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”.