima Paradise (1973, directed by Yann
Le Masson and Bénie Deswarte)
17:00 Sanrizuka – The Construction of Iwayama Tower (1971)

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2017: Kinema Junpo Best 10 – documentary

Awaited every year with trepidation by cinephiles and the community of Japanese film-lovers, and a perfect occasion for discussing the state of the art in the archipelago and agree or disagree with it, last month the prestigious film magazine Kinema Junpo announced its 2017 Best Ten Lists . Launched in 1924 with only non-Japanese films, and from 1926 including Japanese movies as well, the poll includes, in its present form, four categories: Japanese movies, non-Japanese movies, bunka eiga and a section awarding individual prizes such as best director, best actor, best actress, best screenplay, etc.
You can check the results for all the categories here. Given the nature of this space, I want to focus my attention (with the slowness that characterizes this blog, apologies) on the bunka eiga list, that is to say, the best 10 Japanese documentaries released in 2017 according to Kinema Junpo (as far as I know only three have been released outside of Japan and thus have international titles):

1 人生フルーツ Life is Fruity

2 標的の島 風(かじ)かたか The Targeted Island: A Shield Against Storms

3 やさしくなあに 奈緒ちゃんと家族の35年

4 ウォーナーの謎のリスト

5 谺雄二 ハンセン病とともに生きる

6 沈黙 立ち上がる慰安婦 The Silence

7 米軍が最も恐れた男 その名は、カメジロー

8 笑う101歳×2 笹本恒子 むのたけじ

9 まなぶ 通信制中学 60年の空白を越えて

10 廻り神楽

With the term bunka eiga (cultural film), for a comprehensive analysis of the word and its usage in relation with other definitions, read here, the magazine awards non-fiction movies that explore social, cultural and political themes, often focusing more on the subjects tackled than on the formal aspects of the films themselves.
It is almost a fact that we’re living in a new golden age for documentaries, an era when every year, in theaters or on streaming platforms alike, there’s at least one film that push the boundaries of non-fiction cinema towards new territories. Unfortunately Japan, with all the exceptions of the case, seems to have stayed or have left behind. This is not the right place to discuss and deep dive into the reasons for this impasse, suffice to say that it is a problem affecting Japanese cinema in general and not only nonfiction movies.

That being said, it is nice to see at the top of the list Life is Fruity, a movie directed by Fushihara Kenshi and produced by Tokai TV, a production company based in Nagoya that in the last twenty years or so has been releasing a bunch of interesting and insightful documentaries. Again, all of them have quasi-TV aesthetics, nonetheless the topics explored and, in the best cases, the touch used, make them worth watching. Of the 21 documentaries produced by Tokai TV I’ve had the chance to watch five, among these my favorite is 青空どろぼう (Sky’s Thieves, 2010), a movie on the Yokkaichi Asthma, one of Japan’s four major diseases caused by pollution.
Life is Fruity tells the story of 90-years-old architect Shuichi Tsubata and his wife Hideko living in Aichi prefecture in a house surrounded by vegetables and fruits. Almost half a century ago Tsubata was asked to plan a new town in the area, but his idea of building houses that could coexist with woods and blend with the natural environment was rejected, and a project more in tune with the fast growing Japanese economy of the time was chosen. Tsubata left his job, purchased a piece of land and built his dream-house in a manner of his master,  Czech-American architect Antonin Raymond.

You can see an English subtitled trailer by clicking on the Vimeo button:

Number two in the list is A targeted Village, the second documentary directed by Mikami Chie about the ongoing protests and resistance of Okinawa people against the American military presence and expansion in the island.
In 1983 director Ise Shinichi started to record the daily life of his 8-year-old niece Nao, a girl with intellectual disability who also suffers epilepsy, and her interaction with her family and society. After 12 years of shooting he edited the material into Nao-chan, a movie released in theaters in 1995, followed by 「ぴぐれっと」in 2002 and ありがとう 『奈緒ちゃん』自立への25 in 2006. やさしくなあに 奈緒ちゃんと家族の35年, number 3 in the Kinema Junpo list, is the fourth installment in this ongoing series and documents the ups and downs in the daily life of Nao and his family. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but it seems to perfectly continue the tradition of Japanese documentaries dealing with disability, from Tsuchimoto Noriaki to Yanagisawa Hisao (a retrospective of his works is happening now in Tokyo) and, in more recent years, Soda Kazuhiro with Mental.

Nao_chan.jpg

ウォーナーの謎のリスト is a documentary about American archeologist Langdon Warner and his list of culturally valuable Japanese sites that, allegedly, saved the most important temples and monuments from destruction during the American bombing of Japan in World War II. 谺雄二 ハンセン病とともに生きる tells the story of poet, activist and writer Kodama Yōji, who suffered from leprosy and fought against isolation and discrimination during his entire life, while with The Silence, second generation Japanese-Korean Park Soonam, records the struggle carried on by the victims of sexual slavery during the invasion of Korea by imperial Japan. In 米軍が最も恐れた男 その名は、カメジロー, his debut behind the camera, newscaster Sako Tadahiko explores the life of Senaga Kamejirō, an outspoken politician and communist who fought the American occupation of Okinawa until his death in 2001.
The list does not represent Japanese documentary landscape in its variety and complexity of course, by design the more experimental works are ruled out, nonetheless besides few titles, the films here selected don’t seem to hold any particular appeal to an international audience, again at the risk of becoming trite, it’s not because of the themes explored, but more because of what to me appears to be the lack of a distinctive style and vision.

Le Moulin (Huang Ya-Li, 2016) out on Blu-ray and DVD

Just a quick post to share my excitement for a new home video release. I found out only a few days ago that from last June Le Moulin, one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in recent years, is available for on DVD and Blu-ray. The movie, directed by Huang Ya-Li, is a complex and fascinating exploration of the first Taiwan’s modern poetry group, Le Moulin Poetry Society, active in the island during the 1930s, when Taiwan was under Japanese colonial rule. You can read my piece on the movie here.

Le Moulin was made available in Taiwan by Fisfisa Media, but it comes with English, Traditional Chinese and Japanese subtitles, for more details on the technical aspects of the DVD and Blu-ray, please check the YesAsia page, where you can also order the movie.

I haven’t had the chance to check the DVD/Blu-ray yet, but it is nice to see that it also comes with a booklet of essays written by relatives of the Le Moulin poets and literary figures.

I will update this post once I get the release.

Best documentaries of 2017

Although I saw fewer documentaries released in 2017 than I wanted, this was for me the year of the box-set (Wiseman, Rouch, etc.), there were a couple that really impacted and resonated with me for long time, and others that, for various reasons, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed discovering.
It might sound tautological, but it is always better to clarify: this is the list of my favourite non-fiction movies, thus it reflects my taste in documentary and it’s very partial.

Outstanding works:

Also Know as Jihadi (Eric Baudelaire)
An homage to and partially a remake of Adachi Masao’s A.K.A. Serial Killer. Baudelaire’s finest work to date.

Letter #69 (Lin Hsin-i)
My fascination with the works of this young Taiwanese artist continues. read more

Machines (Rahul Jain)
You can read my review here

Rubber Costed Steel (Lawrence Abu Hamdan)
Short but powerful, thematically and aesthetically.

Honorable mentions:

Sennan Asbestos Disaster (Hara Kazuo)
Hara is back after more than 10 years with a work about the legal battle between the Citizen Group for Sennan Asbestos Damage and the Japanese government.

Ex-Libris: New York Public Library (Frederick Wiseman)
Not my favourite by the American legendary director, but Wiseman is Wiseman.

Donkeyote (Chico Pereira)

A Yangtze Landscape (Xu Xin)

Dislocation Blues (Sky Hopinka)

Turtle Rock (Xiao Xiao)
A soothing and beautifully shot documentary set in a remote village in China, the black and white photography reminded me of Lav Diaz.

Special (re)discoveries:

The Mad Masters (Jean Rouch, 1955)
Whatever it is, docufiction, ethnofiction, problematic documentary or theatrical exploitation, it’s a powerful and raw punch. Masterpiece.

Homeland: Iraq Year Zero (Abbas Fahdel, 2015)
Probably the best documentary I’ve seen in 2017.

A House in Ninh Hoa (Nguyễn Phương-Đan &. Philip Widmann, 2016)
You can read my review and interview with the director here.

Beirut Never More (Jocelyne Saab, 1976)
Jocelyne Saab was one of my cinematic discoveries of the year.

Yamagata City designated UNESCO Creative City of Film

The city of Yamagata has just been designated as member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network for the field of Film, the first in Japan, joining other 116 existing member cities around the world.

As the readers of this blog have heard and read ad nauseam, the city is the place of the oldest, and arguably the most important, documentary film festival in the Asian continent, a place I had the pleasure of visiting several times in the last decade.

It goes without saying that this is great news for the festival and the city itself, and, as many commentators have pointed out, the congratulations should go first and foremost to the people of Yamagata, the volunteers and all the people involved, to one degree or another, in the organization of the festival.

Knowing how much Japanese people
Continue reading “Yamagata City designated UNESCO Creative City of Film”

Documentaries at the London Korean Film Festival 2017

The London Korean Film Festival has opened its 12th edition last Thursday and will run in the capital for two weeks, from November 10th through the 19th the festival will then go on tour around the UK, touching Sheffield, Manchester, Nottingham, Glasgow and Belfast.
In addition to showcasing a wide-range of titles produced in the Asian country, there will also be masterclasses, talks and collateral events, a special occasion for the British audience to get a glimpse of South Korean cinema and film culture in general. This year line-up includes not only UK and European premieres, animations, classics, shorts and indies, but also a fascinating focus on Korean Noir, “Illuminating the Dark Side of Society”, and, of particular interest for this blog, a program dedicated to documentary.

The first movie presented will be Two Doors (2012) directed by Kim Il-rhan and Hong Ji-you, a documentary investigating the the Yongsan Disaster, when in January of 2009 a sit-in rally in central Seoul resulted in the deaths of five protesters and one police officer. While Two Doors focuses more on the legal aspects of the tragedy, amassing documents against the violence used to prohibit the demonstration and the sit-in, The Remnants  (2017) is about the personal tribulations and the legal problems that some the people who took part in the demonstration had to go through in the seven years after the tragedy. The movie was directed by Lee Hyuk-sang, who was also creative director behind Two Doors, and the festival has organised a special conversation with the director on November 2.
Goodbye my Hero (2017) by Han Younghee, a movie addressing labour relations and workers’ rights in contemporary South Korea, and Park Kyung-hyun’s Dream of Iron (2017), a film essay about the development of the steel industry in the country during the 1960s, will complete the section.
The ‘Women’s Voices’ s section includes also a documentary, Candle Wave Feminists (2017) by Kangyu Garam, a movie that delves into the revolution that led to former prime minister Park’s impeachment and her spiritual mentor Choi Soon-Sil’s arrest.

All the documentaries will be screened this week starting from tomorrow, October 31st.

LKFF17-Screening-Schedule-1.jpg

Retrospective of Taiwanese documentary cinema at the Jihlava International Doc Film Fest

Since the discovery of Le Moulin two or so years ago, non-fiction cinema in contemporary Taiwan has been one of my main cinematic obsessions and a research interest that drove me to explore the flourishing documentary scene of the island. This year edition of the  Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival (October 24-29) is currently holding a retrospective on Taiwanese documentary from 1937 to 2014 titled Transparent Landscape: Taiwan, a program that presents 25 Taiwanese documentaries from the period, according to the festival “the historically most comprehensive showcase of Taiwanese documentary cinema ever”.  I won’t be able to attend it, but, it goes without saying, it’s an event I’m highly interested in and I hope a catalogue will be published, here the press release:

The section will include some of the most important works of Taiwanese independent filmmakers. Allowing a glimpse into Taiwan’s complicated historical-political development, these films offer significant insights into different periods of recent Taiwanese history.
The earliest Taiwanese documentaries are the 8mm ”home videos“, shot by photographer DENG Nan-guang in the 1930s. They realistically portray scenes of daily life under Japanese occupation, such as life and work along the Tamsui river and family outings. The recently restored short The Mountain by Richard Yao-chi CHEN (1967) will be presented outside of Taiwan for the first time. Other representative works from the1960s, are the films by renowned director BAI Jing-rui and photographer ZHUANG Ling. In this decade, only government-commissioned propaganda films could be produced, but with their creative ingenuity, those filmmakers still managed to convey the lives and thoughts of ordinary people.
The Green Team, the most important non-mainstream media in the period prior to and after the lifting of martial law in Taiwan (1987), will also be represented by two important productions. The Green Team documented many social movements and protests that took place on Taiwan’s road to democracy in the 80s, and their images eventually became weapons against the authoritarian state. There are obvious connections with the situation in Czech society in the late 80s before the collapse of the Soviet regime.
Apart from its focus on history, Transparent Landscape: Taiwan also pays tribute to the experimental spirit of Ji.hlava IDFF. By showcasing aesthetically experimental, creative films, traditional expectations on documentaries are challenged. The selection includes several masterpieces, such as works by internationally renowned artist CHEN Chieh-jen, photographer CHANG Chien-chi, the first Taiwanese to become a member of Magnum Photos, and YUAN Goang-ming, the pioneer of video art in Taiwan.
This comprehensive retrospective also includes early documentaries by the leading figures of Taiwanese cinema, such as CHUNG Mong-hong, WU Mi-sen, HUANG Ting-fu and others. Beginning from the 90s, they used experimental vocabulary to explore the boundaries of documentary filmmaking. Even today, their films are regarded as avant-garde filmmaking, no matter if they deal with aesthetic conceptions or with human problems.

You can find the complete program here, and more information about documentary in Taiwan on the TaiwanDoc page.

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