Monday, May 9, 2022

Brief thoughts on Visions of Okinawa: Cinematic Reflections at the Japan Society

 This weeks marks the start of the Japan society’s look at films from Okinawa, Visions of Okinawa: Cinematic Reflections. It’s a neat little series that is mostly in person , but which has a small virtual component.

I know over the last few months I’ve been sadly remiss in reviewing many of the Japan Society series, and you can blame it on real life keeping my focus elsewhere. However this time out the series is so good that I had to take time out to give you all a quick run down on the films.

I should warn you that seeing these films, most of which are from the early 1970's, you are going to go into a time warp. These films are from another place and time. There is a feeling to them that is unique. We are in a special place and in a specific time. There is a joy in seeing the films because they are completely different than the polished films we see today. There is no effort to make the films feel like anything other than what they are and we are so much better for it. We are very much not in Hollywood and so we are seeing a bunch of special films. 

The films are also very much tied up in how the islanders see themselves. The politics of imperialism hangs over everything. I didn't fully understand it all, however the films being firmly rooted in the island being under various governmental controls give us a world view that opens up our eyes.

PARADISE VIEW This is a 2021 recut of the director Go Takamine's 1985 film. I had not seen the film previously so I don't know what changes were made. I really liked this film a great deal and I'm curious to know what the differences are. That said this film about a community getting ready for a wedding as Okinawa slides back to Japanese control is charming. There are several pieces here that are delighting me in my memory as I write this. 

LEVEL FIVE is a Chris Marker film. Marker is one of my favorite film cum essay filmmakers. In this documentary cum essay, his final film, Marker examines the history of Okinawa through the eyes of a computer programmer who has to make a video game on the Battle of Okinawa. As with all Marker films it's a one of a kind film that will alter how you see the world.

DEAR SUMMER SISTER was the one film in the series that didn't connect for me. Its definitely not bad, just not my cup of tea. The story of a girl going to visit her step brother on Okinawa didn't connect  to me as well as the other films in the series.  Blame the tone which was a bit too light for me.

TERROR OF YAKUZA Sonny Chiba stars in a film based on the gang wars that were raging across the island at the time the film was made. The film concerns a crazed gang leader fighting for control of the island's criminal elements. It was banned for years from the island lest it cause an uproar. Instead it caused copy cat films to be made. Grab some popcorn and curl up for a fun time.

ASIA IS ONE - Okinawan miners reflect on their lives and the seeming lack of a future for them and their families in this moving documentary. Its a film that raises a lot of questions that are still relevant some 50 years since the film was made.

UNTAMAGIRU a day laborer is turned into a folk hero and tries to set up an independent Okinawa.  Its an interesting story that's based on a stage play. I didn't understand all of the politics but I still enjoyed the heck out of it.

MOTOSHINKAKARANNU is a warts (and all) look at Okinawa from April 1969 to July 1970. Shot in a moody black and white the film is a look at all sides of the island's society during a time of change. Raw and real this is the sort of film that made me fall in love with the documentary form.

For tickets and more information go here

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