Kinema Junpo Best Japanese Documentaries of 2018

A couple of weeks ago the film magazine Kinema Junpo announced its 2018 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.

The best 10 Japanese bunka eiga — a term that, more or less, could be translated into culture movies, in orher words documentary — according to the magazine are:

1 Boy Soldiers: The Secret War in Okinawa  沖縄スパイ戦史 (Chie Mikami, Hanayo Oya)

2 Sennan Asbestos Disaster ニッポン国VS泉南石綿村 (Kazuo Hara)

3 ぼけますから、よろしくお願いします (Naoko Nobutomo)

4 奇跡の子どもたち (Hidetaka Inazuka)

5 Gokutomo 獄友 (Sung Woong Kim)

6 武蔵野 江戸の循環農業が息づく (Masaki Haramura)

7 春画と日本人(Ōgaki Atsushi)

8 蒔絵 中野孝一のわざ

9 夜明け前 呉秀三と無名の精神障害者の100年 (Tomoki Imai)

10 まだ見ぬまちへ〜石巻 小さなコミュニティの物語 (Kenji Aoike)

Not all of them have an official English title, since most were not, and probably will not be, released internationally.

I haven’t seen all of them, but the list seems to reflect certain general and for me disappointing aspects of contemporary documentary in Japan, or at least, a certain way of doing and conceptualizing documentary in the archipelago. Documentary seems to be viewed more as a vehicle to present a certain subject or a certain theme to the viewers and less as a form of visual expression. In other words, no much effort and time is spent on how to stylistically construct the film, and I think part of the “problem”, at least regarding the list in question, is connected to the meaning of term bunka eiga and thus to the by-the-fault approach from the magazine that seems to prioritize the subject matter over cinematic style.
The list is also a reflection of what is happening at the moment in the Japanese documentary scene. I haven’t watched every single non-fiction movie made in the archipelago in recent years, but I see a good number of Japanese documentaries every year, and not only there are almost no trace of documentaries that successfully blur the boundaries between non-fiction, avant-garde and fiction — with few glorious exceptions of course — but there’s hardly space even for works that try to present and tackle themes in different ways.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

With that out of the way, I can now move to the positive notes. It was nice to see at the first two places Boy Soldiers: The Secret War in Okinawa and Sennan Asbestos Disaster. The former is the third “installment” of the ongoing exploration, by journalist and documentarist Chie Mikami, of the resistance and fight of the Okinwan people against the American “occupation” of the islands. This time Mikami’s movie (co-directed with Hanayo Oya) focuses more on the past, documenting with old photos, footage and interviews, how in the closing stages of the Battle of Okinawa, a unit called “Gokyotai” was used to wage guerrilla behind enemy lines.
Sennan Asbestos Disaster is the latest work by Hara Kazuo (Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974, The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On), about former workers and the relatives of workers at asbestos factories in Osaka’s Sennan district. Hara with his camera follows their legal battle against the Japanese government while seeking compensation for the damage done to their health by asbestos. I had the chance to see the movie in Yamagata in 2017, with four of the victims sitting and chatting in the row in front of me, a very impactful viewing experience that I still treasure.

A final point worth noting is that many of the documentaries in the list are about, to different degrees, the third age. In Sennan Asbestos Disaster the victims are almost all over 60, and so are the five men wrongly convicted in Gokutomo, and the couple depicted in Bokemasukara, yoroshiku onegaishimasu (ぼけますから、よろしくお願いします), a movie about senile dementia,  is well over 90. The disease is also the central theme explored in the triptych of documentaries Everyday is Alzheimer (毎日がアルツハイマー 2012-2018) by Yuka Sekiguchi, the third and latest was released last year, an underrated series in my opinion. I am not discovering anything new, but this heavy focus on the elderly is another signal of the increasingly aging population In Japan, a demographic shift that is shaping, and in fact has already started to shape, the country in several ways, not least its film and visual production.


Best documentaries of 2018

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Outstanding works

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Special (re)discoveries:

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.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Best cinematic experience

By far the best viewing experience I had in 2018. You can read my excitement here.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Honorable mentions:

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.

Hashima Movie Museum 羽島市資料館

There’s a place I’ve been wanting to visit since I moved to Gifu prefecture a decade or so ago, a place I discovered by chance surfing the internet: a movie museum located in Hashima City, a few kilometers away from where I live.
Movie museums, archives and places devoted to the preservation and history of cinema and movies (big spectacles, home movies and video art alike) are more and more becoming for me an interesting field to explore. Therefore, even though it is striktly speaking not about documentary, but more about documenting film and its history, I’ve decided to start a series of posts about the few, but very active, film museums/centres in Japan.

The most famous of these are the National Film Archive in Tokyo and the Kobe Planet Film Archive in Hyogo, the latter a place featured many times on this blog and a mini-theater in its own right that I’ve visited many times and through which I’ve been able to discover many important movies. Another one I’d like to visit one day is the Toy Film Museum in Kyoto, recently in the international news because of the discovery of a once-believed lost movie from Ozu Yasujirō, Tokkan Kozo.

Located at the periphery of the “empire”, in an old area in the city of Hashima, the 羽島市資料館 Hashima Movie Museum is hosted in a small two storey building.

Established in 1996, the museum shares the building with the Folk History Museum, but the look of it (from the inside at least) is definitely more indebted to cinema than ethnography. At the entrance on the ground floor the visitor is welcomed by dozen of film posters from different eras, with the main exhibition space located on the first floor. One room is filled with old movie cameras, some of them bulky machines dating back to the 1940s, flatbed editors, speakers and posters, a real feast for the eyes, and as you can see from the photo below, there are even some seats from and old theater. Probably the seats belonged to the Takehana Asahi Cinema, a theater beloved by the people of Hashima and a place that once was an important part of the community, the theater was active between 1934 and 1971. The museum stands in the same spot where the Takehana Asahi Cinema used to be.

Even after its closure the old building remained intact and untouched through the end of the 1980s. At that time the people of Hashima started to pressure the city for having back a cinema in their neighborhood, the intetest probably kindled by the surgence of mini-theaters during the decade and fueled by the money flowing through baburu period. Around 1992 after an inspection the building was found dilapidated and in danger of collapsing, but hundreds of movies posters were discovered inside its vaults. This lead to the decision of taking a different path and embarking on a new project, and that’s how the movie museum was established. The new building was modelled after the old theater on its South facade and after the Takegahana castle on its West facade.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(the old Takehana Asahi Cinema and the South facede of the museum, source )

The other room is set as a screening room with rows of chairs at its center and a small screen at the far end of it. The walls are adorned with film posters and other memorabilia, mainly about jidai-geki movies from the golden age of Japanese cinema. The highlights were for me two very old and beautiful long posters from the 1930s of which I could not, unfortunately, take photos. According to its homepage the museum stores more than 50.000 (50.000!) items between posters and other memorabilia, of which only a small part was on display the day I visited it.

The room every second Saturday of the month turns into a screening place were people gather to see and probably discuss different movies chosen by the staff of the museum. I Want to Be a Shellfish (1959), Nobuko Rides on a Cloud (1955), and The Bullet Train (1975) were among the movies screened during this year.

I think the museum sets a good example of what local movie theaters located outside big cities might hopefully become in the future: a place to preserve and celebrate the history of cinema, but also one that could work as a small repertoire theater and a “amateur” screening room where to enjoy a wide variety of films.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Yamazaki Hiroshi and light

When last August I attended the Image Forum Festival in Tokyo, one of my regrets was not having the time to be at a special focus dedicated to photographer and filmmaker Yamazaki Hiroshi. As I wrote in my report, one of the good points of the festival is that it is touring, although with a downsized program, in other parts of the coutry. When I saw the schedule of the screenings in Nagoya in September, I seized the opportunity and spend an afternoon immersing myself in the experimental films of Yamazaki.

Born in Nagano Prefecture in 1946 Yamazaki Hiroshi became a freelancer photographer after dropping out from Nihon University where he studied at the Department of Arts. Parallel with his career in photography, for which he is known in Japan and at an international level, some of his works are displayed at MoMa, Yamazaki developed a passion for the moving image and in 1972 started to shoot short movies in 8mm and 16mm. His experimental short films are a natural continuation of his work in photography, albeit there’s an obvious difference in tone between the two. Moving freely back and forth from still photography to moving images, Yamazaki’s central preoccupation throughout his career has remained the same: the role light and time play in creating images through the mechanical apparatus. His photos are thus not about depicting human beings, situations or even landscapes, they’re more on the verge of creating and conveying something new, something that is dormant in the everyday reality and must be brought to the surface to be seen. Almost like an artist playing with the relativity theory, by distorting time Yamazaki is modifying the shape of light and thus the reality he presents in his works. Often, and rightly so, defined as conceptual photographer, his works are more akin to the paintings of Klee, Pollock or other artists who were shifting the limits between natural representation and abstract art, that to the works made by his contemporary colleagues.
Yamazaki got his first big recognition in 1983 for a series of time-exposed photographs of the sun over the sea, one of the themes that he has been pursuing and investigating throughout his entire career, and a theme very present in all the works screened at the event.

Eighteen works were screened, some in their original format (8mm, 16mm), some others digitally, and they were divided into two sections. The last film screened, The Seas of Yamazki Hiroshi, was an hommage to Yamazaki as an artist, friend and peer by photographer Hagiwara Sakumi. Planned and organised by the festival as a special screening to honor and remember an important Japanese photographer and filmmaker, it was for me a special occasion to experience, in one sitting, the attempts and experiments of an artist I didn’t know in a new medium. Here the works screened:

FIX YAMAZAKI Hiroshi / 16mm / 5min. / 1972 / Japan
FIXED-NIGHT YAMAZAKI Hiroshi / 16mm / 6min. / 1972 / Japan
FIXED STAR YAMAZAKI Hiroshi / 16mm / 7min. / 1973 / Japan
A STORY YAMAZAKI Hiroshi / 16mm / 6min. / 1973 / Japan
60 YAMAZAKI Hiroshi / 16mm / 1 min. / 1973 / Japan
NOON YAMAZAKI Hiroshi / 16mm / 3min. / 1976 / Japan
Observation YAMAZAKI Hiroshi / 16mm / 10min. / 1975 / Japan
epilogue YAMAZAKI Hiroshi / 16mm / 1 min. / 1976 / Japan
MOTION YAMAZAKI Hiroshi / 16mm / 10min. / 1980 / Japan
GEOGRAPHY YAMAZAKI Hiroshi / 16mm / 7min. / 1981 / Japan
[kei] 1991 YAMAZAKI Hiroshi / video / 13min. / 1991 / Japan

VISION TAKE 1 YAMAZAKI Hiroshi / 8mm / 3min. / 1973 / Japan
VISION TAKE 3 YAMAZAKI Hiroshi / 16mm / 3min. / 1978 / Japan
HELIOGRAPHY YAMAZAKI Hiroshi / 16mm / 6min. / 1979 / Japan
WALKING WORKS YAMAZAKI Hiroshi / 16mm / 5min. / 1983 / Japan
3・・・ YAMAZAKI Hiroshi / 16mm / 5min. / 1984 / Japan
WINDS YAMAZAKI Hiroshi / 16mm / 6min. / 1985 / Japan
Sakura YAMAZAKI Hiroshi / video / 19min. / 1989 / Japan
The Seas of YAMAZAKI Hiroshi HAGIWARA Sakumi / digital / 20min. / 2018 / Japan.

Among these works, three stood out for me. Observation (1975) is a ten-minute film, shot in 16mm, in which he created the illusion of twenty-eight suns arching over the sky in his neighborhood, and Sakura/Flowers in Space, shot on video in 1989, is a reflection on film of the ideas he captured in a series of photos towards the end of his career. Cherry blossoms are here depicted against the Sun, thus losing all the color and beauty they are usually associated with, and mutating instead into black shapeless figure of almost phantasmatic solitude.

But the absolute highlight was Heliography, a continuation but also a variation of what Yamazaki had being doing for more than 10 years with his photos, resulting in one of his most well known series, Heliography, released in 1974. In this series of photos of stunning visual impact Yamazaki subtracts all the unnecessary elements that usually are linked to a beautiful costal landscape, focusing primarily on the sun and the sea, captured here through very long exposures.
Seeing Heliography was for me almost a trascendental experience, and for a variety of different reasons. First of all because it came after an hour of seeing his short experiments in 8mm and 16mm, most of them interesting from a photographic point of view and in tracing a path in his oeuvre, but almost forgettable as stand alone works. Heliography arrived also as a natural progression of his experiments on film, but at the same time as a deviation and something completely new as well. It is visually and conceptually one of the most compelling films I have seen this year, six minutes of pure bliss. Like in La Région centrale, the oblique images of the Sun over the sea and the eye of the camera fixed and fixated on the star with everything else moving around, unanchor the viewers from the Earth, liberating and disengaging the vision from the human eye and re-centering it around the drifting Sun in what becomes in the end an astral landscape. A masterpiece.

To add one more layer to the experience, I really believe that had I watched all the works at home on a TV, non matter how big, Heliography would not have retained the same majestic power, I know I’m stating the obvious here for most cinephiles, but certain type of experimental cinema should be absolutely seen in theater.

Personal documentary, diary films, first-person cinema and “Self documentary” in Japan

Film buffs on the internet and specifically on social media are often times obsessed by lists. Although I’m not a big fan of them when used to rank movies (how dare you to rank art! I’m joking of course…), it is nonetheless unquestionable that lists are one of the greatest tool to discover new movies and explore novel cinematic landscapes.

In the past month I’ve asked on Twitter (by the way, if you’re not doing it already, please follow us ) to list some of the most significant personal documentaries made in Japan. Some friends were kind enough to reply and share some titles, some of which I wasn’t aware of.

With this feedback in mind, I started to collect my thoughts and compile a list of what I consider the most important personal documentaries made in Japan. I’ve also included some titles I have not seen yet, don’t kill me for this, but I’ve trusted what has been written and discussed by people I trust and respect.

Before starting to explore what the list has to offer, let me clarify what we mean when we talk about “personal documentary”. Keeping in mind that the definition is always vague, in flux and susceptible to change, and so is the term documentary, I think we can approach a sort of truthfulness by stating that personal documentaries are works often made, but not always, in the first person and about the life of the director/cameraman. For these reasons often they are also called, or more precisely they overlap with, diary films and first-person cinema.

In Japan the term often used to define this kind of works is “Self Documentary” セルフ ドキュメンタリー. Illuminating in this respect is this piece written by Hisashi Nada for the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival in 2005. Also available on the YIDFF site, there’s an interview with Matsumoto Toshio conducted by Aaron Gerow, in it the theoretician and director criticized some trends in the Japanese self documentary scene of the 1990s, a take that, for what is worth, I agree with:

there are problems with an “I” which doesn’t doubt its “self” and the so-called “I-films” (watakushi eiga) share those: they never put their “I” in question. Since they don’t attempt to relativize themselves through a relationship with the external world, they gradually become self-complete–a pre-established harmony.

With this in mind, let’s start:

Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974 (Hara Kazuo, 1974)

My favourite Hara Kazuo’s film by far, yes more than The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On, this is more or less where and when the personal documentary started in Japan. Contrary to what many films made in the following decades did, Extreme Private Eros is a sublime embodiment of the famous motto of the 1960s and 1970s “the personal is political”.

Impressions of a Sunset (Suzuki Shiroyasu, 1975)

If Extreme Private Eros is where the Japanese personal documentary started, Impression of a Sunset is where the diary film à la Mekas emerged in Japan. Mostly unknown outside Japan, it’s in every way a diary composed by images where Suzuki, after buying a CineKodak 16 (a pre-war 16mm camera) at a second hand camera shop, starts filming his wife, his newborn baby and his workplace. With Impressions of a Sunset and other works such as 15 Days (1980), Suzuki is more a poet with a camera than a documentarist in the sense we give the term today.

Embracing (1992) and Katatsumori (1994)

Probably the most known personal documentarist from Japan, Kawase started her career with short home movies about her search for the father who abandoned her as a child in Embracing, and about the strong bond with her grandmother, who became her adopted mother, in Katatsumori.

Memories of Agano (Satō Makoto, 2004)

I’ve written extensively about the movie and its hybrid and experimental qualities, clearly it’s much more than a personal documentary, but director Sato and his cameraman returning to the locations and the people filmed more than 10 years before in Niigata, make it a movie perfect for this list.

Dear Pyongyang (2006) and Sona, the Other Myself (2009) by Yang Yong-hi

A documentary by zainichi Korean director Yang Yong-hi about her own family. It was shot in Osaka Japan (Yang’s hometown) and Pyongyang, North Korea, In the 1970s, Yang’s father, an ardent communist and leader of the pro-North movement in Japan, sent his three sons from Japan to North Korea under a repatriation campaign sponsored by ethnic activist organisation and de facto North Korean embassy Chongryon; as the only daughter, Yang herself remained in Japan. However, as the economic situation in the North deteriorated, the brothers became increasingly dependent for survival on the care packages sent by their parents. The film shows Yang’s visits to her brothers in Pyongyang, as well as conversations with her father about his ideological faith and his regrets over breaking up his family.                                                                                        In Sona, the Other Myself the director continues the exploration of her family, Sona is the daughter of her brother who moved to North Korea from Japan in the early 1970s. Through her, the film shows the generation that migrated from Japan to North Korea and their offspring who were born and raised in North Korea. (from Letterboxd).

Ending Note: Death of a Japanese Salesman (Sunada Mami, 2011)

Recently retired from a company after some 40 years of service, Sunada Tomoaki, father of filmmaker Sunada Mami, is diagnosed with terminal cancer and only has a few months left to live. True to his pragmatic core, Sunada sets out to accomplish a list of tasks before his final departure: playing with his grandchildren, planning his own funeral, saying “I love you” to his wife, among others. (from Letterboxd)

Everyday is Alzheimer’s (2012), Everyday Is Alzheimer’s 2 – The Filmmaker Goes to Britain (2014) Everyday Is Alzheimer’s the Final: Death Becomes Us (2018) by Sekiguchi Yūka

Director Sekiguchi Yūka documents and depicts the daily life of her dementia-diagnosed mother and how this changed her family’s life.

Yongwanggung : Memories from Across the Water ( Kim Im-man, 2016)

Statement from the director: “Yongwangung was a Gutdang (shaman’s shrine) where first generation Korean women who crossed the seas from Jeju to Japan use to go before the Second World War. In 2009, I heard that the shrine was about to be demolished by the Osaka city government. My childhood memory of my mother praying in the kitchen came back when I was filming elderly women in Jeju. I felt the urge to have a shamanistic ritual for my mother who had been hospitalized.”

Home Sweet Home (Ise Shinichi, 2017)

This was one of the movies I was more eager to see last year, but unfortunately I couldn’t catch it. The film covers 35 years in the life of filmmaker Ise Shinichi’s family, documenting his disabled niece Nao since 1983.

Special mentions

Toward a Common Tenderness (Oda Kaori, 2017)

It’s one of my favourite viewings of the year, but it has just come out and I need to rewatch it, that’s why it’s not included in the list. The balance between the personal and the poetic is what makes it special.

Magino Village – A Tale (Ogawa Shinsuke, 1986)

As the mysterious object of Japanese documentary per excellence, Magino Village goes of course far beyond the realm of  personal films, but somehow this sprawling movie is, among other things, the result and the partial documentation of more than a decade spent in Yamagata by the Ogawa collective.

Image Forum Festival 2018 イメージフォーラムフェスティバル 2018

The 32nd Image Forum Festival ended last Sunday in Tokyo. The nine-day-long event, hosted at two different locations in the Japanese capital, the Theatre Image Forum and the Spiral Hall, screened in total more than 80 films, including 23 in the East Asian Experimental Film Competition, the main section. Established in its present form in 1987, the festival succeeded and replaced an experimental film festival that was held, in various phases and different shapes, in the capital from 1973 to 1986.

To this day the festival continue to embody the mission and the legacy of its predecessors. Primarily dedicated to experimental cinema and video, the event provides a special opportunity for the viewers to experience on a big screen a mix of feature films, home cinema, documentary and experimental animation.
After Tokyo, the festival will move to Kyoto, Yokohama and Nagoya, with slightly different contents, there will be special sections dedicated to artists of each city. This is a right and welcomed decision, since too often Tokyo ends up cannibalizing the cultural and artistic events taking place in the archipelago.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This year’s special retrospectives were dedicated to the provocative films of Christoph Schlingensief, German director who expanded his works beyond cinema to touch theater, television and public happenings, Kurt Kren, Austrian artist associated with Viennese Actionism, but also author of structural films, and the experiments on celluloid by Japanese photographer Yamazaki Hiroshi. I wasn’t aware of the films of Schlingensief, and I have to say that it was at the same time a discovery and a delusion. While I really liked 100 Years of Adolf Hitler (1989), claustrophobic and parodic reconstruction of the last hours of the dictator and comrades in his bunker, I couldn’t digest the other two movies of the so called German Trilogy. German Chainsaw Massacre (1990) and especially Terror 2000 (1992) are too much of a mess and stylistically all over the place , and probably too bound to the events of the time, the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the consequent unification of the two Germanies, for me to decipher them.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to check the works of Yamazaki, but I’m planning to see them at the end of September, when the festival will come to Nagoya. As with his conceptual photos, the shorts made during his entire life explore the relationship between time and light, a topic I’m very attracted to.
I also missed the screening of Caniba (2017) by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel, about the “cannibal” Sagawa Issei, if I’m not wrong, this was the Japanese premiere of the film, and the special focus Experimenta India, a collection of visual art from the Asian country.
Interesting was to catch Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. (Steve Loveridge, 2018), about the famous ex-refugee of Tamil origin, now a pop icon and singer, an artist I was completely unaware of. The documentary is based on more than 20 years of footage filmed by herself and her friends in Sr Lanka and London. While I didn’t connect with the first part of the movie, too self-indulgent for my taste, the film gets much better in the last 30-40 minutes when, albeit briefly, touches on complex and fascinating topics such as immigration and art, fame, and social awareness in the show business.

The East Asia Experimental competition was pretty solid, besides several short films coming from a variety of areas like South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and naturally Japan, two were the long documentaries screened. A Yangtze Landscape (Xu Xin, 2017), a visual exploration of the social and geographical landscape along the longest river in Asia (you can read my review here), and Slow Motion, Stop Motion (Kurihara Mie, 2018) a movie that positively surprised me and won both the Grand Prize and the Audience Award. A review is coming soon, stay tuned.

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)