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London Barbican Aspects of Japanese Cinema Season

Date: 2010 September 21 14:37

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We've mentioned it before, but it's always worth being reminded about from Tuesday 19th October to Sunday 19th December 2010 the Barbican in London will be running an Aspects of Japanese Cinema season. It's also worth noting that the screening of Kenji Mizoguchi’s The Water Magician is accompanied, for the first time in the UK, with traditional benshi narration and live music on a koto.

Benshi narration is the traditional form of Japanese silent film story-telling: the performer, or benshi, stands beside the screen and reads the intertitles as well as voicing the characters and commenting on the action.

The koto is the traditional 13-stringed zither of Japan whose shape has been likened to a crouching dragon. The history of the instrument spans at least twelve centuries during which time its form has changed little. It is made from the wood of the paulownia tree (or ‘Royal Empress tree’) and generally plucked with plectra worn on the right hand.

For those interested in the season, we suggest you look at our previous post, about the highlights (which is pretty much the whole season)!

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Press release as follows:

A series of recent films that showcase the diverse representation of women in twenty-first century Japanese cinema, and features debut films from two female directors.

Thursday 21 October
6.00pm – Nana (PG*) (Japan 2005 Dir. Kentaro Otani 113 min) introduced by season curator Helen McCarthy
Nana is a delightful coming-of-age tale of friendship set amidst Tokyo’s rock music scene, and adapted from the shōjo manga series written and illustrated by Ai Yazawa. A chance meeting on a train brings two very different girls called Nana together. After a string of coincidences they end up sharing a flat 707 (Nana means seven in Japanese) and a friendship evolves despite their contrasting ambitions.

Sunday 24 October
1.00 pm – Instant Swamp (PG) (Japan 2009 Dir. Miki Satoshi 120 min)
Instant Swamp is a quirky comedy that follows the newly redundant Haname Jinchoge (Kumiko Aso) as she traces her real father and embarks on a wild journey of self-discovery. Modernity meets myth as Haname’s father forces her to see the mystical in life and with the help of her new friend, punk rocker Gus, search for hidden family treasure and discover her destiny.

Thursday 4 November
8.45pm – Lala Pipo: A Lot of People (18) (Japan 2008 Dir. Masayuki Miyano 93 min)
Lala Pipo: A Lot of People is a vibrant, candy-coloured romp through the gutters of Tokyo’s sex industry from first-time director Masayuki Miyano, with a screenplay by award-winning director Tetsuya Nakashima (Kamikaze Girls, Memories of Matsuko). The fates of six lonely characters gradually entwine as the film depicts their search for hope and humanity on the seedy side of the adult entertainment business.

Saturday 6 November
11.00pm – Kamikaze Girls (Shimotsuma Monogatari) (12A) (2004 Dir. Tetsuya Nakashima 103 min) – a Cosplay special event as part of Barbican LATES
With cult status in Japan, Kamikaze Girls is a dazzling onslaught of images, special effects, live action and animation following the relationship of two mismatched girls. The narrator Momoko is a teenager from a broken home who lives in her own bonnet-clad fantasy based on eighteenth-century French fashion. Everything changes however when this Rococo-Lolita meets a rough tough biker chick, Ichigo.

Saturday 13 November
2.00pm – Memories of Matsuko (15) (Japan 2006 Dir. Tetsuya Nakashima 130 min)
Billed as the Japanese Amélie, Memories of Matsuko is a tragic fairytale that blends a touching human drama with energetic offbeat comedy and the occasional spectacular production number. A teenager unravels the heart-breaking story of his aunt Matsuko’s life, a tale of recurring mistreatment at the hands of a string of unsuitable boyfriends.

Sunday 14 November
2.00pm – Sakuran (18*) (Japan 2006 Dir. Mika Ninagawa 111 min)
Sakuran, the impressive debut feature from photographer Mika Ninagawa, daughter of the acclaimed theatre director Yukio, is a lavish period drama brimming with costume eye-candy. This live action adaptation of Moyoco Anno’s manga series stars multi-talented model, actress and singer Anna Tsuchiya as the rebellious young girl Kiyoha on her journey to become an oiran courtesan. Ninagawa indulges her vivid sense of colour with luscious traditional styling in this heart-warming tale draped in an eclectic jazz, electro and pop soundtrack from diva Ringo Shiina.

THE DIRECTORSPECTIVE: KENJI MIZOGUCHI – Sunday 24 October to Wednesday 3 November
Internationally respected as one of the greatest film directors of all time, Kenji Mizoguchi grew up in Tokyo at the dawn of cinema in Japan, and trained as a painter before moving into the film industry in the 1920s. His work, which often revealed his sympathy for the exploited and marginalized, was famed for its exquisite pictorial quality, and the contrasting of opposing themes - light and shadow, harshness and beauty, and the role of the individual amidst the pressures of society. This season features four of Mizoguchi’s finest, internationally acclaimed works, including an exceptional screening of one of his key silent films, The Water Magician, accompanied, for the first time in the UK, with traditional benshi narration and live musical accompaniment on the koto (1).

Sunday 24 October
4.00pm – The Water Magician (Taki no Shiraito) (PG) (Japan 1933 Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi 98 min)

Special screening accompanied by benshi narration, performed in English by Tomoko Komura, with live traditional Japanese musical accompaniment on the koto by Melissa Holding, and introduced by leading Japanese film critic Tony Rayns.

Mizoguchi directed fifty-seven films during the silent era, of which only six survive, including The Water Magician, one of the masterpieces of Japanese silent cinema. The film captures three elements for which Mizoguchi became famous - ill-fated women, extreme emotions and tragic love. Legendary actress Takako Irie stars as a water juggler in a troupe of travelling circus performers, who falls in love with a coach driver. She is faithful to him whilst on the road, and sends him money so that he can study to be a lawyer, but as in many Mizoguchi films, a series of complications ensue, leading to despair and tragedy.

The Water Magician is also part of the Silent Film & Live Music series. For more details see Barbican Film October press release.

Sunday 31 October
6.00pm – The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (Zangiku Monogatari) (Japan 1939 Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi 142 min)
The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums is one of Mizoguchi’s greatest achievements and one of his most visually innovative works. In a Tokyo theatre in the late nineteenth century, a young man tries to follow in the steps of his famous actor father, but lacks the necessary focus and discipline. When he falls in love with his baby brother’s nurse, he decides to defy his family, renounce his wealthy lifestyle and follow her to a far-off place.

Wednesday 3 November
6.30pm – Ugetsu Monogatari (PG) (Japan 1953 Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi 94 min)
Commonly known as Ugetsu, Mizoguchi’s masterpiece Ugetsu Monogatari won the prestigious Silver Lion at Venice International Film Festival in 1953 and has been heralded by critics ever since. It is a searing portrait of two couples in sixteenth-century Japan, damning in its depiction of the societal patriarchy of the time. Desiring better lives for themselves, two men leave their wives. The two women fare badly at the hands of various villains, yet uphold their own strength, making them the heroines of the film. Ugetsu is a chilling tale, simultaneously historical drama and truly scary ghost story.

Wednesday 3 November
8.30pm – Sansho The Bailiff (Sanshô dayû) (PG) (Japan 1954 Dir. Kenji Mizoguchi 124 min)
Continuing Mizoguchi's critical success by winning the Golden Lion in Venice in 1954, Sansho The Bailiff is a hauntingly graceful film about a medieval Japanese family's brutal separation. Mizoguchi's trademark juxtaposition of humanity with nature explores his characters’ transitory suffering and lack of control over their complicated lives, without judging their frailties.

Barbican Film’s spooky Halloween double bill presents two new shlock horror titles straight from Japan introduced by writer Jasper Sharp, curator of the new Zipangu Fest. A late night feast of blood and guts in the Barbican's basement, presented in association with the Zipangu Fest. For more details see

7.30pm – RoboGeisha (18) (Japan 2009 Dir. Noboru Iguchi 102 min)
Hell-bent on world domination, father and son businessmen recruit a vicious gang of Geisha assassins including power tool-enhanced sisters, but when one refuses to kill innocents, the War of the Geishas begins. A laugh-out-loud feast of bad taste, RoboGeisha reveals a mind-boggling array of surgically added weaponry complete with a Giant Castle Robot and buildings that bleed. This unashamedly over-the-top blood-fest from the team that created Machine Girl boasts special gore effects from genre master Yoshihiro Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police).

9.30pm – Kyonyû doragon (Big Tits Zombie) 3D (Japan 2010 Dir. Takao Nakano 73 min) (18*)
In Kyonyû doragon (Big Tits Zombie) 3D, exotic dancers battle cheesy zombies armed only with the samurai sword, the chainsaw and wasabi paste! Peppered with 3D set pieces this tongue-in-cheek Japanese take on the Western/zombie genre sees strippers vs the undead in the live film adaptation of Rei Mikamoto's cult manga and stars actress Sora Aoi.
Augmented City 3D (#) (2010 Dir. Keiichi Matsuda 4 mins) World Premiere
Augmented City is a meditation on the architecture of the contemporary city as it becomes more and more about the synthetic spaces created by the digital information that we collect, consume and organize, and less about the physical space of buildings and landscape.

THE DIRECTORSPECTIVE: TAKESHI KITANO – Sunday 14 and Monday 15 November 2010
Stand-up comedian, games show host, actor, writer, film critic, painter, poet, cartoonist and one of Japan’s leading contemporary film directors, Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano is a household name in Japan and a national celebrity. Born in 1947, Kitano studied engineering at university, but after four years dropped out and found a job as a lift attendant in a night club. When one of the club’s comedian’s fell ill, he took to the stage and a long-standing comedy and acting career was born. In 1983 Kitano won acclaim for his role in Ôshima's Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, and in 1989 directed his first film, Violent Cop. A serious motorcycle accident in 1994 only set him back temporarily, and as his films achieved international acclaim and won awards around the world, he was hailed as the successor to one of the greatest Japanese film directors, Akira Kurosawa.

Sunday 14 November
6.15pm – Hana bi (Japan 1997 Dir. Takeshi Kitano 103 min)
Winner of 21 international awards and the first Japanese film to win the Golden Lion at Venice since Kurosawa’s Rashomon, Hana bi (Firework) sensitively navigates rage, love, brutal violence and aching tenderness through the eyes of an outwardly impassive, inwardly guilt riddled ex cop, desperate to make amends to his terminally ill, terminally neglected wife and his suicidal ex partner. Written, directed and starring Kitano, this inventive, beautifully shot and brilliantly acted mini masterpiece is the film that put him firmly on the world map. Also starring Kayoko Kishimoto and Ren Osugi.

Sunday 14 November
8.15pm – Brother (18) (Japan 2000 Dir. Takeshi Kitano 113 min)
Kitano’s first film made outside of Japan and his first collaboration with the fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto, Brother is the story of a deposed Tokyo Yakuza who travels to Los Angeles to set up a drugs empire with his half-brother. Visceral visuals and menacing violence are the order of the day in this hard-hitting drama.

Monday 15 November
6.30pm – Dolls (12A) (Japan 2002 Dir. Takeshi Kitano 113 min)
Highly stylised, with gorgeous costumes from Yohji Yamamoto and richly saturated colour as the film moves through the four seasons, Dolls weaves together three narratives of spurned love. Opening with a scene from banraku Japanese puppet theatre, the film meditates on the nature of the doll, death and the mistake of overlooking love.

Monday 15 November
8.40pm – Zatôichi (18) (Japan 2003 Dir. Takeshi Kitano 115 min)
Zatôichi follows the eponymous blind warrior (played by Kitano), who drifts into a remote mountain settlement and is soon involved in the villagers’ fight against the ruthless gang leader, Ginzo. Full of the finest fight choreography, dappled with moments of sublime humour and boasting another of the director’s collaborations with the designer Yohji Yamamoto, Zatôichi is one of Kitano's most visually arresting works.

Akira Kurosawa’s career in the film industry spanned almost six decades, during which he opened up Japanese cinema to Western audiences. In 1990 he received the Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement "for accomplishments that have inspired, delighted, enriched and entertained audiences and influenced filmmakers throughout the world". Curated by Japanese film expert Helen McCarthy, this season demonstrates the master filmmaker’s thrilling artistry and marks the centenary of Kurosawa’s birth on 23 March 1910.

Friday 3 December
6.00 pm – Throne Of Blood (Kumonosu jo) (12A) (Japan 1957 Dir. Akira Kurosawa 109 min) introduced by season curator Helen McCarthy
Throne Of Blood is Kurosawa's unforgettable transposition of Macbeth to the ghostly forests and grim castles of medieval Japan in the Age of Warring States. Kurosawa's samurai Macbeth is not a strong, heroic figure, but a frightened, ambitious man who is fearful of the witches’ spell and kills to save his own blood. Laced with superb performances by Toshiro Mifune in the title role, alongside the wonderful Isuzu Yamada as Lady Macbeth, Kurosawa mixes the Japanese with the Jacobean, drawing upon the imagery of Noh in this indelible dark treasure. Even the sound of clothing - the sibilant rustle of Lady Macbeth's kimono, the rattle of armour - is used to call up dark reptilian images while reinforcing the physical reality of the moment.

8.30pm – Rashomon (12A) (Japan 1950 Dir. Akira Kurosawa 87 min) presented on a newly restored digital print
Set in feudal Japan, Kurosawa's master work Rashomon is a compelling exploration of the nature of truth, as various witnesses present their diverse accounts of a rape and murder in twelfth-century Kyoto. Kurosawa uses clothing both as status marker and indicator of character, taking us back to a feudal world where everything we see is a handmade, hard-worn product of craft. Dominated by an extraordinary performance from Toshiro Mifune as the gleefully savage bandit, this influential and endlessly inventive feature introduced Western audiences to Japanese cinema, winning Kurosawa both the Golden Lion at Venice and the Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

Wednesday 8 December
6.00pm – Drunken Angel (Yoidore tenshi) (PG) (Japan 1948 Dir. Akira Kurosawa 98 min)
Set in Tokyo’s post war gangster-ridden slums, Drunken Angel follows the relationship between the alcoholic doctor of the title and Matsunaga, the young mobster boss who comes to him with a bullet in his hand after a gun battle and who he diagnoses with tuberculosis. While the doctor attempts to change his lifestyle and save his life, Matsunaga falls back into his unhealthy ways when his former boss is released from jail demanding his turf back. A feast of striking imagery, this intense and powerful thriller initiated Kurosawa’s rewarding collaboration with actor Toshiro Mifune. Mifune's flashy gangster outfits and the Western dress of the other characters form a stark contrast to Kurosawa's historical dramas, reflecting the reality of occupied Japan as Western domination challenged centuries-old norms of masculinity, society and morality. "This is me at last", said the director best known to many for swords and kimonos.

8.30pm – The Hidden Fortress (Kakushi-toride no san-akunin) (PG) (Japan 1958 Dir. Akira Kurosawa 139 min)
A light-hearted romp in war-torn feudal Japan, The Hidden Fortress sees two hapless and greedy peasants tricked into helping a disguised Princess and her faithful General flee through enemy territory with their hoard of clan gold. Kurosawa’s first experiment with the Tohoscope widescreen format is a visually stunning action adventure which was an inspiration for George Lucas’s Star Wars. Kurosawa's use of costume as a deceptive device echoes Rashomon eight years earlier. The tropes and imagery he employs here are still common in manga and anime: the film's influence on Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke is obvious.

Thursday 9 December
7.00 pm – Kagemusha (The Shadow Warrior) (PG) (Japan 1980 Dir. Akira Kurosawa 181 min)
Towards the end of his career, Kurosawa directed his greatest international success, Kagemusha, which also won the Palme d’Or at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival. In sixteenth-century Japan, a convicted robber with a striking resemblance to a mortally wounded warlord, is spared execution in order to impersonate the ruler after his death, with both the lord and his Kagemasha played by Tatsuya Nakadai. Playing once again with the idea of costume as deception, of image affecting perception and thus changing reality, Kurosawa fully indulges our visual appetite in this vividly colourful epic using 5000 extras for the final battle sequence.

Sunday 19 December
2.30pm – Seven Samurai (Shichinin no samurai) (PG) (Japan 1954 Dir. Akira Kurosawa 207 min) with one interval
In sixteenth-century feudal Japan, seven samurai warriors defend a village from a marauding band of ruthless outlaws. Kurosawa's epic achievement Seven Samurai is a cornerstone of world cinema, which again brought Japanese cinema to amazed audiences in the West with its dazzling photography and unforgettable images and was famously remade in Hollywood as The Magnificent Seven. "An action film is often an action film only for the sake of action. But what a wonderful thing if one can construct a grand action film without sacrificing the portrayal of human beings." Akira Kurosawa


JAPANIMATION: XxxHOLiC The Movie: A Midsummer Night’s Dream + Tsubasa The Movie: The Princess in the Birdcage Kingdom – Tuesday 19 October
Barbican Film’s regular Japanimation slot focuses on CLAMP, the successful all-female Japanese mangaka group, with a double bill introduced by anime expert Helen McCarthy.
8.30pm – XxxHOLiC The Movie: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (PG*) (Japan 2005 Dir. Tsutomu Mizushima 60 min)
XxxHOLiC The Movie: A Midsummer Night’s Dream is set in a mysterious mansion, where guests begin to disappear one by one during a very strange auction.
Tsubasa The Movie: The Princess in the Birdcage Kingdom (PG*) (Japan 2005 Dir. Itsuro Kawasaki 35 min)
Tsubasa The Movie: The Princess in the Birdcage Kingdom is adapted from the Reservoir Chronicle, one of the most popular manga ever created. Set in a virtual paradise trembling on the edge of existence, the film features an evil king who seeks the end to light and happiness and a princess.

JAPANIMATION – Sunday 7 November
2.15pm – The Great Adventure of Hutch the Honeybee (U*) (Japan 2010 Dir. Tetsuro Amino 101 min) introduced by anime expert Helen McCarthy
As part of this year’s London Children’s Film Festival (3), Helen McCarthy introduces The Great Adventure of Hutch the Honeybee, a delightful new remake of a classic children’s anime series, broadcast in the UK in the 1970s. After the hive is attacked by hornets, Hutch and his human companion Amy overcome a host of obstacles as they attempt to rescue his mother the Queen who has been kidnapped by the evil invaders.
In Japanese with English subtitles and simultaneous translation. A limited amount of headsets are available for original Japanese dialogue.

Source: Barbican
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