Trying to program a "representative" series of recent Japanese films isn't easy -- that country's film industry is just as indie-crazed and fragmented as ours, maybe more so. But neo-eiga: New Japanese Cinema, an eight-film crash course playing this weekend at the Pacific Film Archive, should give movie fans burned out on Beat Takeshi, Takashi Miike, and the imitation-Nippon of Quentin Tarantino something new and unusual to chew on.
The PFA's Mona Nagai, who curated the series through the Japan Foundation, is well aware of the trendiness that has enveloped Japan's "coolest" young filmmakers, as well as the dichotomy between screen popularity over there (anime and Miike are big) and cutting-edge street cred in museums and art houses stateside. "So many films drop through the cracks," she says. "We try to find films that haven't shown in the Bay Area, films that aren't from big studios, films that are written by their directors."
Sometimes when the pace has been lightning-fast for a while, it's refreshing to slow it down a notch. As in the overlooked character study A Woman's Work (2002) by Kentaro Otani, which oddly enough costars actor Shinya Tsukamoto from the chaotic Tetsuo movies. Or Shara (2003), a quiet story of emotional healing in Nara by female filmmaker Naomi Kawase ("It's analogous to the slow-food movement," Nagai observes). If it's speed, violence, and thrills you want, Friday's opening twin bill should satisfy: the harsh, manga-style world of Junji Sakamoto's My House (2002) plus Yutaka Tsuchiya's Peep "TV" Show (2003), a media-dizzy trip through Tokyo's Shibuya, complete with hidden Webcams and 9/11 exploitation. Contrast those with Akame 48 Waterfalls (2003), a downbeat drama set among urban losers in a flophouse, directed by Genjiro Arato, onetime producer of Seijun Suzuki's genre-busting yakuza flicks.
Nagai admits, "If you sit through this weekend you're going to be kind of sober. But there's still a lot of humor in the series." And it's just a drop in the ocean of Japanese film. 2575 Bancroft Way, UC Berkeley. For more info: BAMPFA.Berkeley.edu
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