Film series in Chicago

Chris Perrius caperriu
Wed Jan 6 12:42:49 EST 1999

A unique film retrospective has been organized by the Japanese Cinema
Workshop at the University of Chicago that features the cinematographer
Masaki Tamura (1939-). The series runs at DOC Films on Sunday evenings from
January 10 to March 7.  See schedule below.

We are also lucky enough to have Mr. Tamura come to introduce one film in
the series, and give a talk with Professor Tom Gunning to be followed by
screening of yet another film that couldn't be included in the series.
Finally, there will be a symposium in conjunction with the series that will
feature two well-known documentary filmmakers and several scholars.  The
focus of the symposium will be political activism through documentary film.

Our series focuses on a cinematographer who is relatively unknown in the
West rather than a director or genre because Mr. Tamura's career intersects
with many important trends in recent Japanese film.  First, Tamura started
his career as a cinematographer by collaborating with Shinsuke Ogawa,
arguably the greatest documentary filmmaker in Japanese history.  The ten
films Tamura made with him are Ogawa's best-known works. Since Ogawa's
films have rarely been shown in the US, it will be a great achievement and
honor to be able to introduce three of his films to the Chicago audience.
Our series begins with the three most important of these films.

Second, since the early 1970s, young independent film directors in Japan,
moved by Tamura's cinematography in Ogawa's films, began asking Tamura to
work with them. His work with young directors, especially since the
mid-1990s, has spawned a number of compelling and highly-acclaimed films,
notably the 1997 Cannes prize winner, Naomi Kawase's Suzaku (1997), and
Shinji Aoyama's controversial Helpless (1996). Tamura's filmography itself,
therefore, and not simply his association with Ogawa Productions, has
garnered him an unparalleled reputation among critics and fans of
Japanese film.

Our primary goal is to present Japanese films which have seldom been
screened in the US.  Further, by presenting the lifework of a
cinematographer, we hope to shed light on less understood facets of
contemporary Japanese film such as the aesthetics of camerawork, the roles
of production team members, the dynamics of the post-studio industry, and
more.  Ogawa's films often address the relation between nature,
modernization, and human life in Japan, and subsequent directors working
with Tamura have likewise consciously investigated similar themes.
Finally, the span of Tamura's career comments interestingly on changes in
the political and aesthetic landscapes in Japan.

Information about related events follows the description of the series below.
Film Series:
Japanese Cinema After the Economic Miracle: A Retrospective of Masaki
Tamura, Cinematographer

Sundays, 7:00 p.m.
January 10-March 7, 1999
At DOC Films, UC Max Pavlesky Theater, Ida Noyes Hall, 1212 East 59th Street
Tickets $3.  Street parking available.

1/10/99 Narita: The Peasants of the Second Fortress (Shinsuke Ogawa, 1971)
1/17/99 Narita: Heta Village (Shinsuke Ogawa, 1973)
1/24/99 A Japanese Village, Furuyashikimura (Shinsuke Ogawa, 1982)
1/31/99 The Assassination of Ryoma (Kazuo Kuroki, 1974)
2/7/99  Farewell to the Land (Mitsuo Yanagimachi, 1982)
2/14/99 Untamagiru (Tsuyoshi Takamine, 1989)
2/21/99 Helpless (Shinji Aoyama, 1996)
2/28/99 Duo (Nobuhiko Suwa, 1997), with a brief introduction by Masaki Tamura
3/7/99  Suzaku (Naomi Kawase, 1997)

Descriptions of the three Ogawa films we are showing:

January 10
Narita: The Peasants of the Second Fortress (Sanrizuka: Dainitoride no
hitobito) 1971, B&W, 143 min., 16 mm, Japan. Directed by Shinsuke Ogawa.
This film is part of Shinsuke Ogawa's "Sanrizuka Series," a record of the
farmer revolt against the Japanese government program of forced
resettlement to accommodate the construction of Narita International
Airport (1966-).* In this film, Ogawa, arguably the greatest documentarist
in Japanese film history, does not try to provide a conventional, objective
account of this political struggle. Rather, Tamura's elastic camera
tenaciously captures the political consciousness of the farmers in their
faces and in their concrete acts of resistance, chaining themselves to a
barricade or digging tunnels to serve as their hidden fortress.  The film
received the Joseph von Sternberg Prize at the Mannheim International Film
Festival. In Japanese with English subtitles.

*"Sanrizuka" is a region in Chiba prefecture, located northeast of Tokyo.
In 1966, the Japanese government decided to build an international airport
in Narita, and the farmers, who had lived there for generations, or were
repatriated there after WWII and developed fields by themselves, were
abruptly ordered to leave. Farmers in Sanrizuka, contrary to the
government's expectations, strongly protested, and waged long and tough
struggles against the government with the help of New Left students
and activists. This movement is one of the most significant and
long-running acts of people's struggle in Japan in the post-WWII era.

January 17
Narita: Heta Village (Sanrizuka: Heta buraku) 1973, B&W, 146 min., 16 mm,
Directed by Shinsuke Ogawa.
Ogawa and his staff lived among the farmers to create this unique
documentary, which focuses less on the political arena of the Sanrizuka
struggle than on farmers' day-to-day lives during the protest. Tamura's
camera gazes at an old woman recollecting her life, at farmers' heated
discussions of their struggle, at an old man recounting a village history,
allowing these scenes to unfold gradually by lingering on the subject. The
New Year's festival and other communal traditions of Heta village dating
from the pre-modern era are displayed in rich detail. In Japanese with
English subtitles.

January 24
A Japanese Village, Furuyashikimura (Nippon-koku furuyashiki-mura) 1982,
color, 210 min., 16 mm, Japan. Directed by Shinsuke Ogawa.
The first part of this film is devoted to an investigation of the
particular conditions of rice farming and weather in Furuyashikimura, a
small village in the mountains of northeastern Japan. The second part turns
to the villagers' lives, which defy stereotypical images of rural Japan.
The film offers such fascinating pictures as a charcoal burner's
individualistic work and several villagers' recollections of their wartime
experiences. The image of an old man in his old military uniform playing
his bugle against the quiet landscape may sum up this extremely moving,
eerie film, which received the Fipresci Prize at Berlin. In Japanese with
English subtitles.
Related Events:
1) A Conversation with Cinematographer Masaki Tamura and Professor Tom Gunning
6:30 to 10:00 p.m., February 26, Friday
University of Chicago, Cobb Hall, Room 307 5811 S. Ellis Ave., Chicago IL 60637
Followed by a screening of the acclaimed film, Himatsuri (Fire Festival).

2) Symposium: The Activist Camera: Class, Sexuality, Ethnicity in Films of
February 26-27. Cobb Hall and Classics 10.
Featuring filmmakers Nakata Toichi, director of Osaka Story, and Barbara
Hammer, director of many documentaries of gay and lesbian life, including
Nitrate Kisses, and scholars Keith Vincent (Japanese Literature and Queer
Theory; NYU) and Jonathan Mark Hall (Japanese film, UC Santa Cruz and U
Tokyo).  These two films will be screened in the morning, followed by a
panel discussion in the afternoon.

More detailed information about these events will be posted in February.
The descriptions of the other six films and more information about related
events are now on the web at: If you need more material about
the series or events, please contact me.

Chris Perrius
University of Chicago
caperriu at

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