Saturday, January 10, 2009

Mark Jenkins on "Roads to the Interior: Another Side of Japanese Cinema"

Thanks to Mark Jenkins for the thoughtful recap of the Japanese film series I programmed last year at ReelDC.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


The list of criminally-neglected foreign films is a long one indeed, but one I really want to beat the drum for is Miwa Nishikawa's Sway. According to Nishikawa, it was inspired by a nightmare, and even though there is nothing supernatural about it, that atmosphere of nightmare-dread we've all felt saturates every frame. It's a remarkable feat of sustained mood.

I included it in a program of recent Japanese films last year, and it provoked the most interesting audience reactions in the lobby after the screening. What I, and others, found so powerful and haunting about it is that it's a movie essentially about ambiguity - the impossibility of truly knowing what motivates even those closest to you (to reveal any more would give away too much of a plot that depends on a key not so much plot twist as swerve early on that has the effect of knocking you off balance for the rest of the film.)

Even more fascinating to me were the reactions of the people who disliked it precisely because of its ambuguity. Some of them even seemed angry - they wanted answers that Nishikawa explicitly resists giving. Which makes me think that Nishikawa is a poet in an age that only wants information.

You can read David Wilentz's interview with her at The Brooklyn Rail, and buy the DVD at Amazon.

Harikikigaki, a 16th Century Japanese Medical Manual

Harikikigaki is a medical manual published in Japan in 1568 which describes how to combat the little critters which were believed to live inside the body and cause disease. Some, like the guy illustrated here, even wear hats in an attempt to avoid medicine. You can see a selection of them at Pink Tentacle.

Favorite Musical Moments of 2008 (In No Particular Order)

1. TV On The Radio, Dear Science.

2. Esau Mwamamwaya and Radioclit, "Tengazako." It turns out there is room in this world for one more version of MIA's "Paper Planes." This one is from Africa and is full of joy.

3. DJ Earworm, "If I Were a Freefallin' Boy (Beyonce vs. Tom Petty)." The great thing about this mash-up is that it saves you time by allowing you to listen to two great songs at the same time.

4. Lil Wayne, "Mr. Carter." I give up. The guy's great. Even the seasons are jealous of him, or so he boasts here.

5. The dream I had in which Sonic Youth were playing a concert as a kind of lecture-demonstration - they would describe how they were making their guitar sounds while they were playing. As if their music is now so old that it is considered classical.

6. Conor Oberst, "Moab" and Fleet Foxes, "White Winter Hymnal." Talk about classicism. Two great singles by guys who have learned from their forbears.

7. Mavis Staples on the NPR radio show Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me. She didn't do much singing, but she stole the show in an old-school, show business way. Plus she revealed that Bob Dylan once proposed marriage to her!

8. Ida Maria, "Oh My God." Full-throttle Scandinavian pop-rock. She is apparently so badass that she broke her ribs during a show when she threw herself into an amp.

You can find a lot of this this stuff on Hype Machine.