Friday, October 1, 2021

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".