In The Realm Of The Senses (#110 of 2)

Remediating the Avant-Garde Yuriko Furuhata’s Cinema of Actuality: Japanese Avant-Garde Filmmaking in the Season of Image Politics

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Remediating the Avant-Garde: Yuriko Furuhata’s Cinema of Actuality: Japanese Avant-Garde Filmmaking in the Season of Image Politics
Remediating the Avant-Garde: Yuriko Furuhata’s Cinema of Actuality: Japanese Avant-Garde Filmmaking in the Season of Image Politics

In his 1979 book To the Distant Observer: Form and Meaning in the Japanese Cinema, film theorist Noël Burch said “the very notion of theory is alien to Japan; it is considered a property of Europe and the West.” With clarity and a multitude of supplementary examples to back her up, Yuriko Furuhata systematically dismantles Burch's Eurocentric, haphazard claims throughout Cinema of Actuality: Japanese Avant-Garde Filmmaking in the Season of Image Politics, a remarkably researched and argued case for Japan's complex theoretical contributions to the field of cinema studies, often by the filmmakers themselves.

However, this feat is all the more impressive, given Furuhata's multifaceted approach to myth-busting Japan's deficiencies in providing thoughtful film theory not just through historical evidence (such as interviews and primary texts), but by re-conceptualizing the very nature of Japanese documentary and avant-garde practices over roughly a two decade span to reveal early examples of converging media cultures. Nagisa Oshima, the book's primary focus, summarized these tendencies himself, proclaiming in a late-'60s interview that “everything can be made into cinema.” The implication for Furuhata, and it seems the correct one, is that cinema “has the capacity to absorb and subsume other media forms.” In the case of Oshima, Furuhata uses his 1967 film Band of Ninja to explain such capacities—what Furuhata calls “remediation”—in which the film calls attention to medium specificity by “heightening the materiality of the original comic-book medium rather than concealing it.” That lack of concealment, or disinterest in concealment, separates Oshima's work from other mangas of the time and provides a foundation to define “actuality,” which essentially constitutes the limits between cinema, documentary filmmaking, and journalism. Jacques Derrida calls it “artifactuality,” but whatever name one ascribes, the filmmakers discussed here are dedicated to questioning and, perhaps even, dismantling the political power attained through such neat separations.

Two by Kōji Wakamatsu: United Red Army and Caterpillar

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Two by Kōji Wakamatsu: <em>United Red Army</em> and <em>Caterpillar</em>
Two by Kōji Wakamatsu: <em>United Red Army</em> and <em>Caterpillar</em>

Interest in the work of legendary “pink” film director Kōji Wakamatsu has been resuscitated since his most recent film, the emotionally wrought Caterpillar, was nominated for the Golden Bear at the 2010 Berlin Film Festival. Prior to this, Wakamatsu was probably best known for serving as executive producer on Nagisa Oshima's controversial art-house sex film In the Realm of the Senses. Long considered one of the best directors working in the Japanese “pink” or soft-core industry, Wakamatsu capitalized on the relative autonomy offered by forming his own production company in the mid '60s, and by working within extremely miniscule budgets, to produce a body of work that's sexually explicit as well as explicitly political. For instance, 1972's Ecstasy of the Angels in many ways rehearses the self-destruction of United Red Army's revolutionary cell, albeit played out in a far more sexualized fashion. Interestingly, that film's writer, Masao Adachi, who would go on to write Caterpillar for Wakamatsu, in the interim gave up screenwriting altogether in order to join the Japanese Red Army, training and living with the group for nearly 20 years in Lebanon, until his arrest and deportation to Japan in 2001.