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.