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, 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”.