Japanese cinema enthusiasts are in for a treat as the May 2023 digest has rounded up the following: catch films by Nikkatsu iconoclast Seijun Suzuki, dip your toes into the experimental underground with these shorts, read about Typhoon Club director Shinji Sômai, and listen to a podcast on adaptations of Junji Ito’s macabre manga.
Plus, check out virtual film festival screenings, immerse yourself in Wong Kar-wai’s unforgettable soundscapes, and hear from AFA’s Archivist on the restoration of Singapore’s first and only kungfu flick.
Combining “pop-art flair and avant-garde theatrics”, Japanese New Wave director Seijun Suzuki transposed the trauma of his wartime experiences into a mix of violence and absurdist comedy. One hundred years after he was born, Suzuki’s surreal, electrifying films are now enjoying a revival, with Criterion Channel streaming 14 of his films, including the quintessential Tokyo Drifter (1966) and Branded to Kill (1967), the anarchic yakuza B-movie that got him fired from Nikkatsu, propelling him to countercultural status.
Inspired by Jacques Derrida’s exhibition Memoirs of the Blind, Vietnamese American artist Tran T. Kim-Trang created a series of eight experimental video essays which respond to her own fear of blindness. Through explorations ranging from glaucoma to cosmetic eyelid surgery, eroticism and surveillance, The Blindness Series probes the meanings of vision and perception.
Read Lucas Hilderbrand’s reflections on the ways in which Tran engages with critical issues of visuality, race, sexuality, technology and trauma in The Blindness Series. His writings are part of More Than Meets the Eye: The Videos of Tran T. Kim-Trang, a collection of 15 essays on Tran’s extensive use of video as a discursive medium.
Criterion spotlights eight Asian American feature films from the 1980s, including Wayne Wang’s iconic Chan is Missing (1982), a search for a missing man which puts a spin on the noir genre and Hollywood’s whitewashed Charlie Chan movies. Read more about Chan here.
Framed by letters to an estranged lover, Payal Kapadia’s introspective essay documentary A Night of Knowing Nothing melds archival footage, newspaper clippings, and dusky, black-and-white images of life on campus at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). Unfolding across the lines of caste, Kapadia’s film bears witness to the student resistance movement against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalism. Available for a fee on DAFilms.com from May 1 to May 31, 2023.
Listen to the ICA Infrequencies’s podcast on Kapadia’s award-winning film here.
Explore works by London-based Asian artists on the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA)’s virtual platform, Cinema 3. As part of a series of commissioned audio-visual works, Sarah Khan and Nadia Tehran’s siren song (2021) reconstitutes archival footage, tracing shared personal histories of displacement through the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan. Michael and Chiyan Ho’s Lucky House (2021) stylises Chinese diasporic identity, while Sarah Roselle Khan’s Inside Out (2020) weaves a palimpsest of everyday British-Pakistani culture.
For viewers in the County of Los Angeles, the LAAPFF has programmed a slate of virtual screenings, including, among others, Curtis Choy’s The Fall of the I-Hotel (1983), which documents the eviction of a San Francisco Manilatown community, Christina YR Lim’s B-SIDE FOR TAYLOR (2023), which explores grief in a multiracial family, and Avid Liongoren’s HAYOP KA! (YOU ANIMAL!) (2020), an anthropomorphic rom-com about a “proletariat pussycat torn between two canine lovers”.
Characteristically blurring the boundaries between fiction and documentary, Jafar Panahi plays a version of himself in 3 Faces (2018), his fourth feature shot in defiance of a 20 year filmmaking ban. 3 Faces follows celebrated actress Behnaz Jafari (also playing a version of herself) on a search for a devastated young woman who ends her life in a video addressed to her. Available on MUBI (for US audiences) from May 10 onwards.
Among Metrograph at Home’s May Arrivals are two films which screened in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes in 2005 and 2015 respectively: Kim Ki-Duk’s The Bow (South Korea) and Naomi Kawase’s Sweet Bean (Japan).
Armed with a bow that doubles up as a musical instrument, an old man living on a boat in the middle of the sea fends off threats to his only companion and bride-to-be, a sixteen-year-old girl whom he “rescued” when she was a child. With minimal dialogue, Kim Ki-duk builds up an elegiac world rife with poetic symbolism.
A middle-aged-man struggles with his dorayaki business, until an elderly woman brings her an (red bean paste) recipe to the table. Kawase’s richly sensorial film is a gentle meditation on memory and finding joy in the ordinary. Lydia Tuan looks at images of hands and the haptic in Sweet Bean and two other films by Kawase in this journal article.
Collaborative Cataloging Japan (CCJ) is an international non-profit organisation that aims to preserve, document and disseminate Japanese experimental moving image works from the 1950s to 1980s. This month, CCJ presents underground shorts by self-taught filmmaker Masanobu Nakamura and his brother Touch Me. Selections of Masanobu’s films from the 70s and 80s are also available to rent on Vimeo On Demand.
Check out Asian and Asian-American films streaming via the 49th Seattle International Film Festival, which runs from May 11 to May 21, 2023. Justin Chon’s Jamojaya (2023) follows a budding rap star (played by real-life hip-hop artist Rich Brian) who leaves Indonesia and his father for Hawaii. Based on the book Looking for Bapu by Anjali Banerjee, Sudeshna Sen’s Anu (2023) tells of a twelve-year-old South Asian girl who embarks on a spiritual quest to find her recently deceased grandfather. Other Asian titles include Sarah Kambe Holland’s coming-of-age LGBTQ+ comedy Egghead & Twinkie (2023) and Chie Hayakawa’s Plan 75 (2022) (only available for audiences in WA State).
On the latest episode of the MUBI Podcast, host Rico Gagliano does a deep dive into Wong Kar-wai’s manic-pixie, California-dreaming rom-com crime drama Chungking Express (1994). Featuring Cranberries guitarist Noel Hogan, Hong Kong-born indie pop star Emma-Lee Moss, and NPR critic-at- large, John Powers.
Film Forum Presents shares a Q&A with Korean-American director and producer Amanda Kim, whose documentary about the father of video art, “Nam June Paik: Moon Is the Oldest TV”, screened at Sundance 2023. Alternatively, read her interview with PBS here.
With Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre debuting on Netflix, EasternKicks looks at the horror manga artist Junji Ito’s spellbindingly grotesque worlds and whether adaptations of his work, both anime and live-action, do justice to his creative imagination.
Made at the height of the Bruce Lee-inspired kungfu craze, Ring of Fury (1973) was Singapore’s first and remains the only locally made martial arts film. Real-life karate master Peter Chong plays a noodle seller seeking revenge on a mysterious iron-masked man.The film was banned in Singapore for over 30 years for its portrayal of vigilantism at a time when gang violence was all too real. After restoring the film in 2017, AFA staff met Australia-based director James Sebastian in his Singapore home in 2019. Read about it here. Or check out Chong’s Straits Times interview on this kickass film.
Ring of Fury will be screened on May 24, 2023, 8pm at Oldham Theatre. Tickets here.
In late September 1993, Abbas Kiarostami and Akira Kurosawa met for a conversation in Tokyo. Upon expressing deep admiration for one another, the two masters delved into the intricacies of directing, and pondered the fate of humanistic cinema. Check out this transcript of their memorable exchange, which was first published in Film International (Vol. 1, No. 4—Autumn 1993).
“I believe the films of Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami are extraordinary. Words cannot relate my feelings. I suggest you see his films; and then you will see what I mean,” wrote Kurosawa. Don’t miss out on AFA’s 6 Films by Abbas Kiarostami which runs May 12-27, 2023 at Oldham Theatre. Tickets here.
Writing after Japanese animator Leiji Matsumoto’s death in February 2023, Matt Alt ponders Matsumoto’s intergalactic visions of beauty and tragedy, reflecting on how the filmmaker’s ambiguous portrayal of apocalyptic battles were shaped by his father’s painful memories of serving in the Imperial Army Air Force. Nonetheless, Alt contrasts the “romantic idealism that shaped Matsumoto’s creative output” against the dystopian bleakness of anime today.
Spotlight on Shinji Sômai
With Shinji Sômai’s first North American retrospective ongoing at the Japan Society, Patrick Preziosi situates the Japanese director’s eclectic oeuvre between a “decaying studio system” and contemporary preoccupations with youth and malaise. For Preziosi, Sômai taps on Seijun Suzuki’s tendencies towards surrealist fragmentation, “keying into the possibilities of incongruousness, and how it could be a vehicle for narrative and thematic grace.”
In a shorter article for Film Comment, writer Emerson Goo picks up on the different trajectories in Sômai’s films, from allegories of Japan’s idol culture, to explorations of youth, iconic long takes of everyday life, and portrayals of sexual violence.
ScreenSlate correspondent Bingham Bryant interviews Monday Michiru, the star of Sômai’s Luminous Woman (1987), “the urban odyssey of a mountain man” who “finds himself forced into gladiatorial combat and falling in love with a radiant opera singer”.
Directed by Sun Yu and starring rising actress Li Lili, the Lianhua film Sports Queen (1934) follows an energetic, free-spirited country girl who joins a sports academy in Shanghai, smashing national records as a track runner. Patrick Galvan’s essay for the journal Offscreen looks at Sports Queen in the context of Republican-era China’s New Life Movement, a civic campaign which extolled neo-Confucian values of cleanliness, virtue and discipline.
On Apichatpong Weerasethakul
With a retrospective of Apichatpong Weerasethakul ongoing at the Film at Lincoln Center this month, Andrew Chan meditates on the Thai director’s enigmatic, ruminative oeuvre. Apichatpong’s films “pair the idea of boundless possibility, implicit in their branching narratives and supernatural elements, with intimations of destinies foreclosed,” writes Chan for 4Columns.
Elsewhere, Apichatpong speaks with film curator Inney Prakash, revealing how he doesn’t watch many films nowadays, preferring instead to listen to “the sound of the air” and to “enjoy being with what I have: the trees and the insects, all these invisible beings in the dark.”
Nick Pinkerton surveys the development of the wuxia genre in Taiwan from the beginning of its golden age in the mid-1960s, tracing director King Hu’s departure from Shaw Bros. Ltd to found his own Union Film Company. Despite the Taiwanese film industry’s modest production budgets vis-a-vis Hong Kong’s, Pinkerton finds in Taiwanese wuxia the “plein air pastoral pleasures” of wide-open landscapes, and “a certain talent for sleight-of-hand”.
Speaking candidly with her friend Steven Yeun, Greta Lee contemplates farming, falling in love, and feeling vulnerable about revealing the “in-between stuff” of being an immigrant onscreen in Celine Song’s directorial debut Past Lives (2023), which premiered at Sundance earlier this year.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post, veteran Hong Kong director Johnnie To talks about the favourite of his films, encroaching Chinese censorship, and the burden of hope in a city where political freedoms are fast eroding.
Reflecting on the poetry of pecking pigeons in Yasujirō Ozu’s Late Spring (1949), writer Moeko Fujii ponders the intimate act of (mis)translation in Park Chan-wook’s Decision to Leave (2022) and its resonances with Ozu’s Noriko trilogy in this sensitive essay for Orion Magazine.
e-flux conducted an interview with Japanese New Wave screenwriter, director, actor and former Red Army member Adachi Masao before the premiere of his latest film, REVOLUTION+1 (2022) at Berlin Critics Week in February 2023. Adachi discusses the assassination of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and how REVOLUTION+1 hopes to transcend the “supposed binary between film and politics, revolution and art.”
Hitoshi Kubo’s essay for Collaborative Cataloging Japan delves into the work of pioneering video artist, experimental animator and photographer Ko Nakajima, reflecting on his long-term project MY LIFE (1971-ongoing) and his view of animation as a “new perceptual mode” that relates to the haiku’s capacity to freeze-frame a moment in time.
Darren Hughes reviews Canadian director Ashley McKenzie’s Queens of the Qing Dynasty (2022), which tells of the bond between a neurodivergent, suicidal teen and a genderqueer Shanghainese student who volunteers at the hospital where she has been institutionalised. Hughes glowingly compares McKenzie’s “cinematic, imaginative, startlingly uninhibited” film, which premiered in the Encounters programme at the Berlinale, to Tony Kushner’s 1991 play, Angels in America.
AFA Archivist Chew Tee Pao will be sharing about the preservation and restoration of Tony Yeow and James Sebastian’s Ring of Fury (1973) from the sole surviving print, which lead actor Peter Chong kept in a fridge for decades. Register for the online talk, which will be held on May 18, Thursday, 7 – 8pm SGT, here.
The National Youth Film Awards (NYFA) are open for entries from Singaporeans and PRs! Youths aged 35 and below are welcome to submit their short films to the Student and Open Youth categories by May 22, 2023. The NYFA Script Lab is also accepting proposals until June 2, 2023. Details here.
e-flux has announced the inaugural edition of their Film Award, a prize for “artists’ films that push the boundaries of the aesthetic and critical potential of moving images”. Submissions of films completed in the last two years and under 60 minutes in duration are welcome. Read through the eligibility criteria and submit your works here on FilmFreeway by May 31, 2023.
The New York Asian Film Festival is accepting films that “represent the lives and experiences of Asian people from Asia or the Asian diaspora” for the Narrative Shorts Showcase. Submissions must be under 20 minutes in duration. The deadline is May 30, 2023.
The Kaohsiung Film Festival welcomes entries for its International Short Film Competition. Short films of all genres completed between June 16, 2022 and May 31, 2023 are accepted. The deadline is May 31, 2023. Read the rules and regulations here. Submit your film here.
Founded in 1985, the Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) is now accepting feature film submissions without a fee until May 21, 2023.
Recognised by the Academy Awards, the European Film Academy and BAFTA, the Uppsala Short Film Festival will take place from October 23 to 29, 2023. The festival welcomes short film submissions of all genres with a running time of no more than 40 minutes. Submit your films by May 31, 2023, via Shortfilmdepot or FilmFreeway.
This edition of the Asian Cinema Digest was compiled by Sheryl Gwee.