Neo-Enigma 

Weird new films from Japan

FRI 3/14

Patricide. Eerie parent-child coincidences. A pure spring near Chernobyl. Human organs turning to stone in a drought. Twin meteorites crashing into a mystic mountain. An electrical bed for a superhero. As Japanese cinema contemplates the country's deteriorating economy and citizens' wavering purpose in life, it observes all manner of enigmas. The Pacific Film Archive's Neo-eiga series (Friday, March 14 through March 23) celebrates the independent film scene in Japan. This year's series can be divided into three categories: exemplary documentaries set in other countries; quirky new independent films; and a tribute to Ishii Sogo, fortysomethingish bad boy of Japanese cinema. Documentaries God's Children and Alexei and the Spring compassionately and probingly investigate communities that seemingly survive only through miracles: a huge garbage dump near Manila imperiled by landslides, and a village whose water source remains mysteriously uncontaminated despite its proximity to Chernobyl. Independent films include Shimizu Hiroshi's Chicken Heart and two films by newcomer Japanese-Korean director Lee Sang-il, his debut work about a Korean high school in Japan. The excellent Terajima Susumu stars in Hole in the Sky as a damaged man reaching out to a woman.

Ishii is that rare director whose style recalls the frenetic, quick-cut sword action films of the Japanese silent era. Series favorites are destined to be Ishii's now-legendary biker film Crazy Thunder Road and his 2000 B&W near-masterpiece Electric Dragon 80,000V. Take out your earplugs to talk with director Ishii in person on March 21 and 22. 510-642-1412 or www.bampfa.berkeley.edu -- Frako Loden

SAT 3/15

Never Happened

Factories staffed entirely by robots. A bubble-topped car with a kitchen in the back seat. Inflatable space stations. Underwater cities encased in glass domes. Why, oh why didn't things work the way these late-19th- and 20th-century artists imagined? We could be vacationing on Mars. Out of Time: 20th Century Designs for the Future -- a presentation of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Services -- is an endlessly fascinating exhibition of high hopes, from a time when visionary minds were convinced that anything could be improved with technology and Yankee ingenuity. If they could see the world now, they'd probably laugh. Visit the future that never arrived at the Hearst Art Gallery at Saint Mary's College (1928 Saint Mary's Rd., Moraga), where "Out of Time" opens Saturday, March 15 for a run through April 27. http://gallery.stmarys-ca.edu -- Kelly Vance

SUN 3/16

Free Trade

When you're involved in the arts, you can never have too much help. Nowadays, tight budgets, a wartime mentality, and multimedia googoo-glomerates all seem to conspire to keep the little guy and gal down, whether they be musicians, poets, visual artists, or behind-the-scenes types. You need to network -- that's the impetus behind the Resource Swap Meet series, organized by Dani Eurynome and Suashia (just Suashia). Come down to Epic Arts Studio (1923 Ashby Ave. in Berkeley) from 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday and exchange hints, gossip, and, perhaps most importantly of all, phone numbers and e-mail addresses with other folks trying to get ahead in the local arts scene. Who knows? You could meet the collaborator (or manager) of your dreams, or find someone who's doing exactly what you're doing, only much worse. That always feels good. Admission is free. Check out www.daniland.com or www.epicarts.org -- Stefanie Kalem

FRI 3/14

Pickin' and Grinnin'

If you like your whiskey straight, your barbecue smoked, and your twang sweet and real, you'd best hurry up the Starry Plough tonight. Ex-V-Roy Scott Miller comes up from Knoxville to showcase his wit and pickin' on Appalachian-style balladry and more rockin' stuff alike. Oakland's high-lonesome quartet Calamity & Main celebrates a CD release. And the Bay Area's "too country for new country" sweethearts, Red Meat, round out this three-fisted y'allternative bill. The Starry Plough is located at 3101 Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley, the show starts at 9:30 p.m. and costs $7. 510-841-2082. -- Stefanie Kalem

WED 3/12

Speak, Memory

The paintings in El Cerrito artist Pam Fingado's "Ancestors" series are boldly colored, highly metaphorical dreamscapes with titles like Mother-Thing, The Hearth, and Three Sisters. Lynda Ann Tish's sculptures lean toward the mythic, including a group of mummy-like white wrapped figures on short pedestals, with antlers, snakes, and birds on their heads. The common denominator is "Ancestors, Metaphor & Memory," a new painting and sculpture show at Los Medanos College Art Gallery featuring the two Bay Area artists. It runs through April 3, and is open Tuesdays through Thursdays at 2700 E. Leland Rd., Pittsburg. For more info: 925-439-2181. -- Kelly Vance

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