Thursday, February 20, 2020

It's been 10 years of Unseen Films- Can I stop now?

Now we are ten.

Let me say that again. Unseen Films is 10 years old which means as this posts we have been posting at least one film a day for ten years. If it wasn’t a review it was an essay or an interview. That's a lot of stuff.

Over the last 10 years we've gone to places I don't think any of the Unseen Film family ever thought we’d go. We have pissed some people off, but mostly we have made a lot of friends along the way- HELLO FRIENDS!!!!!.

It has been one long grand trip- and despite my protesting and trying to pull the plug it doesn't seem to be stopping any time soon.

And yes if you have been paying attention over the last few months I real was planning on pulling the plug. The plan sixth months ago was this birthday post was going to be a grand goodbye, but something happened on the way out the door. I tripped.

Seriously after ten years of the running of the site devouring more and more of my time I was going to call it quits and walk away (seriously I had it all planned out), but things happened I finished up way earlier than I planned  (about five months early) and in deciding to fill my time constructively I decided to go a little longer and now I have things programmed into October with older films, and I have end up with plans to cover a bunch of festivals which means I'm heading into an 11th year and I am almost at a 12th year of this nonsense despite my better judgement and probably a need to step away.

And after posting almost 10,000 pieces over 10 years this has gone from being a distraction to keep myself sane into something that grew and prospered and became a second job- except it doesn’t pay except in movies and in some very cherished friendships. In the end it is the friendships that keep me doing this- the ability to hang out here and there with the family and to meet people that has me saying – one more festival, one more screening, one more movie- because there is always a chance some sort of connection might come…

When I started this I just did it. I just sat down and began writing. Then I asked my friends, Randi, John (and Bully), Eden. Ken and the late and much missed Gregg Osborne if they had any movies they loved, that no one was talking about, that needed highlighting. I told them about Unseen and  despite mostly being comic writers and fans they said yes. Most amazingly Ken thought this could go somewhere and started to push it on social media and it started to grow.(Not sure if I should kiss him or smack him). Not long after that I added in Rob Melville, who lists as Robert Grimes, who did one of the biggest pieces ever on the probable origin of the Saw Franchise. I brought in Dave (aka Mondocurry) because he was an Asian film encyclopedia and through him I met Mr C, and Chocko... and they introduced me to Ariela Rubin and then Jared...

Press screenings brought me into contact with Peter Gutierrez who liked what we were doing and wanted to join. Then I got to interview Donnie Yen and found myself sitting across from Hubert Vigilla. We started to talk and a decade on we still are. Hubert sent  Alec Kubas Meyer my way. Next to swing in was Joe Bendel who not only occasionally throws stuff to Unseen but also runs his own daily film festival at JB Spins.  And one day with Joe while waiting for a Tribeca screening we stumbled into a lost looking Nate Hood. Our most recent additions to the semi regular writing staff and Leslie Melville, Rob's wife, who came aboard this past summer and hasn't looked back, and we also just started to publish the work of the wickedly talented BC Wallin.

And while that forms the heart of the corps of writers at Unseen it doesn’t begin to do justice to the friends we’ve made from Lesley Coffin and Lauren Humphrey Brooks and  Liz Whittmore, and... Chris Bourne, Nora Lee Mandel, Nobu,  Kenji Fujishima, and Sam Juliano and…..that's just some of the writers who are friends and doesn't include the filmmakers and regular film fans I converse with on line and at screenings and festivals

The question at my house is "don't you know anyone who isn't connected to Unseen?" To which I always answer "only if I work with them or are a blood relative."

And today, after 10 years I'm taking a break. I think this is the first time in a decade where the piece hasn't been a review or interview or something wholly film related. Today it's just this marking of time and nothing more.

One day "off" after ten years isn't bad.

But what of the future?

I know I have threatened to stop but I think at this point I am more like Paul Simon's Boxer remaining despite it all. Unseen is going to go one for the foreseeable future. I know most of you will be happy with that, and I know some, like the guy who keeps saying I get things wrong, will not. (Hey stop reading).

For now it's going to remain at least a post a day until...at least November.

I am going to take it easy and cover what interests me and post what interests my writers. I am still not getting paid despite my best efforts, so for now we just are going to go with it. We will continue to lean into the inde and the off beat and the unloved because that's what we do, that is our niche and it brings us lots of friends and lots of great movies.

Truth be told I would love to cover the big films with regularity but the big studios don't have us on the radar. That's not a bad thing since after ten years of covering film one thing I know for certain the big studios are not turning out the best films. Its the small filmmakers who are struggling to get eyes on their films. Ask anyone who goes to Slamdance or  to Neighboring Scenes or The Winter Film Awards or Oxford or Blood In The Snow Canada or Camden or Queens World. The best films, the ones that move you and stir your soul, are hiding in places most people aren't looking...but we at Unseen Films are.

As we stumble into the next decade we're going to keep looking in the small fests and hidden places for the films that you need to hunt down. We are going to scream to the heavens about the great filmmakers we encounter like Jason Kartalian and Patrick Meaney and Jon Kasbe and Shaun Clark and Timothy Cox  and all the people who I love and who I have just failed to mention.

Truth be told I don't know what the next week will bring much less the next decade. When I sat down at the computer in my dad's room and started to bang out reviews a decade ago I never expected to actually become a real member of the press, or meet some of my favorite actors and some of the best filmmakers in the world. I never expected  that we'd be quoted in trailers and on posters. I thought it was just going to be  place for friends to talk about movies and not something that would get us interviewed by papers in Pakistan about the political films about their elections or to speak about Godzilla to Japanese publication.

This has been one crazy ride and it seems it still isn't over.

As we drift on down the road I want to thank you all for coming along this far and simply say if you're curious where we are going to end up next just keep reading

And a huge thank you to John DiBello for making the 10th anniversary header.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Prince’s Voyage (2019) NYICFF 2019

Yes I know I just ran this piece when the film played Animation First- but its is playing at NYICFF Sunday and two sold out dates in March.

While out traveling the Monkey Prince falls into the ocean and ends up on distant shore. Discovered by a Tom, young boy, he is nursed back to health by a group of scientists who tend to study him more than engage with him. Each have their own plans for the Prince. As Tom and the prince discuss life and the world the prince now inhabits plans are made for escape.

This is a stunning gem for those willing to go along on its journey. Paced so that it mirrors the Prince’s time with Tom, the film moves along slowly during the first half as the Prince is restricted to the museum where he is being kept semi-prisoner. The pace picks up again as the prince tells stories of his home. The film then gains momentum as the Prince and Tom go exploring and the Prince meets a scientific committee. This is a slowly building film of great power.

Looking more conventional than co-director Jean-François Laguionie‘s (it was co directed with & Xavier Picard) earlier shorts of his first feature Gwen and The Book of Sand, the film is none the less just as deeply philosophical as those earlier films driving home points about colonialism, how man sees “lesser” beings, science, society and nature over taking man no matter how hard we try to stop it. While I know and love the directors earlier films and knew what to expect, I was still kind of blindsided by the film as the film quietly dropped all these threads into my lap giving me more and more meat to chew on. I was stunned since the film on the face of it seems so incredibly simple yet upon close examination reveals it to be one of the most thematically complex films in years. There is a lot going on here so don’t let the pretty animation fool you.

And as much as I have gone on about the themes at play the film is also emotionally moving. By the time the final fade out comes I found I was deeply moved for all the right reasons.

As I said above a gem.

The NYICFF screening Sunday the 23rd still has tickets for certain. The two tickets in March are nominally sold out but I know tickets always appear. For more information and tickets go here.

Celebrate Aardman! A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon NYICFF 2020

It could be argued- just ask Nate Hood- that the greatest silent movie comedian was not Lloyd, Chaplin or Keaton but Shaun the Sheep. Sure his films have sound effects but effectively he is a silent movie comic of the highest order. Don't  argue that he is animated, he is not, he is real as anyone who has ever been on screen. Just ask anyone who has seen any of his on screen appearances  will attest.

The latest big screen appearance of Shaun comes in the Netflix film FARMAGEDDON, a riotous and screamingly funny adventure that has Shaun and the other sheep helping a lost alien. It sends up countless scfi films while maneuvering itself into being an instant classic comedy. Make no mistake films don't get much funnier than this.

I am not going to spoil the film by saying what happens you will just want to see for yourself but if you want a hint then start with ET and then mash it with Aardman insanity after sprinkling in pretty much every space film from the last six decades. I will also say the film is full of wonderful throw aways and visual puns. Additionally listen close since the film's score echos many classic scifi scores.

Ultimately you need to just see the film- trust me you will love it.

Now I know I said that Netflix is distributing the film but you don't want to see it that way. What you want to do is go to the New York International Children's Film Festival and see this with a big audience where you can laugh and cheer and have a grand time with lots of people (and get t-shirts in the t-shirt toss). The film is playing this weekend and and March 8th and it's a must see because if you see it big you will catch more things than if you see it on TV or your phone. Trust me I have seen the film a couple of times now and I keep catching more and more the bigger I see the film. And if you love to see films on a big screen it is vital that you go to the NYICFF screeningd since the film is from Netflix which means the chance to see it big a going to be few and far between.

FAMAGEDDON is a great film - one of 2020's very best and highly recommended.

For more information and tickets go here.

On-Gaku: Our Sound (2019) NYICFF 2020

Yes the film is wonderfully full of rock references
My reaction watching ON-GAKU: OUR SOUND went through three stages:

First I was amused but I really couldn't believe that the programmers at NYICFF had picked the film since it was so mannered and deadpan.

Second I clicked with the film and I had an "ah ha!" moment where I understood why they picked it and I fell in love with the music.

Lastly I fell head over heels for the film and started to send out emails and text messages to everyone I thought would react similarly.

The plot of the film has Kenji and his to friends having the run of their school. Everyone thinks they are the toughest guys in the world. It is all an act which their friend Aya knows. One day when ends up with a guitar in his hands it begins him thinking he should start a band. Despite not being able to play the "three musketeers" start a band and change their lives.

Glorious, magical and funny in all the right ways ON-GAKU is a charmer. A wonderful journey through the finding of ourselves, the power of friendship and the importance of music, it is a film that transcends the simple "let's start a band" genre to become something more. It is a heartfelt and emotional film about growing up and realizing that maybe we need to do what we love.

This film blew me away. As I said above I initially wasn't sure what I was seeing but by the time it had ended it had exploded in my heart as being one of the most special cinematic experiences of the young film year. It is so wonderful that I went back and rewatched the film  just because I wanted to smile and feel the absolute delight that several of the sequences brought.

Highly recommended- even more so if you love music and if you ever were or ever wanted to start a band.

ON -GAKU OUR SOUND plays at NYICFF the next three weekends. For more information and tickets go here. And just go to the film because it really is that good.

Rag Doll (2020)

Shannon Murray plays a young woman who is struggling to get by in life. Her personal life is a mess, he job cleaning rooms in a motel sucks and her mother, often a real SOB, is slowly dying. Her only escape is the gym where she excels at MMA. As things begin to slide the possibility of a new beau arrives as does the chance to win an MMA tournament .

Small gem of a film is a wonderful off brand American film. While this film follows certain familiar paths we expect from this sort of sport film, there is more than enough here to make it wonderfully it’s own thing. Yea, we have been kind of here before but at the same time we haven’t. Credit the excellent cast headed by Murray as our heroine. While I wasn’t certain I was going to accept the very deep intensity she gives in her performance, particularly in the early going, she did eventually win me over by beautifully opening open and allowing us to what is happening inside. Make no mistake she is still a tough fighter but there more to her than the combativeness that she puts forward. This is also an award worthy performance that will probably never get noticed by Oscar even though it should.

This is a super little film. Watching it on the morning of the recent Oscars I was struck by how much better this film was than many of the big films that were getting all the attention in Hollywood. Here I was sitting alone in my living room watching a heartfelt film full of quiet intensity. It has the rough hewn feel of a life lived which makes it so much more real and alive than the finely crafted films the Academy always thinks, wrongly, are the best things out there. Watching the film I could imagine the struggle to get this made where as in the case of the latest Tarantino it was just making a few phone calls writer director Bailey Kobe probably had to struggle to bring his vision to the big screen. It is a struggle that gives RAG DOLL a life that touches the heart and the soul of the audience in ways that the big Hollywood films could never imagine.

What a wonderful little film.

If you want to see a film that isn’t like every other, give this film a shot.

RAG DOLL Opens Friday, February 21st at the Arena CineLounge in Hollywood, CA followed by a VOD release by Gravitas Ventures on Tuesday, February 25th

Winter Film Awards 2020 Shorts:Fresh Green; Distinguished Feelings; The RIbbon; Subway; The Chef; We're Going To Paris; Oasis; The Barber

FRESH GREEN
A lone patron in a bar plays around of pool and makes a discovery...and this is out there- where that is I'm not sure but its a trip in a good way.

DISTINGUISHED FEELINGS
A woman suddenly has doubts about her relationship and has a man seduce her boyfriend but it spins off unexpectedly. Good story with killer style - is shiftd gears in look and genre as needed- with the result we have a wonderful little tale.

THE RIBBON
Polla-Ilariya Kozino's bittersweet gem about a young girl restrained by a ribbon had me misting and smiling. A wonderful show piece that makes me want to see what Kozino is doing next.

SUBWAY
Meta-meditation on life as a subway pulls into a station. A trifle but it will put a smile on your face.

THE CHEF
An older human chef must teach a human looking robot to cook. However the other cooks fear their jobs are in jeopardy. An good story made better by the wonderful cast who sell the story and bring an emotional kick  to the story.

WE"RE GOING TO PARIS
Funny story of an elderly couple who go to the bank to get the money to finally go to Paris. I dare not say more because this gem of a film is not so much the situation but the wonderful cast and witty dialog which put a huge smile on your face

OASIS
A woman who goes to a gay bar to find her husband and faints a transgender prostitute comes to her aid. Lovely wonderful heartfelt film is one of the Winter Film Awards real stunners. A small masterpiece it will move you deeply with one of the great final shots of a great face. Wow.

THE BARBER
A Syrian barber in a refugee camp tries to whether the shifting politics of a his clients but things become suddenly complicated. Good small tale that is hard to discuss because the power of the film is in the final moments.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Balloon (2019)

If you are of a certain age you may have seen the Disney Film Night Crossing about two East German families who take a shot and attempt to flee to the West via hot air balloon. There were of course complications which made for a hell of a thrilling ride. The film, released in 1982 came some three years after the events and was filled with Cold War intensity. It is a film that came at a time when Disney was trying to make more serious live action films and once the Berlin Wall fell the film fell off the table and only really remains in the memory of those of us old enough to have seen it.

Recently writer director Michael Herbig decided to retell the story. Restructuring the telling, the tale begins closer to the first attempt to cross the Iron Curtain (there were two with the second being much more intense as the police hunted the people responsible for first),Herbig has made a killer thriller that not only keeps us on the edge of our seats, but also has an emotional sting in it’s tale since the passage of time and the fall of the Communist regime allows for a very emotional ending.

While I don’t think he’s well known here in the US writer director Michael Herbig came to my attention about 20 years ago when he made two very funny comedy films Manitous’s Shoe a send up of the Karl may Shatterhand stories that inspired the films that kicked off the Euro westerns of the 1960’s and 70’s as well as (T)Raumschiff Surprise - Periode 1 a spin off of a send up of Star Trek which reduced me to uncontrolled laughter. My understanding was that he was a comedy genius (though I knew little about him because I simply don’t speak German) so when he turned around and made a serious thriller I had to take a look.

Balloon is a killer. Because Herbig is old enough to have lived through the events depicted in the film he has the ability to portray both the smart ass attitude some people developed to survive as well as the ugliness East German authorities who shot to kill those who would dare leave their wonderful country with the certainty of a man who was there. There is no Hollywood heroics, just a real life grittiness and we are better for it.

We are also better for the passage of time.  The original recounting was very much of it's time. It was a film informed by the battle lines of East and West. It was a film that was, at the time of the moment which gave it an immediacy. However time marches and on and our perceptions change. More importantly events  continue to play out. Yea the escape happened, but repercussions played out. We get to see where those events lead and in this case it is an ending that is much more moving and earned.

I really love this film a great deal. I love it  because it is a great tale and a well made thriller, but also because it got me to revisit the works of the director at a time when I will now be able to track down his other films in English.

Balloon is highly recommended when it hit theaters this Friday such as the Quad Cinema in NYC.

Winter Film Awards 2020 Shorts:For The Goblins; Wherefore Art Thou, Theo; Sisters, F-Dream; Crimson Cuffs; My Daughter Yoshiko


FOR THE GOBLINS
Amusing short film has a human kidnapped by goblins and forced to bring one of them home to tach him the way of humans.  A charming little film that hits some expected noted and more unexpected ones with the result that the film puts a huge smile on your face.

WHERE FORE ART THOU, THEO?
A series of emails left by the directors mother begins as a confusing "why am I listening to this?" and becomes by the end a charming portrait of a mother and son. If you've ever gotten a call from you parents to see where you are and fill you in or just to let you know they are there then you'll be moved by this charmer.

SISTERS
Nancy Mensah Offei and Karolina Kucera will rock your soul in this killer story about two estranged sisters who come together for their mother's funeral. It's a killer story full of raw emotion  and realness that you can touch. This is a stunner, one I was going to pass over, but which I am glad I caught because the two performances make this film something absolutely special.

F- DREAM (THE KEYBOARD STORY)
Stunning glorious magnificent and one of the best damned films of 2020 F DREAM is a charmer about an F key that sees a poster o PORCO RUSSO and decides he wants to fly.  Quite simply it is one of the most charming and satisfying films of the year. I laughed I got misty, I laughed some more.
Wow and then some.

CRIMSON CUFFS
A young woman goes on a blind date her mother set up but things go sideways. I really liked this and I want to see more of this. I say that because when it was done I screamed "AND?" at the screen. You will too. I want to see where this goes because it would make a hell of a feature.

MY DAUGHTER YOSHIKO
A Japanese mother married to an American GI is over whelmed by her autistic daughter. Heartfelt and moving film gives us a good idea about how difficult it can be for those with children with autism and how the world sometimes sees them.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Ariela Rubin on Standing Up Falling Down which opens Friday

Standing Up, Falling Down is a movie about Scott,(Ben Schwartz) a 30 something year old struggling stand up comedian, who moves back with his family in Long Island, after giving comedy a try in LA. He soon meets Marty(Billy Crystal), a 60 something year old dermatologist by day, alcoholic by night. Scott's first encounter with Marty, is Marty peeing in a sink at a bar. They become friends.

I loved this movie. It is a story of an unlikely friendship. It shows that people of different ages can make connections, and become friends. The chemistry between Scott and Marty was perfect. Their screen time together is what made the movie. Standing Up, Falling Down is both a comedy, and a drama. I laughed, and I cried. I definitely recommend seeing it.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Asperger’s, Birds of Prey, and Cassandra Cain by Nathanael Hood

[Much thanks to Santiago Mayaud for helping me find and credit all the art used in this article. Follow him on twitter at @JudgeAnon.]

Every superhero is autistic, at least a little.

A normal person, seeing their billionaire parents gunned down in a back alley, would probably cope with their trauma by going to therapy for a few years, maybe start a charity in their name, initiate a program of urban redevelopment in the neighborhood they were killed. A normal person wouldn’t spend the rest of their lives training and mastering every martial art known to man, style themselves after an airborne mammal, and embark on a one-man anti-crime wave. Likewise, a normal person, when faced with the deadly consequences of their contributions to the military industrial complex, would probably become an anti-nuclear crusader, speaking around the world and at the United Nations in the name of global disarmament. A normal person wouldn’t build themselves a mechanical flight suit with the firepower of several aircraft carriers and blow up anybody who tried to steal their technology.

These things are unusual. Abnormal. Atypical. Neuroatypical, even. For while the superhero impulse might be fundamentally rooted in the desire to do good, deep within it lurks something more subtle—the drive to hyper-fixate.

At least that’s how I understood it as a teenager and young adult with Asperger’s. In superheroes, I saw reflections of myself, a perpetual outsider who saw and processed the world differently, who fixated on specific things and obsessed over them until they consumed me. Similarly, superheroes, in a very literal sense, became embodiments of the virtues they espoused. Truth. Justice. The American Way. They saw a broken world (or neighborhood, or country, or galaxy) and fought to fix it, to clear away suffering and injustice until everything was set aright. They obsessed over their mission, learned every nook and cranny of their territory, devised every contingency plan possible. I loved reading about how Batman had detailed files on his Rogues Gallery, or how the Punisher had safe houses strategically placed all over New York City in case things went sideways. To me, a superhero always had a Batcave or Fortress of Solitude where they could collect, organize, and display battle trophies and flee from an overstimulating world—both of which are textbook Aspie tics if I know Aspies, and I do. A superhero always had a game plan like Peter Parker, snapping pictures of himself as Spider-Man and selling them to his boss at the Daily Bugle to make ends meet. A superhero was always tinkering, always building, always exploring like the Fantastic Four, eager to see new worlds and study their findings. Superheroes were perpetually dissatisfied, and only the promise of new stimulus seemed to keep them going.

Superheroes were different and weird and didn’t fit into the world at large. And neither did I. All too often I found myself jealous not just of their superpowers, but of their secret identities. How wonderful it must be to “turn off” one’s otherness. To me, that was more amazing than being born on a different planet or getting powers from a toxic chemical spill. Perhaps that’s one reason why I identified so closely with characters who couldn’t, the ones who were forced to live day-in and day-out with the things that made them strange and wonderful, terrible and terrifying. Swamp Thing with his vegetable body. Nightcrawler with his blue fur, fangs, and tail. The Spectre with his heavenly duties weighing on him like a noose and anchor.

And Cassandra Cain.

Penciller Damion Scott
To see her, one would assume she was another dime-a-dozen teenage vigilante grappling-hooking her way across the roofs of Gotham.

But Cassandra Cain was different. Very different.

Why? Because she’s the closest thing DC Comics has to an autistic superhero.
At least to me. It’s never been confirmed and it’s probably never even been hinted at. But in my eyes she’s always been very clearly coded as autistic, even if that was never the intent of her writers or creators. And hey, when you consider that the only officially diagnosed-as-autistic character in DC Comics is friggin’ Black Manta—a supervillain—you can understand why people like me would take any bit of representation we could get, even if it’s only imagined.

A quick history lesson. I promise I’ll try not to go full nerd on you guys. Bear with me.

Created by writer Kelley Puckett and artist Damion Scott, she first appeared in Batman #567 in July 1999 in the wildly popular “No Man’s Land” story arc that saw Gotham City scrambling to recover in the wake of a cataclysmic earthquake. The next year she received her own comic book series aptly named Batgirl which ran for about 80 issues and further explored her origins and her struggles to live up to the Batgirl mantle originated by her mentor Barbara Gordon.

Her gimmick—if you could call it a gimmick—was that she was the daughter of two of the deadliest assassins and martial artists in the DC Universe. From birth, she’d been trained to be the perfect killer. In a cruel twist, this included depriving her of all speech and human contact during her childhood, leaving her mute, illiterate, and mentally stunted. Violence, quite literally, was the only language she knew.

However—much like brain surgery patents whose neural pathways re-write themselves to accommodate missing lobes—Cass very much learned language: the language of human body movement.

Images from Batgirl Vol. 1, issue #13 Write Kelly Puckett, penciler Damion Scott
She could literally read and predict her opponents’ movements. Facial micro-expressions, small fidgets, barely registrable flinches…she could read these as clearly as you or I could the letters of the alphabet. The result was that by the time she was eight she was one of the best hand-to-hand fighters on the planet. She was everything her parents had hoped. She was perfect.

At least until the time came for her “graduation”—her first kill.

Batman Vol. 1, issue #567, writer Kelly Puckett,penciler Damion Scott
When she carried out her first assassination, her ability to read body language made it so she experienced her target’s death throes herself. All his pain, all his disbelief, all his terror…all these things Cass read in his eyes, his face, his body.

Traumatized, she fled from her father and spent the next several years on the run, swearing never to kill again. Eventually she ended up in Gotham and swore allegiance to Batman, impressed both by his skills as a martial artist and his refusal to kill. As the years went by, she served as Batgirl for several years before passing the mantle on to Stephanie Brown, bounced around several superhero teams, got brainwashed and turned into a villain, got saved and turned back into a hero, yadda yadda yadda. Standard superhero stuff.

Yet no matter how she evolved as a character (and no, I’m choosing to ignore her One Year Later arc—that was bad, stupid writing then and it’s bad stupid writing now) she always remained autistically-coded in three ways.

First, there’s her learning disabilities. Despite what Hollywood and Rain Man (1988) might tell you, autism doesn’t give sufferers mental superpowers. In fact, many children with autism have difficulty learning to read, write, or perform mathematics. And Cass’ struggles to learn how to read, write, and speak clearly reflect the learning curve faced by many autistic kids.

Batgirl Vol. 1, Issue #58,writer Andersen Gabrych, penciler Ale Garza
One of my favorite moments of her original Batgirl run was an inspired bit of comic book wizardry that depicted how Cass could only understand written words by interpreting them as body movements.

Batgirl Vol. 1, issue #4, writers Kelley Puckett and Scott Peterson, penciler Damion Scott

Eventually Cass would be able to talk, read, and write, but always with difficulty and hesitation. Which leads me to the second way she was autistically-coded: her difficulty reading social cues. Because of her upbringing, she’d never been properly socialized, so the usual proprieties we take for granted about how to speak and act with other people remained foreign to her. Even after she started making friends with various members of the Bat-family, she never quite fit in, frequently exasperating them with her apparent aloofness and bizarre behavior. One particularly infamous and extreme example happened during her tenure with the Outsiders where she’d nonchalantly walk around naked in front of her team-members.

Batman and the Outsiders Vol. 2, issue #3, writer Chuck Dixon, penciler Julian Lopez

Much of the time she’s only be able to truly communicate with her friends and allies while training and while on missions—much to the chagrin of her bestie, the aforementioned Stephanie Brown whom she taught martial arts.

Batgirl Vol. 1,issue #28, writer Kelley Puckett, penciler Damion Scott

This leads into the third, final, and perhaps most telling way that Cass is autistically-coded: she hyper-fixates on being a hero. The thing about Cass is that if she’s not fighting crime, she’s training. If she’s not training, she’s training other people. And if she’s not training other people, she’s probably in a coma recovering from the last time she was fighting crime. Her drive to help other people—to preserve and protect life—borders on the self-destructive as she frequently pushes her body to the brink of collapse, something the people who love her are quick to point out.

But even more than fighting crime, Cass hyper-fixates on the idea of being part of the Bat-family, of wearing the Batman symbol. She’s fanatically loyal to it the way a soldier might their country’s flag.

Batgirl Vol.1 issue #50, writer Dylan Horrocks, penciler Rick Leonardi

Again, an Aspie knows Aspie behavior when they see it.

And yet, despite all of these tics and bizarre behaviors, Cass was always loved and accepted by her teammates, even getting officially adopted by Bruce Wayne as his legal daughter. She was a hero who succeeded not in spite of her issues, but because of them. And that’s a dream many autistic people have. At least it’s one I do.

So you can imagine my excitement when I heard she was going to be showing up in Cathy Yan’s upcoming (and exhaustingly titled) Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). At long last she was going to get the recognition she deserves. And Aspies who see her as one of us? We’d live vicariously through her success, too.

And the movie itself? It was fun! I went into it knowing that all the characters I’d known and loved from the comics were going to be altered, and they were. (Except for Margot Robbie’s Harley who remains pretty faithful to her current Maniac Pixie Dream Psycho characterization in the comics.) And truth be told, I actually liked the changes. Not at first, of course; my inner comic fanboy was initially taken aback. But as the movie went on I realized that these alterations were probably necessary so the characters wouldn’t seem so identical. Because, let’s be honest, in the comics the ladies hit a lot of the same beats: Renee Montoya is a headstrong Dominican who don’t take shit from nobody; Huntress is a headstrong Italian who don’t take shit from nobody; Black Canary is a headstrong…er…white woman who don’t take shit from nobody.

I kid, I kid, all three women are much, much more nuanced than this. But the point I’m trying to make is that despite the cosmetic changes the film makes, all three characters are still the same characters: Renee might be a doofy parody of 80s police clichés, but she’s still a committed cop desperate to do good in a broken system; Huntress might have apoplectic rage and self-confidence issues, but she’s still an avenger of the weak who struggles with her inner sense of justice and her need for vengeance; Black Canary might’ve needed to be coerced into becoming a hero, but she’s still driven primarily by her need to protect those important to her.

But this Cass? She’s just…not Cass. At all.

Cassandra as directed by Yan, written by screenwriter Christina Hodson, and performed by Ella Jay Basco is a bitter, foul-mouthed, self-centered pickpocket. Literally the only things she has in common with Cassandra Cain from the comics is a) she’s a young Asian woman, and b) she comes from a broken home. But that’s it. Everything else was changed. She’s literally a completely different, completely new character.

I want to pause here for a moment and make something very clear. I’m not mad at Yan, Hodson, or Basco for their interpretation of Cass. I’m not some fanboy foaming at the mouth with rage that they weren’t faithful to the comics. They didn’t “rape my childhood” and they certainly didn’t ruin my favorite character. I’m reminded of the time somebody asked crime novelist James M. Cain if he was upset by how Hollywood changed his stories for the big screen: he answered “they haven’t done anything to [my books, they’re] right there on the shelf.” The Cass I know and love is safe in my trades on my bookshelf and the floppies on my Comixology account.

And besides, I have a theory about what might have happened. I think the Cassandra Cain we ended up getting in the movie was very different from the Cassandra Cain that was originally envisioned. I think she probably had much more in common with her comic book counterpart with maybe a few of her edges sanded away to better fit the plot. But as rewrites and reshoots happened the things that made Cass, well, Cass slowly got jettisoned until all that was left was this changeling masquerading as her.

So again, I’m not mad at anyone who worked on the film.

So why then am I still sad about this? Why did I find myself crying on the subway ride home from the theater after seeing it?

Maybe it’s because I was promised a character I think of as a close friend, a character I see as an extension of my own struggles with Asperger’s and mental illness, a character who promised that my disability isn’t a disability at all but a blessing in disguise. And instead I got…well…the exact opposite.

I know, I know…how dare I, a straight white guy, get teary-eyed at a lack of representation? Birds of Prey is a film about female empowerment, after all. It’s about women fighting back against loneliness and oppression in a misogynist, male-dominated world. It’s about sisterhood and bucking societal expectations about what being a woman means. I get that. And I personally know women who’ve found the film exhilarating and empowering. And I’m overjoyed for them.

But I’m still broken-hearted for all the other autistic people who will have to settle for this not-Cass. It makes me wonder if Hollywood will ever take neuroatypical characters—even neuroatypically-coded characters—seriously. If the closest thing Marvel and DC Comics has to an autistic superhero after 70+ years is noted asshat Reed Richards, then what hope do we have for Hollywood to ever tell our stories? Stories about autism and disability, the agonies of “fitting in” and “passing” for normal when every nerve-ending of our brains and bodies can’t stop screaming that everything is wrong. We know that Hollywood can treat traumatized superheroes with at least some level of decency and respect—the depiction of Tony Stark’s PTSD is one of my favorite arcs from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So why can’t they devote those resources to…us?

Maybe I’m dreaming. Maybe I’m over-reacting. Maybe I’m just a spoiled white guy crybaby. I don’t know. All I can say is that I’m very sad.

I wasn’t sure how to end this piece; I couldn’t think of any high notes or hopeful predictions. So instead I’ll leave you with this scene from Detective Comics #958 where Cass acts out a scene from Shakespeare’s The Tempest with former Batman villain Clayface. It’s one of my favorite Cass moments ever, and not only because we get to see her doing Shakespeare. It’s because of what Clayface tells her at the very end. It’s the kind of validation every Aspie kid dreams of. May we all one day find it.

Writer James Tynion, penciler Alvaro Martinez

Birds of Prey (2020)

Birds of Prey is the second big screen appearance of Margret Robbie’s take on the Joker’s ex girlfriend Harley Quinn. She was last seen in the much maligned Suicide Squad. In this outing she has left the Joker, thus putting a target on her back as a result of all the people she wronged. In order to save herself she gets mixed up with the search for a stolen diamond which contains the information to find a hidden fortune of a once great Gotham mobster. Along the way she ends up bring together a group of women in order to fight their shared enemy, thus forming the titled vigilante group.

Those looking for a safe comic book film need look elsewhere since this film is full foul language, broken bones, splattering blood and skinned faces as the DC universe makes a hard turn into the realistic. If the death and destruction in recent DC Comic films bothered you because superheroes don’t do that, this film will make you apoplectic. On the other hand if you like your violence crunchy this film is for you.

I am really mixed on the film. While I have no problem with the violence I am not certain if the film gets its tone right. Playing very broadly the film never fully manages to make some of the dark turns scary. To be certain they are icky but things are so light that they are never tense. We never really fear for our heroines because they are so much smarter than the villains. In a way the film plays like one of the goofier Harley episodes of the Batman animated series but with broken bones and flayed faces.  To me it would have worked better with a less goofy attitude

Additionally the plotting of the film is all over the place with some things wildly over plotted (hence the often wild use of flashbacks) and other things just sort of laying there. There are whole sections where characters just disappear despite the sense they should be on screen. Black Canary’s character feels like she was pared down from something larger since there is implications of a greater arc that isn’t here. This is also true of Rosie Perez’s Montoya who does little but spout bad cop show quips. Outside of the lack of writing for The Huntress, who is a kind of non-entity, I can’t tell whether the problems are the fault of the script or of  endless tinkering in the editing to get a finished film. While I don’t know for certain but I am going to guess that there was some sort of behind the scenes tinkering because the people involved in the making of the film know what they are doing- I mean the second half of the film rocks.

Ultimately the first half of the film is the problem. Events flail about seemingly at random. Characters are thrown about at random as if they are desperately trying to balance too many characters and story lines. There doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to much of it. There is no through line or any sense of narrative or even an intentional lack of narrative. There is only a sense that the film is trying to tll a story though it isn't sure what that is.  It was so off in that first half I seriously considered walking out and going home. However the action sequences and throw away bits amused me enough that I stayed. It was a good choice since once the whole diamond plot kicks in the film finally gets on firm ground and races to the end. It may not be perfect but it does entertain.

And ultimately that’s the best thing I can say about the film as a whole- it’s not perfect but it entertains you enough that you’ll want to see another, better plotted, second go round with the characters

A Metrograph Retrospective of the German New Wave Master and 2020 Berlinale Honoree Ulrike Ottinger with Ottinger In-Person!

One of the crucial modern filmmakers... For Ottinger, the play of imagination is an essential realm of freedom, a way for women to defy and liberate themselves from the misogyny that’s embedded as deeply in consensus styles as in consensus politics." – Richard Brody, The New Yorker

"
Her cinema is restless, Odyssean: full of stories of exile and adventure." – Amy Sherlock, Frieze
Beginning Saturday March 14 (and continuing throughout the year), Metrograph will present a comprehensive retrospective of Ulrike Ottinger, who will appear in-person during opening weekend. Since her move to Berlin in 1973, German director Ottinger has been a flamboyant one-woman revolt against the cinematic status quo. One of the most consequential filmmakers in the New German Cinema, Ottinger produced hyper-stylized subversive epics, among the most adventurous and addictive movies of the last 50 years. Switching between documentary and fiction and drawing heavily from mythological, religious, and modernist texts, Ottinger has built a laugh-out-loud funny, gender-expansive, ultra-intelligent body of work that earns her a spot in film history alongside Agnès Varda, Lina Wertmüller, Jane Campion, and Chantal Akerman. With new DCP restorations and archival 16mm and 35mm prints.
Freak Orlando (1981/126 mins)
An outrageous, carnivalesque camp reading of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Ottinger’s crazed comedy follows its gender nonconforming hero/heroine through five wide-ranging adventures that span the history of the world: the Freak City department store, medieval times, the Spanish Inquisition, the circus sideshow, and then off on a European tour. With avant-garde star Magdalena Montezuma brilliant in the shapeshifting central role, close collaborator Delphine Seyrig as Orlando’s female opposite number (with Jackie Raynal her Siamese twin), and cinema’s greatest transgender Jesus.


The Image of Dorian Grey in the Yellow Press (1984/150 mins)
In Ottinger’s contemporary reinvention of the famous morality tale, fin-de-siècle dandy Dorian Gray is reimagined as a drag role, played—without comment on the switch—by Veruschka von Lehndorff in the male lead. Ottinger collides Oscar Wilde with Fritz Lang, featuring Delphine Seyrig as one “Dr. Mabuse,” the head of a sinister multinational newspaper agency that conspires to create Gray, to control him, and to destroy him. An odyssey through eye-popping tableaux, including a trip to an unforgettable underworld.

Joan of Arc of Mongolia (1989/165 mins)
Delphine Seyrig’s high-society anthropologist is traveling the Trans-Siberian railroad with a bevy of eccentric international passengers: Fassbinder favorite Irm Hermann’s Teuton school teacher, a starry-eyed young female backpacker, a Broadway star (Gillian Scalici), an all-female klezmer trio, and Micky Katz’s famed Yiddish tenor. They’re halted in the steppes by a detachment of Mongolian tribe women who take the female passengers captive. A brawny epic, a camp musical, and “a sumptuously stylized yet ardently observational film that builds its wild contrasts into its plot.”— The New Yorker

The Korean Wedding Chest (2009/82 mins)
Ottinger’s unorthodox fairy tale ethnography, commissioned by the Women’s Film Festival in Seoul, travels to that city in order to explore the phenomenon of the South Korean wedding chest, filled with symbolic items, and the rituals that accompany it. In the course of the journey, we discover an ultramodern East Asian megacity where ancient tradition and myth exist side by side with contemporary capitalist enterprise. “I was inspired to look more closely at the old and new rituals to determine what is old in the new and new in the old.”— Ulrike Ottinger


Madame X: An Absolute Ruler (Ottinger/Tabea Blumenschein/1978/147 mins)
The hard, merciless pirate ruler of the China Sea, Madame X sends out a missive to women, inviting them to leave domestic security behind for a life of dangerous adventure, but when a panoply of different women—including Yvonne Rainer on roller skates—arrive to serve as her shipmates, they find themselves slaves to a new tyrannical power. In her first feature, Ottinger is already inimitable, making use of extravagant costumes courtesy Tabea Blumenschein and a languid style that’s all her own.


Prater (2007/105 mins)
An anecdotal cultural history of the storied Viennese pleasure garden, whose amusement park, the oldest in the world, provided the scene of the wheel ride in Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949). Ottinger’s beguiling and visually alluring film explores the shifting nature of technological attractions and the Prater’s life in cinema and newsreels, while introducing us to the garden’s visitors. Images of actress Veruschka wandering the grounds in Barbarella costume show Ottinger’s surrealist sensibility very much intact, while she connects the Prater’s heyday to that of the freakshow and the fairground cinema of attractions.


Ticket of No Return (1979/108 mins)
Ottinger’s collision of Hollywood flamboyance and a particularly dour documentary aesthetic suits this Janus-faced tale of two female lushes from two very different walks of life, alike in many ways, but incapable of recognizing their bond. One is a known bag lady barfly; the other a socialite oddball who stays aloof from her surroundings, quietly but intently suiciding with booze. Their paired stories play out in a Berlin peopled by punks and New German Cinema icons, including Nina Hagen, Tabea Blumenschein, Magdalena Montezuma, and Eddie Constantine.

Aim for the Best: Sports in Japanese Cinema

In Anticipation of the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, Japan Society Presents
a Film Series Contextualizing the Role of Sports in Modern Japan, Including Two International Premieres

April 10—25, 2020

The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine © 2018 “The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine” Project

New York, NY (February 11, 2020) – Like cinema, sports have been integral to the development of modern Japan since the late 19th century when the country opened its borders to the West. Intersecting these two major cultural forces is the multifaceted and ubiquitous sports film, a fluid genre that offers fascinating insight into issues related to Japanese national identity, gender roles and the clash between tradition and modernity. Organized in anticipation of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games, Aim for the Best: Sports in Japanese Cinema celebrates the Japanese sports film in its myriad iterations—covering a wide range of athletic disciplines and filmmaking styles, from wartime Japan to the present—including classics, documentaries, anime and commercial crowd-pleasers. 

The series opens April 10th with a 35mm screening of Masayuki Suo’s award-winning sports comedy Sumo Do, Sumo Don’t, about a mismatched group of outcasts brought together to participate in a dysfunctional college sumo club, followed by a post-screening Sumo Party with chankonabe (a hearty stew commonly eaten by sumo wrestlers), drinks, and a sumo demonstration. One of the uniquely Japanese sports disciplines with premodern origins highlighted in the series, sumo wrestling is also central to The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine, a contemporary period epic by the prolific auteur Takahisa Zeze that focuses on the little-known history of women’s participation in the sport. Other titles involving Japan’s domestic sports include Akira Kurosawa’s debut feature Sanshiro Sugata, a judo film made while the country was still at war, and Kenji Misumi’s The Sword, a postwar classic about kendo starring Raizo Ichikawa adapted from a story by the infamous author Yukio Mishima, both screening on imported 35mm prints.

Other highlights include Koshien: Japan’s Field of DreamsEma Ryan Yamazaki’s perceptive and richly dramatic documentary about Japan’s wildly popular high school baseball tournament Koshien, which serves as a microcosm for Japanese society as a whole—followed by a Q&A with Yamazaki. Koshien is also the subject of the rarest film in the series, which is the 1968 documentary Youth: The 50th National High School Baseball Tournament by legendary director Kon Ichikawa. Long unavailable and relegated to mythical status among Ichikawa completists, the film screens for the first time outside of Japan on April 25th as the final event of the series.  Another recently unearthed discovery is Tokyo Paralympics: Festival of Love and Glory, a fascinating document of the 1964 Paralympic Games that was newly restored this past year, making its International Premiere.

The series is rounded out by the recently remastered tennis anime feature Aim for the Best!, adapted from a popular manga and anime series inspired by women’s athletics; biting satires about baseball scouting and capitalism in sports—Masaki Kobayashi’s I Will Buy You—and the manufacturing of sports stars through advertising—Seijun Suzuki’s characteristically eccentric golf film A Tale of Sorrow and Sadness; the synchronized swimming audience favorite Waterboys from hitmaker Shinobu Yaguchi; and two free events: a talk by Dr. Robin Kietlinski contextualizing the history of modern sports in Japan through the lens of gender and social issues, and a free screening and talk presentation of the pilot episode of the NHK “taiga drama” Idaten, about the history of Japan’s involvement in international sports and the Olympics.

“With the Summer Games in Tokyo on the horizon, this is a perfect opportunity to consider the longstanding tradition of putting Japanese sports on the big screen,” says K. F. Watanabe, series curator and Deputy Director of Film at Japan Society. “From sumo to baseball, the intersection of sports with Japanese cinema offers rich insight into some of the most salient issues in Japan’s modern history, including how sports have served to define its social and political values as a compromise between tradition and globalizing change.”

Tickets: $14/$11 seniors, students and persons with disabilities/$10 Japan Society members. Screening of Sumo Do, Sumo Don’t + Sumo Party: $18/$15/$14. 3-Film Pass: $2 off each ticket when you purchase three films in the same transaction. All-Access Pass: $77 ($7 per ticket for all 11 films in the series.) Purchase tickets online at japansociety.org, in person at Japan Society, or by calling the box office at 212-715-1258.

SCREENING SCHEDULE
 All films in Japanese with English subtitles.

Fri., Apr. 10 at 7 pm
Dir. Masayuki Suo, 1992, 105 min., 35mm
*Followed by a Sumo Party
Before receiving global acclaim for the smashing success of Shall We Dance? (1996), director Masayuki Suo had another major hit with this light-hearted comedy about a ragtag group of misfits who eventually find their self-worth by resurrecting a nearly defunct university sumo club. Gently poking fun at the outmoded traditions of Japan’s ancient sport while also celebrating its inherent values, Suo’s modern and comedic take on sumo transcends national specificity in a way that could inspire anyone to strap on a mawashi belt and step into the ring. A critical and commercial favorite, the film swept the 16th Japan Academy Prize in almost every major category.

Sat., Apr. 11 at 2 pm
Dir. Akira Kurosawa, 1943, 79 min., 35mm
Made under the watchful eye of the Japanese wartime government, Akira Kurosawa’s first film as a director is an adaptation of a popular novel about the legitimization of judo, based on the life of one of its earliest disciples, Shiro Saigo, and his training with the martial art’s founder Kano Jigoro. Despite the film’s required conformity to imperial national policy, Kurosawa’s authorial trademarks—including his recurring interest in the master-disciple dynamic, his influence from Western-style filmmaking and his masterful command of film technique—are clearly evident, resulting in a fascinating debut that offers a blueprint for understanding one of cinema’s greatest filmmakers.

Sat., Apr. 11 at 4 pm
Dir. Masaki Kobayashi, 1956, 111 min., 35mm
Before taking on the Japanese feudal system in anti-establishment jidaigeki masterpieces such as Harakiri (1962), director Masaki Kobayashi turned his attention to the world of professional sports with this scathing indictment of the baseball industry and postwar capitalist greed. Battling against rival teams, a talent scout for the major league Toyo Flowers goes all out to sign a star college baseball player—a cutthroat process involving bribery, deception and back room deals—at the risk of losing his humanity. Mostly ignoring the game of baseball in itself, Kobayashi’s atypical, noir-tinged sports film takes its action off the field to remind us that everybody has a price.

Sat., Apr. 11 at 7 pm
Dir. Kenji Misumi, 1964, 94 min., 35mm
One of the rare non-jidaigeki (period drama) films directed by Kenji Misumi—best known for his contributions to the Lone Wolf and Cub and Zatoichi swordplay film series—The Sword nevertheless evokes the bushido spirit through the story of an exceptionally talented kendo club captain whose ascetic devotion to the centuries-old practice draws the ire of his less-disciplined assistant. Adapted from a short story by Yukio Mishima and released the same year Japan hosted their first Olympics, The Sword positions the battle over kendo supremacy as an ideological conflict between feudal traditionalism and postwar modernity in determining the future of Japan. A psychologically tense drama beautifully rendered with widescreen black-and-white cinematography.

Wed., Apr. 15 at 7 pm
Dir. Shinobu Yaguchi, 2001, 91 min., DCP 
Initially lured by the prospect of getting close to a beautiful new coach, five awkward students at an all-boys high school sign up for a synchronized swimming club despite having little athletic ability and even less coordination, finding some help from an eccentric dolphin trainer along the way. Known for hit commercial fish-out-of-water comedies, Swing Girls (2004) director Shinobu Yaguchi landed his first major success with this teen comedy, a heartwarming crowd-pleaser that maximizes the pleasures of the sports film genre—including unconventional training sequences and a show-stopping finale—while providing playful commentary on masculinity and traditional gender roles. 

Sat., Apr. 18 at 1 pm
Free Talk Event
Dr. Robin Kietlinski, Associate Professor of History at CUNY-LaGuardia Community College and author of Japanese Women and Sport: Beyond Baseball and Sumo (Bloomsbury Academic Press, 2012), discusses the entry of Japanese women into the domestic and international sporting arenas, focusing on some of the barriers they have broken in the past century of competition. In conjunction with Japan Society's sports film series, this talk will shed light on the ways sports offer an interesting (and often under-explored) lens into historical changes within Japanese society. By looking at the situation of Japanese sportswomen within a broader international context of women's competitive sports, this talk considers how participation in sports has challenged and shaped traditional stereotypes of womanhood over the past century in Japan. 

Sat., Apr. 18 at 3 pm
Dir. Takahisa Zeze, 2018, 189 min., DCP
Amid the sociopolitical turmoil following the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, a group of radical male anarchists who call themselves the Guillotine Society cross paths with an itinerant female sumo troupe and form a bond strengthened by their shared resistance to rising militarism and racist vigilante nationalists targeting socialists and Koreans. Chronicling a country caught between flowering liberal democracy and a reactionary shift towards fascism, Takahisa Zeze’s exhilarating and sprawling epic paints a compelling portrait of the late Taisho era using historical incidents and figures while highlighting the little-known story of Japanese women’s sumo—a sport that continues to relegate women’s participation to non-professional circuits. 

Sat., Apr. 18 at 7 pm
Dir. Osamu Dezaki, 1979, 88 min., DCP
Following the Tokyo 1964 Summer Olympics and the domestic excitement surrounding Japanese athletes, the sports manga and anime genre (supokon) became popular in Japan in the late 1960s and ’70s, including several shojo (youth female-oriented) series. Among the most iconic and influential of these is Aim for the Best!, created by Sumika Yamamoto, about an insecure high school girl who strives to become a professional tennis player with the guidance of a mysterious coach and the rivalry of an older teammate. Adapted by the pioneering anime director Osamu Dezaki, the subsequent theatrical film features his innovative and psychedelic visual style that pushed animation in bold new directions, presented in a brand new digital remaster.

Tues., Apr. 21 at 7 pm
Dir. Seijun Suzuki, 1977, 93 min., 35mm
Fired from Nikkatsu studio for making “incomprehensible” films, iconoclastic filmmaker Seijun Suzuki returned to the director’s chair after a decade of exile working in television with this characteristically bizarre critique of advertising and celebrity culture based on a story by sports manga legend Ikki Kajiwara (Ashita no Joe). In need of a new cover girl to boost advertising sales, the top brass of a large sports magazine manufacture the latest Japanese sports star: an amateur golfer who looks good in a bikini. When the golfer’s fame attracts the unwanted attention of a crazed housewife stalker, however, she finds herself terrorized by a blackmail scheme and Suzuki makes a sharp turn into surreal psychological thriller territory. 

Fri., Apr. 24 at 7 pm
Dir. Ema Ryan Yamazaki, 2019, 94 min., DCP
*Followed by a Q&A with director Ema Ryan Yamazaki 
Every summer in Japan, baseball fans are swept up in the thrill of Koshien, the wildly popular national high school baseball championship named after Osaka’s hallowed Koshien Stadium. On the historic 100th anniversary of the single elimination tournament, documentary filmmaker Ema Ryan Yamazaki follows the coaches and players of two promising teams as they undergo rigorous training—a process that reveals a uniquely Japanese and exceptionally martial approach to the Western sport that emphasizes self-sacrifice and spiritual conditioning. Yamazaki’s perceptive film offers Japanese baseball as a microcosm of a nation that continues to balance respect for tradition with the adoption of progressive change.

Sat., Apr. 25 at 2 pm
Dir. Tsuyoshi Inoue, 2019, 58 min., DCP
*Free screening introduced by producers Mio Ietomi and Kei Kurube, followed by a talk presentation
Every year, NHK (Japan’s public broadcaster) produces a yearlong historical drama series known as their “taiga drama.” Last year’s taiga drama Idaten, presented in celebration of the 55th anniversary of the 1964 Summer Olympics and in anticipation of the 2020 edition, focused on the history of Japanese sports and Japan’s participation in the Olympics throughout the 20th century—only the second taiga drama to ever involve postwar Japanese history. In this special free screening and talk event, the pilot episode of Idaten screens for the first time with English subtitles, followed by a talk presentation about the project and its contexts by two of the show’s key producers.

Sat., Apr. 25 at 4:30 pm
Dir. Kimio Watanabe, 1965, 63 min., DCP
*International Premiere 
*Introduced by Dr. Dennis Frost, Associate Professor of East Asian Social Sciences at Kalamazoo College
This summer, Tokyo will be the first city to host the Paralympic Games on two separate occasions. This frank and intimate documentary—recently rediscovered and restored after being forgotten in storage for decades—offers a fascinating glimpse of the first occasion in 1964, the 2nd official Paralympics, by following the journey of several pioneering Japanese athletes whose participation (along with that of over 300 other athletes from 20 countries) helped raise disability awareness and change prevailing stigmas in their home countries. An important addendum to Kon Ichikawa’s iconic Tokyo Olympiad (1965), this long-forgotten and vital documentary screens outside of Japan for the first time.

Sat., Apr. 25 at 7 pm
Dir. Kon Ichikawa, 1968, 96 min., DCP
*International Premiere 
Among the hardest-to-see films in Kon Ichikawa’s oeuvre, this 1968 documentary finds the legendary 
director approach the subject of Japanese high school baseball with the same lyricism and visual splendor as he did with the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo Olympiad (1965). On the 50th anniversary of the Koshien games, Ichikawa captures the uniquely rigorous training—in snow, dirt and schoolyard lots—of the young athletes preparing for the all-important tournament, interspersed with historical footage that contextualizes Japan’s long love affair with student baseball. A thrilling portrait of youth in the economic boom of the postwar period, Ichikawa’s rare film encapsulates an entire generation through sports.


OTHER SCREENINGS AT JAPAN SOCIETY

Fri., Mar. 13 at 7 pm
Dir. Naoto Takenaka, 1991, 107 min., 35mm
In this wry comedy adapted from the semi-autobiographical work of legendary cartoonist Yoshiharu Tsuge, a hapless manga artist disillusioned with drawing comics turns his attention to selling rocks that he finds in a nearby river—a hopeless endeavor that only further estranges him from his poverty-stricken family. An auspicious directorial debut by popular Japanese actor and comedian Naoto TakenakaNowhere Man won the FIPRESCI Prize at the 48th Venice Film Festival. This rare 35mm screening is co-presented with New York Review Comics in celebration of their brand-new publication of The Man Without Talent, the first full-length work by Tsuge translated into English.

Tickets: $14/$11 seniors, students & persons with disabilities/$5 Japan Society members

Sat., Mar. 21 at 3, 5 & 7 pm
Dir. Atsushi Wada, 2004-2019, 73 min., DCP
Atsushi Wada (b. 1980, Hyogo Prefecture) is an award-winning Japanese animator whose distinctive hand-drawn style emphasizes a minimalist aesthetic and evocative use of negative space. His whimsical and surrealist works, often involving animals and soft humans with blank expressions, utilize sudden shifts in perspective, sound effects and idiosyncratic gestures to express the comic absurdity and poetry of everyday life. This retrospective screening program features nine animated short films and various commissioned projects by Wada, including The Great Rabbit, recipient of a Silver Bear short film jury award at the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival.

Tickets: $14/$11 seniors, students & persons with disabilities/$10 Japan Society members


Japan Society Film's programs are generously supported by the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Endowment Fund and Gaia Holistic Health Foundation/Dr. Kazuko Tatsumura-Hillyer. Additional season support is provided by The Globus Family, Masu Hiroshi Masuyama, Geoff and Fumi Matters, Laurel Gonsalves, David Toberisky, Akiko Koide and Shohei Koide, Dr. Tatsuji Namba, George Gallagher, David S. Howe, and Hiroshi Tsuyuki and Yasuko Tsuyuki.

Japan Society Film offers a diverse selection of Japanese films, from classics to contemporary independent productions. Its aim is to entertain, educate and support activities in the Society's arts and culture programs. For more, visit japansociety.org/film.

About Japan Society
Founded in 1907, Japan Society in New York City presents sophisticated, topical and accessible experiences of Japanese art and culture, and facilitates the exchange of ideas, knowledge and innovation between the U.S. and Japan. More than 200 events annually encompass world-class exhibitions, dynamic classical and cutting-edge contemporary performing arts, film premieres and retrospectives, workshops and demonstrations, tastings, family activities, language classes, and a range of high-profile talks and expert panels that present open, critical dialogue on issues of vital importance to the U.S., Japan and East Asia. Japan Society is located at 333 East 47th Street between First and Second avenues (accessible by the 4/5/6 and 7 subway at Grand Central or the E and M subway at Lexington Avenue). japansociety.org