Aaron Gerow's message
Beyond just picking three very good films that I have been thinking and writing about recently, I also focused on works that intersect with the issue of people thinking and writing about cinema. How does the discourse about film, by people then and now, by people in Japan and abroad, relate to our experience of film? The first two intersect with debates then (between Fuyuhiko Kitagawa and Matsuo Kishi, for instance) and now (between David Bordwell and Noël Burch) about film style in 1930s Japan, and the last with arguments, led by Shigehiko Hasumi and others, over the politics of cinema after the 1980s. Japanese cinema today is enjoying an economic boom, but it precariously teeters over a poverty of film culture—a lack of seeing, thinking, writing, and educating about cinema as a whole. I hope this can be an occasion not only to see masterworks, but also think about the institutions, from cinematheques to meigaza, from film criticism to film scholarship, that help enrich film culture.


Aaron Gerow selection:

The Letter 赤西蠣太
Directed by Mansaku Itami, father of Jūzō (Tampopo) and father-in-law of Nobel laureate Kenzaburō Ōe, The Letter is an auto-critique of the chanbara film that deliciously opposes the cool samurai hero, a clan leader played by Chiezō Kataoka, with his ugly opposite, a shogunal spy checking out internecine struggles also brilliantly played by Chiezō. Not only does the latter win, he even gets the girl! While decorated with marvelous touches (the cat at the beginning, the last scene, etc.), it is more restrained than Duel in Takadanobaba, a manifestation of the stance that the poet/critic Fuyuhiko Kitagawa championed as “prosaic.” (Aaron Gerow)

伊丹十三(『タンポポ』)の父で、ノーベル賞受賞者である大江健三郎の義理の父でもある伊丹万作の監督作。『赤西蠣太』はクールな侍ヒーローを軽やかに否定したチャンバラの自己批判である。片岡千恵蔵が藩主を演じ、それとは正反対の役の内紛を密偵する醜い将軍家のスパイもまた千恵蔵によって見事に演じられている。後者が勝利するだけでなく、女も手に入れるのだ! (冒頭の猫やラストシーンなど)素晴らしいタッチで描かれるが、それは詩人で批評家の北川冬彦が「散文的」として支持した手法の現れであり、『決闘高田の馬場』よりも一層抑制されている。(アーロン・ジェロー)

Duel in Takadanobaba 決闘高田の馬場
Although based on the real duel fought by Yasubei Nakayama, one of the loyal 47 Akō ronin, this is not a tale of loyalty, but of a drunk samurai, his motley neighbors, and the thrills of cinematic motion. Tsumasaburō Bandō, the prewar’s biggest chanbara star, turns in a bravura performance, but the real star is the camera of Masahiro Makino and Hiroshi Inagaki. The flourish, in David Bordwell’s sense of the term, of shooting Yasubei run in over 30 nearly consecutive pans is an audacious declaration of cinematic virtuosity. And then there’s the final battle, which is not really a fight, but a dance celebrating cinematic rhythm. (Aaron Gerow)


Sonatine ソナチネ
Just as Takeshi Kitano can have many faces (as Beat Takeshi, for instance), so can his films. Is Sonatine the epitome of his period of self-destruction, before he re-discovered life from Hana-Bi on? Or is this the peak of Kitano’s deconstruction of cinema and national identity, using yakuza fleeing a turf war and playing on an Okinawan beach to question Japaneseness and the way film constructs selves, before he used Japan to play to festival audiences? Is this a film that must be narrated through the authorial persona of Kitano, or does it depict the death of the author itself? This is Kitano’s challenge, or the challenge of Kitano. (Aaron Gerow)

北野武が(例えば、ビートたけしとして)さまざまな顔を持つことができるように、彼の映画も多くの顔を持つことができる。『ソナチネ』は、『HANA-BI』以降、彼が生を再発見していく前の、自己破壊の時期の縮図なのだろうか? あるいはこの作品は、映画祭の観客受けを狙って日本を持ち出す以前の彼が、日本人とは何か、映画の構造とは何かを問うために、抗争から逃避して沖縄の海岸で遊ぶヤクザを使って映画と国民性を再構築した、その頂点を示す作品なのだろうか? この映画は北野という作家の仮面を通じて物語られているのだろうか、もしくは作家自身の死が描かれているのだろうか? この作品は北野の挑戦であり、あるいは北野に対するわれわれの挑戦である。(アーロン・ジェロー)