Friday, July 19, 2013

Bring Back Cinema!

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When will cinema come back? More and more, the masses of people are being sucked into television and the most routine genre pictures. These are nothing more than scripted dramas, a simple logical unfolding of events that bores in its predictability. When will we get back to something more subtle and abstract . . . i.e. the universal, the metaphorical? How much more beautiful is the face of a woman from the countryside or a certain sunrise than another formulaic celebration of the careers of lawyers, junior executives, or stockbrokers? Audiences are so submerged in these topical dramas that they are taught to hate cinema, and love the most rushed, poorly crafted entertainment. 'As long as there's a story, and it has a surprise!' some say. I hope the art won't die along with its audience.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Girl Who Picks Flowers and the Girl Who Kills Insects (2000)

When I first heard of Hitoshi Yazaki, I, as usual, perused his filmography on iMDb. I think it was Strawberry Shortcakes that was the first film of his I had seen, then March Comes in Like a Lion (aka flat-out masterpiece), and later, Sweet Little Lies.

The one elusive feature that seemed to stray away from me was the one that had the longest running time, The Girl Who Picks Flowers and the Girl Who Kills Insects, a feature of roughly four hours.

It wasn't until yesterday that I once again thought about this film. It's still on my list of must-see's from 90s/2000s J-cinema masters, including Makoto Shinozaki's Okaeri, Kaizo Hayashi's Circus Boys, and Naomi Kawase's Hotaru. All four have completely eluded attempts to locate them, despite what seems to be some rare VHS copies in the University of California System.

After being reminded of it yet again, I decided to dig up some information, if possible, on this very long Yazaki film. Searching the film's title in kanji, and then using Google Translate to decipher whatever info was written, proved fruitful indeed.

According to one website, the picture is about a group of people whose lives intersect around a ballet school in London. Two of them love a central character, a dancer, and there is also a Japanese visitor, as well as a black Londoner, in this tale that turns out to be a love triangle, or parallelogram of sorts.

That was about as much as I could decipher from the machine translation, but it was enough to keep me going. Other websites claimed that it was screened once at Keio University, with the director present. I'm also aware that the Japan Society had Yazaki present at a screening of Sweet Little Lies once, during which he wore his trademark shades and hat (this video is available on YouTube).

The other film by the director that is difficult to locate is Afternoon Breezes, but I have a hunch there is a copy floating around somewhere. Independent films from Japan are particularly hard to find because like America, there is hardly any distribution channels for them. The studios there are more interested in spewing out these below par manga adaptations that seem to be flooding the film radar, instead of taking a shot on unofficial talent

Experience also tells me that longer films tend to be better. This isn't always the case, but I have certainly found that films exceeding the 3-hour mark have the time, and therefore the ability, to get into all those details of character that I find interesting. One reviewer referenced it to The Mother and the Whore, but in running time and pacing only. There are a few films, of course, that manage to get into such depths as the ones that take their time, but I've only found this with the most precise and sparing of directors. Rohmer and Bresson come to mind as an example.

Regardless if this will ever turn up or not, I'd like to think it should something of an important film, maybe even a gem, because Yazaki is very talented. In one translation, a person likened something to "the masterpiece . . . " and referred to Flowers/Insects, so it leaves me hopeful.

I also feel that in putting info out there, or at least trying to dig up info, on films that haven't yet come to the English-speaking world, will help them to do so. After writing about how much I wanted to see them, several of Jissoji's Art Theatre Guild features became available online, with subtitles, no doubt. So in short, I think I'm helping.