Saturday, March 12, 2016

Musicals at the Japan Society in April

The Japan Society is going to be doing a program of Musicals. This is a kick ass collection of films that is an absolute must see for anyone who loves great films. In all seriousness this may be one of the highlights of the film year.

I've only seen the final two films in the series HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS and MEMORIES OF MATSUKO but I've heard of the other films and I'm trying to figure out how to see as many of them as possible.  For the record MEMORIES OF MATSUKO is in my opinion one of the greatest films ever made anywhere ever. Its also one of the most heartbreaking. If you've never seen it you MUST go and you must bring six boxes of tissues because you will be shedding many tears.

Here is the press release that spells it all out. Go see  something. Go see a lot of somethings. Click on the links to get tickets.

Japan Sings! The Japanese Musical Film

April 8-23, 2016, at Japan Society

New York, NY – This spring Japan Society celebrates the astonishing yet little-known world of Japanese musical films. Filled with rarely screened genre treasures, most unavailable on DVD, Japan Sings! The Japanese Musical Film focuses on the golden age of Japan's "popular song film" starring teen idols and TV stars from the 50s and 60s. The series also reaches back to prewar singing samurai and forward to 21st century genre mashups, presenting 10 songful cinema gems in total, all presented in glorious 35mm. Guest curated by Michael Raine, Assistant Professor of Film Studies at Western University, Canada, Japan Sings! takes place April 8-23 at Japan Society.

"Seeing and hearing the tradition of musical films in Japanese cinema gives us a different view of Japanese popular culture that is smart as well as silly and sometimes devastating, too," says Raine in his curatorial notes. "In the 20th century, American culture became global culture: Japanese filmmakers faced up to that geopolitical fact with a mix of homage and parody that also sometimes offered audiences a way of understanding their place in the world."

This series features some of Japan's biggest pop culture icons, including Hibari Misora, Yujiro Ishihara, Kenji Sawada and Kiyoshiro Imawano, as well as several iconic directors such as Nagisa Oshima and Kihachi Okamoto and contemporary masters like Takashi Miike and Tetsuya Nakashima. Where Hollywood musicals were all-singing, all-dancing Broadway adaptations, the typical Japanese musical film presented 'musical moments' – standalone segments in which characters played by popular singers of the area broke into song.

Raine notes, "Musical performances in these films incorporate Japanese musical tradition as well as the utopian atmosphere of the Hollywood musical to create a rich commentary on the intimate yet imbalanced relation between Japan and the USA… the archetypal Hollywood musical was seen as impossibly American--even the most spectacular imitations (in this series, You Can Succeed, Too) ironize the felt disparity between Japan and the U.S."

Japan Sings! launches April 8 with Eizo Sugawa's tour de force You Can Succeed, Too – "the closest Japanese cinema ever got to a full-blown Broadway style musical," according to Raine, featuring full song-and-dance numbers with dozens of singing salarymen. The screening will be followed by the Opening Night Party.

One of Japan's most popular films of the 50s, Toshio Sugie's So Young, So Bright (April 9), stars Hibari Misora, Chiemi Eri and Izumi Yukimura, and is credited with creating the teen idol "three girl" film format and igniting the made-in-Japan teen music genre that has evolved into today's global J-Pop craze.

Major postwar musical maker Umetsugu Inoue made the star-making action melodrama The Stormy Man (April 9) with the genre's biggest star Yujiro Ishihara. The criminally underseen director Tomu Uchida's masterpiece Twilight Saloon (April 15) features a mélange of musical styles mixing into powerful allegory for life and society in postwar Japan. New wave director Kihachi Okamoto's experimental yakuza musical mash-up Oh, Bomb! (April 16) fuses jazz with naniwabushi (sentimental narrative songs from the early 1900s), Buddhist chant and some oblique homage to West Side Story – one of the auteur’s most overlooked, unique films. Kengo Furusawa's Irresponsible Era of Japan (April 16) is a pinnacle of the 60s screwball "salaryman" comedies that saw television stars help revive a lagging film industry. And taboo buster Nagisa Oshima's A Treatise on Japanese Bawdy Songs (aka Sing a Song of Sex) (April 19) uses song to approach the complex political climate of late 60s Japan, featuring pop singer Ichiro Araki as the lead.

Rounding out the focus on the peak years of the 50s and 60s, are Masahiro Makino's 1939 samurai operetta Singing Lovebirds (April 12), and, closing the series, two films that have rocketed the Japanese musical tradition to new heights in the 21st century: Takashi Miike's horror-comedy The Happiness of the Katakuris (April 23) and Tetsuya Nakashima's wildly acclaimed dark comedy Memories of Matsuko (April 23)—in both films vibrant musical numbers fuel the wrenching bleakness of the characters' lives.

The series also features the curator lecture Popular Song & Performance in the Japanese Musical Film on April 9, free to ticket holders with seats available on a first-come-first-served basis.

Admission: $12/$9 Japan Society members, seniors and students, except the screening of You Can Succeed, Too + Opening Night Party: $15/$12. Patrons who purchase tickets for at least three films in the same transaction receive $2 off each ticket (offer available only at the Japan Society Box Office or by telephone—not available online). Order tickets at or call or visit the Japan Society box office, Mon-Fri 11 am to 6 pm and weekends during gallery exhibitions 11:00 am to 5:00 pm, 212-715-1258.

All films are in Japanese with English subtitles unless otherwise noted. Film descriptions written by Michael Raine.

You Can Succeed, Too (Kimi mo Shusse ga Dekiru)
Friday, April 8 at 7:00 pm
** Introduction by Michael Raine, series curator. Followed by the Opening Night Party!
1964, 100 min., 35mm, color. In Japanese with live English subtitles. Directed by Eizo Sugawa. With Frankie Sakai, Mie Hama, Jerry Ito, Yoshitomi Masuda, Mie Nakao.

The closest Japanese cinema ever came to the full-blown Broadway style musical, with singing and dancing on the streets of Tokyo, music by avant-garde composer and jazzman Toshiro Mayuzumi, lyrics by renowned poet Shuntaro Tanikawa, and direction by one of Toho's most prominent "new wave" directors, Eizo Sugawa. Popular jazz drummer and actor Frankie Sakai stars in this comic version of the "industrial competition" genre: two tourism companies compete for foreign clients in the run up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Highlighting the coming internationalization of Japan, the film dramatizes the felt tensions between tradition and modernity, the pressures of the "economic animal" lifestyle, and the energy of high economic growth. Not available on DVD.

So Young, So Bright (Janken Musume)
Saturday, April 9 at 4:30 PM
**Introduction by Michael Raine, series curator.
1955, 92 min., 35mm, color. In Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Toshio Sugie. With Hibari Misora, Chiemi Eri, Izumi Yukimura, Shinji Yamada, Tatsuyoshi Ehara.

Originally published in and sponsored by the "song and movie entertainment magazine" Heibon, this musical comedy starred three of the most popular young singers in 1950s Japan: Hibari Misora, Chiemi Eri, and Izumi Yukimura. The film makes light of sentimental Japanese melodramas as well as American musicals, featuring Hibari and Chiemi as unlikely high school friends who try to rescue apprentice geisha Izumi from the clutches of a predatory businessman. The most popular film with a modern setting made in 1955, the film’s American melodies with Japanese lyrics established the "three girl" film format as well as the "made-in-Japan teenage pops" that eventually became the J-Pop music we know today. Not available on DVD.

The Stormy Man (Arashi o Yobu Otoko)
Saturday, April 9 at 7:00 pm
**Introduction by Michael Raine, series curator.
1957, 101 min., 35mm, color. In Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Umetsugu Inoue. With Yujiro Ishihara, Kyoji Aoyama, Fukuko Sayo, Mie Kitahara, Masumi Okada.

Yujiro Ishihara, the biggest male film and singing star in postwar Japan, plays a rough drummer given his big break by female talent manager Mie Kitahara. A series of love triangles set within the Tokyo music scene plays out in moody Eastmancolor, but this film is less noir than male melodrama: the central problem is neither corruption nor romance but the lack of a mother's love. Yujiro is both lover and fighter, performing self-assertion and sexual prowess for male and female audiences in conformist Japan. Directed by Umetsugu Inoue, one of the major directors of postwar musicals, who even inserted song and dance performances into his action films. Not available on DVD.

Singing Lovebirds (Oshidori Utagassen)
Tuesday, April 12 at 7:00 pm
1939, 69 min., 35mm, b&w. In Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Masahiro Makino. With Chiezo Kataoka, Takashi Shimura, Haruyo Ichikawa, Dick Mine, Tomiko Hattori.

A tie-up with the Teichiku record company starring jazz singers Dick Mine and Tomiko Hattori alongside singer-actress Haruyo Ichikawa and sword film superstar Chiezo Kataoka. This love quadrangle between a masterless samurai and three eligible suitors was marketed with the tagline "a rare operetta in which jazz bursts into the period film." As an operetta, characters speak in song (including Ichikawa's father, played by Takashi Shimura, the leader of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai), but the film is also musical in its utopian claim that the only authentic thing in the world is not traditional culture, or money, but love. Directed by Makino Masahiro, perhaps the most prolific director of musical films in Japan. Not available on DVD.

Twilight Saloon (Tasogare Sakaba)
Friday, April 15 at 7:00 pm
1955, 93 min., 35mm, b&w. In Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Tomu Ichida. With Isamu Kosugi, Keiko Tsushima, Daisuke Kato, Tetsuro Tamba, Jun Tatara.

Tomu Uchida's second comeback film, after staying in China since World War II. Isamu Kosugi plays an alcoholic painter who quit painting when he realized his wartime work was propaganda. He bears witness to intersecting narratives that all take place on a single set, a cheap saloon featuring records and live performance. Gliding long takes and long shots, layered in depth, create a visual cross-section of postwar Japanese society in which classical opera, military marches, folk, and pop songs articulate the political, social, and sexual tensions between groups as well as reveal the interiority of each character. An all-star allegory of postwar Japan as seen by a war returnee. Not available on DVD.

Oh, Bomb! (Aa Bakudan)
Saturday, April 16 at 4:30 PM
1964, 95 min., 35mm, b&w. In Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Kihachi Okamoto. With Yunosuke Ito, Hiroshi Hasegawa, Kazuo Suzuki, Ichiro Arishima, Chotaro Togin.

Toho new wave director Kihachi Okamoto tests the limits of the musical comedy in this experimental "rhythm film" that incorporates Japanese forms of musical performance such as naniwabushi and Buddhist chant, as well as direct references to West Side Story. The zany revenge plot follows the great Japanese character actor Yunosuke Ito as an old-school yakuza replaced by his former underling. There's also a chauffeur with dreams of the big time and a sidekick who just loves dynamite, but what ties everything together is a musicality that extends to the editing rhythm of the film itself. Oh, Bomb! Was given a roadshow presentation in 1964, in a double bill with Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Woman in the Dunes. Not available on DVD.

Irresponsible Era of Japan (Nippon Musekinin Jidai)
Saturday, April 16 at 7:00 pm
1962, 86 min., 35mm, color. In Japanese with live English subtitles. Directed by Kengo Furusawa. With Hitoshi Ueki, Noriko Shigeyama, Hajime Hana, Asami Kuji, Toru Yuri.

The Crazy Cats comic jazz band and their featured singer Hitoshi Ueki did not invent the local genre of the "salaryman" comedy but they were its ubiquitous face in the 1960s. Some of the first big stars of the new medium of television, they brought standing-room-only audiences to a cinema in decline. This film established Ueki's comic persona as a salaryman who would goof off at work and yet somehow always come out ahead, every so often bursting into one of his well-known Japanese folk-inflected songs while dancing something like the twist. The first in a series of "Irresponsible" films whose comic songs formed the soundtrack of Japan's high economic growth. Not available on DVD.

A Treatise on Japanese Bawdy Songs (aka Sing a Song of Sex) (Nihon Shunkako)
Tuesday, April 19 at 7:00 pm
1967, 103 min., 35mm, color. In Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Nagisa Oshima. With Ichiro Araki, Akiko Koyama, Kazuyoshi Kushida, Hiroshi Sato, Kazuko Tajima.

Nagisa Oshima uses pop singer Ichiro Araki to depict the "obscenity" of underclass desire. Four male and three female students from a provincial city accompany their teacher to Tokyo to take university entrance exams. The teacher dies and one of the boys may be the culprit. But the film is less a narrative than a collage of scenes about power imbalance: between city and country, young and old, rich and poor, Japan and Korea. Taking a hint from Twilight Saloon, Oshima uses song to mark out different social positions, from wartime naval trainees and university radicals to ethnic minorities and resentful adolescents. The question is who gets to sing, and what.

The Happiness of the Katakuris (Katakuri-ke no Kofuku)
Saturday, April 23 at 4:00 pm
2001, 113 min., 35mm, color. In Japanese with live English subtitles. Directed by Takashi Miike. With Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida, Kiyoshiro Imawano.

Based on a non-musical Korean film—The Quiet Family by another genre-mixing filmmaker, Jae Woon Kim—Takashi Miike uses the increasing absurdity of this comedy-horror-musical to explore the state of the Japanese family after the collapse of the economic boom that underpinned the popular song film. The film's claymation opening sequence and bleak narrative of a downsized salaryman opening a B&B in the country presents contemporary life as a hopeless cycle of exploitation, but the performance of the film's lo-fi musical numbers by a cast that includes Kenji Sawada, star of several "group sounds" musical films in the 1960s, highlights a nostalgia for intimacy and optimism. The New York Times wrote, “Mr. Miike is celebrated for his ‘anything goes’ style of filmmaking, and certainly anything and everything goes here,” and the A. V. Club called it, “A joyously demented musical-comedy built on a macabre foundation, like The Sound of Music with a kickline of corpses.” Rated R.

Memories of Matsuko (Kiraware Matsuko no Issho)
Saturday, April 23 at 7:00 pm
2006, 130 min., 35mm, color. In Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Tetsuya Nakashima. With Miki Nakatani, Eita, Yusuke Iseya, Teruyuki Kagawa, Mikako Ichikawa.

Another darkly hilarious film about family—the desire for recognition and the pain of its refusal. Cute digital effects and gaudy musical numbers belie a story of abuse that has much in common with Kenji Mizoguchi's Life of Oharu. Matsuko (Miki Nakatani of the Ring franchise) is found beaten to death in poor suburb of Tokyo. Alienated from her family, her life is dismissed as meaningless until her loser nephew, tasked with cleaning up her apartment, starts to piece it together. The musical interludes transform everyday exploitation into an ironic utopia that only accentuates the overwhelming emotional suffering of the rest of the film. Time Out London called it, “Astounding: yes, it’s vibrantly, often toe-curlingly, bright. But it’s also stunningly inventive, crammed with ideas and emotional truth, high on the possibilities of cinema."


Series Curator Lecture: Popular Song and Performance in the Japanese Musical Film
Saturday, April 9 at 3:00 pm
Japan Sings! series curator Michael Raine discusses the history of the musical film in Japan from silent films accompanied by live performance to postmodern parodies of musicals as the quintessential American genre, taking in wartime propaganda and "group sounds" imitations of Beatles films along the way. The talk focuses on the close relationship between cinema and popular song, and to American cultural, political, and economic influence in Japan. Approx. 60 min. This event is free with the purchase of a ticket to any film in the series. Seating is limited. Ticketholders will be accommodated on a first-come, first-served basis.

Schedule At-A-Glance

Friday, April 8
7:00 pm You Can Succeed, Too + Opening Night Party

Saturday, April 9
3:00 pm “Popular Song & Performance in the Japanese Musical Film” series curator lecture
4:30 pm So Young, So Bright
7:00 pm The Stormy Man

Tuesday, April 12
7:00 pm Singing Lovebirds

Friday, April 15
7:00 pm Twilight Saloon

Saturday, April 16
4:30 pm Oh, Bomb!
7:00 pm Irresponsible Era of Japan

Tuesday, April 19
7:00 pm Treatise on Japanese Bawdy Songs (aka Sing a Song of Sex)

Saturday, April 23
4:00 pm The Happiness of the Katakuris
7:00 pm Memories of Matsuko

Tickets are on sale now- Buy a whole bunch. For more information go here.

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