Thursday, October 27, 2016

Park Chan-Wook's new film "The Handmaiden" & Keiichi Hara's "Miss Hokusai" at SIFF Cinema: Oct 28 - Nov 10

The rather spare big screen offerings seen here in the Northwest in the last half-decade would lead one to suspect the abundance and diversity of the late 1990s and early 2000s Asian Cinema is a thing of the past. Particularly so, when the Seattle International Film Festival has programmed an increasingly atrophied body of films from Japan, mainland China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan, and South Korea for as many years in succession as they have. Yet Asian cinema is alive and well elsewhere in the west, featuring in major showcases like those covered by the Village Voice in their, "Still Crazy at 15: NYAFF is Back to Blow Minds Again" on the lineup offered by this year's New York Asian Film Festival. The annual event was voted Best Film Festival by the Voice, with coverage in the New York Times framing, "New York Asian Film Festival is Having a Southeast Asian Moment" and the program looking further afield to genre cinema, embracing "A Bit of Japanese Horror". As further evidence of the diversity and body of cinema continuing to originate from the east, Japan Cuts hosted by the Japan Society offers an annual "Tragic, Thrilling Survey of New Films". For those looking for engagement beyond the status-quo, "The Challenging Pleasures of Japan Cuts Film Fest" can be found New York every summer as "Japan Cuts Programming Emphasizes the Eccentric". Online institutions like Mubi have aligned themselves with the festival to present selections from the lineup, this year's focus offering "Films by Sion Sono That Don’t Fit His Bad-Boy Label" as well as observations on the impact of the Tohoku Earthquake and it's ongoing fallout, as seen in "Life in the No Go Zone: Two Views of Husbandry and Decline at Japan Cuts".

Outside of their shared period setting, there are probably no more antithetical representations of the diversity on offer from current Asian cinema than Park Chan-Wook's "The Handmaiden" and Keiichi Hara's "Miss Hokusai", both opening this weekend at SIFF Cinema. Early reviews from this past summer's Cannes Film Festival like that of The Guardian's "Lurid Lesbian Potboiler Simmers", Village Voice's "From Cannes: Reasons to Rejoice" and Roger have spoken of the director's return to form in his resetting of "Fingersmith" by Welsh writer Sarah Waters. As to be expected, Park Chan-Wook makes the text of "The Handmaiden" his own through numerous perspectival shifts, abundant voyeurism, and academic eroticism. Often told in the form of theatrical readings of Shunga illustrated erotica, "Park Chan-wook Returns with an Erotic Romance, Con-artist Story and Period Piece". The film's further assimilation from the vocabulary of the thriller and it's suspense built from an atmosphere of rich and erotic textures, finds the director even more firmly in Hitchcock territory than usual, as discussed at length in interview with FilmStage, "Park Chan-wook Talks ‘The Handmaiden,’ Male Gaze and Queer Influence". Other than the period setting, and the significance in each of traditional Ukiyo-e art and Shunga, Keiichi Hara and Production I.G's adaptation of "Miss Hokusai" is a world apart from Park Chan-Wook's psychodrama set during Japan's Victorian-era colonial rule.

Based on the manga of the same name by Hinako Sugiura focusing on Ukiyo-e master Katsushika Hokusai’s daughter by his second wife, Oi Katsushika. A fellow painter about whom the abundant gaps in knowledge and recognition allow for fertile ground for Sugiura's historic fiction. Hokusai himself has no small abundance of art history, period literature, fiction and cinema dedicated to the life and times of the master printmaker and painter of the Edo Period. Conversely, both the work and life of his apprentice and fellow artist Oi, remains little documented both in fiction and otherwise. So it's not only unusual for it's period restrain and reduced reliance on the fantastical that Hara's adaptation delivers this "Impressive Anime Tribute to Ukiyo-e Artform in Early Japan". Much in the way of the Ukiyo-e's making then-popular entertainment of traditional forms, "'Miss Hokusai' is a Sumptuous, Sensuous Animated Work of Art" that transcends the often brash stylization of anime to tell a largely restrained period depiction of "The Daughter of a Master Artist Coming into Her Own". But the fantastical also features in the film as it ventures into the twilight realms of the imagination through a selection of Hokusai’s more unusual work as a touchstone. Which, as Keiichi Hara notes in interview with Japan Times, were not so imaginary to the people of the Edo era, as belief in the influence of uncanny and ghostly Yokai and nonhuman Kami, were part of the folkloric and everyday.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Krzysztof Kieslowski's restored "Dekalog" & Seattle Polish Film Festival at SIFF Cinema: Oct 14 - 23

Coinciding with the Criterion Collection's release of Janus Films restored blu-ray box set of the apogee in all Krzysztof Kieslowski's filmography of lives lived, loss, love and time, "Dekalog" returns to cinemas for the first time in almost two decades. The balance tread in the complexity of ambiguous moral tales from his Three Colors Trilogy is simultaneously expanded in scope and refined in the finesse of it's emotional precision in this ten-part abstract meditation on the Ten Commandments. Revisiting the furry of critical reception to the restoration and rerelease of the Three Colors Trilogy on both Mubi's Notebook and expansive, even daunting, coverage from some years back in the pages of The Guardian, may be the optimal point of entry in reassessing Kieslwoski's contribution to 20th Century cinema. The "Dekalog" is defined by collaborative firsts that would come to be central to Kieslowski's filmography. The cinematography of Piotr Sobocinski, composer Zbigniew Preisner and screenwriting from Krzysztof Piesiewicz, the then legal advisor for the Solidarity Movement and assistant to the successful prosecution of the murderers of Jerzy Popiełuszko. Piesiewicz had approached the director on his planned documentary on political "show trials" in Poland under martial law. Due to difficulties in accurately representing the judicial process, the two conceived to explore the legal system's effects on the lives of the Polish citizenry instead through the vehicle of fiction as seen in their first collaboration, "No End". Some three years later, after having returned to his legal career, it was Piesiewicz who proposed the exploration of their mutual interest in moral and ethical dilemmas in contemporary social and political life through the vehicle of the Ten Commandments.

Centering on the residents of a housing complex in late-Communist Poland, the ten short films charted the moral and philosophical complexities of their intersecting lives and the effects of social, economic and political conditions of then modern-day Warsaw. The sequencing of the episodes did not necessarily correspond to the order of the commandments, nor the commandments' literal interpretations. Each episode watched as essentially self-contained, able to be viewed in any order. Still, the movies are entwined in other ways, often in interrelationship of theme or mood, and the protagonists of one episode are not excluded from turning up as a bystander or supporting character elsewhere. Two of which, episodes five and six, were later adapted to feature length theatrical films, finally giving life to the full body of writing produced by Piesiewicsz as realized in "A Short Film About Killing" and "A Short Film About Love". The former not only winning both the Jury Prize and the FIPRESCI Prize at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival, but was influential in bolstering public consensus around the the abolition of the death penalty. The film most recently honored in 2014 by Martin Scorsese for its inclusion among 21 digitally restored classics in his touring exhibition of "Masterpieces of Polish Cinema".

Roger Ebert's extensive interviews with Kieslowski upon the series' North American Premier at the Toronto International Film Festival, "The Force of Chance: An Interview with Krzysztof Kieslowski", shows the director reflecting on the tense sociopolitical climate of late Communist era Poland. Kieslowski calling his homeland; “a country of suffering people whose lives are very difficult. That in turn is very inspiring. The extremity of our daily life makes everyone so incredibly nervous. We are aching so much, like a person who fell from a set of stairs and everything hurts him.” It is in such a socio-political climate that Kieslowski and Piesiewicz have constructed their ten part exploration of what the Village Voice's Bilge Ebiri calls the irreducible, unresolvable messiness of life, "Thou Shalt Behold Kieslowski’s 'Dekalog,' Returning with its Full Mystery and Power". In Stanley Kubrick's 1991 forward to Faber & Faber's "Dekalog: The Ten Commandments", the director asserts that; "By making their points through the dramatic action of the story [Kieslowski and Piesiewicz] gain the added power of allowing the audience to discover what's really going on rather than being told. They do this with such dazzling skill, you never see the ideas coming and don't realize until much later how profoundly they have reached your heart." These technical and thematic premise explored further in Paul Coates' "And So On: Kieslowski’s Dekalog and the Metaphysics of the Everyday" for Criterion and NPR's "The Dekalog: A Haunting, Ruminative 10-Film Tour through the Ten Commandments".

Concurrently, SIFF Cinema will again be hosting the annual Seattle Polish Film Festival, this year's programming coupe the exceedingly rare screening of "On the Silver Globe", a "Thwarted Sci-Fi Masterwork" by "Polish Cinema Rebel, Andrzej Zulawski Who Died this Year at Age 75". In addition, SPFF's program features not only the aforementioned, "A Short Film About Killing", but another piece from Kieslowski's later filmography and first film outside of Poland, "The Double Life of Veronique". Marking the beginning of his series of explorations of identity, love, social conscience and intuition set in mainland Europe, the film continues the director's work with cinematographer Sławomir Idziak. A collaboration begun on "A Short Film About Killing", their fruitful meeting would continue through Kieslowski's final Three Colors Trilogy. Idziak's luminous camerawork heightening the director's dialogue with metaphysics and science, with free will and fate, with the many ways in which indifference or cruelty rub up against empathy and compassion. Idziak will be present to host a Cinematographer's Workshop and offer perspective on his year's working with the director in SPFF's Discussion on Kieslowski. The musical scores are the second element comprising the dramatic axis of Kieslowski's later work. Recently in the pages of the Village Voice the composer, "Zbigniew Preisner Discusses His Longtime Collaboration with Krzysztof Kieslowski", and the music's role being central to expressing both reverie and conflict found in inexplicable life events and circumstance that define, "The Sonic World of Zbigniew Preisner and Krzysztof Kieslowski".

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Fabio Frizzi "Frizzi 2 Fulci" West Coast Tour: Sept 27 - Oct 6 | Beyond Fest at Egyptian Theatre Los Angeles: Sept 30 - Oct 11 | MondoCon at AFS Cinema Austin: Oct 22 - 23

Much in the way of Alan Howarth performing a selection of his film works backed by the Emeralds as audio-visual exhibit of a "Sound Mind and Body" during Unsound New York, there was also John Carpenter's own recent re-ascent into the spotlight with his "Lost Themes" for Sacred Bones and tour of this past year. Wherein Carpenter applied his signature synth and electric orchestrations to imagined films and lost concepts never realized for the big screen which was discussed in The Wire's Invisible Jukebox with the composer in last year's February issue. On the subject of his unexpected higher profile in the music world, and continued following in horror and cult cinema a cultures, Carpenter spoke with The Quietus, on how "The Horror In Music Comes From The Silence" and again in advance of the recent string of performances, "No Longer Lost: John Carpenter on Playing Live". What could be seen as Italian cinema's (albeit lower budget and correspondingly spaldash) analog to Carpenter, Lucio Fulci particularly when considered in the setting of the frequent collaborations with Fabio Frizzi on many of Fulci's central films, from "Manhattan Baby" to "Zombi 2", "The Beyond" and "City of the Living Dead" together the director/composer team produced an abundance of core Giallo spanning the 1970s and 1980s of varying genres from supernatural sci-fi to undead horror. With recent pieces in Dangerous Minds, "Nightmare Concert: An Interview with Horror Soundtrack Maestro Fabio Frizzi" and Vice "Bloody, Disgusting, and Just Perfect: An Interview with Italian Horror Composer Fabio Frizzi" and Fangoria Magazine as well as FACT Mag's "A Beginner’s Guide to Horror Soundtrack Legend Fabio Frizzi"introducing a whole new audience to the audio-visual eccentricities, absurdities, gore and shock of the duo's decades-spanning shared filmography.

The Frizzi 2 Fulci tour was initiated last year with the second annual MondoCon in Austin Texas. The festival's success at "MondoCon Keeping the Fans Happy" involved among numerous screenings, film and soundtrack releases, exhibits of exclusive poster art and graphics, as well as a night of "Frizzi 2 Fulci Haunts Austin: Fabio Frizzi on Melody and Mayhem with Lucio Fulci". With this year's event hosting a second Frizzi 2 Fulci night around the expanded and unreleased music for "The Beyond: Composer's Cut Live" and a following North American tour hitting select cities, including Beyond Fest in Los Angeles and Seattle's date at Neumos. The landscape these artists have re-emerged into has been unquestionably shaped by the burgeoning reissue revival mining decades of subterranean soundtracks, musique concrete, neofolk, jazz and experimental work that have adorned much of the 20th Century's cult cinema. These rich veins continue to be mined by reissue institutions like, Death Waltz, Mondo and WaxWork in new editions often corresponding with restorations and re-release of quality archival imprints for genre film like Arrow Films and Scream Factory. There are seeming whole new genres being born of the thematic beds of atmosphere and constructed worlds of Italian Giallo, French Fantastique and British Psychedelic, Pagan and Folk Horror of the late 1960s and 70s. As well as the following  American horror explosion of the late 1970s and 80s and the lines of kinship shared with the composers of early electronic music and concrete psychedelia who produced many of the soundtracks of the time. No better resource covers the source material that inspired this strange little burgeoning corner of the music world than the veritable home of horror studies, The Miskatonic Institute. In last year's interview with The Quietus founding member Virginie Sélavy with Mark Pilkington of Strange Attractor Press and Coil's Stephen Thrower author of "Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents" and the recent plumbing of the depths of "Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco" spoke on the cross pollination of the postmodern situation. Where the genre definitions break down, and in their fertile collision producing contemporary works inspired by, and expounding upon the fringe cult film and music of decades past.