PiaFF Dispatches

joseph murphy urj7
Mon Jul 1 13:03:23 EDT 2002

BTW, I am organizing a section of short Arab films at the
festival, which is outside the realm of this mailing list,
but still I hope that visitors of PFF would enjoy them.

Thank you to  Khash Najib, who reported on the first night of the PIA
Film Festival.  Najib was a little nonplussed at Yaguchi Shinobu's glib
answer to efforts to discern a critical point to his omnibus film on the
Parco Department Store.  Yaguchi is a graduate of the PIA Film Festival
(Rain Women, 1989), who's films can now be rented at Blockbuster, the
main commercial distributor in the USA, so he's a director on a rising
commercial trajectory, not one to be ignored when looking at the
direction and origins of contemporary Japanese film.  I interviewed him
in 1997 in preparation for an article on his first feature (Down the
Drain, Hadashi no picnic, 1993), and he had the same attitude at that
time re some questionable sexual politics in the film.  In this I think
he reflects a distaste for politics among Japanese of a certain age (as
in post-60's), or perhaps a stance that refuses 60's style, or
Western-style "engagement" as narcissistic.  Still, critics and
intellectuals in Japan are self-conscious about the attraction this
stance holds for young people and well aware of the insufficiency of the
analysis that allows film or manga artists to put any kind of
representation of violence or sex up and disclaim responsibility (see
philosopher Azuma Hiroki's wide-ranging taidan with young novelists,
artists and filmmakers).  Still, I think Yaguchi's films are highly
original in their disposition of narrative, some of the most interesting
things structurally in the last decade, any medium.

So, anyway, having recently arrived in Japan for a month or so, I went
down to the Kokusai Forum and caught one of the PFF afternoon bills.
The opening film was "The Violin" (1991) by Artif Hatate (sp?), one of
the short films Najib arranged, and it was absolutely superb.  A really
spare 22 minute story of a young woman playing a violin in a park,
remembering a disjointed sequence of events that you eventually realize
brought her there.  There is some highly original camerawork panning
around the young woman's face as she sits on a blanket by a kind of dead
sea, stunning composition throughout, never more than two colors in a
frame, and a really affecting interweaving of low-key images of desire,
domestic space, the ambiguous presence of men, the violin.  Just over
and over, they reintroduce themselves.  It's the kind of film you dream
vividly about, like Paradjanov.

The feature film was "Dancer in the Shark" (2002) by Nagaya Masashi.  By
contrast, it was the worst film I've ever seen in competition, at any
level, ever in my life, as cheap as the pun of its title.  It was billed
as part of a vanguard of confident new Japanese films  set to take over
the world ("These films are like opening a box of toys, a world-class
originality leaping from one place to the next" reads the copy).  The
story was basically a parody of the "Way of..." type movies where the
guy begs to be taken as an apprentice to a Dutch Motor Car Racer.   I
have seen excellent satires of these "overcoming all sorts of obstacles
on the way to enlightenment" kinds of stories, Tampopo for one, another
by Kyoto TV about a group of teenagers who dedicate their lives to
bringing about a reunion of Led Zeppelin.  They go through all sorts of
preparations accompanied by uplifting "Rocky" type music, and then find
out John Bonham is dead, and the announcer intones "The way to the Led
Zeppelin Reunion is steep."  I understand low-tech, I understand satire.
This film just sucked.  It was so bad I wouldn't have spent 10 seconds
on it if it was on TV and I'd been flipping through the channels.  It
didn't even rise to the level of Shimomura Ken.  It sucked so bad it was
disrespectful to the audience and I never remember in all my life
feeling like I'd been suckered in paying for the movie.  It's not just
that it was a bad movie, it went beyond that, it didn't show the bare
minimum of care and investment in its own production and broke the
unspoken contract with the movie-goer.

Okay, I think I've gotten that out of my system.  Now, I have to grant
that it's possible that I've now reached a certain age, and I just
missed the point.  Maybe I simply don't understand the sensibilities of
the new young and this is the new Godard, the toy-box master, an emperor
of play.  And there was an audience of people who laughed tepidly and
stuck around while the producer answered questions on financing.  On the
other hand, I wasn't born when Breathless came out, and I don't even
like Godard.  I've been following the PFF since its inception, and I
think this movie just crossed a line.

There are a couple considerations here.
	a- PFF is a forum for independent and unfinanced filmmakers.
Entries used to be largely shot in 8 mm, the cheapest thing available.
Now it's largely digital video.  This has become an issue this year, and
the apolitical Yaguchi for one has expressed some conservative views on
this.  Whatever the democratizing merits of digital video, it
substantially lowers the bar for making a film, and this point has to be
faced.  I can't generalize from one film, but one used to be able to
presume a certain amount of commitment and forethought in a group that
put together a film.  You can't now, and it is likely that there are a
lot of very bad films being circulated.
	b- The question remains though of why PFF allowed this in, and
thought it okay to charge people to see it.  In the past there were
always questionnaires and surveys collected after screenings to get the
thoughts of the audience.  Not so today.  Perhaps PFF is now a victim of
its own success.

Anyway, if others have attended sessions of the PFF, I hope you'll give
your impressions, and by all means if anyone has a different take on the
films I've discussed, please give us another way to look at it.
J. Murphy
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