Monday, September 3, 2007

Toronto Japanese Film Appreciation Pow-Wow Interview, Part II - 'Up until now it’s been kind of a one man show...'

KE: What shops, video stores, libraries, theatres and neighbourhoods do you go to in the GTA to find Japanese films? Do you ever buy or rent bootlegged Japanese movies?

CM: There are great resources out there in Toronto for Japanese cinema you just need to be pointed in the right direction. I already mentioned that various groups, the JCCC, CJS, etc. that hold screenings. One of the best places to get your hands on not only Japanese films, but literature, news and culture in general is the Japan Foundation at Bloor and Avenue Road. They have a great library there and borrowing privileges are free. The Pow-Wow actually did some volunteer consultation work with Mariko Lilifeldt, the head librarian there a few months back so that they could expand their selection of films on DVD and some of those films have already hit their shelves, so that’s a great resource. I have to tell you though that their selection of films on VHS makes my mouth water!

Besides that anyone who’s interested in Japanese cinema or a good cross section of world cinema has to check out places like Queen Video, Suspect and Bay Street Video. All of those combined put most things that are released on region 1 DVD right in your hands. What isn’t can sometimes be found in Chinatown, but you take your chances not so much with the quality of the transfers, but in the quality of the subtitles. Some are really bad.

I also have some favorite little used places, but as a collector of films I have to keep those as my own happy little hunting grounds.

KE: What Japanese films do you hope to check out this year at the Toronto International Film Festival?

CM: Unfortunately my coffers are empty right now, so that coveted festival pass is out of financial reach this year, but never fear! One of our new contributing editors, Bob Turnbull is going to be our correspondent, so we’ll hopefully have the latest word on Kitano’s new film “Glory to the Filmmaker”, as well as a lot of others. I’m kind of upset that I’m not getting a chance to see Naomi Kawase’s latest “The Mourning Forest” myself. She’s one of those filmmakers I’ve read a lot about, but haven’t had the chance to catch in person. Maybe next year for me.

KE: How to you keep yourself informed about the latest developments in Japanese cinema?

CM: Through online sources mostly; the aforementioned Midnight Eye, Twitch Film is a great site and Mark Schilling’s reviews in the Japan Times are obviously a great source of what’s new in Japan. He has really eclectic tastes, so you don’t have to worry about only getting a narrow selection of films being reviewed.

KE: What films would you recommend to someone who needs an introduction to Japanese cinema?

CM: That’s kind of a hard question because it really depends on who is interested in exploring Japanese cinema and what they might have already seen. Like I said before, someone who loved “Battle Royale” should check out other films by Kinji Fukasaku, maybe also Seijun Suzuki’s and Yasuharu Hasebe’s films and go from there.

Then again it’s like visiting a country. If you visit Japan then there are some things you absolutely should see or you’re totally missing out. Same for Japanese cinema. I’d say the big ones would be Yasujiro Ozu’s “Tokyo Story”, Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” and “Seven Samurai”, Hirsohi Teshigahara’s “Woman in the Dunes”, Masaki Kobayashi’s “Harakiri”, Kenji Mizoguchi’s “Ugetsu”, “Tampopo” by Juzo Itami, definitely some of Takeshi Kitano’s films, “Hana-Bi” being the big one, and I’d say films like “Audition” and some of the anime classics for sure. If you have those under your belt then you have a good foundation to build on, but it’s important to make your own discoveries, to see where your real tastes lie.

Still, I would love it if everyone could have a chance to see films like Sai’s “Doing Time”, Ogata’s “Boy’s Choir” and Itami’s “The Funeral”. Those are some of my more obscure favorites.

KE: Are there any books that have deepened your understanding of Japanese cinema that you would recommend?

CM: Definitely. I’d say that Donald Richie’s writings are key to someone who’s interested in Japanese cinema. His “One Hundred Year of Japanese Films” is a real seminal work, but also he wrote a really lovely book of character studies called “Geisha, Gangster, Neighbor, Nun” that includes these very perceptive portraits of every day people Richie encountered in his daily life in Japan along with your Kurosawa’s and Mifune’s and Katsu’s. It’s crazy the amount of people he got to know!

Then there’s Mark Schilling’s work and Tom Mes and Jasper Sharp’s work with Midnight Eye. They wrote a great book called “The Midnight Eye Guide to New Japanese Film” that I love. It’s a really great resource. It’s interesting with them that when you go through Richie’s work he kind of breezes over a lot of the contemporary films. He’s very dismissive of them and directors like Kitano and Miike and Tsukamoto. I guess he’s gotten old and curmudgeonly, but Jasper and Tom have kind of picked up where he’s left off. I absolutely believe that we wouldn’t have the interest we do in guys like Miike, or be aware of filmmakers like Ryuichi Hiroki or Rokuro Mochizuki at all if it weren’t for them writing about them and creating a demand for them in the West.

Outside of criticism though there was a really nice little book by Peter Carey that, I’m not sure if it expanded or greatly deepened my view of Japanese cinema, but it’s “flavoured” it maybe I could say. It was called “Wrong About Japan”. He travels with his son and they encounter a lot of the manga and anime greats as well as Hayao Miyasaki. That’s a great book.

KE: What can we expect from The Toronto Japanese Film Appreciation Pow-Wow in the future?

A lot hopefully. There’s my work with the Canada Japan Society movie nights and, like I said, hopefully our own screenings returning shortly. There’s a plan in the works to do a co-presentation of a new Japanese film at this year’s After Dark Film Festival in October, but I would have to kill you if I told you what that film is right now. It’s a great one though and it hasn’t been screened in Toronto before.

I’ve recently brought in three contributing editors to help out with reviewing films. It should be interesting because they’re all so diverse. Bob, who I mentioned before works for IBM, then Marc Saint-Cyr is in the cinema studies program at U of T, and Polly Esther is one of the stars of the Pillow Fight League. Of course then there’s me, so we’ll have this kind of wonderful stew of viewpoints coming together. I mean up until now it’s been kind of a one man show, but from here on in it will be more of a group effort between the four of us.

I think that the big goal right now that I have to put my muscle behind is that we’d like to start a website for the Pow-Wow, so we can have a little bit more in depth material on there, and also will hopefully give us a little more cred so that we can go out and solicit some interviews with some directors and actors. With that website to compliment the Facebook group (because that’s definitely going to keep going) I’d hope that we can build it up so that the Toronto J-Film Pow-Wow becomes a cross between a Midnight Eye and a Now Magazine. Someplace where Torontonians who love Japanese cinema can check out what’s going on in the local scene, but a place where people internationally can get something as well. The only problem is that I’m an absolute HTML dummy, so this is my official cry for help if anyone wants to volunteer some time to do some web design for us!

1 comment:

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