WED February 13, 2013 @ The Bellevue : Rambling Guitarist (1959)
WED February 20, 2013 @ The Bellevue : Golgo 13 (1973)
WED February 27, 2013 @ The Bellevue : Godspeed You! Black Emperor (1976)
WED March 6, 2013 @ PhilaMOCA : Hachi-ko (1987)
WED March 13, 2013 @ PhilaMOCA : Sweet Home (1989)
WED March 20, 2013 @ PhilaMOCA : University of Laughs (2004)
All features are shown with English subtitles.
All screenings are free, presented digitally and begin at 7:30pm.
Free popcorn is provided by the JASGP. Locations: The Bellevue
200 South Broad Street (Broad/Walnut), 7th Floor Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art (PhilaMOCA)
531 N. 12th Street (12th/Spring Garden)
This installment of Unknown Japan is part of
WED February 13, 2013 @ The Bellevue Rambling Guitarist (1959)
Dir. Buichi Saito
We're kicking things off with a classic: the first installment of Nikkatsu's popular nine-film The Rambler series. Despite some western flourishes, the formula is a familar one: Shinji Taki (future superstar Akira Kobayashi from the Battles Without Honor and Humanity series) enters an unfamiliar town (Hakodate in this case), woos a local girl, fights a local bad guy (future yazuka movie heavyweight Joe Shishido, Branded to Kill), and then departs to repeat the process somewhere new. Leather jacket-clad Taki may be young, but he can drink, gamble and fight with the best of them. Kobayashi performs the hit theme song himself.
WED February 20, 2013 @ The Bellevue Golgo 13 (1973)
Dir. Jun'ya Sato
Unknown Japan favorite Ken Takakura (Abashiri Prison, Black Rain) stars in this live-action adaptation of Japan's longest-running manga series, Golgo 13 (biblical references are intentional). In the film, Golgo, aka Duke Togo, a world-renowned assassin whose personal life is shrouded in mystery, is assigned the task of taking out the head of a Middle Eastern syndicate. Aside from Takakura, the film's cast is entirely Iranian and it was filmed on location in the Middle East. The film may not have the best reputation, it's often overshadowed by 1977's Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment starring the great Sonny Chiba in the titular role, but director Jun'ya Sato is a capable filmmaker who allows his lead plenty of cool heroic posturing and Takakura himself does a fine job bringing the stoic hitman to life. And there's a moment of completely unnecessary violence towards the end of the film that truly justifies its inclusion in the Unknown Japan series, it's one of those memorable, stand-up-and-cheer occurrences.
WED February 27, 2013 @ The Bellevue Godspeed You! Black Emperor (1976)
Dir. Mitsuo Yanagimachi
So now you know where the much-loved Canadian post-rock group acquired its name. This documentary on the Black Emperors motorcycle gang is the definitive look at Japan's mid-70s bosozoku subculture yet it's not the portrayal of teenage delinquents that fiction films like Crazy Thunder Road may lead you to imagine. Director Yanagimachi provides unsensationalized portraits of an assortment of good-spirited, unemployed high school dropouts as they deal with concerned parents, meddlesome cops, and the threat of opposing biker gangs (such as the Pink Panthers). These are young men who live to ride, more concerned with their wheels and their gang than they are with their own well-being. A valuable portrait of Japan's post-hippie youth generation set to the heavy sounds of 1970s Japanese rock.
WED March 6, 2013 @ PhilaMOCA Hachi-ko(1987)
Dir. Seijiro Koyama
You may already be familiar with the endearing story of Hachi, Japan's most loyal dog whose bronze statue forever sits outside of Tokyo's Shibuya Station for the benefit of admirers and tourists (yes, I've had my photo taken beside it). And if you're unfamiliar then you're in for a real treat. Japan's top-grossing film of 1987 follows the life of the titular Akita from his comfortable life with a college professor (Tatsuya Nakadai of Yojimbo and Sword of Doom fame) to his tear-inducing fate at the hands of inherent, unswerving loyalty. The story is stuff of legends in Japan and has been adapted in various media formats over the years, most recently in 2009's Hachi: A Dog's Tale starring Richard Gere (another one that is more than worthy of your time). A film that's as joyous as it is devastating, bring your own tissues.
WED March 13, 2013 @ PhilaMOCA Sweet Home (1989)
Dir. Kiyoshi Kurasawa
Before he became the accomplished, meditative director that we all know and love (best illustrated in films like 2003's Bright Future and 2008's Tokyo Sonata), Kiyoshi Kurasawa cut his chops on a bunch of low-budget horror films. 1989's Sweet Home is easily the most memorable of these, an oddball/comedic haunted house story that follows a television crew as they uncover the secrets of an artist's abandoned mansion. Produced by Kurosawa's mentor Juzo Itami (director of Tampopo and ATaxing Woman), Sweet Home features top-notch gore effects and a pop art sensibility that recalls 1977's Hausu. It's a ton of fun that is perhaps now remembered more for its Nintendo video game tie-in than anything else (no one seems to know which came first, the game or the movie, but they were released simultaneously). A true classic of 1980s Japanese horror that has finally surfaced in better-than-VHS-bootleg condition.
WED March 20, 2013 @ PhilaMOCA University of Laughs (2004)
Dir. Mamoru Hoshi
Perhaps the most unknown of the current series, University of Laughs is one of my favorite modern Japanese films and I'm so excited to share it with UJ attendees. Based on a stage production and adapted for the screen by its author, Mitani Koki, this rather simple tale of censorship in 1940 Japan is as surprisingly endearing as it is hilarious. Koji Yakusho (Shall We Dance) stars as a staunch government worker whose job is to sift through creative works and ready them for wartime Japanese audiences, meaning that he plays the role of creative judge and jury much to the fear of playwrights and other writers. The film unfolds like a theatre piece, set almost entirely in a single room and propelled by an ongoing exchange between the censor and a talented young playwright who aspires for greatness with the patience of a saint. A testament to the power of comedy in the face of utter bleakness, University of Laughs is both a subtle anti-war film and a hilarious character study that successfully evokes a wide range of emotions from its viewers. It makes me cry every time.