In 2018, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters gained the Palme d’Or at Cannes. The award itself got here as much less of a shock than did the truth that Shoplifters was the primary of Kore-eda’s movies to win it, given how lengthy he’d been probably the most broadly acclaimed Japanese filmmaker alive. And although it had been greater than twenty years because the Palme final went to a Japanese film — Shomei Imamura’s The Eel, in 1997 — Japan had lengthy since established itself at Cannes because the Asian nation to beat. Imamura’s The Ballad of Narayama had gained the Palme in 1983, Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha in 1980, and Teinosuke Kinugasa’s Gate of Hell in 1954, when Western cinephiles have been solely simply beginning to admire Japanese cinema.
Why has that appreciation confirmed so enduring? That is one query investigated by “The Essential Japanese Cinema,” a video essay from The Cinema Cartography. Narrator Luiza Liz Bond emphasised the “heightened aesthetic sensibility” of Japanese filmmakers, on show in “the tender statement of Ozu’s Tokyo Story, the poetic rhapsody of Kurosawa’s Dreams, the harrowing female gaze of Videophobia.” However one can discover examples simply as wealthy and much more varied in lesser-known movies from Japan reminiscent of Shūji Terayama’s engagé experimental drama Throw Away Your Books, Rally within the Streets, Kaizō Hayashi’s oneiric silent-film pastiche To Sleep as to Dream, and Gakuryū Ishii’s subtly psychedelic and science-fictional coming-of-age story August within the Water.
The video organizes these movies and lots of others below a rubric of philosophical ideas drawn from Japanese tradition. These embrace bushidō, the code of the samurai Westerners got here to know via the images of Akira Kurosawa and Masaki Kobayashi; wabi-sabi, a really perfect of magnificence centered on imperfect issues; mono no conscious, a sensitivity to the transient and the ephemeral; and guro, which pushes the unsettling to its outer limits. Their heightened aesthetic sensibility “grants Japanese filmmakers the flexibility to be fine-tuned to the grotesque and the grotesque,” Bond notes. They perceive that all of us take pleasure in magnificence, however an appreciation of ugliness is critical to enlarge this course of. The wonder and the ugly will not be opposites, however completely different points of the identical factor.”
In fact, one needn’t be accustomed to these concepts with the intention to take pleasure in Japanese cinema. The feel-intensive eroticism of Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Lady within the Dunes, the junkyard physique horror of Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man, the relentlessly weird inventiveness of Nobuhiko Obayashi’s Home: these may solely be delivered by filmmakers who perceive first that they work in a medium of visceral energy. Even the work of Yasujirō Ozu, famed for its imperturbable restraint, resonates extra deeply than ever with us six many years after his demise. “It’s unimaginable to talk of the elegant with out talking of his portrayal of human fragility,” says Bond. “Ozu is rarely too sentimental, by no means too decorative.” Would that extra modern-day filmmakers, from Japan or anyplace else, appeared to his instance.
Associated content material:
How Did Akira Kurosawa Make Such Powerful & Enduring Films? A Wealth of Video Essays Break Down His Cinematic Genius
How One Simple Cut Reveals the Cinematic Genius of Yasujirō Ozu
Hayao Miyazaki Meets Akira Kurosawa: Watch the Titans of Japanese Film in Conversation (1993)
How Master Japanese Animator Satoshi Kon Pushed the Boundaries of Making Anime: A Video Essay
Wabi-Sabi: A Short Film on the Beauty of Traditional Japan
A Page of Madness: The Lost Avant Garde Masterpiece from Early Japanese Cinema (1926)
Based mostly in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and tradition. His initiatives embrace the Substack e-newsletter Books on Cities, the guide The Stateless Metropolis: a Stroll via Twenty first-Century Los Angeles and the video sequence The City in Cinema. Observe him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.