Series Preview: "Love Will Tear Us Apart" at NY's Japan Society

In view of its topic, one is tempted to say of Japan Society's new series that it's too bad it didn't arrive a couple of weeks ago, around February 14--then again, I don't think Valentine's Day could have withstood the assault.

Mixing repertory classics such as Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses (1976) with the U.S. premiere of Shinya Tsukamoto's latest trip into dark desire, KOTOKO, and the world premiere of Koji Wakamatsu's Petrel Hotel Blue, the lineup overwhelms with commitment to its own twisted theme. What's more, as if Japan didn't produce enough memorable examples of romance gone rancid and sex gone sordid, New Yorkers will also be treated to several Korean titles of note during the March 2 - March 18 series run.

In addition to the films just mentioned and several other fairly obvious best-bets (e.g., the award-winning Vibrator [2003] and Oasis [2002]--for my money, a masterwork of world cinema), here's a sampling of the other goodies with which the program is overflowing...

If you want to catch up on, or revisit, Tsukamoto's A Snake in June (2003) or Vital (2004, pictured above), here's your chance. A Snake in June is nothing less than dazzling--with its monochromatic look and disorientating narrative, it's what Maya Deren might have crafted if she had decided to address sexual humiliation; avant-garde in technique but ultimately traditional in its values, it's a film both highly problematic and highly compelling. Vital is a slight but satisfying film about dissection (I dare someone to blurb that last phrase)--a kind of upbeat, life-affirming version of the ultra-downer Korean flick No Mercy (2010). | March 3. Vital, 7 pm. A Snake of June, 9 pm.

Villain (2010). As far as I know, this title is not yet available on R1 DVD--although Third Window recently released an excellent R2 version. That means this is a key chance for New Yorkers to see this acclaimed quasi-thriller. A mix of melodrama, murder, and all-consuming passion, Villain also sports an interesting class-critique subtext that, along with the aforementioned ingredients, clearly makes it Japan's answer to A Place in the Sun (1951).
| March 9, 7:30 pm.

M (2006). Starting off as a naturalistic, if humorless, update of Belle de Jour (1967) in the age of online porn, Hiroki Ryuichi's film ends up somewhere between the stylized tragedy of classical Japanese theater and full-on psycho-drama exploitation. I'm still shaking my head and smiling when I think of this one. | March 4, 7:30 pm

Snakes and Earrings (2008). Ultimately, not an emotional powerhouse but still thoughtful, ambitious, and literate. Worth catching chiefly for the soul-baring, body-baring performance of lead Yuriko Yoshitaka. | March 16, 7:30 pm

A Tale of Cinema (2005). Flat-out brilliant, its heady mix of smart self-awareness and disarming spontaneity might owe more to the French New Wave than the Korean New Wave, but who cares? Hong Sang-soo evidently doesn't think it's necessarily a bad thing that, culturally, we get our romantic cues from the movies as long as we recognize this process and remember our role in it; and lest we do forget, he's there to remind us. Because of its "meta" approach and entertaining allegiance to loser-dom, this is probably the conceptual centerpiece of the series. | March 8, 7 pm

3 from Kim Ki-duk: Bad Guy, Dream, Time. Bad Guy (2002) is one of those efforts from Kim Ki-duk that's almost annoying in its single-minded purity, while Dream (2008), by contrast, impresses with its complexity of theme and storytelling. I think I've described the latter, somewhat glibly, as an unsuccessful melding of Hitchcock and Bergman; still, I'd rather see Kim's partial failures than most other director's screaming successes. Probably the underseen title here is Time (2006), which is unintentionally funny at times, wildly engaging at others. Still, it's best not to approach it as a film by the maker of 3-Iron (2004), but rather as an extended Twilight Zone episode that's been long-marinated in neurosis. | March 10. Time, 3 pm. Bad Guy, 5:15 pm. Dream, 7:30 pm

Air Doll (2009). Padded with about twenty minutes of excess "profundity"--as if ashamed of its many small but gem-like truths--Air Doll is worth seeing for its multiple passages of adult-flavored whimsy. The cinephile element (the title character gets a job at a video store) is also quite charming. Granted, not the classic it could have been, but as a rejoinder to Mannequin (1987), or just about any other Hollywood phantasy on sexuality, it's definitely recommended. | March 3, 2 pm.

The full program, which is available at the link below, contains several other titles that might be of interest to Twitch readers: My Dear Enemy (2008), Happy End (1999), Vegetarian (2009)--oh, and let's not forget Hideo Nakata's delightfully twisty Chaos (2000). Well, that just goes to show that there's too much to cover here. An embarrassment of riches, really.
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