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Watchlist: Curators' Picks - Japanese Avant-Garde films

black and white photo of a japanese woman on the floor embracing someone else
29 Oct 2020

Festival Director of the Japanese Avant-garde and Experimental Film Festival (JAEFF), Joshua Smith, selects five films from Japan that challenge dominant forms of representation.

JAEFF aims to connect classic Japanese avant-garde cinema with contemporary experimental film. Its latest edition, JAEFF: Bodies, has been postponed to 2021. Inspired by the Tokyo Olympics and our experiences in lockdown, it will examine the body triumphant, and the body in crisis, through dance, performance, sport, exercise, and more.


Funeral Parade of Roses (1969, Toshio Matsumoto) on BFI Player / Amazon / Apple

A firm favourite at JAEFF: Youthquake , Matsumoto’s kaleidoscopic masterpiece is an intoxicating mix of documentary, Brechtian metadrama, temporal ellipsis, his own avant-garde shorts and even slapstick fight scenes with cartoon balloons – a one-of-kind cinematic experience. Watch the trailer.


A.K.A Serial Killer (1969, Adachi Masao) on YouTube

Made in the wake of Japan’s ‘season of politics’, this groundbreaking experimental documentary questions codified media representations of activism and violence. Negating spectacle, the landscape itself becomes the chronicler of Nagayama Norio’s story (the serial killer in question). Watch the film


Woman in the Dunes (1964, Hiroshi Teshigahara) on YouTube / Criterion

Abe Kobo adapted his 1962 novel to screenplay for Teshigahara, and, together with cinematographer Hiroshi Segawa, they created one of the most profound and visually-striking existential parables on film. The surreal, nightmarish isolation of the dunes serves as a disturbing allegory for our times. Watch the film and video essay by James Quandt


Memento Stella (2018, Makino Takashi)

Takashi is one of Japan’s most prolific experimental filmmakers working today. Memento Stella, scored by avant-garde pianist Reinier van Houdt, is composed of innumerable layers of images. Transcending physical consciousness, the film immerses the viewer in a dream-like abstraction that forces our gaze inward. Watch the trailer and Q&A with LA Filmforum


Dialogue (2017, Yuka Sato)

Screened just last year at JAEFF: Nation , rewatching Sato’s short film post-pandemic offers a new, uncomfortably familiar insight into her experience. Emerging from a long period of withdrawal– hikikomori –her inner world and the outer world of an illuminated metropolis meet again. Watch the trailer.


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