Sunday, March 18, 2012

Till Love Do Us Part

A scene from Minazuki. © 1999 Nikkatsu Corporation

Internal and external forces pull at the lovers in the final films of the Love Will Tear Us Apart series. Rokuro Mochizuki's Minazuki is an "equal parts sad and tooth-crushingly violent story" that follows a down-on-his-luck office worker in search of his wayward wife, and 2002's multi-award winning masterpiece Oasis has been called "one of the most deeply felt love stories of the screen" as Korean society stacks the odds against a young couple.

The series picked up where Valentine’s Day left off, featuring 24 films that according to the Wall Street Journal took "a look back at themes of star-crossed romance, forbidden lust, sublime heartbreak and other tortured misadventures of the heart as imagined by Japanese and Korean filmmakers, primarily over the past decade."

Ranging from the controversial oldie In the Realm of Senses to world premiere of Petrel Hotel Blue, which opens in Japan later this month, the series kicked off with Shinya Tsukamoto’s Kotoko and the short film Romance whose star Hyunri hosted the evening's Make Love after-party--"a red-and-pink mini-gown, hot-pant extravaganza". Film scholar John Berra introduced films including the bizarre and fantastical Air Doll and a dark, voyeuristic romp in A Snake of June, while film historian Go Hirasawa made an appearance for the screening of The Woman Who Wanted to Die.

As the series trailer suggested, it takes two tango. With films from both Korea and Japan, the the two it took were perhaps best exemplified by directors Kim Ki-duk and Koji Wakamatsu. Both men have extensive filmographies with their fair share of critical acclaim as well as controversy.

Kim Ki-duk, well-renowned art-house filmmaker from South Korea, began his journey into movies by starting as a screenwriter after studying fine arts in Paris for some years. Since Crocodile, the first film he directed in 1996, Ki-duk has gone on to create over 15 more, which have caught on in both South Korea, thanks to a strong local movie industry, and internationally more so for their often visceral imagery and, on the controversy side of things, occasional animal cruelty.

Japan Society's series featured three of his films back-to-back. Time brings up the everlasting question of whether the love between two people can really last forever. The female main character, out of jealousy, suddenly leaves her boyfriend one day only to return with a completely new face from plastic surgery. The boyfriend finds himself falling in love again, unwittingly with the same woman he’s always been with. In the much darker Bad Guy, a young college student finds herself accosted by a pimp and turns the table on him through public humiliation. However the next day, she finds herself set up by and at the mercy of the pimp from the other day who forces her into prostitution. The film continues with unexpected twists within the interactions between girl, the pimp, and the criminal underworld they are caught up in. Finally, Ki-duk’s most recent film, Dream, features Japanese star Joe Odagiri and Lee Na-young in which two strangers find themselves inexplicably linked through a dream involving a car crash. Whatever Odagiri’s character dreams of, Na-young’s character seems to act it out.

Koji Wakamatsu had his beginnings in Japan’s pinku eiga (pink films--softcore Japanese movies popular in the 60s through 80s) industry, where he gained notoriety for many exploitation films. When reactions to his submission to the 15th Berlin International Film review in 1965 were not so enthusiastic, Wakamatsu left the industry to pursue his own vision. The result of such decision led to the creation of haunting, super sexual, and experimental works that all have a sense of longing between their characters.

Petrel Hotel Blue marks Wakamatsu triumphant return. The story involves plans of revenge by an ex-con being foiled with the introduction of a young lady played by actress Hitomi Katayama (who introduced the film at Japan Society's March 10 world premiere). Everything seems to go wrong for a policeman, his wife, and his brother hiding out from the Tokyo street riots in Running in Madness, Dying in Love. When a fight breaks out between the two brothers, the policeman’s wife ends up killing her husband with his own gun. The surviving brother and the wife flee north from the city and end up romantically involved with each other despite the guilt of the murdered husband on their minds. Wakamatsu’s last piece in the film series is The Woman Who Wanted to Die, the tale of an unexpected meeting between two couples who may be familiar with each from another time.

Love Will Tear Us Apart is one of three film series at Japan Society in March. In addition to the sold out documentaries that were part of the March 11 day of reflection in One Year Later programming series commemorating the one-year anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, As Cherry Blossoms Fall: Films and Scenes of Sakura showcases 10 films that capture Japanese cinema's unique beauty of transience, commonly known as mono no aware, from March 23 to April 14. Featuring films such as Dolls, Taboo, and Sakuran, the films are part of the Sakura — Spring Renews, Beauty Blooms series held in conjunction with the National Cherry Blossom Festvial, this year marking the 100th Anniversary of the Japan's famous gift of cherry trees to the U.S.

--Sean Tomizawa

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