My, time flies! It’s been a few weeks since Zipangu Fest announced its line-up for its second year’s outing, to be held at the ICA between 18-24 November, and I’ve been so busy I’ve not had a chance to stick any news about it up on this particular site.
If you want to read the original press releases, you can find them on the press section of our website here, but if you want more basic details about the lineup, you can find the full schedule either on the ICA website or on the Zipangu Fest website.
Basically we’ve divided the programme into four sections, all of which overlap and inter-link in various cunning ways that I’m about to outline: Sounds of Zipangu, Experimental/Animation, Zipangu Retro, and Nuclear Reactions. The first section consists of two European-produced documentaries that look at Japanese avant-garde/experimental music and the traditional, religious and contemporary cultural forces that inform it, with We Don’t Care About Music Anyway… and KanZeOn both looking as good as they sound.
The latter film, which also screened over this summer at Shinsedai in Toronto and EvA in Estonia, provides the inspiration for our opening party, which features an astounding line-up of DJs and performers, not least in the form of tat2mi, the beat-boxing Buddhist monk featured in the film in his first ever London performance. The event, to be held in the ICA’s bar, boasts a live remix of the visuals by Amoeba.Av with director/cinematographer Tim Grabham (aka Cinema Iloobia).
I’ve already posted the flyer for this party just below this entry on my blog, so do feel free to circulate, won’t you! You can win tickets for our marvellous opening screening and party via this competition on the Japan Centre website.
All of this links rather nicely with another film in this section, Abraxas, about a former punk musician turned Buddhist monk who finds himself drawn back to give just one more performance. Not only is the soundtrack by Yoshihide Ohtomo, a towering figure in Japan’s avant-garde scene who is featured in We Don’t Care About Music Anyway…, but coincidentally the film was shot in the rural Fukushima region devastated by the earthquake and tsunami on 11 March of this year.
The earthquake of course can’t help but cast a long shadow over any Japan-related events this year. Zipangu Fest will be doing their bit to raise awareness and hopefully a bit of money to help those affected when we move temporarily out of the ICA on Tuesday 22 Nov for a special charity screening of experimental films at Cafe Oto in Dalston. The two Nippon Re-Read programmes, as announced previously on this website, are part of a touring programme curated by Kinema Nippon (Aily Nash and Nine Yamamoto-Masson) and cover key works in the history of Japanese experimental film from the 1960s to present.
If you’re interested in either experimental film or Japanese cinema, the Nippon Re-Read: Radical Fragments and Abstractions from Japan I & II night on Tues 22 Nov presents a unique chance to watch these works placed within an informative yet fun context at one of London’s funkiest venues (worth visiting for the okonomiyaki and decent bar prices alone). It’s only £5 to get in, although you are free to pay more as all profits will go to the Japan Society Earthquake Relief Fund, and you can also buy advance tickets via WeGotTickets. As if this wasn’t amazing enough value for money in its own right, legendary London-based Japanese psychedelic rockers Bo Ningen will also be in attendance to perform a live soundtrack to Tatsuo Sato’s surreal animated classic Cat Soup from 2001.
This provides me with two ways to segue back into the other parts of the programme, but I’ll take the Experimental/Anime route. Alongside Abraxas on Saturday we have the Beyond Anime: The Outer Limits programme which, to whet your appetite for Cat Soup, will provide a wonderful and revealing glimpse of the innovation and creativity in Japan’s independent animation scene. This is a truly amazing sample of works covering a wide range of ground, but I’ll say it now, Sayaka Oka’s mesmerising Melting Medama is about the closest thing to a religious epiphany I’ve experienced this year.
On a similar tack is the Enter the Cosmos programme of three works by that maestro of cinematic abstraction, Takashi Makino. His recent film Still in Cosmos will be screened as part of Tuesday’s Nippon Re-Read earthquake appeal night, but here’s a unique chance to immerse yourself in the full experience, with Makino himself there to introduce the films. Linking back to the Sounds of Zipangu section, Makino’s films are collaborations with some of the the foremost international talents of noise and soundscape music, including Jim O’Rourke and Machinefabriek. Another connection is that both Makino and KanZeOn’s Tim Grabham have served some time under the Quay Brothers, an influence that will become all the more clear when you see the Death of Phonebook animation made by Tim (under his customary handle of Cinema Iloobia), the honorary gaijin included in the Beyond Anime section.
On the other side of the Sounds of Zipangu musical spectrum lies the sickly sweet strains of J-pop teeny band Momoiro Clover, as featured in Koji Shiraishi’s hilariously cruel J-horror mockumentary Shirome. Watch the tribe of teen songstresses agree to sell their souls for fame and fortune, and remember, nothing about their performance is faked for the camera!
Horror also lies at the heart of one of our Zipangu Retro screenings, and I am absolutely delighted that we have managed to make this come together, in partnership with the National Film Centre of Tokyo and the Japan Visualmedia Translation Academy. Never seen before in the UK, the 1938 supernatural chiller Ghost Cat and the Mysterious Shamisen is going to shake up a few preconceptions about the development of the horror around the world during is early decades, revealing that the genre was alive and kicking in Japan long before the films of Nobuo Nakagawa for Shintoho in the 1950s. Pioneering director Ushihara went to Hollywood to study filmmaking under Charlie Chaplin in the 1920s, so it is no surprise that he kept more than one eye on other developments in American cinema throughout his career. Personally I think that with its well-deployed arsenal of kaleidoscopic lenses, double-exposures and slow-mo sequences, in the expressionistic stakes Ghost Cat is easily abreast of, if not ahead of the Universal horrors of the period. Zipangu Fest have especially arranged to get this film subtitled and available for English speaking audiences, so make sure you don’t miss it while it is screening over here – the film gets its UK premiere ahead of Zipangu Fest at Leeds International Film Festival on Tues 8 and Thurs 10 Nov, and will be playing in Bradford in December and Newcastle in March. More details as they come, but if anyone out there reading this is also interested in showing this rare gem anywhere else, then drop me a line!
And our second Zipangu Retro screening takes us into our final section, Nuclear Reactions. Lucky Dragon No. 5 is a little-seen work by a pretty well-known director, Kaneto Shindo. One of the most important figures in the history of independent cinema in Japan, Shindo is primarily known in the West for his two horror films Onibaba and Kuroneko (another film about a ghostly black cat!), but also for a number of films on the subject of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and the director’s own birthplace of Hiroshima, beginning with the first fictional work from Japan on the subject, Children of Hiroshima (1952) right up to his latest film Postcard (2011), realised at the age of 98. I have no idea when was the last time this film was shown in the United Kingdom, if ever, but suffice it to say, you probably won’t get another chance to see it soon. The film is a docudrama based on a real life incident in which the crew of a fishing trawler were caught in the vicinity of American atomic bomb testing in the Pacific during the 1950s. The incident is pretty well-known today, if only because it inspired the original Godzilla.
Lest we forget, the legacy of the atomic bomb is the subject of our second film in the Nuclear Reactions section, with Hiroshi Nagasaki Download detailing a road-trip by the Mexican-based Japanese artist Shinpei Takeda, who will be coming as a guest of Zipangu Fest to introduce his film, as he and his college friend embark on a road trip across North America to interview a number of the survivors of this tragedy who have now made their homes outside of Japan.
The Nuclear Reactions section is our attempt to remember the potentially lethal destructive power of atomic energy, whether used militarily or to provide our energy needs, with a series of four films produced in a country that has suffered the most from its misuse. The nuclear power debate in Britain seems to have already died down in the wake of the catastrophe at the Fukushima power plant, a power plant that politicians repeatedly told the Japanese public was completely safe. In Japan, Hitomi Kamanaka has made several films that have attempted to delve beneath the claims of the politicians long before the disaster, and her findings in the two films that we are screening at the festival, are both chilling and yet also provide hope for those who are prepared to engage with the issues more fully. With the director travelling to Sellafield in the first of these two films to investigate a radiation leak that already seems to have been forgotten by the British media and public, the films offer little in the way of cold comfort for those still convinced by the “can’t happen here” argument.
So there’s a guide through our programme for this year’s Zipangu Fest. No doubt there are even more links between the films if you look for them, and we really hope this years festival succeeds in fulfilling our goal of bringing people together to enjoy these films, and to talk about them and other related matters. I’m certainly looking forward to it myself!
Almost forgot too, just a few days before the festival, me and Julian Ross will be at the Horse Hospital near Russell Sq at the invitation of Electric Sheep magazine for An Evening of Subversive Japanese Cinema. Electric Sheep and Strange Attractor will present a screening of Koji Wakamatsu’s anarcho-pinku Sex Jack (1970) to tie-in with their recent book publication The End: An Electric Sheep Anthology, while Julian and I will be there to provide some cultural background to the film as well as another screening of one of the top hits from last year’s Zipangu Fest, Naoyuki Niiya’s ero-guro kami-shibai animation Man-eater Mountain.
In the meantime, here’s a link to an interview I did with Zoe Baxter on her Lucky Cat show on Resonance FM last Saturday (29 October), in which I talk a lot more about the films and a few other things besides.
More news as it comes, and again, if there are any venues out there in the UK that are interested in hosting parts of the Zipangu Fest programme, then do drop us a line.