LACMA Exhibition Film Series: High and Low: Postwar Japan


In conjunction with the exhibition Fracture: Daido Moriyama, LACMA will screen a series of films that offer a raw, street-level view of Japanese urban life while also confronting such poignant postwar themes as identity, gender, and alienation. These films, from the taut policiers of Akira Kurosawa and existentialist parables of Hiroshi Teshigahara to rarely-screened films by Susumu Hani and Toshio Matsumoto, shatter social and aesthetic taboos as they fearlessly delve into a bustling underworld of petty criminals, miscreants, outcasts, revolutionaries, and all other manner of stray dogs.

This series is in two parts: May 11-12 and June 8 -9.

Friday, May 11, 2012 | 7:30 pm LACMA
The Face Of Another 1966/b&w/124 min.
High and Low: Postwar Japan in Black and White
Scr: Kôbô Abe; dir: Hiroshi Teshigahara; w/ Tatsuya Nakadai, Michiko Kyo, Mikijiro Hira, Miki Irie.
A visionary work of urban existentialism, The Face of Another is director Hiroshi Teshigahara’s follow-up to his art-house classic Woman in the Dunes. After being disfigured in an industrial accident, wealthy chemist Okuyama (Tatsuya Nakadai) concedes to a face transplant. Fitted with a new identity, he’s sucked into a whirlpool of paranoia and angst. This fragmented portrait of alienation shares the stark, stylized aesthetic of European modernists from Antonioni and Resnais to Godard’s Alphaville and Bergman’s Persona (released the same year as Teshigahara’s film, as was John Frankenheimer’s Seconds, making 1966 a milestone in split-personality cinema). Teshigahara intensifies the film’s tone of fractured consciousness with a slew of flourishes—freeze-frames, wild zooms, wash-away wipes, surrealist touches, swish pans, and jump cuts. Toro Takemitsu’s eerie and lush electronic score is a fitting accompaniment to this dark fantasy.

Nanami: The Inferno of First Love
Friday, May 11, 2012 | 9:40 pm
High and Low: Postwar Japan in Black and White
1968/b&w/108 min.
Scr: Susumu Hani, Shuji Terayama; dir: Susumu Hani; w/ Akio Takahashi, Kuniko Ishii
A groundbreaking filmmaker from the Japanese New Wave whose work has gone largely unseen in the U.S., Susumu Hani creates a hallucinatory portrait of big-city adolescence in Nanami: The Inferno of First Love. A love story seen through a glass darkly (and a box-office smash in Japan), the film follows a teenage couple—both played by non-actors—as they take fateful steps toward adulthood in the shadow of Tokyo’s teeming Shinjuku district. She finds work as nude model; he uncovers traumas from his childhood. A stark and often sexually explicit rendering of a generation’s aimless drift, Nanami is largely set in shabby hotel rooms, bleak basement studios, and phantasmagoric shantytowns. Strewn with flashbacks and lapses of delirium, the film is co-written by avant-garde poet/filmmaker/dramatist/photographer Shūji Terayama, who would go on to mine similar terrain in his cult classic film Emperor Tomato Ketchup (1971).

Diary of a Shinjuku Thief
Saturday, May 12, 2012 | 5 pm
High and Low: Postwar Japan in Black and White
1969/b&w and color/94 min.
Scr: Tsutomu Tamura, Mamoru Sasaki, Masao Adachi, Nagisa Oshima; dir: Nagisa Oshima; w/ Tadanori Yoko, Rei Yokoyama, Moichi Tanabe, Tetsu Takahashi, Kei Sato, Fumio Watanabe, Mutsuhiro Toura, Juro Kara and members of the Situation Theater (Koyo Gekijo).
Japanese New Wave firebrand Nagisa Oshima documents the teeming subcultures of Tokyo’s boisterous Shinjuku district, from neo-Kabuki street performances to student revolts, in this little-seen masterwork. The film’s splintered narrative involves, in Oshima’s words, “a boy and a girl in search of their rightful moment of sexual ecstasy.” Meeting in a bookstore, the couple embarks on a labyrinthine adventure that recalls the freewheeling misadventures of Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina. Co-written by writer/director Masao Adachi (Go, Go Second Time Virgin), Diary of a Shinjuku Thief is an homage to Jean Genet, whose The Thief’s Journal was repeatedly read aloud by the filmmakers as they drafted their screenplay.

Stray Dog
Saturday, May 12, 2012 | 7:30 pm
High and Low: Postwar Japan in Black and White
1949/b&w/122 min.
Scr: Akira Kurosawa, Ryuzo Kikushima; dir: Akira Kurosawa; w/ Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Ko Kimura, Keiko Awaji, Reisaburo Yamamoto, Noriko Sengoku
In Akira Kurosawa’s stylish, pulse-pounding thriller, Toshiro Mifune plays a rookie cop who has his gun pickpocketed in a crowded bus. Things get worse once he learns it’s been used in a robbery and murder. As rubble-strewn, postwar Tokyo swelters in the summer heat, Mifune turns into a “mad dog,” obsessively scavenging for his lost pistol through the city’s underworld. Based on a true story and adapted from Kurosawa’s own unpublished, Georges Simenon–inspired novel, Stray Dog is a frenetic noir made all the more memorable by Mifune’s fierce performance and a ten-minute-long sequence shot with a hidden camera in Tokyo’s shady black market section. “Probably the best detective picture ever made in Japan.”—Donald Richie

Pigs and Battleships
Friday, June 8, 2012 | 7:30 pm
High and Low: Postwar Japan in Black and White
1962/b&w/108 min./Scope
Scr: Hisashi Yamanouchi; dir: Shohei Imamura; w/ Hiroyuki Nagato, Jitsuko Yoshimura, Shiro Osaka
Set in the seedy port town of Yokosuka, site of a massive U.S. naval base, Pigs and Battleships is a raucous black comedy on overdrive. Director Shohei Imamura not only creates a visceral panorama of Japan’s postwar underworld—prostitutes, punks, hoods—but also offers biting metaphors of how the Japanese adapted to the daily reality of the American army presence. Its Scope frame bursting at the seams with frantic activity, the film reaches an absurdist climax as black-market pigs raised on garbage from the army compound storm the city’s narrow streets. A corrosive, breakneck satire beloved by Susan Sontag, the film was dubbed, recut, and retitled (The Dirty Girls and later The Flesh Is Hot) for its original release. Restored to its original version, Pigs and Battleships is now widely considered Imamura’s first great work.
“An expansive, loopy film of extravagant set pieces and distinctive dark humor . . . Shohei Imamura has a passion for everything that’s kinky, lowlife or irrational in Japanese culture.”—J. Hoberman, The Village Voice.

The Pornographers
High and Low: Postwar Japan in Black and White
1966/b&w/127 min./Scope
Scr: Shohei Imamura, Koji Numata; Dir: Shohei Imamura; w/ Shoichi Ozawa, Sumiko Sakamoto, Masafumi Kondo, Keiki Sagawa
Imamura’s independently produced follow-up to Pigs and Battleships is one of cinema’s great films on filmmaking. Subu (Shoichi Ozawa) is a small-scale movie mogul, a producer/distributor of 8mm erotic reels that he shoots in the desolate outskirts of Osaka or in threadbare home studios. Though he is considered a “maestro” by his devoted staff, his work life is a constant stream of yakuza shakedowns, police harassment, sales pitches, and unruly shoots. His home life offers little respite: Sharing his bed with a widow who keeps a carp she believes is her reincarnated husband, Subu quietly longs for the woman’s homely teenage daughter. Adapting Akiyuki Nosaka’s best-selling novel, Imamura interweaves the lurid with the lyrical, peeping through the Scope frame at the lives of the disreputable, the criminal, and the downright bizarre.
“It would be difficult to mistake an Imamura film for anyone else’s—few filmmakers ever had a more dire view of mankind. His was rooted to the verities of Japanese life in extremis . . .  [Imamura] began as a studio apprentice with Yasujiro Ozu, and he quickly established a distaste for his sensei’s restraint and quiet eloquence. (Even Imamura’s interior space[s]. . . are deliberately cramped and chaotic, in direct contrast to Ozu’s famous, measured rooms.) In fact, he has always seemed a sort of Japanese Sam Fuller, fascinated with working-class ruin and primal impulse. And he could be viciously funny.”—Michael Atkinson, The Boston Phoenix

Funeral Parade of Roses
Saturday, June 9, 2012 | 5 pm
High and Low: Postwar Japan in Black and White
1969/b&w/105 min./16mm
Scr/ dir: Toshio Matsumoto; w/ Peter, Osamu Ogasawara, Toyosaburo Uchiyama
An unruly hybrid of avant-garde and pulp with a dash of cinema verité, Toshio Matsumoto’s taboo-breaking debut film was a direct influence on Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Matsumoto transposes the Oedipus myth to Tokyo’s late-1960s drag underground as cross-dresser Eddie (played by real-life transvestite star Peter) must fend off a bevy of rivals. Still audacious after forty years and having never been released on home video in the US, Funeral Parade of Roses offers both an unflinching depiction of urban grit and a visionary collision of styles. Melding graphic design, comic books, still photographs, film pastiches, direct-to-camera soliloquys, animation, Fluxus-inspired performance art, mismatched sounds, overexposure, and documentary footage, Funeral Parade of Roses is bracingly radical in every sense of the word.

“Fuses the over-the-top intensity of Branded to Kill with the apocalyptic poetry of Gimme Shelter. Echoing the skull-bong vibe of American late-’60s disillusionment, Toshio Matsumoto views 1969 Tokyo through a haze of pot smoke and burning celluloid.”—Sam Adams, Philadelphia City Paper

High and Low
Saturday, June 9, 2012 | 7:30 pm
High and Low: Postwar Japan in Black and White
1963/b&w/142 min./Scope
Scr: Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, Ryuzo Kikushima; dir: Akira Kurosawa; w/ Toshiro Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, Kyoko Kagawa
A shoe magnate (Toshiro Mifune at full tilt) in the midst of a costly takeover battle is faced with a Shakespearean dilemma when his chauffer’s son is mistakenly kidnapped by cold-blooded criminals who demand a ruinous, multimillion-Yen ransom. Should he pay the gang and lose everything he’s worked for in order to save the life of another man’s son? Largely set in Mifune’s modernist hilltop mansion and Tokyo’s tawdry lower depths, Kurosawa’s taut adaptation of Ed McBain’s King’s Ransom is a gripping race-against-time cliff-hanger, a compelling policier and a tour-de-force of black-and-white, Scope cinematography. A virtuoso sequence on a speeding bullet train and the sweaty, narcotic haze of Yokohama’s dark alleys and nightclubs are highlights in this feverish procedural.

“A full-fledged masterpiece. . . . Kurosawa captures the agonizing tension of the situation with stunning verve, using the TohoScope wide-screen with brilliance, shrinking it and even stretching it with his compositions.”—Chris Fujiwara, The Boston Phoenix.

Bing Theater | $10 for the general public; $7 for LACMA members, seniors (62+), and students with valid ID; $5 LACMA Film Club members | Tickets: 323 857-6010 or purchase online.


About Author

Robin Menken

Robin Menken Robin Menken lives in Los Angeles. She was the Artistic Director of the Second City Workshops, taught at UC Berkeley, USC, Barcelona\'s Ateneu and the Esalin Institute. She was Roberto Rossellini\'s assistant, and worked with Yevgeny Vevteshenku, Glauber Rocha and Eugene Ionesco. She sold numerous screenplays and wrote the OBIE winning The FTA SHow (touring with Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and Ben Vereen.) She was a programming consultant and Special Events co-ordinator for numerous film festivals, including the SF, Rio, Havana and N.Y Film Festivals. Her first news outlet was the historic East Village Other.

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