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Toward a Political Modernism? Critical Japanese Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s

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Presented by the University of Chicago Film Studies Center, this ambitious four-day conference "explores the poetics and politics of 'independent' cinema in 1960s and 1970s Japan," with papers and panel discussions featuring some of this country's best scholars of Japanese cinema. It also includes screenings of films that "contested dominant narratives of Japan's first modern century, frequently in reflexive forms that put narrative itself into question." All films are in Japanese with subtitles, and all screenings take place at the center, room 306 in Cobb Hall, 5811 S. Ellis Avenue. All events are free, but space at the conference is limited; to reserve seats call 773-702-8596. A full schedule can be found at filmstudiescenter.uchicago.edu.

If you're reading this early enough, you might still be able to catch Death by Hanging (1968, 117 min.), one of Nagisa Oshima's very best. It's concerned with the death penalty and the public understanding of a rape and murder committed by a Korean youth. The inventiveness of the staging is not merely dazzling but purposeful: a group of Japanese officials discover, through a fantasy conceit, that the Korean prisoner refuses to die because the issues of his crime and his punishments aren't understood, and the film works through a series of imaginative restagings of the events leading up to the rape and murder. (The issue of Japanese persecution of Koreans is also very pertinent to the proceedings.) The results are Brechtian in the best sense: entertaining, instructive, gripping, mind-boggling, often humorous, and very much alive. (Thu 11/11, 6:30 PM)

Oshima's provocative The Man Who Left His Will on Film (1970, 94 min.) follows the next afternoon. "One of Nagisa Oshima's most perceptive and self-conscious films, this 1970 study of the sensibility of youth tells of a student making a film--which turns out to be his last will and testament when he kills himself at the end of it," wrote Don Druker in his original Reader review. "A brilliantly controlled work, Oshima's film is all the more remarkable in that he used no professional actors." (Fri 11/12, 5 PM) Masao Adachi's Ryakusho: Renzoku Shasatsuma (1969, 86 min.) is a crime drama with documentary elements, belatedly released in 1975 and also known as Serial Killer. (Fri 11/12, 8 PM)

Saturday brings a personal appearance by 71-year-old Yoshishige Yoshida, a major figure of the Japanese new wave over the past three decades, and screenings of his two most celebrated features. Fred Camper has written that Eros + Massacre (1969, 170 min.) "intertwines two narratives for a dialectical examination of love and politics, the individual and society. One, set in the early 20th century, is based on the life of anarchist Sakae Osugi, who advocated free love as part of his philosophy of personal liberation; the other, set in the 60s, concerns a journalist who emulates Osugi with two lovers, one a voyeur. Yoshida uses a variety of devices to distance us from the action, including scenes staged as theater, incidents presented in several different ways, and characters from the past popping up in the present. Yet the film is held together by his sensitive use of black-and-white 'Scope: filling space with water, cherry blossoms, or urban surfaces, he casts his characters adrift just as the editing floats them across time." (Sat 11/13, 2 PM)

Following the screening, Yoshida will take part in a discussion with Michael Raine, to be followed by Kaigenrei (1973, 110 min.). Also known as Martial Law and Coup d'etat, this black-and-white feature is about national socialist theoretician Ikki Kita (Rentaro Mikuni), who was charged with an assassination plot and executed in 1936. Film historian Noel Burch has called this "radically disjunctive" film "a complex provocation" and "an ideological catalyst," pointing to the film's theatrical elements and its uses of psychoanalysis and fantasy. According to Burch the film presupposes some familiarity with the historical facts behind the story, though conference discussions will no doubt furnish some of them. (Sat 11/13, 8:30 PM)

Note that The Man Who Left His Will on Film also screens on Friday at Northwestern University's Block Museum of Art, and that Yoshida will appear on Monday at the Chicago Cultural Center to discuss his 1962 feature Love Affair at Akitsu. See the listings for more information on these programs.

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