Sunday, November 14, 2021

Ryusuke Hamaguchi's “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” at Northwest Film Forum: Nov 17 - 21



Two decades have elapsed since the Japanese cinema explosion of the 1990s. The directors who led that wave; Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Takeshi Kitano, Naomi Kawase, and Takashi Miike, are still among the industry's most high profile faces on the international festival circuit. Contemporaneously, a new generation of filmmakers are also making themselves heard. Taste of Cinema's 2017 overview goes some way to assert this, with their substantial serving offered in the "The 25 Best Japanese Movies of The 2010s (So Far)". 2015 was a standout year for this set of rising new directors. It saw the domestic release of Shunji Iwai's disorienting urban drama, "A Bride for Rip Van Winkle", Ryusuke Hamaguchi's 5-hour domestic tranquility stunner, "Happy Hour", and Koji Fukada taking home the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at Cannes for “Harmonium”. Fukada utilizing the global platform of his Cannes win to state that, "Japanese Cinema Must Adapt to Survive". Of this new batch of directors, it could be said that "Fukada’s Filmmaking is a Breath of Fresh Air" that can be seen to follow explicitly in the footsteps of Kiyoshi Kurosawa in his darkly pessimistic take on the concerns that comprise modern Japanese life. Another string of films in the last half decade that have been rich in character nuance, and high in drama have distinguished Kazuya Shiraishi, particularly that of his most recent, "'Last of the Wolves': A Sequal With as Much Bite as the First". There have also been strong returns offered by "Sion Sono's Set of Films That Don’t Fit His Bad-Boy Label", and Takahisa Zeze's miraculous transformation seen in "The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine", offering up a whole new array of concerns around, "Takahisa Zeze's Crime, Punishment, and Transcendence".

In many regards, this "New Wave of Japanese Filmmakers Matches the Old", with new films by both Fukada and Hamaguchi premiering at Cannes to outstanding reviews in 2020 and 2021. Ryusuke Hamaguchi has particularly delivered higher nuance and complexity than previously seen, with a set of two new films in the year. The first of which took home the best screenplay award for it's adaptation of Haruki Murakami's short story of the same name published in the "Men Without Women" anthology. As Peter Bradshaw's review in The Guardian states, this "Mysterious Murakami Tale of Erotic and Creative Secrets" has more than a resemblance to the concerns explored in “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy”. More than a "Triptych of Light-Touch Philosophy", this deceptively unassuming movie instead watches as a mildly subversive observation on the goings-on between men and women, and at its core is an exploration of, "What We Talk About". By this, Manohla Dargis means to say that it maps a geometry of desire expressed in sometimes casual and cruel intimacies that are divulged through three extended segments. As men and women circle one another, they exchange confessions and accusations, through a cascade of words, gestures, and glances. It is through these effusive dialogues that they slowly come to unveil the nature of their central yearnings, fears, and intentions. Taking a major prize amidst the abundance on offer at, "Berlin Film Festival 2021: The Most Impressive Selection in Years", this first of the year's films from Hamaguchi is the director's most solidly constructed and satisfying to date. "Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy" is the newest installment in a filmmography of challenging narrative choices, extended durations, understated visuals, and a rejection of the kind of dramatic problems, moral instruction and visually appealing dressing meant to ease the complexity of interpersonal relationships too often encountered in American independent cinema. Western film culture in general could look to Hamaguchi, as in just a year he has given us two works that represent superior routes out of the impasse of this particular brand of storytelling bankruptcy.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Peace Simulation Northwest and Rain City Doom Fest at Substation: Nov 12 & 20


With the postponement of Northwest Terror Fest and the closing of Seattle's premiere metal, hardcore, industrial, punk and doom venue The Highline due to the protracted effects of the coronavirus pandemic, Substation have risen to fill the programming void left in their wake. Two showcases in the month of November will highlight a particularly Northwest strain of sounds from the heavier end of the 21st century issuing from the mutating offshoots of black metal. The related global scene's ongoing and burgeoning development have encompassed melodicism and atmospheres lifted from shoegaze and spacerock, eruptions of heavy psych rock, industrial drumming, electronic atmospheres, and pure experimental noise. The expansiveness of this sound is further detailed in Brad Sanders' essential overview, "Untrue And International: Living in a Post-Black Metal World". Beyond this primer, deeper reading and curation from this spectrum can be found in the past decade of excellent selections in The Quietus' Columnus Metallicus column, covering releases dominantly sourced from labels like, Hydrahead, Ipecac, Deathwish, 20 Buck Spin, Sargent House, Profound Lore, Season of Mist, Roadburn, Flenser, Neurot and Relapse. These two showcases at Substation feature metal issuing from this particular low-lit landscape of experimental sludge, noise, and doom variations. The first of which presented by Peace Simulation as a popup Northwest Showcase, featuring experimental fusions by Thrill Jockey label artist The Body, doom riffs from Seattle's UN, dark ambient industrial sounds from Sutekh Hexen, Relapse Records doom metal from Portland's Usnea, and sludge and ur-metal by Denver's Primitive Man. The second of these showcases focused explicitly on the low tempos and weighty, gloaming masses of sound billed as Rain City Doom Fest. The night will feature sets from Witch Ripper, Montana's Wizzerd, and the volcanic melting of hardcore and sludge of Seattle's Heiress.

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Joanna Hogg's "The Souvenir Part II" at AMC 10 & Landmark Theatres: Nov 12 - Dec 9



Opening the third week of November at regional AMC Theaters, and later at Landmark's The Crest Cinema, Joanna Hogg's second entry in a set of tales surrounding Julie, a film school student in 1980s London, follows the young protagonist (superbly played by Honor Swinton-Byrne) working out her voice as an adult and a director. A rare opportunity in being given the greenlight for a two-part drama, Hogg has been developing the project since initially conceiving the semi-autobiographical tale in the late 1980s, which she details for the New York Times, “A Filmmaking Life Gets a Sequel”. Until recently, her films have been a relative arthouse secret, "Joanna Hogg, where have you been all my life?" wrote Manohla Dargis in response to her first three features comprising "Unrelated", "Archipelago", and "Exhibition" being released domestically in 2014. Yet, it was only with the first part of "The Souvenir", that a wider audience experienced this same revelation. This "absolute joy to watch" as described by A.O. Scott was the first encounter with Hogg's rich vein of storytelling for many viewers. On its release, Monica Castillo cited "The Souvenir"'s depiction of a troubled romance and it's divisive qualities for Roger Ebert.com, particularly among contemporary audiences unwilling, or unable to parse such contradictions. "From its Sundance premiere, I heard grumblings about its main character, Julie, and the frustrations some felt with her decision to stay in a clearly toxic relationship. For me, “The Souvenir” is perhaps the most empathetic movie to capture that kind of bad romance, the way it seeps into every aspect of your life, the way it changes your behavior, how you hold onto the memories of good times when things get rough and how after it ends, you're a changed person. “The Souvenir” doubles as a reference to the unseen but still painful bruises you can get with a relationship as rocky as theirs. Some days, I miss those rose-colored glasses, but I have the bruises to remind me why I took them off in the first place."

Fathomed in her interview with Film Comment, through Hogg's sympathetic eye for shots, pacing and structure, the film delivers a mature and nonjudgmental observation on the joys and heartbreaking pain of these contradictions. Resembling in some ways the cinema of the French auteurs Eric Rohmer and Claire Denis, themselves of differing generations and sensibilities, this newly-ardently admired oeuvre truly came into being with complex tableau of, "Joanna Hogg Revisiting Her Past Selves". More than just, "A Great Movie About a Bad Boyfriend", as the title of A.O. Scott's review of the first entry implies, Julie and Anthony's shared intellectual passion, artistic questing, aspirations and humiliations initially are found to pivot around his undisclosed and secretive life troubles. Punctuated by the arrival of postcards as stopgaps, implying the passage of time and shifting relations between its protagonists, the structure of "The Souvenir" is largely linear, with brief poetic digressions voicing moments of inner reflection. Over time we witness Julie begin to break loose from the constraints of these influences, as her denial gives way to necessary recognition and an, "Opening Up the Privileged World From Which She Emerged". Through loss and pain, coming to recognize herself outside of these external conditions, we see a decisively different course for her own art and pursuit of identity. The cumulative effect of this great film of small moments, is Joanna Hogg's "'The Souvenir' is a Masterly Coming-of-Age Portrait", that invests great belief in its audience and the unguarded candor of experience lived. With "The Souvenir Part II" the director picks up where Julie's struggling with her life and the form of her art left off, this is instead in many ways, “Life As She Imagines It”. In this "Near-Perfect Sequel About Loss and Art", we revisit the young filmmaker in a form which Peter Bradshaw finds less detached, more emotionally engaging in its immediacy, as we are enticed into Julie’s world for a second time, “The Souvenir Part II:  A Flood of Austere Sunlight in Joanna Hogg’s Superb Sequel”.

Friday, October 1, 2021

All Monsters Attack at Grand Illusion Cinema: Oct 1 - Nov 4 | Orcas Island Film Festival: Oct 7 - 11| William Kennedy Memorial Screening at Grand Illusion Cinema: Oct 9


September marked the first significant return to programming after nearly eighteen months of closure for the regional independent music venues, and Seattle's independent cinemas in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In many cases, their future remained uncertain until as recently as the February federal stimulus bill and the approval of funding for arts and cultural venues that came with it. Over a year later relief funding became available for many of these same institutions with the benefits of the Save Our Stages Act finally beginning to arrive, alongside the newly implemented Shuttered Venues Grant. The benefits of the various pandemic relief bills, with regional infrastructure like the 4Culture Relief Fund, awareness efforts like the Washington Nightlife Music Association, crowdfunding and philanthropy like the ArtistRelief, ArtsFund grant, and GiveBig Washington have come in the 11th hour for many of these venues and institutions. North of Seattle, one of the region's most compelling cinephile events is scheduled to return the second weekend in October. As an example of festival programming featuring diverse and qualitative content, the current body of the Seattle International Film Festival could take a page or two from the Orcas Island Film Festival. While running only five days, and featuring less than one thirtieth of the films on offer during the three weeks of SIFF, the regional microfestival is an exemplar representation of contemporary programming. In the unlikely setting of the rural beauty of the San Juan islands, chief programmer Carl Spence, has produced a small 16 film program to rival that of its Seattle goliath. As the Seattle Times states, it is the case that "Orcas Island Film Festival: Small Fest, Big Movies" which draws largely from this year's Cannes Film Festival, alongside a number of the notable films from Venice, Sundance, and Toronto. Among the films on offer in Orcas, there's Mia Hansen-Løve's "Bergman Island", Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Cannes Jury Prize winning "Memoria", Italian maestro Paulo Sorrentino's newest, "The Hand of God", the always riveting Asghar Farhadi's "A Hero", auteur Céline Sciamma returns with "Petite Maman", Pablo Larraín's most recent historic biodrama, "Spencer", Todd Haines music documentary on, "The Velvet Underground", Joachim Trier's "The Worst Person in the World", Mike Mills' "C'mon C'mon", and the life of feline portraitist Lois Wane in Will Sharpe's "The Electrical Life of Louis Wain".

To my mind, the months of October and November could always do with more in the way of programming around Halloween season genre film and its disorienting frights, crepuscular surrealism, and discomfiting atmospheres. Thankfully, Scarecrow Video annually steps up with their curated Halloween section of domestic and international horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and psychotronic selections. The Psychotronic Challenge also returns in its sixth installment, challenging viewers to select a new theme category for every day in October from the deep trivia of the cues on offer. While we're here, lets talk the incomparable one-of-a-kind resource that is Scarecrow, and how if you live in the Northwest and are a fan of cinema, it's essentially your personal obligation to ensure their doors stay open for business. For horror and genre aficionados, there is no other resource in North America like that offered by Scarecrow Video and their abundant catalog of obscure, foreign releases, out of print, and ultra-rare editions, and with nearly 140,000 films on offer, no singular online streaming resource can compare. In previous years, the annual citywide cinematic offerings for the months of October and November have seen a great set of films exploring desolate worlds, classic Japanese horror, a vampiric romaticism double feature and a night of music from a maestro of Italian horror. Also in the way of recent Halloween seasons of note, the local arthouse cinemas presented a an abundance on the theme of the haunted house in 2015, and 2013 saw no small number of invaders from beyond. 2017 was heavy on 1970s psychedelic and psychological horror from Europe, particularly from the era of abundance seen in the subgenres of French Fantastique and Italian Giallo. 2018's programming taking a cue from Nick Pinkerton's feature for Sight & Sound, and their "The Other Side of 80s America" focus on the decade of independent and genre cinema issuing from the United States. Concurrent with the pop culture revelry of Reaganite family-oriented dramas, action, teen movies, and sci-fi blockbusters, a more rebellious and independent strain of US movie making explored the darkness on the edge of mainstream society. While the final pre-pandemic installment in 2019 presented an abundance of films from this era of American horror alongside a bold mix of decades of classic European, Asian, and Italian genre material.

One of the longest running, and most consistently satisfying of the local Halloween series has been The Grand Illusion Cinema's monthlong All Monsters Attack calendar of horror, creature features, classic thrillers, sci-fi, and cult cinema. Rather than the usual mix of new releases and archival prints, this year's installment is programmed almost exclusively around films that were released in the past eighteen months and subsequently denied a theatrical run. The proceedings begin with a memorial night for Seattle's most dedicated cinephile, music lover, and man-about-town, William Kennedy. Before his passing earlier this year, Bill wished for nothing more than his friends and cultural compatriots to join together for a screening of David Cronenberg's classic techno-horror thriller, “Videodrome”. Also up on the slate, is the most recent work by the junior member of the Cronenberg family, Brandon Cronenberg, with his "Possessor: Uncut", featured in an alternate director's edition. The United Kingdom's mastermind of genre cinema, Ben Wheatley, returns to his smaller-budget roots after the major production of adapting J.G. Ballard, with the psychedelic eco-horror of In The Earth”. We also get a documentary on the personification of the genre, "Boris Karloff: The Man Behind the Monster", alongside a set of tales of earthy pagan cults, familial curses, a mirror maze reflection on the British "video nasties" of the 1980s, extraterrestrial possession, postmodern spins on the gore slasher, and an astute horror-comedy lycanthrope tale with Jaco Bouwer's "Gaia”, Natalie Erika JamesRelic”, Prano Bailey-Bond's “Censor”, Egor Abramenko's "Sputnik", Steven Kostanski's "Psycho Goreman", and Jim Cummings' "The Wolf of Snow Hollow". Not limited to new releases, All Monsters Attack will also feature the annual tradition of multiple analog media nights. These begin with VHS Uber Alles presenting William Szarka's "Phantom Brother" on its original release format, and The Sprocket Society programming an all-undead Halloween show on 16mm celluloid, including George A. Romero's "Night of the Living Dead". Other mind-warping traditions at Grand Illusion are to be found in the annual Scarecrow Video Secret Screening, hand picked and hosted by Scarecrow's one and only Matt Lynch, and beholding the excesses of Shinya Tsukamoto's body-horror cyberpunk classic and it's sequel, "Tetsuo: The Iron Man", and "Tetsuo II: Body Hammer", both of which are rarely seen on the big screen.

Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Wife of a Spy" & Tsai Ming-Liang's "Days" at Northwest Film Forum: Oct 1 - 3 & Oct 6 - 7



After eighteen months of closures and pandemic restrictions making gatherings in the cinema untenable, Northwest Film Forum returned to public screenings in mid-September. Their October slate includes a set of African independent entries from Jessica Beshir "Faya Dayi", and Arie Esiri & Chuko Esiri's "Eyimofe (This is My Desire)", the most recent in Tsai Ming-Liang's filmography of sublime stillness and grace seen in "Days", and Japan's purveyor of disquiet Kiyoshi Kurosawa with, "Wife of a Spy". Among the directors who led the Japanese cinema explosion of the 1990s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa remains one of Japanese film culture's most high profile faces on the international festival circuit. Taking a more refined turn from his earlier filmography populated by psychological and supernatural horror, since 2008's "Tokyo Sonata", Kurosawa has exhibited an aptitude for sublimating his obsession with societal decay into any conceivable genre. The through-line between his earlier explorations of modern horror and these current ventures into an even more sure footed aesthetic precision. Longtime cinematographer Akiko Ashizawa deserves credit for the elegant framings, disconcerting lighting, and air of desolation and disuse found in the production design, and the substance of Kurosawa's palpable sense of place. As a premonition of hard times and a fierce social and familial satire, Kurosawa made the everyday mundanity of domestic life another of his vehicles for "exploring issues of desperation, loneliness and alienation". One in which the protagonist is living a nightmare largely of his own making, equally inescapable as the mesmerism, curses, and hauntings of the proceeding body of horror work.



Appearing again at Cannes and taking the directing prize in the Un Certain Regard section, Kurosawa's "Journey to the Shore", returned to the supernatural but in a more sublimated process of it's characters gradually losing their inner cohesion through contact between the living and the dead. In his "Wonders to Behold" coverage from Cannes, Kent Jones' espoused the passage through which as an experience, "so exquisitely tuned and delicately heartbreaking that they seem to have been experienced and remembered rather than seen on a movie screen". Shifting yet again into a new genre mode with his following film, the alien scouts of "Before We Vanish" take from human hosts in the time-honored trope of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". Yet their objectives are revealed to be instead a cultural amassing of information through the harvesting of “conceptions”. Mubi's Cannes' coverage detail this "Kiyoshi Kurosawa: Retro Futurist" work, who's central premise is the extraterrestrial visitors' gleaning of key earthling abstractions such as “self”, “family” and “freedom"; at which point the person loses all knowledge of the concept in question. Rather than taking body and form in an effort to quietly subsume the population of their earthly victims, in the infiltration inquiry of "‘Before We Vanish’: The Aliens Have a Lot of Questions".
Returning to even more genre-elusive territory, his following "To The Ends of the Earth", watched as an unnerving and sometimes comedic journey of a travel show host, and portrait of a young woman's struggle to enjoy her own freedom in a confounding and sometimes inscrutable world. Which might be the purest representation yet in his filmography, of "Kiyoshi Kurosawa: Filming and Acting Outside Your Comfort Zone", delivering "A Dreamlike Vision of Clashing Cultures". Which brings us to Kurosawa's first historic drama, "Wife of a Spy", led by another female protagonist portrayed by Yū Aoi, curiously making for an old-fashioned thriller that focuses on it's performances, and traditional plot twists, "Wife of a Spy: Wartime Mystery Thriller of Double and Triple Dealing".

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Seattle Independent Music Venue & Cinema Reopenings: Aug 13 - Sept 30


After a year and a half of navigating the complexities of the pandemic restrictions and closures, programming returns in late August and September to many of the regional independent arts venues. First and foremost, these venues (with the exception of the national theater chains like AMC), are requiring proof of vaccination before being admitted. Prioritizing the safety of their patrons, mask facial coverings and capacity limits have also been established as prerequisites by the below venues. Last month, as stated under the Healthy Washington: Roadmap to Recovery guidelines; "Washington state will no longer evaluate counties based on these Key Indicators of Covid-19 Activity, and the state will fully reopen to Phase 4 on June 30, which could happen earlier if 70% or more of Washingtonians over the age of 16 get their first vaccine dose." This was the first major step towards reopening after nearly eighteen months of closure for the regional independent music venues, and Seattle's independent cinemas in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In many cases, their future remained uncertain until as recently as the February federal stimulus bill and the approval of funding for arts and cultural venues that came with it. Over a year later relief funding became available for many of these same institutions with the benefits of the Save Our Stages Act finally beginning to arrive, alongside the newly implemented Shuttered Venues Grant. The benefits of the various pandemic relief bills, with regional infrastructure like the 4Culture Relief Fund, awareness efforts like the Washington Nightlife Music Association, crowdfunding and philanthropy like the ArtistRelief, ArtsFund grant, and GiveBig Washington have come in the 11th hour for many of these venues and institutions.
 
Opening in late August, Scarecrow Video's sister cinema, The Grand Illusion is leading the charge, both with new in-theater programming open to the public, and an overt pandemic policy statement. In their first weeks of programming they will feature Neill Blomkamp's "Demonic", Pablo Larraine's “Ema”, and Quentin Dupieux's “Mandibles”. Up north, Seattle's last remaining Landmark Theatres venue will host Leos Carax's “Annette” and the anthology film “Year of the Everlasting Storm” featuring segments by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Jafar Panahi, Dominga Sotomayor, Anthony Chen, Malik Vitthal, and Laura Poitras. The national AMC theaters chain also has a few films of note on offer, with David Lowery's Arthurian fable, "The Green Knight”, the newest film from Paul ShraderThe Card Counter”, after his excellent "First Reformed" of 2018, and this year's Cannes breakout stunner “Titane" from Julia Ducournau. The Beacon also returns with a mixed calendar of private rentals and public screenings on select dates. For September these include Mario Bava's “Danger Diabolique”, Alex Cox's "Repo Man", Robert Downey Sr.'s "Putney Swope", and Benny Chan's “Moment of Romance”. SIFF Cinema have announced their opening next month with a full October calendar. Northwest Film Forum initiates their return with the Local Sightings Festival and later in the month Arie & Chuko Esiri's “Eyimofe” and Spike Lee's David Byrne concert film, “American Utopia”. Select music offerings of note in September include James Blake and Herbie Hancock a day apart both at The Paramount. The latter returning to Seattle after his stunning 2019 tour with Kamasi Washington and band supporting. Saharan guitar virtuoso Mdou Moctar and band will be at the newly opened The Crocodile which, a week later will also host Xiu Xiu's tour for their most recent album, "Oh No". That same weekend, Seattle Symphony will be presenting works by Richard Strauss and Igor Stravinsky in their opening night gala. Kelly Lee Owens will be performing her enveloping, rhythmic electronic albums on Scandinavian label Smalltown Supersound at Neumos and experimental, ambient, and magnetic tape composer William Basinski will be presenting the 20th anniversary of his "Disintegration Loops" at Fremont Abbey. Photo credit: Jessica Bartolini
 

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Coil's "Love's Secret Domain" 30th Anniversary reissue on WaxTrax! Records: Sept 10 | "Further Back and Faster: A Return to Coil's Love's Secret Domain" | The Quietus


The last decade has seen a number of significant unearthings from the technocryptic discography of Coil. Most notably among these, the lost 1996 album "Backwards", finally exhumed and released in 2015 by Cold Spring Records. This week sees a sanctioned reissue of it's 1991 predecessor, "Love's Secret Domain", bridging the chronological gap between the previous reissue of it's surrealist sister album, "Stolen & Contaminated Songs". Born of the countercultural hotbed and its response to the constrictions of Margaret Thatcher's England, Jhon Balance and Peter Christohperson's music as Coil may be the most explicitly occult (and outwardly queer) of all of the British post-punk and industrial sounds of the 1980s. The origins of Coil can be found in Christopherson's contribution to the very outfit that coined the term industrial music, and the transgressive sound, art, and theater they deployed as Throbbing Gristle. Splitting from TG with the meeting of Zos Kia's Jhon Balance in 1983, Christopherson's fruitful collaborations with Balance would carve out a body of psychedelic and "sidereal" music on the fringe of post-punk and experimental culture for the next three decades. By the early-1990s the duo had brought on supporting members Stephen Thrower, Drew McDowall, Ossian Brown, Danny Hyde, and William Breeze and an assimilation of UK club music and American minimalist composers into their sound. This all began with the unlikely meeting of British rave, ecstasy, and club culture colliding head-on with their morose, cinematic, and surrealist themes heard on 1991's "Love's Secret Domain".

This wildly energetic and transitional era for Coil is explored by their friend and collaborator, Stephen Thrower, in a recent and revealing interview for The Quietus, "Further Back and Faster: A Return to Coil's Love's Secret Domain". Now, 30 years since it's release on Chicago's legendary industrial and electronic label, WaxTrax!, the album enjoys a gentle remaster polishing by Josh Bonati from original source materials, and new liner notes from Drew Daniel of Matmos. Containing all 13 tracks as featured on the original compact disc edition, this quality reissue is the essential primer to Coil's later phase, as heard on the ill-fated "Backwards" album for the Nothing label, briefed in the "Trent Reznor On Coil & Nine Inch Nails" interview, and 1996's "Black Light District", where they began their venture into an expressly ambient and nocturnal passage. Insight into this mercurial era of their music and assimilation and perversion of then-developing sounds in electronic music is revealed through the inner workings of their "Obscure Mechanics" in philosophical and musing interviews published in the pages of The Wire. There remains no better guide to the mystic, psychedelic, rapturously unique and deeply beguiling music Jhon and Peter created over the decades of Coil's existence, and the wider British countercultural continuum, than David Keenan's "England's Hidden Reverse: A Secret History of the Esoteric Underground". More concise compendiums tend to be on the exiguous side, but few resources bridge Coil's deep plumbing of the esoteric and the cultural milieu of the time better than Russell Cuzner's feature for The Quietus, "Serious Listeners: The Strange and Frightening World of Coil".

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Julius Eastman's "Three Extended Pieces for Four Pianos" released: Jul 16 | Alex Ross on "Julius Eastman’s Florid Minimalism" | The New Yorker


Not unlike some of his African American contemporaries such as Olly Woodrow Wilson Jr. and George E. Lewis, Julius Eastman remained in the margins of his respective facet of the contemporary classical world for the majority of his lifetime. A member of The Creative Associates, a prestigious body of classical music academics at SUNY Buffalo's Center for the Performing Arts, Eastman was also a founding member of the S.E.M. Ensemble in the mid-1970s, alongside composer Petr Kotik. Often overlooked in the histories of modern composers and the avant-garde, features spanning the last few years, like The New Yorker's "The Genius and the Tragedy of Julius Eastman", and "Minimalist Composer Julius Eastman, Dead for 26 Years, Crashes the Canon", for the New York Times, go some way to offer corrective consideration of Eastman's contribution to 20th century classical music. The Guardian details how it was that when the composer and pianist died homeless in 1990, and it appeared that his music would die with him, it was listeners and one tireless researcher who refused to let that happen, “Julius Eastman: The Groundbreaking Composer America Almost Forgot”. Which brings us to 2018 and the release of a small abundance of Eastman's work on labels such as Blume and the compositions that comprise what Eastman called "The Nigger Series". Released in short succession after Frozen Reeds edition of "Femenine", this revival of sorts has led to an overdue scenario in which, 28 Years After His Death, a Composer Gets a Publishing Deal”. The summer of 2021 sees two releases on Belgium's longrunning experimental label, Sub Rosa, including "Three Extended Pieces For Four Pianos", and of "Femenine", in new performances by ensemble 0 and Aum Grand Ensemble.

Alex Ross writes in the New Yorker on the ongoing canonization of what many consider to be Eastman's masterpiece, Julius Eastman’s Florid Minimalism: The Composer’s Thunderous, Propulsive 'Femenine' is Becoming a Modern Classic", and in the pages of the New York Times, the meditative, sprawling composition is being explored in performances around the world, 31 years after his death, “From a Composer’s Resurgence, a Masterpiece Rises. Alongside the preservationist work of Rocco Di Pietro, American minimalist composer Mary Jane Leach has proven herself to be Eastman's most tireless advocate. In interview with The Guardian, Leach traces this back to 1998, when Leach began teaching composition at Cal Arts. Attempting to track down an Eastman piece for 10 cellos she’d seen him conduct in 1981, Leach encountered a series of dead ends: “It gradually dawned on me. All his music was missing.” As a consequence, Leach became “an accidental musicologist”, hunting for Eastman’s lost works. “My analogy is like coming across an accident,” she says. “I couldn’t walk away and hope someone else would show up.” This would begin a decades-long endeavor of discovery, revival and preservation “In Search of Julius Eastman", which she maps for New Music. Leach herself becoming a point of discussion around the shepherding of Eastman's legacy, writing an editorial for Art News on Julius Eastman, she inquires, "How to Talk About History? A Composer Wonders How to Handle Incendiary Titles by Composer Julius Eastman". Equally complex in its nuance, and touching on correlative questions related to the avant-garde, Bradly Bailey's "In the Shadow of Ideals", for Sound American acts as an insightful companion read.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Japan Cuts 2021 Edition: Aug 20 - Sept 2 & New York Asian Film Festival: Aug 6 - 22 | Nippon Connection, Japan Film Festival Plus | Virtual Festival Exhibitions



Now in the second year of the global coronavirus pandemic, many festivals continue to pivot to online virtual settings for their programming. Last year saw a number of the "Asia-themed Film Festivals Migrate Online Amid Coronavirus Pandemic", and more specifically, Japan Foundation's global Japan Film Festival Plus, Japan Society New York's Japan Cuts, Hawaii International Film Festival's J-Fest, and the Chicago Japan Film Collective, continuing their role as standard-bearers for the issuance of quality film from Japan. All of which presented their array of new cinema in the unusual festival setting of online platforms in 2021. This was also mirrored in Europe by examples like Frankfurt's excellent Nippon Connection, which also had its second year of virtual exhibitions. This year the programmers chose to make it a hybrid bridging of in-person screenings and virtual festival setting, "Nippon Connection Film Festival Goes Hybrid". For further reading, The Japan Times feature highlights the unexpected convergence of quality and volume on offer from the latter, "Frankfurt's Nippon Connection Brings Together an Extensive Collection of Japanese Films". There's also no shortage of excellence presented annually by Japan Society's North American setting of, "Japan Cuts Film Festival at Japan Society Emphasizes the Eccentric". Year in and year out, the festival offers "Asian Cinema That Pauses for Reflection", "Life in the No-Go Zone of Fukushima and Two Views on Husbandry", "The Hard Road of the Japanese Documentary Maker", and generally an expansive representation of, "The Best of Contemporary Japanese Cinema". This year's installment is also a hybrid event, with both in-person screenings and a virtual cinema platform, each with distinct offerings. Not to be overlooked, "The 2021 New York Asian Film Festival Brings the Goods", in both in-person and virtual settings. The latter hosted this year by Lincoln Center's Virtual Cinema, with some 33 films on offer.

These various festivals continue to represent a bounty of Japanese-specific cinema over the course of the two decades since the Japanese cinema explosion of the 1990s. The directors who led that wave; Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Takeshi Kitano, Naomi Kawase, and Takashi Miike,are still among the industry's most high profile faces on the international festival circuit. Contemporaneously, a new generation of filmmakers are also making themselves heard. Though one is hard-pressed to see the abundance offered by these voices in domestic theaters. Particularly regionally here in the northwest as we have seen a significant dropoff of such titles in the programming offered in the once-abundant Seattle International Film Festival. Make no mistake, while there has been a dearth of opportunities to see these films on domestic screens, this is not representative of the volume and quality still issuing from Japan. Taste of Cinema's 2017 overview goes some way to assert this, with their substantial serving offered in the "The 25 Best Japanese Movies of The 2010s (So Far)". 2015 was a standout year for this set of rising new directors, it saw the domestic release of Shunji Iwai's disorienting urban drama, "A Bride for Rip Van Winkle", Ryusuke Hamaguchi's 5-hour domestic tranquility stunner, "Happy Hour", and Koji Fukada taking home the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at Cannes for “Harmonium”. Fukada utilizing the global platform of his Cannes win to state that, "Japanese Cinema Must Adapt to Survive". Of this new batch of directors, it could be said that "Fukada’s Filmmaking is a Breath of Fresh Air" that can be seen to follow explicitly in the footsteps of Kiyoshi Kurosawa in his darkly pessimistic take on the concerns that comprise modern Japanese life. It is not long before it becomes clear that, "In ‘Harmonium,’ a Family has Let the Wrong One In". In many regards, this "New Wave of Japanese Filmmakers Matches the Old", with new films by both Fukada and Hamaguchi premiering at Cannes to outstanding reviews in 2020 and 2021. A string of films in the last half decade that have been rich in character nuance, and high in drama have distinguished Kazuya Shiraishi, particularly that of his most recent, "'Last of the Wolves': A Sequal With as Much Bite as the First". There have also been strong returns offered by "Sion Sono's Set of Films That Don’t Fit His Bad-Boy Label", and Takahisa Zeze's miraculous transformation seen in "The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine", offering up a whole new array of concerns around, "Takahisa Zeze's Crime, Punishment, and Transcendence".

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Hideaki Anno's "Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time" Streaming Premiere: Aug 13



After a many year wait, and innumerable delays, this week the final installment of Hideaki Anno's Evangelion Rebuild tetralogy has its streaming premiere in the west. Unlike the previous films in this theatrical retelling of the influential 1990s anime, the fourth chapter will not be receiving a theatrical exhibition. While those films were distributed by Funimation and given short theatrical runs at select independent theaters, such as Seattle's Grand Illusion Cinema and the SIFF festival, this final film is instead another prize feather in the hat of "How Amazon Came to Dominate Everything". This comes during a year in which much of the world struggled, and "Amazon Won without Really Trying". Outside of Amazon's ongoing amassing of cultural influence, the film's streaming premiere in relatively close proximity to the smashing theatrical run in Japan is something to celebrate. The particulars of its online release are unfortunate though, as is the byproduct of there being no theatrical screening run here in North America. The extended path to this moment for Hideaki Anno, his Studio Khara, and the quartet of films that comprise this Rebuild hit its largest stumbling block between the third and fourth installment. The almost nine year year delay between films was compounded by exhaustion, uncertainty, other production obligations for the studio, and the opportunity to direct an installment in the classic kaiju franchise, Gojira. Anno found that this stopgap reinvigorated the production, and in an uncharacteristic statement announced his return; “The only way for me to describe Evangelion is to say that it is my soul. I make it by scraping off pieces of myself, and I made three movies in a row like that, putting everything I could into them and not thinking about what would come next. After finishing "Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo", I thought I’d never create anything again. At that time, I went into talks with Toho for "Shin Gojira", and it saved me. I think this is how I’m able to keep making Evangelion. However, since it is a fact that I’m making everyone wait, I deeply apologize for that.”



The British Film Institute's feature issue on Japan's legacy of animation, centering on the works of Studio Ghibli and its founders, posited where the future of new non-commercial animation in Japan may arise. With Ghibli's Toshio Suzuki himself offering outspoken support for the Evangelion director and Khara maven, "Studio Ghibli Co-Founder Points to Hideaki Anno". Anno might be considered an untraditional choice to hold such a mantle, he is known to be foremost as a storyteller focused on the existential, or as The Japan Times called him, "Hideaki Anno: Emotional Deconstructionist". Nowhere is this more evident than the closing chapters of his hit television series "Neon Genesis Evangelion", and its 1997 theatrical conclusion "The End of Evangelion". Yet in returning to the material over a decade later, the shortened duration of the theatrical retelling allowed for less developmental space, and fewer occasions of inward-looking existentialism. Only in the third installment "Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo", would a shift in focus begin to become more apparent. A tour-de-force of technical brilliance, the third Rebuild film expresses itself with visual flair in a manner the previous two installments only hinted at. Not only the action sequences, but the sense of scale, desolation and expansiveness seen in "You Can (Not) Redo" are immense, often thrilling, and upon reaching its conclusion, assertively morbid and surreal. Where the first two installments felt like an assured, but safe, retreading of the series' themes and settings, the third installment goes some ways to establish an identity for Rebuild of its own. Desolation is the core of this installment, shifting between moments of rest and conflict, its cumulative weight is measured against a world that is equally gorgeous, touching in its fragility, and at times celestial in it's reverie. These last components are what bring us to the final film, beguilingly titled, "Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time". This delicate, beautiful, humanistic world is what hangs in the balance at the tale's conclusion, The Japan Times finding it a, "‘Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time’: Anime Epic Gets a Fitting Finale". Now in its closing chapter, much of the inner lives and the interconnectivity of the protagonist's shared decades of life, hardship and loss are more substantially explored, and in this way, “‘Evangelion’ Director, Hideaki Anno, Explains How He Finally Found His Ending”.